Hey, bookworms! February is Black History month here in the United States and we wanted to do something in honor of it! Though there has been more and more representation of people of color in books and in media in general, positive and accurate representation is still relatively limited. We are always thrilled to see accurate representation of any kind, but because of our own identities we are particularly happy when we find black/African American representation, especially in books!
We’ve decided to create a reading guide with books written by black authors, and/or featuring black main characters. These will be a mix of books that one or both of us have read, as well as books that we have heard great things about and want to read. We compiled a pretty big list for this so we’ll be splitting this up into two posts. This post will be books that we’ve read and the next post will be the books that we want to read Let’s get into part one!
Books We’ve Read
The Hate U Give by: Angie Thomas
Dear Martin by: Nic Stone
These first two books feature and were written by African American women. They are probably the two YA books most relevant to what is going on in the United States today. Things have definitely changed for the better since slavery and Jim Crow, but those things are not as far back in history as they seem, and racism is still very much alive and well. Police brutality is a serious problem in the U.S. today. In particular, police brutality against African Americans is happening at an alarming rate in comparison to other races. This issue has gained national attention and sparked the Black Lives Matter movement. These books are great representations of how many people, black and white, feel about systemic racism and oppression in the U.S. The books also push back at the fallacy that high class and privilege exempt African Americans from experiencing racism and oppression. These books are timely, powerful, honest, and important, and we would recommend them to anyone.
The Skin I’m In by: Sharon G. Flake
Sharon G. Flake is an African American author who has written multiple books featuring black main characters as well as many nonfiction books that focus on African American people. The Skin I’m In is a middle grades book that we feel is a great read for anyone, but in particular, we feel this book could be beneficial to, and resonate with, young, black girls and boys. In this book, Sharon G. Flake takes on the topic of colorism, something that is very real, and is not talked about enough. In this story, Malika, a darker skinned, African American girl, is constantly made fun of by her classmates because of her darker skin. The catch here is that a majority of her classmates are also black, but their skin isn’t as dark. Unfortunately, even among people of color, lighter toned skin is sometimes viewed as “more desirable” causing people with darker skin to have insecurities and to feel less than. Flake reflects these insecurities so honestly through Malika’s story. We both love this book and would recommend it to anyone, but especially, to young, black middle grade readers.
The Sun Is Also a Starby: Nicola Yoon
Nicola Yoon is a Jamaican American author. This book was her first novel and it features a Jamaican teenage girl named Natasha. This story follows the day in which Natasha and her family are to be deported from the U.S. back to Jamaica. On this same day, she meets Daniel, a Japanese American boy, and they spend the day together. We both really love this book, and it was one of our top ten reads of 2017. This book touches on a lot of different topics and features a lot of other characters and perspectives. For the sake of this post however, we feel it’s important to highlight that this book gives insights on topics like the history of black hair, prejudice, and Jamaican culture. This book has a romance that we really love, but it is also a powerful and timely read outside of the romance, and we would recommend it to anyone.
Everything Everything by: Nicola Yoon
This is Nicola’s second novel. In it she features Maddie, a half African American, half Japanese, teenage girl. We love this representation of a person who is mixed race and we love Nicola’s reasoning behind writing Maddie. Nicola has said that growing up she never saw herself reflected in books and she didn’t want that to be the case for her own daughter. For this reason she wrote Maddie with her daughter in mind. We do have our qualms about this book, but on race representation alone, we feel this is a great book to include in this guide.
American Street by: Ibi Zoboi
Dawlyn: Ibi Zoboi is a Haitian children’s and YA author. She immigrated to the U.S. from Haiti with her mother when she was four years old and has lived here since. This book is Zoboi’s debut novel and it came out last year. It’s particularly special to me because I am Haitian American and this is the first fiction novel that I have read that features a Haitian main character. This story follows Fabiola, a 16 year old girl, who after coming into the U.S. from Haiti, is left to live with her cousins and aunt without her mother, who was detained at the airport. I didn’t relate to a lot of Fabiola’s experiences, as I was born and raised in the U.S., but I absolutely loved seeing aspects of Haitian culture accurately represented throughout this story. Haiti is very often misrepresented in media, especially in the news, which is another reason why this book and its representation is so important to me. Haiti has its problems, it’s far from perfect, but it is the first black nation to have successfully rebelled and freed itself from slavery to gain its independence. That alone speaks to the strength of its people. I would recommend this to anyone who wants to learn more about Haitian culture.
