Hey YA Lovers!
I’ve got a treat for you this week.
“What’s Up in YA?” is sponsored by Class of 2K18.
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Because Black History is made every month and shouldn’t be relegated to a single month, I wanted to continue the conversation about excellent black YA reads. I’ve invited a special guest to highlight some of her favorite black YA titles, both past and forthcoming. Her enthusiasm and passion for good books is infectious, and you’ll be upping your to-read list in short time.
Please welcome Patrice Caldwell.
Patrice Caldwell is an Associate Editor at Disney-Hyperion and the founder of People of Color in Publishing, as well as a contributor for Publishing Crawl and writer at Bustle and Autostraddle. She’s also a tea-enthusiast and a self-proclaimed introvert-gone-wild who grew up in Texas, where she became a voricious reader rather die of boredom in the suburbs where she lived. Visit Patrice on Twitter @whimsicallyours, Instagram @whimsicalaquarian, and her website, patricecaldwell.com.
Happy Monday! Patrice here 🙂
Kelly asked me to stop on by and share some wonderful book recommendations post- \the best of months, February aka my birthday month aka Black History Month. Now, it used to be that Black books were always published in time for Black History Month, so that they could be used for educational, etc. purposes, but I like to think that our industry is moving to a place where “Black books” are published and can be supported any time of the year. So, without further ado, I want to share some books on my radar, that I hope you will put on yours, and can be bought/pre-ordered now and enjoyed throughout the year!!
(in order of publication)
A heart wrenching and heartwarming story Remi, a well-off Nigerian girl who at age six is sent to a posh all-girls boarding school in England. As the only Black girl, she navigates two cultures and ultimately must figure out who she really is. I was gifted this book by my parents, and as someone who has often been the only Black girl in school (& work) settings, this book in many ways saved my life. It is also very funny.
AKATA WITCH by Nnedi Okorafor
This series has been called “the Nigerian Harry Potter,” and IT. IS. AMAZING. This is book one and it starts when Sunny is twelve and discovers she’s “free agent” with latent magical powers. Don’t sleep on this one!
SLICE OF CHERRY by Dia Reeves
If you liked Dexter, you’ll love Slice of Cherry. It’s Dia Reeve’s second novel and it follows two sisters—Kit and Fancy Cordelle—who are the daughters of an infamous series killer who begin to give in to their darkest desires…the desire to kill. But, they only kill people who deserve it… The characterization is amazing as are the weird and fantastical elements woven throughout. A must read.
THE SUMMER PRINCE by Alaya Dawn Johnson
If you follow me on twitter, you know I’m OBSESSED with this book. (Exhibit A, Exhibit B) I first discovered it as Cybils panelist (and it won the YA Speculative Fiction award)! Where do I begin? Well, first it’s set in a futuristic Brazil with a POC cast where queer identities are normalized. June Costa is a young artist who falls in love with Enki, the Summer King. (Her best friend, Gil, does as well!) Together, they make bold art that fuels the growing rebellion against their government’s limits on new tech. But the catch…all Summer Kings are sacrificed at the year’s end, so Enki is destined to die *gasp* *weeps*
It is this amazingly explosive novel with lush language and an ever-present countdown clock that explores what it means to be a teenager, the beauty and power of art, all amid a growing rebellion against the status quo.
You will love this novel.
THE SUN IS ALSO A STAR by Nicola Yoon
Nicola Yoon <3 What an amazing writer and person. Everything, Everything was such a great (& funny…the book reviews, I died) novel, and then I read The Sun is Also A Star and totally fell in love. Like with The Summer Prince, I love books with set time limits—it can add so much to the plot. This novel takes place over one day!
It follows Natasha and Daniel who meet on a crowded NYC street who go on a crazy, love-filled journey against how they’ve been raised and who they thought they were. It beautifully weaves together both their lives, you have Natasha who’s Jamaican and whose family (including herself!) is 12 hour away from being deported. And then there’s Daniel, who was on his way to an interview at Yale and whose parents (also immigrants, but from South Korea) want him to become a doctor (but he’s secretly a poet!). This is a masterfully well done book, with snippets from “outsiders” who are also part of Natasha and Daniel’s story, that is ultimately about the power of fate, love, and the possibilities in the world.
AMERICAN STREET by Ibi Zoiboi
Drawing on her own experience as a Haitian immigrant, American Street tells the story of Fabiola Toussaint who’s looking for “une belle vie”—a good life. Her mother has just been detained by U.S. immigration, right after leaving Haiti, and now she has to go live with her loud American cousins in Detroit, which is like a new world to her. There’s magical realism and voudou culture throughout (which I ADORED) and it’s a beautiful tale of a girl trapped at the crossroads of an impossible choice and life.
