August 11, 2021 7:34 AM EDT

There are no more monsters in the city of Lucille. At least that’s what Jam, the transgender teen at the center of Akwaeke Emezi’s young-adult debut, has grown up thinking. But when a creature named Pet shows up to fight a monster, Jam is forced to confront what the adults around her refuse to accept: there’s no such thing as being truly safe, and danger has always been present in the city, no matter how hard everyone has tried to ignore it. It seems like a classic coming-of-age tale: a girl and her new friend team up to save their world. But Emezi creates a story concerned with so much more—identity, community and culture—and positions a trans protagonist in the middle of it all. Emezi was deliberate in this mission, saying in an interview, “I want to cast a spell where a Black trans girl is never hurt.” The result is a propulsive yet playful narrative that went on to receive a Stonewall Book Honor and Walter Dean Myers Honor, and was a finalist for the National Book Award. —Annabel Gutterman

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