Young Adult (YA) novels are important for a couple of reasons: They’re often easy to read and address issues teenagers face. Growing up, I read (excellent) young adult fiction, mostly by white authors. Lately, however, there has been a surge of Black, Asian, and Latino young adult authors writing books with protagonists of color and the issues they face.
In subsequent posts, I’ll share YA from Latino and Asian authors. I’ll also always recommend fantastic YA, regardless of the author’s race. But, if you’ve been on the lookout for YA by Black authors about Black teens, you’ll love this list. This is far from an exhaustive list. To find more black YA out in 2019, you can read my post about 44 books I’m hoping to read this year.
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On the corner of American Street and Joy Road, Fabiola Toussaint thought she would finally find une belle vie—a good life.
But after they leave Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Fabiola’s mother is detained by U.S. immigration, leaving Fabiola to navigate her loud American cousins, Chantal, Donna, and Princess; the grittiness of Detroit’s west side; a new school; and a surprising romance, all on her own.
Just as she finds her footing in this strange new world, a dangerous proposition presents itself, and Fabiola soon realizes that freedom comes at a cost. Trapped at the crossroads of an impossible choice, will she pay the price for the American dream?
In a hard-hitting novel about fitting in—or not—Anthony “Ant” Jones gets transported from his East Cleveland hood to an almost all-white prep school and has to figure out where he belongs…before he loses himself entirely. Black Boy White School is a memorable debut that will appeal to fans of Walter Dean Myers and Sherman Alexie.
Anthony has never been outside his rough neighborhood when he receives a scholarship to Belton Academy, an elite prep school in Maine. But at Belton things are far from perfect. Everyone calls him “Tony,” assumes he’s from Brooklyn, expects him to play basketball, and yet acts shocked when he fights back.
As Anthony tries to adapt to a world that will never fully accept him, he’s in for a rude awakening: Home is becoming a place where he no longer belongs.
Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zélie’s Reaper mother summoned forth souls.
But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope.
Now Zélie has one chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must outwit and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good.
Danger lurks in Orïsha, where snow leoponaires prowl and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. Yet the greatest danger may be Zélie herself as she struggles to control her powers and her growing feelings for an enemy.
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.
Jane McKeene was born two days before the dead began to walk the battlefields of Gettysburg and Chancellorsville—derailing the War Between the States and changing America forever. In this new nation, safety for all depends on the work of a few, and laws like the Native and Negro Reeducation Act require certain children attend combat schools to learn to put down the dead. But there are also opportunities—and Jane is studying to become an Attendant, trained in both weaponry and etiquette to protect the well-to-do. It’s a chance for a better life for Negro girls like Jane. After all, not even being the daughter of a wealthy white Southern woman could save her from society’s expectations.
But that’s not a life Jane wants. Almost finished with her education at Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore, Jane is set on returning to her Kentucky home and doesn’t pay much mind to the politics of the eastern cities, with their talk of returning America to the glory of its days before the dead rose. But when families around Baltimore County begin to go missing, Jane is caught in the middle of a conspiracy, one that finds her in a desperate fight for her life against some powerful enemies. And the restless dead, it would seem, are the least of her problems.
Since she was seven years old, Yvonne has had her trusted violin to keep her company, especially in those lonely days after her mother walked out on their family. But with graduation just around the corner, she is forced to face the hard truth that she just might not be good enough to attend a conservatory after high school.
Full of doubt about her future, and increasingly frustrated by her strained relationship with her successful but emotionally closed-off father, Yvonne meets a street musician and fellow violinist who understands her struggle. He’s mysterious, charming, and different from Warren, the familiar and reliable boy who has her heart. But when Yvonne becomes unexpectedly pregnant, she has to make the most difficult decision yet about her future.
Jeremiah feels good inside his own skin. That is, when he’s in his own Brooklyn neighborhood. But now he’s going to be attending a fancy prep school in Manhattan, and black teenage boys don’t exactly fit in there. So it’s a surprise when he meets Ellie the first week of school. In one frozen moment their eyes lock, and after that they know they fit together–even though she’s Jewish and he’s black. Their worlds are so different, but to them that’s not what matters. Too bad the rest of the world has to get in their way.
