Ibi Zoboi on exploring her own experiences in her poignant new YA novel, Nigeria Jones

"I would’ve loved to read about a Black girl with a strict family who learns to find her truth and her way."

This post is sponsored by Harper360YA.

Introspective, empowering and thought-provoking, Nigeria Jones, the newest YA release from National Book Award Finalist, Ibi Zoboi, is the coming-of-age story of Nigeria Jones, a young Black teen finding her freedom and paving her own path in the world. Written with care, passion and honesty, Nigeria Jones is a powerful and unforgettable read and one your TBR will greatly benefit from. To celebrate its release, we’re honoured to have had the opportunity to chat with Ibi Zoboi herself all about this sensational new novel.

Hi Ibi, I’m thrilled to have the chance to chat to you today all about your sensational new YA novel, Nigeria Jones. For readers just hearing about it, how would you best describe it to them?

Nigeria Jones is a coming-of-age story about a girl coming to terms with her militant father, her separatist community, and the new role she has to take on when her mother leaves. Homeschooled and raised a vegan, Nigeria learns to take control of her own life when she starts a new school against her father’s wishes. This story is about personal freedom, body autonomy, and find your own path in a world and country designed to keep a girl like Nigeria in a box.

Can you tell us a little about what inspired you to write Nigeria’s story?

The story is inspired by some of the communities I was part of in college. Black separatist communities exist and they are a part of American culture and history. Also, as an immigrant teen, sometimes it felt like I grew up in a separatist community, too.

You mentioned in your authors note that there’s a lot of teen/young adult Ibi in Nigeria’s story. How do you think that Ibi would react upon reading Nigeria Jones?

I always write stories I wish I had when I was a teen. I also write for my own teen children. There are so many cultures are still not represented in books. Black kids are not a monolith, and different experiences and world views still need to be on the page and on the screen. I am not just Black and I am not just an immigrant. Nigeria Jones is about the intersectional lives of the characters. I would’ve loved to read about a Black girl with a strict family who learns to find her truth and her way.

How did you go about finding a balance in writing a fictional novel that incorporates aspects of your own life and experiences?

I always bring my full self into the books I write. But I have to remember that I was a teen in the 90s. So much has changed, but lots more remain the same. We didn’t use words like misogyny and intersectionality when describing our experiences. I wish I knew what micro-aggression and gaslighting was back then. So I have to connect the old with the new. The old feelings of being a fish-out-of-water and the new wisdom that comes with learning from past mistakes. That’s not always easy to balance.


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What is one piece of advice you’ve been given or learnt as an adult that you’d like to pass along to teen Nigeria to take with her on her journey after the books final (and wonderful) last pages?

This is the best part about writing for young readers. I do that in the story. It’s important not to be didactic as an adult writer (and mother) and allow the character to learn from their experiences. I would tell her that she’s doing an amazing job at being seventeen and standing up for herself. The world is hard for girls like Nigeria and things like questioning the beliefs you were raised on is a huge step towards independence. I would cheer her on and celebrate every milestone and accomplishment.

There are countless powerful, brilliant and incredibly emotional moments throughout the book. Are there any scenes that, during the writing process, stood out to you as especially important, difficult or enjoyable to create?

There’s a scene where Nigeria’s friend, Sage, is caring for her in a deeply profound and healing way. I want young readers to see the many ways we can care for and be tender with each other—not just emotionally but physically. The friends in this book lean against each other, hold hands, walk arm-in-arm, hug, and kiss in platonic ways. They are deeply affectionate and loving and it was important for me to show that.

Finally, do you currently have any projects in the works and if so, is there anything you can share with us?

I am always working on something. My next book with be a speculative fiction YA novel-in-verse! This is different as with all my books, and so much fun to write.

Get your copy of Nigeria Jones by Ibi Zoboi here.

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