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Over the past year, there has been a seismic shift in the demand for books written by black authors and by extension all person of colour and ethnic minority authors. Homegoing author, Yaa gyasi whose second novel, Transcendent Kingdom, was shortlisted for this year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction, wrote in a Guardian article that she has “..watched Homegoing climb back up the New York Times bestseller list in response to its appearance on anti-racist reading lists.”
Other chart-topping black authors who have experienced an incline in book sales include Bernadine Evaristo, author of the 2019 Booker Prize winner Girl, Woman, Other and Reni Eddo-Lodge, whose forthright Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race topped UK non-fiction charts in the wake of last year’s BLM protests at home and abroad.
This growing demand for black authors therefore rests heavily upon an anti-racism rhetoric that perpetually frames the black experience through a lens of pain and oppression. With that in mind, I’d like to share with you some young adult fiction books that reframe our idea of blackness. The main characters in these books all face some sort of opposition, for you cannot have a fully nuanced story without also exploring the negative aspects of the black experience, but ultimately the message in each book is one of self-acceptance and freedom. Here are 5 Young Adult Books That Celebrate Black Joy;
1) The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta
The Black Flamingo follows Michael’s story, a black gay teen from London who struggles with identity issues. However, he soon learns how to embrace the beauty of his difference through the art of drag. The Black Flamingo is an outstanding story written in simplistic verse. The writing is completely unadorned and facile yet so heavily laced with meaning! I savoured every page of it. An absolute must-read that challenges several negative biases and what constitutes a feeling of real freedom.
2) The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo
The Poet X tells the story of Xiomara Batista, finding freedom and redefining it through poetry. Xiomara is a high schooler who lives in Harlem and is a daughter of Spanish speaking Dominican parents. Her daily life is exacting and harsh because of her size, dealing with an devout Catholic mother and peers that misunderstand her. I thought The Poet X was intense, poetic and creatively told.
3) An Ordinary Wonder by Buki Papillon
Otolorin Akinro is a thirteen-year-old intersex teen from Ibadan, Nigeria. His lot in life is rife with suffering, imposed upon him by overly zealous family members, for having the audacity to be born different. It delicately explores the challenges synonymous with adolescence especially for someone outside the boundaries of ‘normal’ but it also inspires hope from a place of unrelenting misery.
4) Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender
Felix Ever After follows the complicated life of seventeen-year-old Felix Love. Having to face the daily challenges of being black, queer and transgender means that Felix has a guarded personality, hinging on fear. He believes that he is unlovable and struggles to socialize with others. This is only made worse when an anonymous person who also attends his summer school program begins making transphobic taunts over social media and even an outright attack. Felix eventually learns to overcome these challenges. I thought this book was an uplifting own voices story with an equally optimistic message.
Pet by Akwaeke Emezi
Pet is a uniquely extraordinary novella set in a futuristic dystopia, a place called Lucille, where insidious monsters once roamed free, wielding oppression in the form of inequality and injustice. Many years later, a transgender girl with selective mutism, called Jam lives in a society free of any oppression. Until one day, she accidentally brings a strange creature to life, who has come to her world to hunt a monster in hiding and Jam intends to help. Pet was imaginatively compelling and abounding in surrealist symbolism that draw clear parallels to the darker side of Western society today.
Young adult fiction is one of the foremost genres of literature for diversity and its books like these that make me wish I had read them when I was younger and obsessed with Wordsworth classics. If you’ve read any of the books featured in today’s post, let me know if you agree with my picks and also what other books would you add to this list? Please share them with me in the comments down below.
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Own Voices books are typically known as books that feature protagonists from marginalised communities that were written by authors who share those same characteristics.
I had a very small number of books or number of books read that center on black voices, Latinx voices, indigenous voices, LGBTQ+ voices, Asian voices and minority ethnic voices. Of course I have some books that fit this bill