Between Dear Martin and The Hate U Give, last year was revolutionary for black authors and stories in YA.
We couldn’t be more excited to see these stories getting the attention they deserve, and we can’t wait for even more in the years to come! We read lots of black literature last month and we want to keep the spirit going. That’s why we made a list of our top nine picks to celebrate black history all year! Let us know what you think of these books and tell us what else you’re reading in the comments below.
1. Dear Martin by Nic Stone
Dear Martin is one of our favorite books of all time. It’s a New York Times bestseller that thoughtfully tackles race relations.
Justyce McAllister is top of his class and set for the Ivy League—but none of that matters to the police officer who just put him in handcuffs. And despite leaving his rough neighborhood behind, he can’t escape the scorn of his former peers or the ridicule of his new classmates. Justyce looks to the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for answers. But do they hold up anymore? He starts a journal to Dr. King to find out.
Then comes the day Justyce goes driving with his best friend, Manny, windows rolled down, music turned up—way up, sparking the fury of a white off-duty cop beside them. Words fly. Shots are fired. Justyce and Manny are caught in the crosshairs. In the media fallout, it’s Justyce who is under attack.
2. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
The Hate U Give made huge waves in the YA community this year. Practically everyone’s obsessing over it, and we’re no exception.
Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend, Khalil, at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed. Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family.
What everyone wants to know is: What really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr. But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.
3. Monster by Walter Dean Meyers
Monster will have you on the edge of your seat. It’s an emotional read, but there’s so much truth to it.
Sixteen-year-old Steve Harmon is on trial for murder. A Harlem drugstore owner was shot and killed in his store, and the word is that Steve served as the lookout.
Guilty or innocent, Steve becomes a pawn in the hands of “the system,” cluttered with cynical authority figures and unscrupulous inmates who will turn in anyone to shorten their own sentences. Steve is forced to think about who he is as he faces prison, where he may spend all the tomorrows of his life.
As a way of coping with the horrific events that entangle him, Steve, an amateur filmmaker, decides to transcribe his trial into a script, just like in the movies. He writes it all down, scene by scene, the story of how his whole life was turned around in an instant. But despite his efforts, reality is blurred and his vision obscured until he can no longer tell who he is or what is true.
4. Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson
Piecing Me Together follows a young black girl trying to overcome the obstacles society has placed in her path. It’s an eye-opening, breathtaking read that made us take a step back and think.
Jade believes she must get out of her neighborhood if she’s ever going to succeed. Her mother says she has to take every opportunity. She has. She accepted a scholarship to a mostly white private school and even does Saturday-morning test prep. But some opportunities feel more demeaning than helpful. Like an invitation to join Women to Women, a mentorship program for “at-risk” girls. Except really, it’s for black girls. From “bad” neighborhoods. But Jade doesn’t need support. And just because her mentor is black doesn’t mean she understands Jade. And maybe there are some things Jade could show these successful women about finding ways to make a real difference in the real world.
5. Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
Jason Reynolds has done it again! He’s given us a timeless story that we can’t put down, and you won’t be able to, either!
You can call it a gun. That’s what fifteen-year-old Will has shoved in the back waistband of his jeans. See, his brother Shawn was just murdered. And Will knows the rules. No crying. No snitching. Revenge.
That’s where Will’s now heading, with that gun shoved in the back waistband of his jeans, the gun that was his brother’s. He gets on the elevator at the seventh floor. He knows who he’s after. Or does he? As the elevator descends and stops on the sixth floor, on comes Buck. Buck, Will finds out, is who gave Shawn the gun before Will took the gun. Buck tells Will to check that the gun is even loaded. And that’s when Will sees that one bullet is missing. And the only one who could have fired Shawn’s gun was Shawn. Huh. Will didn’t know that Shawn had ever actually USED his gun. Bigger huh. BUCK IS DEAD. But Buck’s in the elevator?
Just as Will’s trying to think this through, the door opens on the next floor. A teenage girl gets on and waves away the smoke from Dead Buck’s cigarette. Will doesn’t know her, but she knew him. Knew. When they were eight. And stray bullets had cut through the playground, and Will had tried to cover her, but she was hit anyway, and so what she wants to know, on that fifth-floor elevator stop, is what if Will—Will with the gun shoved in the back waistband of his jeans—MISSES?
And so it goes, the whole long way down, as the elevator stops on each floor, and at each stop someone connected to his brother gets on to give Will a piece of a bigger story than the one he knows. A story that he might never know . . . if he gets off that elevator.
6. Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert
Little & Lion is a multilayered story. Themes of race, mental health, and sexuality all come into play in this contemporary YA that had us all in tears until the end.
When Suzette comes home to Los Angeles from her boarding school in New England, she isn’t sure if she’ll ever want to go back. LA is where her friends and family are (along with her crush, Emil). And her stepbrother, Lionel, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, needs her emotional support.
But as she settles into her old life, Suzette finds herself falling for someone new . . . the same girl her brother is in love with. When Lionel’s disorder spirals out of control, Suzette is forced to confront her past mistakes and find a way to help her brother before he hurts himself—or worse.
7. Calling My Name by Liara Tamani
Calling My Name is the perfect coming-of-age story. By exploring family relationships and self-acceptance, it gives us something that everyone can relate to.
This unforgettable novel tells a universal coming-of-age story about Taja Brown, a young African American girl growing up in Houston, Texas. It beautifully explores the struggles of growing up, battling family expectations, discovering a sense of self, and finding a unique voice and purpose. Told in fifty-three short, episodic, moving, and iridescent chapters, Calling My Name follows Taja on her journey from middle school to high school. This literary and noteworthy novel deftly captures the multifaceted struggle of finding where you belong and why you matter.
8. Solo by Kwame Alexander
This book is everything! Music, freedom, and a journey—you’ll definitely learn something new about yourself by the end of this book.
Blade never asked for a life of the rich and famous. In fact, he’d give anything not to be the son of Rutherford Morrison, a washed-up rock star and drug addict with delusions of a comeback. Or to no longer be part of a family known most for lost potential, failure, and tragedy. The one true light is his girlfriend, Chapel, but her parents have forbidden their relationship, assuming—like many—that Blade will become just like his father.
In reality, the only thing Blade has in common with Rutherford is the music that lives inside them. But not even the songs that flow through Blade’s soul are enough when he’s faced with two unimaginable realities: the threat of losing Chapel forever, and the revelation of a long-held family secret, one that leaves him questioning everything he thought was true. All that remains is a letter and a ticket to Ghana—both of which could bring Blade the freedom and love he’s been searching for, or leave him feeling even more adrift.
9. The Beauty That Remains by Ashley Woodfolk
This one isn’t out just yet, but come March 6, this is definitely going to be on top of our list. It’s a gorgeous story about life and love after loss, that none other than Queen Angie Thomas called a, “stunning, heart-wrenching look at grief that will stay with you long after you put it down.”
Music brought Autumn, Shay, and Logan together. Death might pull them apart.
Autumn always knew exactly who she was: a talented artist and a loyal friend. Shay was defined by two things: her bond with her twin sister, Sasha, and her love of music. And Logan has always turned to writing love songs when his real love life was a little less than perfect.
But when tragedy strikes each of them, somehow music is no longer enough. Now Logan is a guy who can’t stop watching vlogs of his dead ex-boyfriend. Shay is a music blogger who’s struggling to keep it together. And Autumn sends messages that she knows can never be answered.
Despite the odds, one band’s music will reunite them and prove that after grief, beauty thrives in the people left behind.