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Wings of Ebony

LIST PRICE $19.99

Instant New York Times bestseller!
“A remarkable, breathtaking, earthshaking, poetic thrillride.” —Daniel JoOlder, New York Times bestselling author of Shadowshaper

In this riveting, keenly emotional debut fantasy, a Black teen from Houston has her world upended when she learns about her godly ancestry and must save both the human and god worlds. Perfect for fans of Angie Thomas, Tomi Adeyemi, and The Hunger Games!

“Make a way out of no way” is just the way of life for Rue. But when her mother is shot dead on her doorstep, life for her and her younger sister changes forever. Rue’s taken from her neighborhood by the father she never knew, forced to leave her little sister behind, and whisked away to Ghizon—a hidden island of magic wielders.

Rue is the only half-god, half-human there, where leaders protect their magical powers at all costs and thrive on human suffering. Miserable and desperate to see her sister on the anniversary of their mother’s death, Rue breaks Ghizon’s sacred Do Not Leave Law and returns to Houston, only to discover that Black kids are being forced into crime and violence. And her sister, Tasha, is in danger of falling sway to the very forces that claimed their mother’s life.

Worse still, evidence mounts that the evil plaguing East Row is the same one that lurks in Ghizon—an evil that will stop at nothing until it has stolen everything from her and everyone she loves. Rue must embrace her true identity and wield the full magnitude of her ancestors’ power to save her neighborhood before the gods burn it to the ground.

Chapter 1 CHAPTER 1


BULLETS DON’T HAVE NAMES.

But if they did, chances are one would have mine. Or someone brown-skinned like me.

Metal slats chill my legs and I shimmy sideways, craning for a better view from the bus stop, careful to keep the onyx stones fused to my wrists covered.

Up all night, I watched the sun rise like a traitor to the chill set in my bones. A yawn scratches at my throat, but my lungs refuse to breathe. Any moment Tasha will step out, her tie-dye drawstring knapsack on her back and her purple fuzzy phone clutched in her fingers. She always oversleeps. But she won’t be late. Not today. She—like me—probably couldn’t sleep, knowing we had to face today. Had to relive what this day means.

One year ago today, Moms died, shot dead on her stoop. No explanation. No investigation. Just blood, pain, and lots of tears. So many tears.

Since then, it’s been Tasha, and me. Separated, living in different places.

But not today. Today my little sister won’t be alone.

My eyes sting. I blink the tears away as a bass-filled trunk rattles by, blasting some rapper whose name I can’t remember. I’m home. It’s good to be back… even if I can’t stay. I sigh, but my shoulders cinch instead of sink.

Construction crews spill out of work trucks across the street, bringing the block to life. Chiming bells snatch my attention. Kiki’s wig shop? They opened early as hell today. Two doors down, dudes in glistening chains, hoodies, and baggy jeans chop it up, slapping hands and giving one-arm hugs. My niggas. The whole damn block is family. Neighbors are aunties. I got more cousins than makes any sort of mathematical sense. You can’t work that shit out logically with a family tree chart. The block is fam. Just the way it is. The way it has to be.

But even families keep secrets. I tug at my sleeves.

I lean back, slipping my hood on, face cloaked in shadow. I’m not trying to get tripped up with questions about where I’ve been. Some shit’s just too wild to even try to explain. And where I’ve been this past year—the place I’m forced to now call home—is wild AF.

A jumble of voices pulls me around, twisting in my seat. I keep my head down, hoodie up, until their footsteps are faint patters. I exhale, my knee still bouncing.

Six a.m.

My sis takes the bus to school because it’s too far to walk, and everybody at the house is off to work well before the streetlamps stop buzzing. Any moment now, she’ll be out the door and find the gift I left on her step. A gift I wish I could hand to her if the risk wasn’t so great.

As far as folks know, I disappeared a year ago. They probably think I’m locked up in juvie somewhere. It’s not true. I’ve been in juvie twice. Two times too many. Being snatched from home before Moms was in the ground makes my insides ache more than how it felt sleeping on a cold cell floor.

And the bastard who took me left Tasha.

Such bullshit. “She isn’t full blood,” he’d said. We got the same mom, different dads. I tried to tell him the whole block is fam—that I can’t be pulled from home and just forget where I’m from. It don’t work like that. But he wouldn’t get that because he’s not from ’round here. Home won’t ever be “behind me.”

