Legendborn is an Arthurian tale that follows a Black teen named Bree. Bree is a sixteen year old advanced learner who is ready to explore the world, or at least the city outside of her small Southern town. Without her parents' knowledge or blessing, she and her bestie, Alice, apply for UNC Chapel Hill’s Early College program. Then tragedy strikes, and Bree is forced to go into this very new and wondrous and new situation with grief, guilt, and shame crawling on her back. Bree tries to stay brave and unbothered, but hurt and anger is in the driver’s seat. Then reality as she knows it goes left.
On an outing with friends and classmates, creatures start to appear that only she and some random dark, mysterious, hunky guy with gold eyes can see–my cat has golden eyes, so if I’d be asking all sorts of questions, but in this universe, everyone just seems to shrug and go “meh!” Anyway, glamoring and mircroaggressions ensue because this is a Black girl in the South, going to a predominantly white school.Bree is assigned a mentor named Nick, and of course, her bestie is worried and disappointed at Bree’s “behavior.” Nick and Bree connect instantly. The golden eyed guy, Sel, makes questionable remarks to Bree which makes one think 1) He’s in love with Nick; and 2) Blatant racism and projection. Every character Bree connects with looks at Sel askance when he says what he says because he’s a White male calling a Black woman shadowborn, demon, seductress. He gets way better, but still, not a good look nor start.
My biggest gripes with most YA novels, including this one, is 1) Love triangle and/or destined love; and 2) Two people starting out hating each other to the point of trying to kill each other, then becoming more than just friends. The latter sets a bad precedent for young people that a relationship like this will somehow turn out okay, and not with one or both parties harmed or worse. The former is cliche at this point. However, it’s an Arthurian tale so I’ll allow it…this time! My ultimate hope is that they all discover polyamory at the end.
But, a few things I love about the novel is that it tackles racism, the history and legacy of slavery, and the particular brand of racism that targets Black women and femme folk. Also, it delves into the talk every Black person has had in some form with their parents about the realities of being minorities, and how we must shape ourselves when in predominantly white spaces and institutions–that doesn’t change even in a reality-bending situation. I really connected with Bree’s experiences in a way that no other teen novel, speculative or otherwise, has done before. I constantly found myself going, “Oh my god, yes!” because the author hit on points that I experienced through college that I’ve only now realized seem to be universal experiences for many college-bound Black people.