By Maddie Scott
Young adult literature has long been seen as illegitimate in the larger literary world, seen as silly, rarely taken seriously. Often when someone hears “young adult literature”, they think immediately of love triangles and vampires, of quiet mousy-haired girls that catch the eyes of brooding male heroes. There is a basis for those stereotypes, thanks to the flood of novels in that format that filled bookstore shelves in the early 2010s. However, young adult literature has grown so much richer and more complex over the past decade, especially when it comes to the telling of Black stories. As an avid reader of young adult and middle-grade literature, I wanted to highlight some of these Black novels, series, and authors in the hopes of drawing more attention to them, and to the genre as a whole.
This list doesn’t just include sad Black stories. Every Black story is important - sad, happy, angry, fantastical - and every single one matters. In this list, you’ll find a variety of subgenres to suit every taste: realistic fiction, science fiction, romance, comedy, drama, queer, poetry/verse, collection. I tried to include as many Black stories as I could, but I know there are even more out there that deserve our attention. Hopefully, this is a good starting point.
Though I do include established Black authors in this list, I’ve chosen to highlight debut Black authors and recent/upcoming Black releases. As we are still in the middle of a global pandemic, many of these releases are not getting the attention they deserve. I implore you to check these books out from your local library, purchase them from your local indie bookstore, or order them from an indie bookstore online if you don’t have one near you. Though we should support Black authors and Black stories always, they especially need our help right now.
This is by no means a complete list. Please, seek out black authors and stories wherever you find books. There is so much out there to discover.
Author of The Belles series, co-author of the Tiny Pretty Things duology, and contributor to collections such as Well-Read Black Girl: Finding Our Stories, Discovering Ourselves and Black Enough: Stories of Being Young & Black in America, Dhonielle Clayton is a powerful Black voice in the world of young adult literature, writing memorable Black stories and protagonists in fantastical and realistic settings. She is the COO of We Need Diverse Books and the co-founder of Cake Literary. Clayton also co-hosts a podcast with fellow author Zoraida Cordova called “Deadline City”, which can be listened to wherever podcasts are found.
Jason Reynolds is a #1 New York Times bestselling author and the 2020–2021 National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. His many books include When I Was the Greatest, The Boy in the Black Suit, All American Boys (co-written with Brendan Kiely), As Brave as You, For Every One, the Track series (Ghost, Patina, Sunny, and Lu), Look Both Ways, and Long Way Down, which received a Newbery Honor, a Printz Honor, and a Coretta Scott King Honor. Highly recognized in the literary community for his powerful prose and verse, Reynolds writes formative black stories that often tackle major Black issues, such as police brutality and toxic masculinity.
“Angie Thomas” became a household name in the world of young adult literature after her showstopping and world-shattering debut novel, The Hate U Give, which centered around Starr Carter, a sixteen-year-old girl who witnessed the murder of her childhood friend at the hands of police brutality. She is an inaugural winner of the Walter Dean Meyers Grant 2015, awarded by We Need Diverse Books, and her debut novel has been adapted into a movie. Other books by Thomas include On the Come Up and her upcoming novel, Concrete Rose, a prequel to The Hate U Give which will tell the story of teenage Maverick Carter, Starr’s father. Concrete Rose will be released in January of 2021.
From her childhood in the suburbs of Atlanta, GA to her years mentoring teenagers in Israel, Nic Stone grew up with a wide range of cultures, religions, and backgrounds. She aims to bring those diverse voices and stories to her work and has done so in novels such as Dear Martin, Odd One Out, Jackpot, Clean Getaway, and Dear Justyce, tackling issues such as race relations, police brutality, class, and privilege in modern-day America. She is a New York Times best-selling author, and frequent co-host of the YA Smackdown at the literary festivals YALLFest and YALLWest alongside Angie Thomas. Her novels have been translated into 6 languages.
Kwame Mbalia made his literary debut with his middle-grade novel, Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky. The first book in a series, it and its sequel Tristan Strong Destroys the World (coming this October) are published by Disney Hyperion as part of Rick Riordan presents, an imprint focused on creating engaging middle-grade stories about diverse mythologies around the world, by authors belonging to those cultures.
Justin A. Reynolds has been translated in 17 languages and is being developed for film with Paramount Players. Reynolds’s next novel,
Justin A. Reynolds made his literary debut in 2019 with his novel, Opposite of Always, a science-fiction novel set in the modern-day. It’s a classic story - boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, girl dies, the boy is suddenly thrown back in time and given a chance to save girl’s life. Opposite of Always has been translated in 17 languages, and is being developed for screen by Paramount Players. Reynolds’s next novel, Early Departures, will publish in September 2020.