He wasn’t hearing it. “Once you leave this place you can’t ever come back… ever,” he’d said without explaining. And for 364 days I didn’t.

But Tasha won’t be alone today. Today, she has me. Even if it means breaking their dumb-ass rules to leave her this gift.

She will know I remember.

I tuck my curls inside my hoodie and swipe the screen on my wristwatch. It warms, glowing a dull blue. It’s barely breakfast time and this Houston heat is straight up disrespectful.

Six-oh-five. Come on, sis.

I promised Bri, just about the only friend I have at my new “home,” I’d get in, leave Tasha’s gift, see her off to school, and get out of here. She protested, but she made me this dope watch to get here and back—without magic—undetected. She’d just finished it days ago and was nervous it might not work. A pulsing dot shifts on its screen, zeroing in on Tasha’s location when I tap. Works just fine. Bri is smart as hell, I swear.

As long as I lay low, no one will even know I’m gone.

A frayed purple necklace dangles from my neck. I roll the thread back and forth between my fingers. The last time I saw Tasha, she wore a matching one. The sparrow charm that used to hang from it broke off months ago. Tasha’s got a thing for birds. Something about flying mesmerizes her. She was always back and forth between Moms’s and her dad’s grandma’s house. She’s like a bird, even if she can’t fly. Little bones, light, so small. Always flitting between fam’s houses. A bird with many nests. When I last saw her, she was going on about some new species she’d learned about in school. I smirk. She loves school. A trait we don’t share. Tasha musta got that from her pop’s side of the family.

I didn’t have a dad, so home for me didn’t change every weekend. I pull the knot in the charmless necklace, making sure it’s tight. As ratty as it is, it’s mine, my sister’s—ours. One of the few things I was able to hold on to from this place when I left. My only real keepsake from home.

Tasha’s glittery pink Converses catch the sunlight as the door opens, and I gasp. She’s taller than before. How she grow that fast? The door fully opens and I’m up on my feet. I lighten my pace across the street, careful to stick to the shadows. I can see her, love her from a distance, be here, but I can’t touch her. Touching her is the one rule I can’t break.

Something changed when I was bound to magic in Ghizon, the place I live now. I rub the onyx lump fused to my wrist and it warms. Having magic is cool, but it isn’t worth the cost. If I’d had the choice, I’d have chosen Tasha and life here on the block.

A message on my watch shakes my wrist and I ignore it, eyes fixed on my sis.

I skip across the street to get closer, careful to keep my hood up. Shade swallows me on her side of the street. She pops in earbuds before locking the door and slipping her string straps on her shoulders. That faded-ass tie-dye. I told her that went out in the seventies, but she loves it. She was never one to follow what everyone else is doing. She’s always been like that though—cool doing her own thing. Like me. That we musta both got from Moms.

Come on, Tash. Look down. Neon braids dangle from her cornrows, dancing across her scalp in zigzags. Her hair is always tight. Her nails probably match. That’s my sis. Nail polish isn’t my thing. Chips too easy. I keep my fresh white 1s clean though. Toothbrush in my pocket at all times. Tash ain’t leaving the house without the dopest ’do and flyest nails. Period. Twelve years old and stuntin’.

I slick down my edges, grinning… remembering. On the stoop, Moms used to rip through our heads, braiding ours and half the neighborhood’s with a piece of cigarette dangling on her lip. Took the whole Saturday, I swear. She’d smack the hell out of my hand with a rattail comb if I moved too much.

“You got too much damn hair to be tender-headed,” she’d say.

I flick away hot tears. Moms is gone and crying never solved shit.

Glasses perched on Tasha’s beautifully wide nose hide her dark eyes. Her shoe nudges the wrapped box I left on her bottom step and my heart skips a beat. She grabs it and looks around. I press into the neighbor’s brick. She cannot see me. How would I explain that? Where do I say I’ve been? What do I do if she wants to come back with me? She wouldn’t understand. And what if she tries to touch me? Patrol back in Ghizon says touching humans gives them memories of all your feelings and experiences. She’d know everything about the secret place I live and the magic they gave me. I can’t. Ghizon exists in secret and they intend to keep it that way. Just being here for a few is enough. It has to be enough.

Chin up, I pretend the dull ache in my chest isn’t there. Lines riddle Tash’s forehead.

The paper, look at the wrapping paper.

