story behind the book | kate tuttle

YA fantasy with roots in West Africa

David Wilson for the Boston Globe
Tomi Adeyemi

Growing up in her Chicago suburb, Tomi Adeyemi was accustomed to a world in which nearly everyone but her family was white. She didn’t see many other Nigerian-Americans, either in school or in the books she adored.

Her parents, who had come to the United States from Nigeria as young adults, expected a lot from their children. Adeyemi, a 2015 Harvard graduate, excelled in school and beyond. But she was unable to shake her urge to write fiction — a secret love she had kept hidden throughout childhood. Her parents, she added, “were nervous when I left investment banking.” But less than two years after their daughter chose a literary life, her success seems undeniable.

Adeyemi’s debut novel, “Children of Blood and Bone,” the first in a planned trio of YA fantasy books, came out this month to enthusiastic reviews and an already-inked movie deal. Adeyemi is thrilled that her story will live both in print and on screen.


The book is fantasy, but she added, “it’s based on my Nigerian heritage. The mythology and religion I draw on is based in West Africa.” Adeyemi built her fictional world from the real language, landscape, and architecture of her ancestors; she named places on her world’s map after her grandparents. “It’s based on the culture they gifted to me,” she added. “It’s basically my heart in a book.”

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Naturally, her parents are thrilled. “They are so excited,” she said. “I’m proud of how social media savvy they’ve become!”

As a girl, she didn’t see herself when she read. “I actually didn’t think people like me could be in books,” Adeyemi said, adding, “this book is for everybody — but I wrote this for the girls who look like me.”

Adeyemi will read at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Brookline Booksmith.

Kate Tuttle, president of the National Book Critics Circle, can be reached at