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Salt the Water

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A Michael L. Printz Award Honor Book

Cerulean Gene is free everywhere except school, where they’re known for repeatedly challenging authority. Raised in a free-spirited home by two loving parents who encourage Cerulean to be their full self, they’ve got big dreams of moving cross-country to live off the grid with their friends after graduation. But a fight with a teacher spirals out of control, and Cerulean impulsively drops out to avoid the punishment they fear is coming. Why wait for graduation to leave an oppressive capitalist system and live their dreams? 
 
Cerulean is truly brilliant, but their sheltered upbringing hasn’t prepared them for the consequences of their choice — especially not when it’s compounded by a family emergency that puts a parent out of work. Suddenly the money they’d been stacking with their friends is a resource that the family needs to stay afloat.
 
Salt the Water is a book about dreaming in a world that has other plans for your time, your youth, and your future. It asks, what does it look like when a bunch of queer Black kids are allowed to dream? And what does it look like for them to confront the present circumstances of the people they love while still pursuing a wildly different future of their own?
© Justin Lamar Carter
Candice Iloh is a first-generation Nigerian American writer whose books center home. They are from the Midwest by way of Washington, DC, and Brooklyn, New York. They are a proud alumna of the Rhode Island Writers Colony, and their work has earned fellowships from Lambda Literary, VONA, and Kimbilio Fiction and a residency with Hi-ARTS, where they debuted their first one-person show in 2018. Candice became a 2020 National Book Award Finalist and, in 2021, a Printz Award Honoree for their debut novel, Every Body Looking. Salt the Water is their third novel. View titles by Candice Iloh
last summer we’d come up with The Pact: realizing P.S. 5000 would never send us somewhere worth the trip we’d pool our money to book tickets to sunny California for a summer / we always been just a bunch of Bronx babies knowing nothing much but bodegas, superspreader house parties & subway horror stories / but we knew something else might be on the other side / we all knew we needed to find something different than the go-to-college or bad-reality-show conveyor belt so our hustle became dreaming about what it might be like to live a different life / one filled with art / love / sunshine on our faces / not all of us were artists but we knew we wanted to create some other kind of world / somewhere / that’d allow all of us to be ourselves / something like the world Iya & Baba had made for my brother & me

but something we’d never seen
  • HONOR | 2024
    Michael L. Printz Honor Book
A Michael L. Printz Award Honor Book
A Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year


★"Daring, beautiful, and necessary."—Kirkus, starred review

★“Iloh delivers another electric novel in verse. … A necessary reminder to young adults that there’s no shame in standing up for yourself.”—Booklist, starred review 

★ “Iloh’s lyrical words, impactful text formatting, and raw emotion imbue this story with authentic joy and pain…[T]his timely exploration of the many shortcomings of the U.S. public education system will be sure to generate much discussion among students and teachers alike… A heartfelt lament for what America could be but chooses not to, this is a must-purchase for high school libraries. Recommended for fans of Ibi Zoboi and Amber McBride.” – SLJ, starred review

"Offers myriad avenues for rumination on personal autonomy and self-expression."—Publishers Weekly

"There are many things Iloh accomplishes in Salt The Water, but the most impressive, and arguably the most important, is that this unflinching portrayal of the necessary irreverence of Black teenagers on a complicated quest for self-actualization is one of the best I've seen in a long time."—Jason Reynolds, New York Times bestselling author of Long Way Down

"Candice Iloh has painted a deeply moving portrait of Cerulean, a passionate and bright teen whose abrasive school life is in direct contrast to their loving and tender home life in the Bronx. Urban gardens serve as a poignant yet hopeful metaphor for the nurturing and care that young people need to navigate tumultuous cityscapes, public schools, and the fragile fault lines in their lives and in the world." —Ibi Zoboi, National Book Award Finalist and New York Times bestselling coauthor of Punching the Air

“Candice Iloh’s Salt the Water invites the radical work of envisioning freedom. I learned so much from seventeen-year-old Cerulean: to do more than hope for and dream of freedom, but to plan for it. To bury my hands in the soil, in the vibrant verse of this story. To go there.”— Safia Elhillo, award winning author of Home Is Not a Country and Girls that Never Die

About

A Michael L. Printz Award Honor Book

Cerulean Gene is free everywhere except school, where they’re known for repeatedly challenging authority. Raised in a free-spirited home by two loving parents who encourage Cerulean to be their full self, they’ve got big dreams of moving cross-country to live off the grid with their friends after graduation. But a fight with a teacher spirals out of control, and Cerulean impulsively drops out to avoid the punishment they fear is coming. Why wait for graduation to leave an oppressive capitalist system and live their dreams? 
 