She rips the side open, then stops. She brings it closer to her face and tiny craters dent her cheeks. She holds the package there, staring, smiling. A priceless smile, worth every bit of trouble I could get into for this. I wasn’t sure what to wrap it with. They don’t exactly have a mini-mart with wrapping paper where I’m living. They’d probably magic some shit together, but I don’t know those spells yet. So I took pages from Moms’s old journal and wrapped the box, like an extra gift in addition to what’s inside.

Tasha peers closer at the paper and gasps. Moms’s words, she’s reading them. Her fingertips find the corners of her eyes. I stay on her six as she walks with quick steps toward her bus stop, opening the package. I can’t see her face. I wanna see that big-ass grin when she actually opens it up.

We round the corner, head down Fischer Street and turn into Moms’s complex. A square block of row-style brown brick apartments with a basketball court in the center. My old spot. The janky-ass hoop still hangs there with a piece of plywood for a backboard. The smell of bay leaves, onions, and garlic curl my toes. Somebody’s grandma is cooking gumbo. I haven’t set foot in my old stomping grounds since I left. Seeing the backside from across the street wasn’t easy. But walking into my neighborhood is… hard.

The block’s lit like it’s a Saturday night. People are everywhere, spilling out of their homes. Moms’s old door is still coated in chipped green paint. The number nine dangles there like it always did, perpetrating as a six. My fingers twitch to fix it out of habit. Tufts of weeds peek through cracks on the stoop where I spent summers drinking Kool-Cups, gossiping with my girls, hollering at dudes.

I walk along the shade. Tasha’s digging into the box now. The playground swings shuffle in the wind, creaking. They’re like a clock, reminding me I shouldn’t be here.

Tick tock. Tick tock.

Maybe a little closer. Just a little.

I stroll down a broken concrete path alongside the swing set, carefully cloaked in darkness, but closer to her now. She cracks a smile and I’m warm all over.

She rounds a corner up ahead and I follow as a pair of six-foot-two somethings walk by. Baggy jeans, another face I don’t know, says, “What’s up.” I do the same. Their bling dangles and clinks above zip-ups and long sleeves. It’s not cold enough for all that. Like most winters in Houston, it’s muggy as hell.

My watch vibrates. Another message. Ignored.

Just a few more minutes. A chance to see her face light up at what’s inside that box. Something to let her know that today of all days, I am still thinking of her.

Around the corner is Tasha’s school bus stop. Six-nineteen. On time. She rips off the last piece of paper and pulls out a golden trinket from inside the box.

It was a little pendant Moms gave me. The last thing I had from her. She put the heart-shaped pendant in my hand three weeks before she died. Told me she worked a double shift for months to afford it. That didn’t mean I needed to feel bad, she’d said. Just that my ass better not lose it because she can’t afford another one. Tash used to ask me to play with it. I wouldn’t even let her breathe on it. Now it’s hers. I’m the oldest, which means I have to be the strongest. She needs it more than me.

My watch pings. I swipe right. A new message and all the ignored older ones scroll up the screen.

Bri: You okay?

Bri: It’s been a long time. I’m getting worried.

Bri: Rue?

An old-school Cadillac with a rattling trunk steals my attention as its shiny chrome wheels slide to a stop. His black-tinted windows crack and kids at the bus stop rush over. Two kids about Tasha’s age hop out. Nosey, like Moms always said I was, I crane my neck trying to see.

Tasha looks in my direction. Like, dead at me. I can’t move. Does she see me? Shit. Shit. Shit. She waves at me, but she’s looking past me. I spin on my heels. Some dude’s hanging out a car across the intersection, waving back at her.

I exhale.

“Aye, yo, T,” he yells. The dude’s white button-up is tucked neatly into a pair of faded jeans. His face—do I know him?

“Sup!” Even her voice sounds older. She puts the heart-shaped pendant in her pocket and jets his way. I squint, hunching beside a dumpster. Who is this dude? And why the hell is whatever he wants so damn important she has to leave her stop to cross the street to come to him. You want something, you come here. My sister won’t be running after no one.

She looks both ways and he does too, beckoning her closer. She’s all smiles. Her bus. She’s going to miss her bus. Uneasiness coils in my gut.

She knows this dude. And by the way she’s grinning, she knows him well. I’m on my feet, keeping her in my sights. I don’t like this. She darts across the first half of the street as the sound of a horn zips by.

