Deborah Falaye's Blood Scion brings Yoruba mythology and Nigerian culture to the forefront

Deborah Falaye spoke to CBC Books about what inspired her debut novel, Blood Scion, which has been longlisted for Canada Reads 2023.

Blood Scion is on the Canada Reads 2023 longlist

Blood Scion is a YA book by Deborah Falaye. (HarperTeen, John Bregar)

In 2014, when Deborah Falaye heard that 276 girls were kidnapped from school by the terrorist group Boko Haram in Chibok, Nigeria, it wasn't just a news story to her. Born and raised in Lagos before moving to Canada at age 12, the YA author related to their young lives too much to forget them. 

Years later, her debut fantasy novel Blood Scion is her way of keeping their stories alive, as well as introducing the beauty of Yoruba mythology to Canadian readers. 

In Blood Scion, a teen named Sloane discovers she is a superpowered Scion, a descendant of the ancient Orisha gods. But when she is forced to join the army under a brutal warlord, Sloane realizes she has an opportunity to use her magical powers to defeat the enemy from within.

Blood Scion is currently on the Canada Reads 2023 longlist. The final five books and the panellists who chose them will be revealed on Jan. 25, 2023.

Falaye spoke to CBC Books about why she wanted to write Blood Scion

Using fiction to humanize the news 

"I was born and raised in Nigeria. I moved to Canada at the age of 12. Those first 12 years of my life, I was really close with my grandmother — God bless her soul. Growing up, she would always tell me stories about the Orisha gods, which is the tradtional folklore of the Yoruba group, my ethnic group back in Nigeria. 

"[In Canada], I saw Lord of the Rings and movies and books about Zeus and Norse mythology. I thought it would be cool to introduce a mythology to Western society that isn't all that common. I want to bring this culture to the forefront. 

I sawLord of the Ringsand movies and books about Zeus and Norse mythology. I thought it would be cool to introduce a mythology to Western society that isn't all that common.

"While working on the book in 2014, these young girls were kidnapped in Chibok, Nigeria. It sparked this global campaign called Bring Back Our Girls. I was at York University at the time and I believe I was in my third-year social psychology class. The teacher looked at me and said, 'You're Nigerian. Can you give some perspective on this?' 

"It was difficult because I related so much to those girls. I went to school in Nigeria. I would walk to school. One of the things drilled into your head is: be careful when you're walking because kidnapping is all too common. Don't talk to strangers. Walk in groups. I related to that situation of attending school just to get education and all of a sudden, their lives are turned upside down. 

"When the whole world was putting up this hashtag '#bringbackourgirls' and all these celebrities, including Michelle Obama, were talking about it, I wasn't focused on the hashtag. There's something that happens when a hashtag goes global. People talk about it. The media picks it up. But then, what happens months later? It gets dropped for the next story.

"For me, it was not about the hashtag; it was the reality that these girls were experiencing. I kept following the story for many months. I knew that some were able to escape the atrocities and make it back home. They spoke about some of the things that they went through: they would be sold as child brides and some of them were being strapped with bombs and turned into suicide bombers and thrown into markets. 

Hearing their stories and knowing that a lot of them are still missing to this day, the story came together. It wrote itself.

"Hearing about it and reading those stories was probably one of the most difficult moments in my life. Something shifted in my perspective. I was working on Blood Scion at the time, and I delved into the unimaginable where you can take young kids and kidnap them and force them into this life of war and terror. 

"There are a lot of biographies and memoirs written that I read in my research, but I wanted to do something different. Obviously, this is not my reality, but if you are able to use fiction to shed some form of truth about what is happening in the world, I think it's equally important. 

"Hearing their stories and knowing that a lot of them are still missing to this day, the story came together. It wrote itself because I had such a strong sense of my main character at age 15 having to learn to survive."

LISTEN | #BringBackOurGirls founder says humanity has failed abducted Nigerian girls: 

Two years ago, 276 Nigerian girls were abducted by Boko Haram from a secondary school in Chibok, Nigeria. Over 200 schoolgirls are still missing. #BringBackOurGirls founder says the international community has not followed up on their promise to help.

Writing home

"[Writing about my culture] was cathartic. There is something that happens when you're an immigrant coming to a new country, having to go through the motions of knowing you're in a new place and you're now with people who don't necessarily look like you and having to assimilate in this new culture. 

"There was a part of me that forgot some of these traditions and shifted my focus away from what home was. That's one thing I am grateful to Blood Scion for: it brought me back home in a way that I needed. I needed to go on this journey with this book and main character. 

"A lot of this book speaks about identity: the idea of having to suppress who you are or change who you are just to survive and assimilate. My name in Nigeria was Tolu. That's my Yoruba name. I now go by Deborah because when I was going to school, that was one of things: 'Does she have an English name to help her adjust to the environment?' It was like, 'of course, her middle name is Deborah.' It was such a big adjustment in the beginning. 

That's one thing I am grateful to Blood Scion for: it brought me back home in a way that I needed

"Sloane talks about that early in the book, about the fact that she is now known as Sloane. They drop her last name to make it palatable to the colonized culture she is living in. It's relatable. 

"Digging deep into the culture, I would call my mom and be like, 'What is this meaning? Can you tell me this story? Do you remember that story grandma said?' It connected me to my mother, my roots, my grandmother. I am grateful for that. It brought me back home." 

The value of YA

"When I was writing Blood Scion, there was no doubt in my mind that it was going to be YA. Not only is it a beloved age group for me but when we talk about child soldiers, a lot of the stories we've seen are memoirs written by adults reflecting on their childhood. I think there's a tendency for people to read these books through adult eyes. It's hard for people to see that these people are children. 

Every child soldier has had their humanity and childhood stripped from them, and ultimately, they have to go back on that journey and reclaim those aspects [of themselves].

"In one of the books I read for research, this young man was talking about this soldier. He said, 'In that moment, when I was listening to this kid, he didn't even sound like a kid. He sounded like a 40-year-old militant.' But this was probably a 12-year-old kid with an AK-47 strapped to him. That's why I wanted Blood Scion to be in the YA space. At the end of the day, regardless of how we perceive these kids, they are still children. 

"There's a vulnerability that I think YA allows you to have, and I wanted to drive home the humanity in the story. Every child soldier has had their humanity and childhood stripped from them, and ultimately, they have to go back on that journey and reclaim those aspects [of themselves]."

Deborah Falaye's comments have been edited for length and clarity. 

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