“What if Buffy fell down the rabbit hole instead of Alice? What if she was a bi Black girl from Atlanta?” These are the questions that set up L.L. McKinney’s Nightmare-Verse books, starting with the A Blade So Black trilogy. She also has an upcoming graphic novel for DC featuring Nubia, Wonder Woman’s twin sister, and more. She is an advocate for equality and inclusion in publishing, the creator of the hashtag #WhatWoCWritersHear, and helped begin the tag #WhatPublishingPaidMe, starting a conversation between Black and non-Black authors about pay disparities in the publishing industry. Her upcoming books include Splintered Magic of The Mirror Novels, and Escaping Mr. Rochester, a queer retelling of the classic Jane Eyre that asks: what if the real villain was actually Mr. Rochester?
A Jamaican-American author, Nicola Yoon made her debut in the literary world with her young adult novel Everything, Everything in 2015. The novel was the basis for a 2017 film of the same name, and she released her second novel The Sun is Also a Star in 2016, which was also adapted to a film. Both romances, the Yoon’s books feature Black female protagonists. While Everything, Everything focuses purely on the romance and the protagonist’s disease that hinders its fulfillment, The Sun is Also a Star discusses race issues in America, particularly those of immigration and deportation. Yoon is a New York Times Bestselling Author, and was a National Book Award Finalist.
NEW AND UPCOMING RELEASES BY BLACK AUTHORS
A Song of Wraiths and Ruin by Roseanne A. Brown
This is Roseanne A. Brown’s debut novel.
A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow
This is Bethany C. Morrow’s debut novel.
Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko
This is Jordan Ifueko’s debut novel.
Black Girl Unlimited by Echo Brown
This is Echo Brown’s debut novel.
Legendborn by Tracy Deonn
This is Tracy Deonn’s debut novel.
The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna
This is Namina Forna’s debut novel.
The Sound of Stars by Alechia Dow
This is Alechia Dow’s debut novel.
Contemporary - Romance
All the Things We Never Knew by Liara Tamani
Other books by/contributed to by Liara Tamani: Calling My Name, Black Enough
Not So Pure and Simple by Lamar Giles
Other books by Lamar Giles: Fake ID, Endangered, Overturned, Spin, The Last Last-Day-of-Summer, Black Enough
Lamar Giles is a founding member of We Need Diverse Books.
A Love Hate Thing by Whitney D. Grandison
This is Whitney D. Grandison’s debut novel.
When You Were Everything by Ashley Woodfolk
Other books by/contributed to by Ashley Woodfolk: The Beauty That Remains, the Flyy Girls series, A Phoenix First Must Burn, and Made by History: A Biography of Michelle and Barack Obama
Charming as a Verb by Ben Philippe
Other books by Ben Philippe: The Field Guide to the North American Teenager
The Voting Booth by Brandy Colbert
Other books by/contributed to by Brandy Colbert: Little & Lion, Pointe, The Revolution of Birdie Randolph, Finding Yvonne, The Only Black Girls in Town, Summer Days and Summer Nights, and Black Enough.
Now That I’ve Found You by Kristina Forest
Other books by Kristina Forest: I Wanna Be Where You Are
Contemporary - General
This Is My America by Kim Johnson - Thriller/Social Justice
This is Kim Johnson’s debut novel.
Grown by Tiffany D. Jackson - Thriller/Mystery
Other books by/contributed to by Tiffany D. Jackson: Allegedly, Monday’s Not Coming, Let Me Hear a Rhyme, and His Hideous Heart
Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam - Social Justice/Police Brutality/Gentrification
Other books by/contributed to by Ibi Zoboi: American Street, Pride, Black Enough: Stories of Being Young and Black in America, and My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich.
Smash It! by Francina Simone - Self Discovery/Romance
Other books by Francina Simone: The Guardians series
Daughters of Jubilation by Kara Lee Corthron
Other books by Kara Lee Corthron: The Truth of Right Now, Holly Down in Heaven, Etched in Skin on a Sunlit Night
Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender
Other books by Kacen Callender: King and the Dragonflies, the Islands of Blood and Storm series, This Is Kind of an Epic Love Story, and Hurricane Child
The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta
Other books by Dean Atta: Proud, Black and Gay in the UK: An Anthology, Islands are But Mountains, Anti-Hate Anthology, We Come From…, and I Am Nobody’s -.
You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson
This is Leah Johnson’s debut novel.
The Summer of Everything by Julian Winters
Other books by Julian Winters: Running With Lions, How to Be Remy Cameron
A Phoenix First Must Burn, edited by Patrice Caldwell
Black Enough: Stories of Being Young and Black in America, edited by Ibi Zoboi
Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo
Other books by/contributed to by Elizabeth Acevedo: The Poet X, With the Fire on High, Because I Was a Girl: True Stories for Girls of All Ages, Women of Resistance: Poems for a New Feminism, A Phoenix First Must Burn, Beastgirl and Other Origin Myths, and Woke: A Young Poet’s Call to Justice. Acevedo has also published poetry in various magazines over the past few years.
All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson
Other books by George M. Johnson: The (____________) They Don’t Teach You About College
Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds
See Jason Reynold’s blurb above for more information on him.
Every Body Looking by Candice Iloh
Other books by Candice Iloh: Break Fast From Her Skin
(cover art by Jane Mount (@jane_mount on Instagram)