“Hurry up, girl,” he says with a smile, his pasty skin reflecting the morning sun.

“Aye, wait up,” she answers. “I’m coming.”

Coming where? Where the hell we going? I need to be closer. I’m not feeling this, any of this. Not with my sister. Not while I’m here. I creep so close, the scent of her vanilla hair puddin’ swirls in my nose. I’m so close. So very close. If she turns around she will see me. Then what?

As she checks both ways again, tires peel out in the distance. Burnt rubber stings my nostrils. The dude’s now in his Impala—dark blue with glistening wheels. My heart won’t slow and I no longer expect it to. Tasha dips across the rest of the intersection and hops in his passenger seat. He pulls off the curb and she turns my way.

Our eyes lock.

She sees me.

SHIT!

I’m no expert on the ins and outs of Ghizon—the magic world—but one thing I know for sure: Magic folks, like these Laws here, do not like broken rules. What does a slap on the wrist even look like there?

Tash knowing I’m here is a problem. A big-ass problem.

Her mouth is hanging wide open in utter shock. She grabs the dude’s shoulder to slow down. He throws me a glance, black ink peeking at me from the collar of his shirt. His eyes burn into mine and he doesn’t smile… doesn’t stop… just slows, approaching a yellow light. My excitement shatters.

Tires screech far off in the distance. The tatted driver runs the red and keeps rolling across the intersection… staring at me instead of the road. A white sedan dents my peripheral, racing toward them. The skin on my back bristles like icy hot knives.

Th-they’re going to get hit.

The sedan driver’s eyes bulge as he slams on the brakes.

No. No. No.

Rubber screams and skids against pavement. My magic. I close the distance between us and raise my hands, fingers spread wide. I tug all my focus to the center of my wrists. Energy like heat rushes through me, pooling in the balls of onyx glowing at my wrists. Waiting, ready.

The time spell. The damn words. What are the damn words?

“Tind na yo wevee.” Magic rips from my hands like branches, blinding and hot.

Everything stills.

Time stops.

The nose of the white car is frozen in motion, kissing the passenger side door—Tasha’s door. The face of the guy driving the white car is scrunched in pain, frozen and unmoving. Tasha’s arms are all I see, stilled in a wave. The entire scene is frozen like figures of glass, pupils dilated with fear. Wind whips around us feverishly.

“I’m here,” I say. Her eyes are wide and still. She probably can’t hear me, but I whisper all the same. “You’re going to be okay.”

The guy in the driver’s seat next to her is still as ice, hand on the door handle, a twisted grin glued on his face. A big-ass coiled snake tattoo is on his neck. I move around the car and tug at the back door. Locked. With no one conscious watching, I press my palms together, conjuring a force of energy between them. I thrust it at the rear window. It shatters in a sea of chimes.

“Feey’l.” Flames ignite from my fingertips. The smell of burned chemicals fills my nostrils as I scorch through her seat belt as quickly as I can.

Magic bearers should never touch humans.

The damn rule plays on repeat in my head.

Frantic, I wrap my shaking hands around her and a tingling sensation moves through me. I bite down, ignoring it, and pull harder, her warm skin against mine. Singed but hanging on by a thread, the seat belt still doesn’t let go of her legs. The time spell will wear off any second, and this car crash will crunch back into motion. I tug and bite the belt, pulling as coppery liquid fills my mouth.

It won’t relent. Shit! She will not die here. She won’t! I clamp my teeth and yank again. The belt releases.

Magic bearers should never touch humans.

The rules. The stupid rules. This is my sister, not just anyone. They can do their worst to me, I’m not losing her. I pull her petite frame onto the asphalt.

The streetlights are flashing now and the colors shift from green, to yellow, to red, and back to green. I glance over my shoulders and check my watch. How long does the time spell last? I bite my lip. Bri would know. I fidget with my watch to send her a message as the sound of crunching glass splits the air.

I raise a hand, trying to keep the spell intact. Hold. Please hold! My hand shakes more violently and the air itself seems to tremble. It’s not going to hold. She’s like a cinder block, but with one arm I drag her toward the sidewalk, away from the crash.

“Wake up, Tash. Come on, wake up.”

She bats her eyes. Sounds of crumpling fiberglass crack through the air. My spell is buckling. My hand trembles, the heat from my wrists simmers.

