Should ‘Legendborn’ win a Lodestar Award?

We’re back this week with another book review of Hugo 2021 related material. In this case, it’s my review of the book Legendborn by Tracy Deonn. It’s been nominated for the Lodestar Award, which in my mind is essentially the Hugo Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy.

I’ve already reviewed several Lodestar and Hugo nominees so far, in a variety of categories so if you’re interested in the work I’ve completed so far, go ahead and check it out.

Now, on to the matter at hand: Legendborn.

It’s already earned Deonn a John Steptoe Award for New Talent (given out by the American Library Association), as well as an Ignyte Award for Best YA Novel. It’s been a finalist in a slew of other awards, including the Locus Award, LA Times Book Prize, and the Goodreads Choice Awards (how I found out about it).

Needless to say, Legendborn is already something of a legend itself, and after reading it, I can definitely see why. It’s a pretty great book.

I think the easiest way to go about this review will be to list all of the things I like about the book, and then the (very) few things I didn’t like. Here we go:

So I think the core of this book — the part that shined the brightest for me — is its representation of grief and loss. I don’t think it’s much of a spoiler to say that the main character, Bree, opens the story after her mother has been killed in a hit and run accident. She does NOT handle it well (who would/could?) and it is her refusal to believe the reality she is given, and her quest for answers that drives nearly every aspect of the story.

This felt so real, it was often difficult to read. This fact alone speaks volumes about the quality of Deonn’s prose and the skill with which she crafted this story. Indeed my first thought as I was listening was something along the lines of: “Wow. Everything in this book just leads right into the next thing like a tightly woven fabric”. For the most part, this cohesion held throughout the entirety of book. There were no (or very few) places in which I wondered how we got to a certain part or where the story was going. Everything just flew along.

Effortless. I love it when books are like this!

The next part of the story that stood out to me, was just how difficult the world Bree inhabited was for her (even without grief making it all that much worse). Much of that work was communicated through the use of both micro and macro aggressions Bree experiences in each of the realms of her story (someone even had the nerve to pat her hair!). UNC, the lodge, and Arthur’s round table, each added another layer of resistance, not only for her quest to find answers about her mother’s death, but also just for her livelihood in general. At any given moment Bree is being told by a handful of separate influences that she does not matter, that she does not belong. That she is able to persevere against so much is truly inspiring.

In an interview with NPR: New Hampshire, Deon explains how often times young black girls are a expected to grow up quicker, and be an adult earlier than other groups of children and how she wanted to show this in her story. She explains the stereo type of the Angry Black Woman and how she wanted to irrevocably justify that anger. She talked about the trope of the Strong Black Woman and how she wanted Bree to be this as well (reading Legendborn I think we see that she is although it is more nuanced in approach than many other portrayals).

And finally, she discusses the experience of not knowing your people’s stories except for a few generations back, while we have hundreds, if not thousands of years of stories around myths like King Arthur who historians cannot even be confirm actually existed.

I’ll admit that listening to the interview put a lot of what this book is ‘about’ in perspective for me, and I think that while I may not have known exactly what I was feeling while I read, Deonn absolutely accomplished what she set out for with Legendborn. That it was so ambitious a task only makes it that much more impressive.

Now that I’ve harped about the parts of this book that I thought were so impressive, I’ll list a couple things which I didn’t enjoy as much (and recognize that everything listed hereafter is one hundred percent personal preference).

First thing: The Love Triangle. Deonn plays with many — MANY!! — tropes in Legendborn and for the most part, kicks their butt (whether by subverting them or refreshing them). But with everything else going on in the book, this part seemed completely unnecessary. At one point during the novel, Bree even says something along the lines of “I thought of all the reasons I shouldn’t go see him, yet I felt compelled by some force I could not understand to see him anyway.”

That force is the Hand of the Author Bree. Resist!! Sigh.

Perhaps this type of thing is exactly what other readers look for in a YA Fantasy, but it just didn’t work for me (I also rolled my eyes pretty hard at a reference to Twilight, not because it was Twilight per se, but because the scene quoted was by far one of the goofiest looking scenes of the movie which I hoped we could all just forget. Apparently not hahah).

Finally, while I think the contrast of King Arthur’s legend against Bree’s search for her family’s history brought an interesting dichotomy to light, I’m just not that in to Arthur and the round table.

So . . . Lodestar?

This book has certainly earned one, and I understand the hype surrounding it, however, I don’t think it will be my choice for the Lodestar Award. While Bree’s character was expertly drawn, I hardly remember much about the side-characters which were a real strong point for Cemetery Boys, and while a covertly magical UNC Chapel Hill is a unique and interesting world, it was not as immersive to me as the one built in Raybearer. I think one of those two will be my choices for the Lodestar (sorry Deadly Education) although Legendborn is an excellent book (I won’t really be all that upset if it wins).

That’s all for now. Please let me know your thoughts. Do you agree with my points? Is there something I haven’t considered? Why do you think Legendborn should get the award? Please let me know in the comments. See you next time!

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