Author Spotlight: Zetta Elliott

Zetta Elliott’s young adult books are riveting. The first two we read were A Wish After Midnight and The Door at the Crossroads. We had a group discussion here on the blog back in 2016. The books were fascinating and led to a great conversation. I was drawn in by the excellent storytelling and was happy to find more of her work like Ship of Souls, The Deep and The Return.

I was also fortunate to be able to do an interview with Elliott and learned more about her writing. Over the years, she has been working to get more and more books out into the world featuring kids of color at the center of magical stories. In our interview, she explained, “my books are aspirational, in a way, because they show what’s real but also what’s possible.”

If you haven’t read any of Zetta Elliott’s work, you are definitely missing out.

A Wish After Midnight

Fifteen-year old Genna Colon believes wishes can come true. When Genna flees into the garden late one night, she makes a fateful wish and finds herself instantly transported back in time to Civil War-era Brooklyn.

doorThe Door at the Crossroads

Do you know what your heart most desires?

One summer night, Genna Colon makes a fateful wish that sends her and her boyfriend Judah spiraling through time. They land hours apart in the city of Brooklyn—and in the middle of the Civil War. Genna is taken to the free Black community of Weeksville, but Judah suffers a harsher fate and is sent to the South as a slave. Judah miraculously makes his way back to Genna, but the New York City Draft Riots tear them apart once more. When Genna unexpectedly returns to her life in contemporary Brooklyn, she vows to fulfill the mandate of sankofa: “go back and fetch it.” But how will she summon the power she needs to open the door that leads back to Judah?

Ship of Souls

Set in New York City, Ship of Souls features a cast of three African American teens: D, a math whiz; Hakeem, a Muslim basketball star; and Nyla, a beautiful military brat. A mysterious bird leads D and his friends on a perilous journey that will take them from Brooklyn to the African Burial Ground in lower Manhattan, and into the very realm of the dead. This unique blend of speculative fiction and history explores the quest for belonging and the power of friendship.

The Deep

It has been almost a year since Nyla Evans moved from Ramstein Air Base in Germany to Brooklyn, and she’s still searching for a way to belong. It doesn’t help that Nyla has started to hallucinate while walking the city streets, and things get even stranger when a man named Osiris offers to introduce Nyla to others who have similar “gifts.” When she refuses, her friend D is kidnapped and held in the deep until Nyla agrees to let Osiris guide her underground. There, miles beneath Brooklyn, Nyla meets Lada—the mother who abandoned her a decade ago. Within days Nyla finds herself at the center of a battle between good and evil, and she must learn to wield the astonishing power she inherited from her mysterious mother.

The Return

After a devastating injury, seventeen-year-old Hakeem Diallo is leaving basketball and his life in Brooklyn behind to spend the summer with his grandmother in Senegal. Three years have passed since the earthquake of 2011 when Keem witnessed his girlfriend’s apparent suicide in the deep. Weeks later he received a mysterious text that led him to believe Nyla might still be alive, but her silence over the years has led Keem to believe that the girl he once loved is gone.

Keem arrives in Dakar determined to put the past behind him, but then Nyla unexpectedly returns and draws him back into her dangerous world. Once trained by The League, Nyla is now a fugitive with a mission to expose their corruption. As Nyla grows more and more powerful, she inspires both fear and awe in others. Keem cannot deny his love for her and yet he fears that Nyla has become a demon. When The League finally hunts Nyla down, Keem’s loyalty is tested. Is he willing to give his life for a girl who is no longer human?

Cover art by Christina Myrvold.

Mother of the Sea

When her village is raided, a teenage girl finds herself on a brutal journey to the coast of Africa and across the Atlantic. Her only comfort is a small child who clings to her for protection. But once they board the slave ship, the child reveals her rebellious nature and warns that her mother—a fierce warrior—is coming to claim them all.



Photo credit: Devin Allen

Say Her Name

This poetry collection conjures #BlackGirlMagic with poems inspired by iconic artists and activists like Phillis Wheatley, Ida B. Wells, Gwendolyn Brooks, Audre Lorde, and Patrisse Cullors. Although most teens are familiar with #BlackLivesMatter, recent novels that reference the movement fail to acknowledge that it was founded by three Black women—two of whom identify as queer. By focusing on the struggles and achievements of Black women and girls, this poetry collection puts the spotlight on a group that is invisible and hypervisible at the same time. In 2015 the African American Policy Forum, helmed by legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw, launched the #SayHerName campaign to highlight the fact that Black women are also victims of police brutality. Say Her Name introduces young readers to Black female victims of violence using multiple forms like the sonnet, haiku, tanka, rondeau, dramatic monologue, free verse, and prose poems.

You can learn more about Zetta Elliott and her writing on her website, twitter, and on Facebook.

2 Replies to “Author Spotlight: Zetta Elliott

  1. Thank you for highlighting Zetta Elliott’s amazing work! She has broken ground in so many ways, from centering Black children in fantasy and time travel stories to challenging the way the publishing industry works with respect to children of color. I’m looking forward to Say Her Name, and also to her forthcoming middle grade fantasy Dragons in a Bag. The City Kids series of middle grade novels that blend contemporary, fantasy, and time travel, are elementary school favorites.

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