“I-I can’t hold it.” Oof. A jolt of pain radiates through me and chaos erupts in blurred motion. The car she was just in skids across the intersection and plants into a pole.

But the driver… the driver just inside is gone.

Wait… what… but how?

The driver of the white car hangs out the window, neck crooked backward and streaked with blood. I turn my face away. Tasha pulls herself up on shaky elbows, blinking in my direction.

“R-Rue?” She looks at me and I cover the warm stones in my wrists.

“Rue!” Her voice cracks and nothing matters anymore.

I pull her in to me. “It’s okay. You’re okay.”

Cars swerve to a stop, narrowly missing the pile of crushed metal. A man in a navy windbreaker emerges with a phone to his ear.

“Help will be here soon,” I say. She weeps against my chest, a gash on her forehead crying tears of blood. I hold her tight—tight like Moms would do.

“It’s over,” I whisper, refusing tears trying to break free. “You’re okay. I’m here. Everything’s okay.”

The crowd nearby clamors over one another for a look at the wreck, when a sweet chemical scent wafts past. Gasoline.

No. Shit. No!

“W-we have to move.” Even on the sidewalk we’re too close. I fumble for her arm, pulling it over my shoulder. She’s heavy. So much heavier than I remember. “We have to get up.” The gasoline smell stings my nostrils and words stick to the roof of my mouth.

“Tash, we have to get farther away!” Her head bobs like she’s woozy, her forehead wound gushing faster.

Magic. Move her with magic.

A cluster of eyes cling to us; everybody’s watching, recording. I-I can’t. The time spell wore off. People are watching! I can’t use magic with them all looking. I—

The chemical smell grows stronger and a flicker of fire dents my periphery.

Do something!

B-but people are around…

I-I… I have to. I can’t lose her.

The words are fuzzy in my head, and the black stones fused to my wrists swirl with warmth, but nothing sputters from my hand. Focus. What are the words? I can’t think. I pull hard from my center and my wrists glow hot as the black balls fused to my skin heat like a skillet. My words are muddled, but I feel it. I feel my magic. Energy rushes through me, ripping from my palms, a light sprouting like rays of sun.

“Shee’ye ya fuste.” The light shifts into a wall transparent as glass between us and the crash, rippling like droplets of water. The ground shudders and clouds of orange blaze explode, slamming against the invisible barrier. Jolts of pain pinch my spine, but I keep my hands still. If I let go, the flames will swallow us. She moans.

“Tash? Stay with me. I’m here. It’s going to be okay.”

She hugs me, nestling her fingers against my skin. I close my eyes and focus on the rhythm of her heartbeat pressed to my chest. Moms used to rock me back and forth and hum when I was little and scared. So I rock.

Holding her stirs a heat inside of me, brighter and fiercer than the sizzling flames popping just a ways away. Sirens moan in the backdrop and orange light colors my eyelids. I don’t want to open them. Not yet. My wrists chill as the fire and magic around us fizzles out and a gust of smoke assaults my head.

She’s okay. We’re okay.

My wristwatch buzzes. It’s Bri.

Bri: What did you do?! Patrol is coming. Run!
Reading Group Guide for

Wings of Ebony

By J. Elle

About the Book

After her mother is murdered on the porch of their home in East Row, Rue’s world is upended as she’s forced to begin life again with her father in the hidden, magic-wielding country of New Ghizon. Separated from her little sister and forced into yet another world that attempts to demean her for her brown skin and unwavering loyalty to her hood, Rue is determined to get back to Tasha—even if that means breaking the highest law of Ghizon: do not leave. Swept into a frenzy of magic and mourning, Rue finds that the source of East Row’s violence and danger is the very same source that maintains New Ghizon as she has known it. No one is exempt from its wrath, and it won’t stop until she and her family are all dead. Join Rue as she fights for Tasha, East Row, and Ghizon and for the truth that lies within her ancestral ties to magic and power.

Discussion Questions

1. Throughout the book, Rue often tells herself and Tasha, “Moms raised a diamond, and diamonds don’t crack.” Do you think this is a helpful mantra for Rue? If so, in what instances? Are there any moments in which this phrase is not helpful? Explain your answers.

2. After losing their mother, Rue feels responsible for Tasha and her safety, seeing as she is the oldest. In what ways have you been called to lead and look out for others? Do you see any potential drawbacks in taking on this role? If so, what are they?

