Saturday, February 3, 2024

Young Adult Books by Black Writers for Black History Month

I wanted to kick-off Black History month by spotlighting some of my favorite young adult books by Black authors.

The Track Series by Jason Reynolds:

GhostPatina, SunnyLu

    Since I am not the sportiest person, I wasn’t sure what I’d get out of a book about a kid joining a track team, but I should have known that Jason Reynolds would always win me over with his words. I don’t think he can write a bad book, and if you’re not reading him, you gotta pick some up.
    After Ghost, I was totally hooked by the Track series. Patina is so well-done, with characters going through things you don’t typically see in fiction, but do see in real life. It’s so refreshing to see real struggles represented in fiction.
    I think Sunny has been my favorite of the Track series so far, and that’s saying a lot. Sunny has such a distinct style, and the way everything sounded like music to him is an infectious way of thinking. Since I finished this book, I’ve been hearing beats and rhymes everywhere I go, and it’s just what I need to bring a smile to my face. Can’t wait yet am sad to finish the Track series soon...
    I’m so sad to end the Track series, so it seemed appropriate that I cried through the last few pages. This book was so good, and the whole series is so good. I love how the characters had truly unique voices and situations and experiences. I recommend this to anyone and everyone.

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely

Powerful and emotional. Rashad is absent again today. It's spray painted on the sidewalk in front of the high school after Rashad is beaten up by a cop on a Friday afternoon. Some people take the cop's side and say Rashad was stealing, pointing to his sagging jeans as evidence. Other people take Rashad's side, saying he'd never break the law, pointing to his ROTC uniform as evidence. No matter who's side you take, the proof is in the video footage sweeping the internet: Rashad is restrained while he is being beaten, accused of resisted arrest. But how can you resist if you're already cuffed on the ground? Who knows how the case will turn out once it hits the courts, but before that, Rashad's high school classmates are hitting the streets for a good old fashioned protest, and they hope other citizens will join the cause.

Take the Mic: Fictional Stories of Everyday Resistance

These short stories of resistance are fiction, but they are incredibly realistic and could happen to anyone. The characters are diverse, in regards to skin color, religion, gender, and more. They all have some adversity in life and react in different ways, whether they quietly stand up for themselves or the underdog, or protest and push for change on a large scale. Because of the scope of the diversity and the reactions, I think all readers will feel empowered to make a difference in their daily lives, however they can. This is definitely a must-read for tweens and teens, but I think adults need to read it, too.

Love Radio by Ebony LaDelle

This book is AMAZING. I love YA books but YA romance is so hit or miss—it’s either over-the-top romantic or very sex-oriented. This book had just passing mentions of sex and the “love” aspect was incredibly realistic. Not to mention Dani and Prince are both fantastically real, wonderful characters. I think I’ll re-read this often, and can’t wait to read more by the author.

Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam

This book is AMAZING. So powerful, so necessary, and such a unique verse novel. But unfortunately, the story told is not unique - a black teenager imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. I love that YA novels are being written about situations like this so our teens will grow (or hopefully continue) to be empathetic people and anti-racists.

Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson

This book was so beautiful; I wish it was possible to see Jade’s art because it sounds so exquisite and meaningful. I love how relevant and powerful the story was, and recommend it to everyone. It’s a quick read but it will drag you in and squeeze your heart.

How It Went Down and Light It Up by Kekla Magoon

Loved How It Went Down! Written years before Dear Martin and The Hate U Give but tackling a similar subject of a black teen being killed by a white man. The great part of this book is that it’s so real - no one knows for sure if the teen was armed, if he threatened someone, if he was a thief - we hear from everyone involved with the main character and his city block, and nothing is certain.
    Reread 2020:  I read this book two and a half years ago and thought about it so often that I knew it was time to re-read it. It’s sadly still relevant, telling an all too familiar story of a young black man being killed by a white man who gets off unscathed. The most fascinating thing about this book is how it’s told - so many different characters who saw what happened and/or knew the main players are telling what they saw and what they know. Which, of course, is a whole bunch of conflicting information. I can’t say enough good things about this book, I’m just pushing you to read it yourself. And let’s talk about it.
    I loved How It Went Down for how concise it was in telling the same story from the points of view of a whole neighborhood. The sequel, Light It Up, tells a story about another shooting incident that is too timely - a cop somehow finds a 13yo Black girl a threat and shoots her in the back. This takes place in the same neighborhood as Tariq’s shooting, so the same characters are back. It’s nice to see what they’ve been up to, and I love how this book delves a bit more into their lives.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

I love Love LOVED this book! It was really engaging - I was immediately drawn into the story and cared about the characters. No one was all good or all bad, and I really appreciate that because I feel like that can be hard to portray. I think this showed a unique side to senseless shootings - a side that needs to be heard and read and understood. Beautiful book, and I’ve heard the audiobook is amazing as well, so I might actually re-read it as an audiobook. HIGHLY recommended.

Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas

It took me a minute to get into this one because I couldn’t remember as much of The Hate U Give as I wished I had. When I re-read this, I’ll definitely re-read The Hate U Give to get some perspective. But once I got into the story, it was amazing, as Thomas’s writing always is. I love the world she created and how it meshed with some of Nic Stone’s characters in a very slick way.

On the Come Up by Angie Thomas

I think I loved this even more than The Hate U Give! Angie Thomas is brilliant at creating realistic characters that draw you into their world, and Bri is no different. I heard her raps in my head and fell in love with how her mind made rhymes from one random word jumping out at her from a train of thought. Can’t recommend this one enough!

Silhouetted by the Blue by Traci L. Jones

As someone who struggles with “blue periods” and has been in relationships with depressed people, this book really hit home. It was very well-done and on point, while keeping its finger on the pulse of the underlying issue.

Odd One Out by Nic Stone

This book is so good! Just enough drama to remind me of the fun times of high school (…now that I’m far away from them!). I like that it was told from three different voices so the reader has the insider’s scoop of what’s going on, and you keep rooting for them in your head, but of course you can’t help them, you gotta let it play out. So so good. Read it if you want a fun escape and some delightful drama.

Jackpot by Nic Stone

Nic Stone is absolutely amazing. I love how the “romance” in this book wasn’t full blown - it helped it seem more realistic, and I think it’s important for teens to know that not every romance needs to be true love or long-lasting or even sexual. But of course that was just a small part of the overall story, which was so well done and suspenseful. I’d kind of like to see the ending go the other way, but who doesn’t like a happy ending?

Dear Martin and Dear Justyce by Nic Stone

Dear Martin was phenomenal. I loved The Hate U Give and this is a great book to read along with it. I felt like this one had a bit more depth and exploration, but that might be because Justyce, the main character, was more immersed in different situations that rounded out his character quite a bit.
    I had to re-read this one so I’d be in the right frame of mind to read Dear Justyce. I think I loved it even more the second time around, though maybe that was due to the current climate? I’ve also been reading more Nic Stone books since I first read this one, and I absolutely LOVE her writing style. Her characters are always so realistic, which makes it a more emotional book than you might be expecting.
    I have to admit I went into Dear Justyce thinking “Ok, another companion novel that won’t be as good as the first.” But DAMN this one blew my mind. I absolutely loved how it was from Quan’s point of view, and the use of flashbacks was so powerful. Nic Stone is an amazing writer and her foreword and afterword absolutely made this book 10x more powerful and emotional than the story was on its own. I can’t recommend both Dear Martin and Dear Justyce enough - for teens, sure, but also I think it should be required reading for adults to (hopefully??) help us change how we see things.

Grown by Tiffany D. Jackson

I went down an Aaliyah rabbit hole and people were recommending this book for insight. I know it’s fiction, but it definitely rang true, especially since the author twice said in the end that it’s NOT about R. Kelly… then called for a boycott against R. Kelly in the last line. Reading Wikipedia gives enough info to clarify. It was a really good book, though I did hate the implication that Enchanted had mental illness because it seemed tacked on and almost like a potential cop-out that the author eventually decided she didn’t need, which is what I disliked about Monday’s Not Coming, the other book I’ve read by her.

Between the Lines by Nikki Grimes

I loved how this book was a mash-up of poetry and narrative. The characters were developed just enough to have dimension without being too involved or hard to keep track of. It was a very moving story that makes me wish I could re-live my high school years in this environment.

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

Loved this book, how the text moved with the story. Interesting subject matter, and I think it will grab a lot of young boys and reluctant readers. The ending was a little overly sentimental and dramatic, but it was a good book overall.

Monster by Walter Dean Myers

Interesting book about a young black man who is on trial for participating in a crime. It’s written from his point of view, as if he were writing a movie script based on the circumstances. I love that we never really know his role in the crime.

You Don't Even Know Me by Sharon G. Flake

Poems and short stories from the points of view of several different young African-American boys. Very well-done and interesting.

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