I read this book early and was raving about it for months, pushing it into the hands of so many people. I’m so happy to see all the praise it’s received (so many starred reviews and National Book Award Finalist!) and cannot wait to read Ibi’s next book, PRIDE (a Romeo + Juliet remix).
PIECING ME TOGETHER by Renee Watson
Piecing Me Together just received the 2018 Newbery Honor and won the Coretta Scott King Author Award. I first picked it up because I saw someone online compare it to Sharon G. Flake’s The Skin I’m In (which is a well-beloved classic of mine), and I’m so glad I did. I would also add that it reminds me of Yoruba Girl Dancing (mentioned above).
Its main character, Jade, is solely focused on getting out of her poor neighborhood. She attends a private school where she’s an outcast just to get the opportunities that will set her up for success… opportunities like the Woman to Woman mentorship program, for “at-risk” youth that promises a college scholarship but pairs jade with a Black woman from a wealthy family who treats Jade like a charity case. I love the presence of art throughout this book and how Jade pushes back, using art, to show her potential as well as her community’s.
Jade is such a fresh, much needed YA voice.
OVERTURNED by Lamar Giles
If you love shows like Leverage or films like Ocean’s Eleven, you will love Overturned.
Nikki Tate’s dad is sitting on death row, convicted of killing his best friend in a gambling dispute. Nikki, however, has been working on Operation Escape Vega: playing illegal card games to save up money to bounce come graduation day.
But then her dad’s murder conviction is overturned and her world changes as the dad who comes home is not the one she remembers. Not to mention he’ obsessed with finding out who framed him—and why.
As her dad digs deep into the dark depths of Vegas, Nikki is drawn into his hunt for the truth…a hunt that will cause Nikki to play for the biggest gamble ever—her life.
Overturned is fast-paced and action packed. Once you start, you won’t be able to stop turning the pages and gasping as the story reaches is powerful conclusion. I love Lamar’s books and this one, his most recent, was no different. Can’t wait to see what’s next!
DEAR MARTIN by Nic Stone
You think you know MLK, but you probably don’t. I feel it’s so frustrating how people constantly use MLK to advocate for peaceful protesting/against violence without really knowing enough about what he said and who he was. In other words, if “I have a dream MLK” is the main MLK you know and quote, you must read Dear Martin. And, honestly, even if it isn’t, this was one of my favorite books of last year. It’s a quick read, but a powerful one and I want to see it in the hands of teens everywhere.
This book especially touched me because I, because my siblings could’ve easily been Justyce. He’s a bright kid, top of his class, captain of debate team and heading to an Ivy League and yet this has no influence on the police offer who puts him in handcuffs. The officer is unsurprisingly cleared of all charges and so Justyce turns to Dr. King for help. But his problems aren’t over yet, because when his best friend is shot by an off-duty cop, it’s Justyce who’s left to answer.
My copy of this book is marked up with my notes all throughout the margins. It’s thought-provoking and life-changing. I urge you to read it.
LONG WAY DOWN by Jason Reynolds
I have been a Jason Reynolds fan since When I Was The Greatest (2014) and it’s amazing to see an artist grow and push craft limits in the way he has. And again, speaking of limited timelines, Long Way Down (which has received so much praise and won many awards) takes place within the minute fifteen-year-old Will decides whether he’s going to murder the guy who killed his brother.
I adore books in verse and so I knew I’d love this one, but I also loved the approach Reynolds takes that causes Will to interact with those whose lives have been affected by gun violence and shines a light on how structural issues, like poverty, put some of these individuals into a cycle of violence… all while on an elevator ride. Just stunning.
BEASTS MADE OF NIGHT by Tochi Onyebuchi
Imagine a world in which the sins manifest like demons and only sin eaters can devour them. That is the setting of Beasts Made of Night, which is the first in a new series, inspired by the author’s Nigerian heritage.
Seventeen-year-old Taj is a legendary sin-eater and the sins he’s killed mar his skin like tattoos. All his markings cause people to fear and revere him. And what I loved about this book is how instantly you’re pulled in by Taj’s cockiness… he thinks incredibly highly of himself and I loved seeing a Black boy filled with such pride…pride and yet sorrow because his conquests come at a price… in addition to the tattoos, the guilt of committing the sin appears in his mind. It is, in many ways, his desire to provide for his family that keeps him sane. Everything changes when he’s called to eat the sin of a royal and a secret about Taj, and his powers, is revealed. Now he must fight to save not only the princess he loves, but his own life as well.
I have never seen world building like this. And, again, I’m in love with Taj. I cannot wait for the next installment, which publishes this fall, so read book one now!