3. For a long while, we believe that Aasim is actively chosen to be an absent figure in Rue’s and her mother’s lives. However, it’s eventually revealed that he only kept his distance to protect them. Does this information change your view on Aasim? Have you ever had an experience in which an adult in your life made a decision you didn’t initially agree with, but that you later found to be in your best interest?

4. Place yourself in Aasim’s shoes. Would you rather protect the ones you love most and sacrifice any connection or relationship with them, or have a relationship with the constant risk and reminder that they are in peril? If you would choose to have the relationship, would you inform your loved ones of the risks?

5. Despite the differences in location, it can be argued that for Rue, as a Black girl, society in East Row and Ghizon aren’t too different from one another. Discuss the similarities and differences between the two at the societal and economic levels. How does the interpretation shift if you compare East Row and Ghizon from Bri’s or Aasim’s vantage points?

6. According to Merriam-Webster, grit is defined as “firmness of mind or spirit: unyielding courage in the face of hardship or danger.” How does Rue embody grit? Are there any moments in which grit works against her? Explain your answers using examples from the book.

7. Think about the following: “‘Our complete history, I’m afraid, we do not know in great detail,’ Bati says. ‘Only what those of us who made it here can remember. And no, it wouldn’t be written, would it? Who expects their history to be erased?’” What parallels or connections can you draw between the Ghizoni people’s lost history and that of other groups in our present-day society? Why is one’s complete history perceived to be such a treasure, in Ghizon and in our real world?

8. After Rue tells Bri about discovering Ghizon’s true history and its ties to magic, it causes great tension in their relationship, particularly as Bri grapples with initial denial. Why do you think Rue’s revelation was so troubling for Bri? If you were Rue, would you have responded to Bri in the same way? Explain your answers.

9. While a number of books talk about explicit acts of racism, Wings of Ebony explores its subtleties, the less overt ways that it manifests in the lives of the book’s characters. Use the text to find examples of these, and discuss the following questions: Why do you believe your example is an instance of racism? How do you think this impacted the characters involved and the outcome of the story? Why is it so important to name acts of racism?

10. In New Ghizon, there is a clear class structure and hierarchy: the societal leaders, the Zruki, and the Dwegini. Despite inequities that were clear to Rue, the structure was embraced by natives. Why do you think this is? Discuss the role of the Chancellor and his influence on the citizens of New Ghizon.

11. News media stories and images chronicling gang violence and police brutality tend to be redundant, short on context and lean on stereotypical tropes, all of which can lead viewers to believe that Black people are prone to violence and deserve their fate. Discuss the book and the extent to which it either reinforces or challenges your understanding of gang violence and police brutality against Black people. What kind of conversations do you think we should be having?

12. Despite having lost their mother, Rue and Tasha hold a strong connection to each other and to the East Row matriarch, Ms. Leola. Discuss Ms. Leola and the role she plays throughout the story. Do you have a Ms. Leola type in your life? If so, how has having that relationship influenced you?

13. Toward the second half of the book, we find out that the Litto is, in fact, the General from New Ghizon and responsible for the chaos and violence in East Row. Did you suspect this connection? If so, why? Looking back, what clues from the story could have tipped you off to his identity?

14. Throughout the story, the Chancellor prides himself on bringing magic and prosperity to his nation, and his citizens worship him as one would a god. Discuss how you believe the people of New Ghizon felt after the truth of his stolen magic was revealed, and how the nation may have moved forward after the story’s ending. Specifically, consider the people’s understanding of class, race, and their claim to magic.

15. Though Wings of Ebony grapples with many large-scale issues such as colonialism, police brutality, and racism, it also offers moments of great beauty, joy and connection. Choose a scene from the book that you most enjoyed and discuss why. If time allows, take note of the various scenes your classmates mention and draw connections to personal experiences and identities.

16. Rue has a recurring dream of following a young Black Ghizoni boy through a forest. Throughout the book, the dream ends at various points, and it is unclear until much later in the story who the boy is and where he is leading Rue. Discuss the impact of the dream on Rue’s acceptance of herself, her heritage, and her calling.

17. There are a number of rules that govern how magic is to be used by New Ghizonis. Perhaps the most important is that “Magic bearers should never touch humans.” Do you believe that rules should always be upheld? In what instances should rules be broken? Explain your answers using examples from the story and your own life.