This story kinda blew my mind. When Claudia returns from summer break to realize that no one has seen her best friend Monday all summer, she starts to worry. Monday and Claudia have been best friends since forever — practically inseparable. Claudia is sure that Monday couldn’t have just abandoned her without a word, so she basically conducts her own investigation. She begins to discover chilling truths about her best friend that she never knew.
For a nearly 500 page novel, this story is incredibly fast paced, no part of it unnecessary. Monday and Claudia’s friendship is a celebration of the often intense friendships between young girls and Monday’s absence is like a missing limb. Author Tiffany Jackson doesn’t look away from the difficulties some children have to face, living in squalor and still showing up to life every single day.
CHILLING, authentic and heartbreaking — a real punch in the gut. 100% recommend.
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 Saturday morning test prep opportunities. 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 the real world and finding ways to make a real difference.
I loved this book and I’m looking forward to reading everything else Renee Watson writes.
Fifteen-year-old Kambili and her older brother Jaja lead a privileged life in Enugu, Nigeria. They live in a beautiful house, with a caring family, and attend an exclusive missionary school. They’re completely shielded from the troubles of the world. Yet, as Kambili reveals in her tender-voiced account, things are less perfect than they appear. Although her Papa is generous and well respected, he is fanatically religious and tyrannical at home—a home that is silent and suffocating.
As the country begins to fall apart under a military coup, Kambili and Jaja are sent to their aunt, a university professor outside the city, where they discover a life beyond the confines of their father’s authority. Books cram the shelves, curry and nutmeg permeate the air, and their cousins’ laughter rings throughout the house. When they return home, tensions within the family escalate, and Kambili must find the strength to keep her loved ones together.
This is a classic and my favorite novel by Nigerian author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. While it’s not marketed as YA, I think it satisfies many of the requirements, and like good YA, will be enjoyed by teens and adults alike.
In exactly one hour, eighteen minutes, and thirty-five seconds, Mina Mooney will be dipping her pink Nellie timbs into the infamous frosh pit. . .
Hoping Del Rio Bay High will live up to her greatest expectations, Mina has big plans for infiltrating the school’s social glitterati. After all, she’s been mad popular for as long as she can remember–and she isn’t about to go from Middle School Royalty to High School Ambiguity. But Del Rio Bay is a big school, so it’ll take some plotting to avoid getting lost in the crowd. Good thing she isn’t afraid of a little hard work and that her playground peeps–Lizzie, Michael, and JZ–have got her back.
But it isn’t long before Mina’s big plans for securing her social status take a back seat to some drama that was so not expected. Lizzie’s scored an invite from the beautiful people that Mina can only dream about, and not only is Michael tripping about being back in school, but now he’s beefing with JZ. Worst of all, Mina’s sociology class experiment to rid the world–or at least Del Rio Bay High–of prejudice is about to backfire. . .because it might just mean she’ll have to rid herself of her very best friend.
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.
I liked this one and because I didn’t read the blurb, I was shocked to see that parts of it were actually set in Ghana! If you get the chance to do audio, take it — there’s REAL MUSIC.
Camellia Beauregard is a Belle. In the opulent world of Orléans, Belles are revered, for they control Beauty, and Beauty is a commodity coveted above all else. In Orléans, the people are born gray, they are born damned, and only with the help of a Belle and her talents can they transform and be made beautiful.
But it’s not enough for Camellia to be just a Belle. She wants to be the favorite—the Belle chosen by the Queen of Orléans to live in the royal palace, to tend to the royal family and their court, to be recognized as the most talented Belle in the land. But once Camellia and her Belle sisters arrive at court, it becomes clear that being the favorite is not everything she always dreamed it would be. Behind the gilded palace walls live dark secrets, and Camellia soon learns that the very essence of her existence is a lie—that her powers are far greater, and could be more dangerous, than she ever imagined. And when the queen asks Camellia to risk her own life and help the ailing princess by using Belle powers in unintended ways, Camellia now faces an impossible decision.