Cerulean is truly brilliant, but their sheltered upbringing hasn’t prepared them for the consequences of their choice — especially not when it’s compounded by a family emergency that puts a parent out of work. Suddenly the money they’d been stacking with their friends is a resource that the family needs to stay afloat.
 
Salt the Water is a book about dreaming in a world that has other plans for your time, your youth, and your future. It asks, what does it look like when a bunch of queer Black kids are allowed to dream? And what does it look like for them to confront the present circumstances of the people they love while still pursuing a wildly different future of their own?

Author

© Justin Lamar Carter
Candice Iloh is a first-generation Nigerian American writer whose books center home. They are from the Midwest by way of Washington, DC, and Brooklyn, New York. They are a proud alumna of the Rhode Island Writers Colony, and their work has earned fellowships from Lambda Literary, VONA, and Kimbilio Fiction and a residency with Hi-ARTS, where they debuted their first one-person show in 2018. Candice became a 2020 National Book Award Finalist and, in 2021, a Printz Award Honoree for their debut novel, Every Body Looking. Salt the Water is their third novel. View titles by Candice Iloh

Excerpt

last summer we’d come up with The Pact: realizing P.S. 5000 would never send us somewhere worth the trip we’d pool our money to book tickets to sunny California for a summer / we always been just a bunch of Bronx babies knowing nothing much but bodegas, superspreader house parties & subway horror stories / but we knew something else might be on the other side / we all knew we needed to find something different than the go-to-college or bad-reality-show conveyor belt so our hustle became dreaming about what it might be like to live a different life / one filled with art / love / sunshine on our faces / not all of us were artists but we knew we wanted to create some other kind of world / somewhere / that’d allow all of us to be ourselves / something like the world Iya & Baba had made for my brother & me

but something we’d never seen

Awards

  • HONOR | 2024
    Michael L. Printz Honor Book

Praise

A Michael L. Printz Award Honor Book
A Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year


★"Daring, beautiful, and necessary."—Kirkus, starred review

★“Iloh delivers another electric novel in verse. … A necessary reminder to young adults that there’s no shame in standing up for yourself.”—Booklist, starred review 

★ “Iloh’s lyrical words, impactful text formatting, and raw emotion imbue this story with authentic joy and pain…[T]his timely exploration of the many shortcomings of the U.S. public education system will be sure to generate much discussion among students and teachers alike… A heartfelt lament for what America could be but chooses not to, this is a must-purchase for high school libraries. Recommended for fans of Ibi Zoboi and Amber McBride.” – SLJ, starred review

"Offers myriad avenues for rumination on personal autonomy and self-expression."—Publishers Weekly

"There are many things Iloh accomplishes in Salt The Water, but the most impressive, and arguably the most important, is that this unflinching portrayal of the necessary irreverence of Black teenagers on a complicated quest for self-actualization is one of the best I've seen in a long time."—Jason Reynolds, New York Times bestselling author of Long Way Down

"Candice Iloh has painted a deeply moving portrait of Cerulean, a passionate and bright teen whose abrasive school life is in direct contrast to their loving and tender home life in the Bronx. Urban gardens serve as a poignant yet hopeful metaphor for the nurturing and care that young people need to navigate tumultuous cityscapes, public schools, and the fragile fault lines in their lives and in the world." —Ibi Zoboi, National Book Award Finalist and New York Times bestselling coauthor of Punching the Air

“Candice Iloh’s Salt the Water invites the radical work of envisioning freedom. I learned so much from seventeen-year-old Cerulean: to do more than hope for and dream of freedom, but to plan for it. To bury my hands in the soil, in the vibrant verse of this story. To go there.”— Safia Elhillo, award winning author of Home Is Not a Country and Girls that Never Die

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