Author LaDarrion Williams on YA Debut 'Blood at the Root' | 5 Questions and a Rec

In this Q&A series, SLJ poses five questions and a request for a book recommendation to a debut YA author. In the latest installment, LaDarrion Williams shares about Blood at the Root.

In this Q&A series, SLJ poses five questions and a request for a book recommendation to a debut YA author. In the latest installment, LaDarrion Williams shares about Blood at the Root


1. Congrats on your YA debut! How would you describe your book to readers?  
Thank ya, thank ya! Blood at the Root is a contemporary fantasy about a Black kid from Helena, Alabama, named Malik Baron who gets accepted into a magical HBCU called Caiman University. He soon enrolls and begins to learn about his ancestral magic in the company of other kids like him, but while there, he uncovers some dark secrets surrounding his mother’s mysterious disappearance. His mother was once a student at Caimain, too, and now he must investigate some folks at this hidden college who might have had something to do with her disappearance. 

LaDarrion Williams2. What drew you to YA to tell this story? 
There are far too few young adult fantasy novels centering Black boys as their main characters. And when I questioned why, I couldn’t get a straight answer. I wanted to help fix this and tell a story where a Black boy is the lead and his story is not about dealing with police brutality, racism, or other aspects of Black trauma that are so often the primary themes of Black stories. I wanted Blood at the Root to just be about a Black boy coming to terms with the magic that’s been blessed to him. 

3.  What, if anything, surprised you while writing it? 
Hmmm. I think maybe forcing myself to be limitless. As a playwright, I am confined to a certain space, but with novels, I can let my thoughts run wild. There are also some events in BATR that are unintentionally connected to my plays. It just happened naturally.  
4. Tell us more about the characters. Which character do you most identify with and why?
Other than Malik, I think Taye. So often Black boys like him have their innocence taken away from them, and it’s so beautiful to see him be so joyful in the small moments. I LOVE small moments because that’s where you really get to see a character be themselves, like when Taye is with Mama Aya and he’s learning to cook. (Oh, and just so you know, Taye’s relationship with cooking is going to become such a beautiful thing in the trilogy!) I identify with him because he reminds me of that innocence that the world so desperately tried to rip away from me.  

5. What do you hope readers will take away from this book? 
You know, I always say “connection,” but really what I hope is that folks understand what Malik Baron represents as a Black boy who was tossed away by society. Don’t discount him because you don’t like the way he talks or acts, or because he’s made a few mistakes. Look past your biases and learn to see him for what he is. A son, a brother, a student, a grandson. A human, just like you.

The Rec: Finally, we love YA and recommendations—what’s your favorite YA book you've read recently? 
It’s not recent, but I really loved Randy Ribay’s Patron Saints of Nothing. It’s a beautiful story. 

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