CALLING MY NAME by Liara Tamani
Calling My Name is a tour-de-force of a novel. It’s told in fifty-three episodic chapters and follows Taja Brown from middle school to high school. It deals with faith, family, and finding yourself. Perfect for fans of Sandra Cisneros and Jandy Nelson.
I was blown away by this book in part because it’s set in Texas and I saw so much of my upbringing through Taja’s story. The weight of family expectations was so ever-present that it took me back to so many of my middle and high school experiences, trying to set myself apart from my own ever-present family expectations. Absolutely powerful narrative and voice. You must read this book. Liara Tamani is a novelist to watch.
THE BELLES by Dhonielle Clayton
This newly-minted New York Times Best-Seller was technically one of my favorite 2017 reads, as I received an advanced copy, but it’s also one of my favorite of this year, too! Its author Dhonielle Clayton is one of the best, most hardworking people in the business (co-author of Tiny Pretty Things/Shiny Broken Pieces with Sona Charaipotra… and co-founder of CAKE literary also with Sona Charaipotra)
But what really drew me to this book was the themes it tackles, namely our societies obsession with beauty and how women from a young age are taught to be concerned about their appearance through the lens of a terrifyingly twisted yet beautiful world of Orelans, where everyone is born gray and Belles control beauty and beauty is a commodity coveted above all else.
Camellia Beauregard is a Belle who dreams of being the Queen of Orelans’s favorite and getting to live in the royal palace and tend to the royal family and their court. But soon Camellia realize being the favorite is not everything she dreamed it would be…there are dark secrets and soon she learns her existence is s life, and that her powers are far greater and dangerous that she ever imagined. 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: 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.
I loved seeing such a highly ambitious Black girl protagonist. Camilla reminded me of my teen self in so many ways, she just wants everyone to like her, she wants to be the best and her journey to be so, her desire, gets her into more trouble that she imagines.
This is a timeless book and once you start reading and enter Orelans, you won’t be able to stop thinking about it…and how it scarily matches our own.
DREAD NATION by Justina Ireland (April 2018, HarperCollins)
Zombies meets the backdrop of a divided Reconstruction-era America. It’s a pitch I never could’ve imagined and I am so completely sold.
Jane McKenne is a zombie hunter. In this new America, “certain children” attend combat schools to learn to put down the dead.
Jane, who is mixed race, is studying to be an Attendant, which means a better life, for Negro girls like her, where she be trained in weaponry and etiquette to protect the well-to-do. Only Jane doesn’t want that life. But when she, her ex, and her rival uncover a conspiracy helmed by Baltimore’s elite, Jane will have to go up against some very powerful enemies…which just goes to show that the dead are truly the least of her problems.
Come for the zombies, stay for the utterly amazing exploration of race and oppression, of equality and freedom, set within an action-packed story.
CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE by Tomi Adeyemi (March 2018, Macmillan)
I had the pleasure of hearing about this book since Pitch Wars 2016, where I was a mentor. I am so happy for the praise it has received and all the buzz. It is the most anticipated book of the year for a reason. Tomi Adeyemi has crafted a world like no other, full of magic and mayhem that reads like a movie (which is probably why the film rights were snatched up so fast). I can’t wait until more people get to read it!!
Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zelie’s Reaper mother summoned forth souls.
But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were targeted and 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.
The book has multiple POVs that are seamlessly intertwined, and is ultimately about one girl’s journey to control her powers…and her growing feelings for the enemy.
In other worlds, this is the Zutara (from Avatar the Last Airbender) ship we’ve been waiting for.
THE POET X by Elizabeth Acevedo (March 2018, HarperCollins)
Another one that I read very early and have been obsessed with for what seems like years (thanks, publishing). It’s a novel-in-verse that follows Xiomara Batista, who 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 does have plenty to say and she does so in the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers—especially after she catches feelings for a boy at school 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. But she still can’t stop thinking about performing her poems…
I so felt the tug and pull Xiomara feels because it was one I felt as a teen desperate to not let anyone down. You will laugh and cry and ultimately cheer for Xiomara in this epically staged breakdown debut novel.
THE BEAUTY THAT REMAINS by Ashley Woodfolk (March 2018)
There is quite nothing I love more than books about grief. Call it my inner emo kid, but I adore explorations of grief, of what happens to those affected and left behind by loss, and how music can bring people together and save lives.
Enter, Ashely Woodfolk’s incredibly powerful and realistic debut novel. It follows three teens: Autumn, Shay, and Logan, who have each lost someone dear to them (at various times, but all recent). Each of them is struggling with various mental health issues and guilt that totally wrecked me. I related to this book in so many ways: Shay’s anxiety, Logan’s alcohol-addition (something I once self-medicated with), and it took me back to being a teen who felt I only had music to guide me. The Beauty That Remains is beautifully brutal and full of hope. I highly recommend this book…you will cry but you will also fall in love with three teens who are struggling to thrive and heal in a never fair world.