18. After visiting Yiyo Peak, Rue finds that the strange bracelet her father left for her is one half of a set that will give her a grand calling—one that she resists. Why do you think it’s so hard for Rue to accept her Ghizoni identity? Given her background, why do you believe the ancestors found her worthy?

19. Though close friends, Rue and Bri experience vast cultural differences, some easier to manage than others. Discuss the similarities and differences between the girls and how those attributes play out in their friendship. Have you experienced a close friendship with someone who was culturally, racially, or socioeconomically very different from you? What are some of the joys and challenges of this friendship?

20. In Ghizon, Rue finds that her history class sweepingly omits select details and periods of the nation’s history—a history that, when told in its entirety, obliterates the virtuous image of New Ghizon that its people have known and enjoyed. What parallels, if any, do you see in how history has been written in your own cultural context?

Extension Activities

1. The story ends with Rue defeating the General, defending the honor of the Black lives lost in East Row, and exposing the truth behind the Chancellor and his magic to Ghizonis and humans alike. Write the next chapter of the book from the perspective of any character, and explore the aftermath of Rue’s successes in both East Row and in Ghizon. Be prepared to discuss your authorial choices with others.

2. Throughout the story, Rue struggles to accept all that she is and where she’s from—Rue from East Row and Jelani, a Ghizoni queen. Using the template included at the end of this guide, write your own version of the poem from the perspective of Rue, another character, or yourself. With a partner, share your poems and discuss what details you each decided to include and why. See the original poem, "Where I’m From" by George Ella Lyon, at http://www.georgeellalyon.com/where.html

3. A mantra is a word or phrase that is often repeated with the goal of motivating or changing one’s mindset toward a more positive or healthy stance. Rue’s mantra, “diamonds don’t crack,” reminds her of her worth and to be strong even in the face of adversity. Take a moment and think of an area in your life in which you could use some motivation. Create a mantra for yourself, and write a paragraph explaining your mantra and how you hope to grow and change by using it.

4. Flashback scenes, stories told by Ms. Leola and Aasim, and the keepsakes passed between Rue and Tasha make it evident that Rue’s love and adoration for her mother continues even after her passing. With a partner, take turns imagining you are Rue and have managed to figure out how to use magic to speak with Mom’s spirit for one minute only. Discuss what types of details were shared, and what this says about your interpretation of Rue and her character.

5. After learning the truth about magic, Bri struggled tremendously with what we would call white privilege. Write an essay in which you reflect on a time in which you experienced discomfort surrounding white privilege, whether as a white person or person of color. How did this experience shape your thinking surrounding race? Why do you believe you felt so uncomfortable in this situation? Were you pleased with your response? If you could relive this experience, would you change your actions in any way?

6. ​Though touted for being an elite, magic wielding nation, New Ghizon holds a distinct class structure that positions Zrukis in roles of physical labor, while the Dwegini take on jobs in areas such as entertainment, research, and medicine. Despite Bri’s assertions that the Zrukis’s mine work is an “honorable” trade, to Rue, this system appears flawed and very obviously unjust.

Some might say that Rue’s observations reveal a phenomenon theorist Antonio Gramsci would call cultural hegemony—the process of implicitly controlling a society of people by reinforcing particular beliefs and attitudes until they're understood to be common knowledge. Discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree with the principles and systems that constituted New Ghizon. How do you see cultural hegemony at work in your own societal context, if at all? (For a more detailed look into cultural hegemony, visit https://www.exploring-economics.org/en/discover/an-introduction-to-antonio-gramscis-the-prison-not/).

7. Further reading (novels similar to Wings of Ebony):

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Kingdom of Souls by Rena Barron

Legendborn by Tracy Deonn

The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna

Witches Steeped in Gold by Ciannon Smart

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Melanie Kirkwood Marshall holds a BA in Secondary English Education from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a M.Ed in Reading Education from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She has taught in many learning contexts from High School ELA teacher to Primary Literacy Interventionist. Currently, Melanie is completing her doctoral studies in Multicultural Children’s Literature at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes. For more Simon & Schuster guides and classroom materials, please visit simonandschuster.net or simonandschuster.net/thebookpantry.

WHERE I’M FROM

Template created by George Ella Lyon

I am from ________________ (specific ordinary item), from ________________ (product name) and ________________ (another one).