Monster by: Walter Dean Myers
Dawlyn: Walter Dean Myers was an African American author who wrote multiple books featuring African American main characters. I’ve read monster three or four times and each time I’ve gotten something new from it! The story follows Steve, a black teenage boy on trial for murder. The book is uniquely formatted as a screenplay written by Steve, and it is also written in the form of his diary entries. This book has many running themes throughout it such as race, peer pressure, and dehumanization. There are some autobiographical elements to this story, for example: Steve being called a monster in court for his alleged crimes is reflective of Myers having been called a monster whenever he defended himself for selling drugs as a teenager. This book is being adapted to film and it will premiere this year at the Sundance Film Festival. I would recommend this to anyone looking for a uniquely written contemporary with a little bit of mystery to it.
Bud, Not Buddy by: Christopher Paul Curtis
Dawlyn: I read this book multiple times throughout elementary school and my personal copy is so worn that the cover is close to falling off. This book sparked my love for historical fiction, and I’d love to reread it again someday soon. Christopher Paul Curtis is African American and this story features Bud, a ten-year-old African American boy, living during the great depression. I love this story because it’s such an adventure and keeps you on your toes! I would recommend this to anyone looking for a good children’s historical fiction story.
Numbering All the Bones by: Ann Rinaldi
Dawlyn: I read this book in elementary school and like Bud, Not Buddy, it fueled my love for historical fiction. Ann Rinaldi is white and she has written many books taking place in different time periods in history. This book features Euiinda, a thirteen-year-old, mixed-race slave living during the tail end of the U.S. Civil War. It also incorporates the infamous Andersonville Prison and the Red Cross founder Clara Barton. I loved this book and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading Historical Fiction.
Year of Yes by: Shonda Rhimes
Dawlyn: This book is Shonda Rhimes’s reflection of a transformative year in her life. She is one of my favorite people. Not only is she currently dominating television with her production company and shows like Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal, but she is known for the diverse casts in her shows. One of my favorite things about her is that she writes her shows as the world is, or at least how it should be, and not in order to fill some diversity quota. This is something that she addresses in her book. She is one of the few women in power in television and one of the even fewer women of color that are in power in television. I love Shonda and this book and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to know more about her.
Brown Girl Dreaming by: Jacqueline Woodson
Dawlyn: Jacqueline Woodson is an African American author who grew up going back and forth between the north and the south in the United States, during the 1960s and 70s. She has written multiple children’s books featuring black main characters, as well as books of poetry like this one. This book is a memoir about her childhood and being raised between two worlds. This book was written beautifully and despite it being a memoir, the historical context gives honest insights into the lives of African Americans in the late 1900s. I really enjoyed it and I would recommend it to anyone looking to pick something up in the nonfiction genre.
We Should All Be Feminists by: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a Nigerian author. She has written multiple fiction novels featuring black main characters, one of which we want to read and will be talking about in part 2 of this guide! This book however, is an essay that was adapted from a TED talk of the same name, that Chimamanda gave in Africa. In this essay she writes about her experiences as a Nigerian feminist, and the negative responses and connotations that come along with identifying as a feminist. Chimamanda further explains what being a feminist means to her, how we should change the perception of the word feminist, and how “we should all be feminists”. This is a very short book, but it definitely packs a punch. Chimamanda has such a wonderful way with words, and reading her experiences and insights as a Nigerian feminist was beautiful. We really enjoyed this book, and definitely recommend it to anyone!
The Color Purple by: Alice Walker
Dawlyn: Alice Walker is an African American activist, teacher, and author who has written multiple novels, essays, and poems. This book however is her most popular work for which she won a Pulitzer Prize for fiction. She was the first African American woman to win this award. The Color Purple is the story of an African American girl named Celie and the struggles she faced while living in poverty and segregation in the south. This book has been adapted into film, theatre, and radio. It is a classic American novel that I feel is an important addition to this list.
Beloved by: Toni Morrison
Dawlyn: Toni Morrison is an African American editor, teacher, and author of multiple novels, and essays. Beloved is her most popular novel for which she won a Pulitzer Prize for fiction. The book was inspired by an African American slave named Margaret Garner. The story is set post Civil War and follows Sethe, an escaped slave, who is haunted by the ghost of the child she killed to keep the child from being recaptured into slavery. This book has been adapted to both film and radio and is a classic in American Literature. This book was heartbreaking, but powerful, and I really enjoyed it. I would recommend it to anyone. There are actually two books, Jazz and Paradise that Morrison wrote that are linked to Beloved by recurring themes. Together they are often referred to as ‘The Trilog”, and I hope to read the other two at some point as well.
