Akwaeke Emezi’s Pet and Marlon James’ Black Leopard, Red Wolf are Finalists for the 2019 National Book Award

Congratulations are in order for Akwaeke Emezi and Marlon James, who are both finalists for the 2019 National Book Awards! Emezi’s Pet is in contention for the prize in the Young People’s Literature category, while James’ Black Leopard, Red Wolf is vying for the winner in the Fiction category. Of the 25 books on the shortlist (five competing in each category) Pet and Black Leopard, Red Wolf are the only two that come from a speculative fiction tradition.

Here are the official synopses for each, from their respective publishers:


There are no monsters anymore, or so the children in the city of Lucille are taught. Jam and her best friend, Redemption, have grown up with this lesson all their life. But when Jam meets Pet, a creature made of horns and colors and claws, who emerges from one of her mother’s paintings and a drop of Jam’s blood, she must reconsider what she’s been told. Pet has come to hunt a monster, and the shadow of something grim lurks in Redemption’s house. Jam must fight not only to protect her best friend, but also to uncover the truth, and the answer to the question–How do you save the world from monsters if no one will admit they exist?

Acclaimed novelist Akwaeke Emezi makes their riveting and timely young adult debut with a book that asks difficult questions about what choices you can make when the society around you is in denial.

Black Leopard, Red Wolf

In the stunning first novel in Marlon James’s Dark Star trilogy, myth, fantasy, and history come together to explore what happens when a mercenary is hired to find a missing child.

Tracker is known far and wide for his skills as a hunter: “He has a nose,” people say. Engaged to track down a mysterious boy who disappeared three years earlier, Tracker breaks his own rule of always working alone when he finds himself part of a group that comes together to search for the boy. The band is a hodgepodge, full of unusual characters with secrets of their own, including a shape-shifting man-animal known as Leopard.

As Tracker follows the boy’s scent–from one ancient city to another; into dense forests and across deep rivers–he and the band are set upon by creatures intent on destroying them. As he struggles to survive, Tracker starts to wonder: Who, really, is this boy? Why has he been missing for so long? Why do so many people want to keep Tracker from finding him? And perhaps the most important questions of all: Who is telling the truth, and who is lying?

Drawing from African history and mythology and his own rich imagination, Marlon James has written a novel unlike anything that’s come before it: a saga of breathtaking adventure that’s also an ambitious, involving read. Defying categorization and full of unforgettable characters, Black Leopard, Red Wolf is both surprising and profound as it explores the fundamentals of truth, the limits of power, and our need to understand them both.

This year, the judges for fiction are Dorothy Allison, Ruth Dickey, Javier Ramirez, Danzy Senna, and Jeff VanderMeer, while those for young people’s literature are Elana K. Arnold, Kristen Gilligan, Varian Johnson, Deborah Taylor, and An Na. Winners will be announced on November 20 at the National Book Awards Ceremony and Benefit Dinner in NYC.

Congratulations to all the honorees! A full list of finalists can be found on the National Book Foundation’s website.


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