MONDAY’S NOT COMING by Tiffany D. Jackson (May 2018, HarperCollins)
If you love E. Lockhart or Gillian Flynn, you need to get hip to Tiffany D. Jackson. She writes amazing thrillers that deal with Black teens going through some tough issues and life choices. I still can’t stop thinking about her YA debut, Allegedly. Monday’s Not Coming promises to be even more amazing.
It follows Claudia, who oddly seems to be the only one who notices that her best friend, practically sister, Monday Charles, is missing. She knows Monday wouldn’t just abandon her, but as the weeks pass and Monday’s family keep dodging her questions, Claudia begins to realize that no one remembers when they last saw Monday… but how can a teen girl vanish without anyone noticing she’s gone?
I get shivers every time I think about this one!! Pre-order it NOW.
ON THE COME UP by Angie Thomas (June 2018, HarperCollins)
Angie Thomas, author of the #1 New York Times Best-Seller The Hate U Give, needs no introduction, except for the fact that I love seeing #1 NYT Best-Seller next to her name!
I have said many times that hip hop knew me and got me before anything else did. Much like Angie, hip hop taught me how to be a storyteller and that Black people could be, and are, storytellers. I studied it extensively in college to the point I almost continued to do so at the PhD level, had publishing not stole my heart. Angie’s been dropping hints about her next book for a while and I’m SO happy that it is about hip hop in the most glorious of ways (and most likely in a way only she can do, tackling numerous themes at once).
Sixteen-year-old Bri wants to be one of the greatest rappers of all time. Or at least get some streams on her mixtape. As the daughter of an underground rap legend who died right before he hit big, Bri’s got massive shoes to fill. But when her mom unexpectedly loses her job, food banks and shut-off notices become as much a part of her life as beats and rhymes. With bills piling up and homelessness staring her family down, Bri no longer just wants to make it—she has to make it.
FINDING YVONNE by Brandy Colbert (August 2018, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)
I am a Brandy Colbert fan for life. LOVED Pointe for its masterful story of a young Black girl’s struggle with her art (ballet!) and mental health issues. LOVED Little & Lion for again, amazing exploration of mental health issues and…bisexuality (so good and apparently the Stonewall Book Committee agreed because it WON the Stonewall Book Award!).
Finding Yvonne stars Yvonne, a violinist who’s beginning to realize she’s not good enough for a conservatory program after high school (and as someone who was a young artist, whew is this a tough thing to come to terms with). But then she meets a mysterious and charming street musician and violist who seems to get her like no one else does…but then she becomes pregnant and must make the hardest decision about her future.
I haven’t read this one yet, but I am certain that Brandy is going to wow us all, just as she has before! Can’t wait!!
MIRAGE by Somaiya Daud (August 2018, Macmillan)
As is the way of publishing, some things take a while and I feel I’ve been so excited for and waiting for Mirage—Somaiya Daud’s debut for a while because it’s one of those novels so many bestselling authors have been buzzing about, here and there. I should mention I recently met Somaiya, at the end of last year, and now I know why: she is brilliant, studies topics like Arabic poetry and Victorian gothic at the PhD level, and this book is going to blow us all away.
It’s a science fantasy set in a galaxy (or star system), far far away (yes, so many Star Wars vibes) that’s dominated by the brutal Vathek empire.
There we meet dreamer, eighteen-year-old Amani, who imagines she’ll one day receive receiving a sign from Dihya, like the many poets she loves had, that one day, she, too, will have adventure, and travel beyond her isolated moon.
And adventure does come, but it’s not what she expects. She’s kidnapped and taken to the royal palace where she discovers that she is nearly identical to the cruel half-Vathek Princess Maram. The princess is so hated by her conquered people that she requires a body double, someone to appear in public as Maram, ready to die in her place.
As Amani is forced into her new role, she can’t help but enjoy the palace’s beauty—and her time with the princess’ fiancé, Idris. But the glitter of the royal court belies a world of violence and fear. If Amani ever wishes to see her family again, she must play the princess to perfection…because one wrong move could lead to her death.
I NEED MIRAGE OUT IN THE WORLD NOW. I’m so ready to dive into this world.
I sometimes think the best recommendations come from readers who just love to read, don’t you? Thanks so much for this list of excellent books, Patrice.
We’ll see you all next week for a roundup of YA news. Until then, here are a ton of excellent titles for you to sink your reading teeth into.
–Kelly Jensen, @veronikellymars