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YA Lit Books We Love by Black Authors

by Ashley Dickson-Ellison (@teachingtheapocalypse)

Collage of book covers of YA lit books written by Black authors

We at Unabridged stand with the Black Lives Matter movement. There are SO many books that we love by Black authors, and we look forward to lifting up those amazing books. We wanted to start our celebration of Black authors with some of our favorite YA authors and books that we think would be outstanding in any classroom library. This is by no means a complete list, but this features some of our favorite authors for YA, including Jason Reynolds, Angie Thomas, Kwame Alexander, and Nic Stone. These are all appropriate for high school, but some of them would also work in middle school.

If you're looking for powerful books to discuss current events, Nic Stone's Dear Martin (pictured above) or Angie Thomas's The Hate U Give (not pictured, but also phenomenal) would be an outstanding place to start with teens. Other amazing YA lit reads relating to police violence and activism include Jason Reynolds's and Brendan Kiely's All American Boys and Mark Oshiro's Anger Is a Gift. We've read all of these and can speak to them directly, but there are many more as well that would be great resources. If you're looking for support discussing this topic, see our Police Violence Book Flight Guide, our Dear Martin Discussion Questions and Discussion Guide, or our Discussion Guide for The Hate U Give. We're also sharing resources in our newsletter, so sign up if you're interested, and at this time, you'll have access to our back issues.

Row One from Image Above

As you can see above, the top row includes realistic fiction, and all of them have an element of romance.

Nic Stone's Dear Martin - We're not focusing in this post specifically on books by Black authors to help educate us about why the Black Lives Matter movement is necessary, but if you're looking for one to read with students or with your own teenagers, this is a fantastic, powerful read, and Nic Stone is doing amazing work right now to have important conversations with many different people about race relations. Check out her Instagram account and take time to listen to what she has to say and what she asks others to share.

Ibi Zoboi's Pride: A Pride and Prejudice Remix - This is a fascinating retelling of Pride and Prejudice set in Brooklyn and focusing on Zuri Benitez and the Darcy brothers who move in across the street. Don't miss our episode where we discussed Ibi Zoboi's Pride and her novel American Street.

Nicola Yoon's Everything, Everything - We have all read both of Yoon's books and love them so much! Her romance books are sweet and powerful. We talked about The Sun Is Also a Star and the film adaptation in this episode.

Angie Thomas's On the Come Up - Thomas's second book is also set in Garden Heights (like The Hate U Give) and focuses on Bri, a teen who dreams of being a famous rapper. Although the story stands alone, this book is set after Khalil Harris's death, and Thomas shows the impact of that death and the resulting conflict with the police in this book.

Row Two

The second row includes mostly speculative fiction books. SLAY is a realistic fiction book, but there are a lot of parts that take place in a virtual game space, so that may entice readers who enjoy a magical element even though it is realistic fiction.

Brittney Morris's SLAY - I loved this one SO much and would love to see it get more attention. In this book, people's ideologies about race relations become a central issue because of an amazing virtual reality game that only Black gamers can play called SLAY. Check out Jen's review of this one here.

Tomi Adeyemi's Children of Blood and Bone (and book 2, Children of Virtue and Vengeance, is also phenomenal) - This is a phenomenal fantasy series centering around African mythology. See my review of the second book here.

Dhonielle Clayton's The Belles (the second book, The Everlasting Rose, is also amazing) - This outstanding dystopian duology focuses on people's obsessions with appearance and how far they will go. See my review of The Everlasting Rose here.

Justina Ireland's Dread Nation (The Deathless Divide, book 2 in this series, came out in February) - This one is set during the American Civil War and comments on the many injustices toward Black and Indigenous people, but it also includes zombies! See Sara's review of Dread Nation here, and don't miss our discussion on the podcast.

Row Three

The third row features novels in verse, which are an excellent choice to offer to students. I find that students often appreciate a change of pace from prose.

Jason Reynolds's Long Way Down - We taught this one with students, and they loved it. It was a great fit for the classroom and led to many important discussions. We're editing and rereleasing an episode highlighting three of Reynolds's works (Ghost, Long Way Down, and When I Was the Greatest) this coming Saturday as a bonus episode, so be on the lookout for that!

Jacqueline Woodson's Brown Girl Dreaming - This is a memoir in verse that reveals Woodson's childhood experiences through her lyrical voice. This one works well in high school but is considered middle grade.

Elizabeth Acevedo's The Poet X - In this amazing novel in verse, Xiomara (X) struggles to find her voice and discovers through a slam poetry club that she has something to say. Don't miss Jen's review of Acevedo's newest book, Clap When You Land, which just came out! Check out our discussion of Acevedo's With the Fire on High here.

Kwame Alexander's Solo - This novel in verse focuses on Blade, the son of a washed-up rockstar, and his quest to find himself and his voice. It's a particularly great read for music lovers!

(A note to our readers: click on the hashtags above to see our other blog posts with the same hashtag.)

Interested in what else we're reading? Check out our Featured Books page.

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