Reading feeds my soul, so I read a lot. I thought that I’d start letting people in on some of the best books that I have the opportunity to read over the course of the year. Some of these are newer titles; some of the titles are classics. I will be reviewing both fiction and non-fiction because both genres have value. I happen to have an affinity for YA and – as it happens – I picked up a copy of The Gilded Ones, a new YA fantasy title by Namina Forna. This is her debut novel and is the first book in a trilogy.

Don’t let the fact that this is a YA title fool you. The writing is deep and rich. The subjects that Forna writes about are significant and gut-wrenching. It goes far beyond traditional YA themes of teen angst. Forna deftly deals with issues of race, gender roles, and how we treat people who we consider to be different.

The novel introduces us to Deka, a young woman who is ostracized because she is an outsider and looks different than the rest of the people of her small community. At 16, each young woman is required to shed blood to show that she is pure. If her blood is gold, than she is deemed to be impure. Deka’s ceremony is interrupted by an attack by outside forces and she gets injured during the melee, showing that she has impure blood. She is then subjected to horrific tortures by the “priests” in town who literally attempt to bleed her dry in attempt to make money off of her blood.

She is “saved” by a mysterious woman who takes her away to a special training ground for mystics – alaki – like Deka. They cannot die. The woman seeks to create a special army of the alaki designed to help save the empire. This sets Deka on a journey of self acceptance; along the way she makes friends and creates a family that she so desperately is looking for.

As with any fantasy novel, no one is quite what they seem and everyone’s motivations are suspect. One thing is clear, however; the horrors that these young women…girls, really…have to endure once they’re proved to be “impure” is grisly, at best. It can be difficult to read, but it’s an important message. As with much of the fantasy genre, general themes are applicable to every day life. This point is driven home even more by the recent real life events with the former USA Gymnastics coach who was charged with human trafficking.

It’s an upsetting world that Forna forces upon us; especially for those of us who are – essentially – in a position of power. It is impossible – or at the very least it should be – to read her novel and not ask ourselves, how did we get here? And while introspection is important, let’s not merely accept our navel gazing as anything more than a deterrent to what actually needs to happen. We must appropriately move forward as allies to people of color and women. At a minimum, it’s time that we start listening to seek to understand.

I was born and raised in Berkeley, CA and have always considered myself an unabashed liberal. I support liberal policies and candidates and am an adamant opponent of bootstrappers. I’ve done everything that I always believed that I was supposed to do and yet…after reading The Gilded Ones I find my beliefs being challenged. Have I done enough? What is enough? How can I truly be an ally?

These are vital questions that must be answered, and they must be answered soon – especially within the real estate industry. Black homeownership, in particular, and minority homeownership, in general, is shrinking and not keeping pace with population growth. Additionally, Black and Latinx homeownership is continuing to be segregated out into smaller and smaller quadrants within communities. As an industry, we have a crucial role in preventing this ongoing gentrification. Forna’s novel created a safe – if uncomfortable – space for me to begin to ask and seek answers to these questions. It is, without a doubt, one of the best stories I have ever read and it is my hope that – given enough time – it will be included in whatever YA pantheon exists. In my ever-so-humble opinion, it is a novel worthy of the canon.

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