Between the World and Me by: Ta-Nehisi Coates
Krista: Ta-Nehisi Coates is an African American author, journalist, and comic book writer, who is known for writing about politics and social issues. This book is a memoir written in the form of a letter to his son, and it is absolutely honest, heartbreaking, and beautifully written! Ta-Nehisi Coates goes into great detail about the experiences black people face and how the world is designed to treat people of color. It is definitely a difficult and emotional book to read, however I’m so glad that I read it and definitely recommend it to anyone and everyone! I also want to listen to the audiobook version of this book sometime soon, it is narrated by Coates and I hear it makes the book that much more powerful.
Up From Slavery by: Booker T. Washington
Booker T. Washington was an African American who was born into slavery in 1856. He was an educator, author, orator, and advisor to presidents of the United States. Up From Slavery is Washington’s second autobiography and his most popular work. In it he reflects on his life coming out of slavery and the struggles he faced in on his journey afterward an into his career. We both read this book for school, and we really enjoyed it. Washington is an important historical figure in American history and his life’s work was impactful to many during his time. We would recommend this to anyone who wants to learn more about him.
Renegades by: Marissa Meyer.
Renegades is told from the perspective of two main characters, Sketch and Nightmare. Although it was never explicitly said that Sketch is black he is described as having darker skin, and we see him as black in our heads and have heard others who have read this book refer to him as black. Marissa Meyer is a white author, and we appreciate her incorporating diverse characters into her stories. We have read a lot of her books within the last year, and she has become one of our favorite authors! This book is her take on superheroes, and we very much enjoyed it. If you love fantasy, superheroes, and are looking for a book with a black main character we definitely recommend this one!
Winter by: Marissa Meyer
This book is the fourth in the Lunar Chronicles series. This book features Princess Winter, who is a reimagined version of Snow White. LIke Sketch in Renegades, it is never explicitly stated that she is black; she is only described as having dark skin. In the world of this series, she is just Lunar, which are a race of people who are born on the moon. Still, in our minds she is black and we have heard her referred to as black by other fans of the book. We love this book and this series so much and we appreciate the diverse characters, Winter as well as a few other main and supporting characters, that Marissa Meyer included in it. We would highly recommend this series to anyone interested in fairy tale retellings!
Dorothy Must Die by: Danielle Paige
Dawlyn: I read this book last year and I enjoyed it. It’s the first in a quartet. The main character in this book isn’t black but Danielle Paige is. This series is pretty popular and we feel she is a great addition to this guide! We had the opportunity to meet her last year and she is so sweet! I’m excited to continue on with this series and I would recommend it to anyone interested in a Wizard of Oz retelling!
Binti by: Nnedi Okorafor
Nnedi has written multiple books featuring black main characters and we will be talking about one that we want to read in part two! Binti is a Sci-Fi/Fantasy short story about a dark-skinned girl who is the only person from her village that has ever been invited to attend the most elite university in the galaxy, which is on a different planet. People from Binti’s village typically never leave. This is an incredibly unique story that is unlike anything we have read before. The world Nnedi Okorafor created is so intriguing and creative. There are also a lot of parallels between Binti’s world and our own, and this is a really powerful story about a girl who is looked at as being different and an outsider, and it’s that very fact that makes her a hero. We loved this story, and definitely cannot wait to read more of Nnedi Okorafor’s work!
There’s Someone Inside Your House by: Stephanie Perkins
Krista: This book features a biracial main character, Makani is Hawaiian and African American. Stephanie Perkins is a white author, and I love how she wrote about a diverse main character in her book. I have not read many books at all with biracial main characters, and as a biracial person myself, I was so excited to see that representation in this book! This is a very short novel about a series of murders that are happening in a small town. Therefore, Makani’s experiences as a biracial person are not the forefront of this book. However, Stephanie Perkins does go into the feelings of being an outsider Makani experiences as the only person that looks like her in this small, predominantly white town. If you like slasher type thriller novels and are looking for a diverse read, I definitely recommend this one!
Thanks so much for taking the time out to read our post! Have you read any of these books? How did you like them? Are there any books you’ve read that you would include in this guide? Let us know in the comments and stay tuned for part two where we’ll talk about books we want to read!