With the future of Orléans and its people at stake, Camellia must decide—save herself and her sisters and the way of the Belles—or resuscitate the princess, risk her own life, and change the ways of her world forever.
Matt wears a black suit every day. No, not because his mom died—although she did, and it sucks. But he wears the suit for his gig at the local funeral home, which pays way better than the Cluck Bucket, and he needs the income since his dad can’t handle the bills (or anything, really) on his own. So while Dad’s snagging bottles of whiskey, Matt’s snagging fifteen bucks an hour. Not bad. But everything else? Not good. Then Matt meets Lovey. She’s got a crazy name, and she’s been through more crazy than he can imagine. Yet Lovey never cries. She’s tough. Really tough. Tough in the way Matt wishes he could be. Which is maybe why he’s drawn to her, and definitely why he can’t seem to shake her. Because there’s nothing more hopeful than finding a person who understands your loneliness—and who can maybe even help take it away.
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.
Thomas explores friendship (between Starr, Maya, Kenya), family ties (between Starr, Carlos, Seven, Pam and Starr’s parents) and the impact of community support (Tim, Lewis, Devante) and those things are my favorite parts of this story. I enjoyed every single moment of this book. Totally gripping, engrossing and un-putdownable!
Now a major motion picture. Watch the trailer of the THUG movie.
A young girl in Harlem discovers slam poetry as a way to understand her mother’s religion and her own relationship to the world. Debut novel of renowned slam poet Elizabeth Acevedo.
Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking.
But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers—especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class named Aman, who her family can never know about. With Mami’s determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself.
So when she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she doesn’t know how she could ever attend without her mami finding out, much less speak her words out loud. But still, she can’t stop thinking about performing her poems.
Because in the face of a world that may not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to be silent.
Seventeen-year-old Abike Johnson is the favorite child of her wealthy father. She lives in a sprawling mansion in Lagos, protected by armed guards and ferried everywhere in a huge black jeep.
A world away from Abike’s mansion, in the city’s slums, lives an eighteen-year-old hawker struggling to make sense of the world. His family lost everything after his father’s death and now he sells ice cream at the side of the road to support his mother and sister.
When Abike buys ice cream from the hawker one afternoon, they strike up a tentative and unlikely romance. But as they grow closer, revelations from the past threaten their relationship and both Abike and the hawker must decide where their loyalties lie.
Natasha: I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Falling in love with him won’t be my story.
Daniel: I’ve always been the good son, the good student, living up to my parents’ high expectations. Never the poet. Or the dreamer. But when I see her, I forget about all that. Something about Natasha makes me think that fate has something much more extraordinary in store—for both of us.
The Universe: Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true?
Maya Younger and her identical twin sister, Nikki, have always agreed on the important things. Friends. Boys. School. They even plan to attend the same historically African American college.
But nothing can always remain the same.
As their Portland neighborhood goes from rough-and-tumble to up-and-coming, Maya feels her connection to Nikki and their community slipping away. Nikki spends more time at trendy coffee shops than backyard barbecues, and their new high school principal is more committed to erasing the neighborhood’s “ghetto” reputation than honoring its history. Home doesn’t feel like home anymore. As Maya struggles to hold on to her black heritage, she begins to wonder with whom–or where–she belongs. Does growing up have to mean growing apart?
When Marvin Johnson’s twin, Tyler, goes to a party, Marvin decides to tag along to keep an eye on his brother. But what starts as harmless fun turns into a shooting, followed by a police raid.
The next day, Tyler has gone missing, and it’s up to Marvin to find him. But when Tyler is found dead, a video leaked online tells an even more chilling story: Tyler has been shot and killed by a police officer. Terrified as his mother unravels and mourning a brother who is now a hashtag, Marvin must learn what justice and freedom really mean.
There you have ’em! 20 of the best black YA novels, going by my experience, recommendations, and Goodreads ratings. I know I missed out on many others, so please feel free to pop your recommendations in the comments!
Which of these have you read? And which ones are on your TBR? Which ones did you not know about before this list? Finally, what book lists would you like to see? Let me know!