It’s long been held that our young people are those we will usher in a better future, and there’s no denying the potential truth of that idea. When it comes to the fight for racial equality it is often the case that young people are on the front lines and that theirs is a community already integral to the healing of society. Fiction too, plays an essential part in allowing us to appreciate other perspectives and build up a capacity for all-important empathy.
Therefore, here are some titles ideal for young folks looking for a greater understanding of the variety of life-experiences that contribute to what should be the celebrated human diversity of our world.
Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman
Ex-Children’s Laureate Malorie Blackman has always been direct and unignorable in her ethical and racial themes. Hers is a body of work that consistently encourages empathy and exploration in effective and popular fashion.
Noughts and Crosses is a game-changing tale of love and triumph. It takes place in a dystopia where society is split into two clear and brutally discriminatory castes: Crosses and Noughts. Determined by birth, Crosses live lives of power and privilege while Noughts are considered worthless, worse than animals, there only to serve. But not all of them are cut from the same cloth. Sephy, a Cross, is incensed by the injustice of her world. Callum, a Nought, refuses to be ground down by his station and dreams of something more. The two of them have been friends since childhood despite the fact that they are supposed to be fundamentally divided. There connection, though, begins to hint at something deeper — something far more actively forbidden.
As Sephy and Callum come to choose their love for each other over the confines of their riven society they come up against fierce opposition and inevitable danger, their singular bond eventually coming to have serious repercussions for the generations that follow them.
This is an absolutely captivating novel that asks important questions about racism and class-perception, oppression and determination. Its critical societal themes are just as compelling as its heart-breaking story — and it went on to spawn an unforgettable series. Recommended for all readers over the age of twelve.
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
The fantasy genre is a decided white-dominated realm. For whatever reason, our most famous magical outings tend to evince a certain Caucasian slant. Which is odd considering that magical lore forms a part of many many cultures throughout the world, not least those present in West Africa. Important and notable then, that here we have a West-Africa inspired epic fantasy series that succeeds not only as an incredible feat of world building but also a refreshing representation of under-appreciate mythology and folklore.
In a world robbed of its magic, one girl with remarkable but forbidden gifts takes on the tyrants that destroyed her way of life in order to bring back the talents for which her mother was killed. Orïsha was once an abundantly magical place. Zelie remembers how the gifted would ignite fires, summon waves and beckon souls forth from obscurity. But that’s all gone now.
Her mother was killed by a ruthless king who sought to stamp out magic once and for all and her people were driven underground, forced to conceal their true natures. Now, with the help of a rogue princess, Zelie must out-manoeuvre the mad crown-prince who is determined to eradicate every last drop of magic from her land. But the dangers of the wilderness and the obsessions of a depraved monomaniac are not the greatest threats to her survival. As her hatred for the enemy grows, Zelie must struggle to contain the power that lingers inside her – a power that refuses to be controlled, let alone quashed.
We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices – Edited by Wade Hudson and Cheryl Willis Hudson
Yes, art also has a big part to play in making the world better. Not just that, it also has a profound effect in how we communicate the events of our lives to those who come after us. Thus, this beautiful collection of illustration and prose unites some of the foremost artists of our time to answer the many facets of the question: “What do we tell our children when the world seems bleak, and prejudice and racism run rampant?”
Featuring poems, letters, personal essays, art, and other works from such industry leaders as Jacqueline Woodson (Brown Girl Dreaming), Jason Reynolds (All American Boys), Kwame Alexander (The Crossover), Andrea Pippins (I Love My Hair), Sharon Draper (Out of My Mind), Rita Williams-Garcia (One Crazy Summer), Ellen Oh (cofounder of We Need Diverse Books), and artists Ekua Holmes, Rafael Lopez, James Ransome, Javaka Steptoe, and more, this anthology empowers the nation’s youth to listen, learn, and build a better tomorrow.
You’ll want to make this book part of your collection for a number of reasons. It will serve as a valuable keepsake when it comes to communicating this period of history to future generations, it’s a testament to the beautiful things produced by struggle and it’s bound to incite many meaningful conversations with younger people.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
There aren’t likely to be many out there who don’t know at least something about this miraculous phenomenon of a novel, but in case there are, here’s the publishers blurb:
“Sixteen-year-old Starr lives in two worlds: the poor neighbourhood where she was born and raised and her posh high school in the suburbs. The uneasy balance between them is shattered when Starr is the only witness to the fatal shooting of her unarmed best friend, Khalil, by a police officer. Now what Starr says could destroy her community. It could also get her killed.
“Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, this is a powerful and gripping YA novel about one girl’s struggle for justice.”
That’s a decent rundown of the plot, but what you need to know more than anything is that this a book that truly propelled social justice and black representation into a new and important spot within young adult literature. It’s gut-wrenching, authentic, fact-driven and thoroughly compelling. A proper YA masterpiece.
Tyler Johnson Was Here by Jay Coles
Like The Hate U Give before it, Tyler Johnson Was Here is directly concerned with the devastating aftermath of a young black man killed by the police. As a major contributor to the ongoing discussion around police brutality and the shocking mistreatment of black Americans, and as a heartbreaking look at the mourning and the terror that such incidents leave behind, this is a novel whose emotional gut-punch ensures that such tragic stories make it all the way into our hearts.
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 and the cops blame the shooting, a video is leaked online that 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.
The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo
Don’t forget the power of poetry! You might be forgiven for thinking that poems are just for old dudes in silly clothes staring up at the sky and feeling sad about the state of the flowers. You’d be forgiven, but you’d still be wrong.
The Poet X is a mix of prose and verse that brings the raw punch and crackling energy of poetry slamming back to modern times – a potent work of love, culture and self-determination.
Xiomara feels voiceless and trapped in Harlem. She has had to learn to talk with her fists. But there is no end to the amount that she has to say – notebooks full of it, actually. Her mum is adamant that she must obey the church and put her faith in its authority… and her neighbourhood has bigger things than words to worry about. And then she meets Aman and gets lumped with feelings that nobody must know about. And then she is invited to join a slam poetry club. Her mum would not want her attending such trash, but Xiomara’s poems are the only thing that keeps her going. Maybe the world doesn’t want to hear what she has to say. Maybe she doesn’t care. Maybe she’ll do it anyway.
Other Suggested Reads
Young Adult literature is incredibly flush with books determined to deepen our understanding of our world and times, and it has also recently seen a major push toward expanded representation and visibility. That’s why we have so many great and essential books from which to choose. Here are some more that you may want to consider as you continue to have a hand in improving the state of things:
- Black Enough: Stories of Being Young & Black in America – Edited by Ibi Zoboi
- SLAY by Brittney Morris
- Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson
- What Momma Left Me by Renee Watson
- Dear Martin by Nic Stone
- Full Disclosure by Camryn Garrett
- Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley
- Slay In Your Lane by Elizabeth Uviebinene & Yomi Adegoke
- Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams
- Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds & Ibram X. Kendi
- The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta
- American Street by Ibi Zoboi
- The Lines We Cross by Randa Abdel-Fattah
Happy Reading. Be Wonderful to Each Other.