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Instant New York Times bestseller!

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.

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.” 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. 

  • Publisher: Denene Millner Books/Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (April 1, 2021)
  • Length: 368 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781534470675
  • Ages: 14 - 99

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"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