I am from the ________________, ________________, ________________ (home description : adjective, adjective, sensory detail).

I am from the ________________ (plant, flower, natural item), the ________________ (plant, flower, natural detail).

I am from _____________ (family tradition) and ________________ (family trait), from ________________ (name of family member) and ________________ (another family name) and ________________ (family name).

I am from the ____________________ (description of family tendency) and ___________________ (another one).

From ____________________ (something you were told as a child) and ____________________ (another one). I am from ________________ (representation of religion, or lack of it). ____________________ (Further description).

I’m from ________________ (place of birth and family ancestry), _______________, ________________ (two food items representing your family).

From the _______________________________________________________ (specific family story about a specific person and detail), the ________________________________________________ (another detail), and the _______________________________________________________ (another detail about another family member).

I am from ________________ (location of family pictures, mementos, archives)
Photograph © Chris Spicks Photography

J. Elle is the author of the instant New York Times and Indie bestseller Wings of Ebony, a YA novel about a Black teen who must lean into her ancestor’s magic to protect her inner-city community from drugs, violence, and crime. Ms. magazine calls it “the debut fantasy we need right now.” She also wrote its sequel, Ashes of Gold. Elle is a former educator and first-generation college student with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s in educational administration and human development. When she’s not writing, Elle can be found mentoring aspiring writers, binging reality TV, loving on her three littles, or cooking up something true to her Louisiana roots. 

"The best fantasy novels invent alternate worlds in order to illuminate our own. Wings of Ebony is one of them—a bold, inventive, big-hearted and deeply perceptive vision of a Black girl’s journey to reclaim her magic from forces determined to destroy her. The parallels to our current reality are unmistakable and the book brings us all a much-needed ray of hope." Nicola Yoon, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Everything, Everything and The Sun Is Also A Star

"Wings of Ebony is an intense, page-turner of a book about magic, sisterhood, community and family. Debut author J. Elle offers us a richly-wrought world, weaving together past and present with a rare blend of deft insight and keen humor that leaves the reader wanting more." Sabaa Tahir, #1 New York Times bestselling author of An Ember in the Ashes 

"There is little on earth more powerful than seeing a reflection of the self, not only as it is, but also as it COULD be. Wings of Ebony is a rooftop-shout of affirmation that black girls from ALL walks of life are magic." — Nic Stone, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Dear Martin.

 "A remarkable, breathtaking, earthshaking, poetic thrillride bristling with magic, life, and so much love. Rue and her incredible adventures will change the world." Daniel José Older, New York Times bestselling author of Shadowshaper

"A powerful, thoughtful, and masterful exploration of #BlackGirlMagic that enthralls you from the first page and refuses to let you go." Alechia Dow, author of The Sound of Stars

"A heart-racing thrilling fantasy that sucks you in from the very first page. J. Elle has such a voracious voice and she's about to change the game!" —Tiffany D. Jackson, author of Grown and Monday’s Not Coming

"J. Elle has crafted an unapologetic heroine determined to save her block from agents of stolen magic in this immersive hidden world. A thrilling and irresistible new saga about loyalty and lineage." — Kim Johnson, author of This Is My America

"Debut author Elle’s characters shine with determination and heart. The tough realities of living in an underserved community fortify Rue against great odds but also influence her reluctance to accept kindness and support. Rue grapples with her sense of community, family, and duty; despite the size of her foes and fears, she never stops fighting for justice. Heart-stopping action and intrigue from cover to cover." 

– Kirkus Reviews

'This is the debut fantasy we need right now!" 

– Ms. Magazine

"To offer much more story would be to undermine the care with which Elle tells the story of a girl discovering the breadth of her power and the richness of her cultural heritage. But allegory abounds, touching on systemic racism, the destruction of communities, colonization and the ways — good and bad — our lives and actions are interconnected."

– The Houston Chronicle

"A riveting first installment in a duology that reminds us of the power of Afro-futurism and the Black fantastic...With Rue at their side, a new generation of readers will feel empowered to love the Houston of their minds and bring to life the worlds they imagine." 

– Texas Observer

"An ode to family, true belonging and magic. Highly recommended for all collections."

– School Library Journal, starred review

"Full of grief, love, and vengeance, this poignant debut encourages readers to embrace the whole of their identities to overcome pain."

– Publishers Weekly