Books About Black Teens Redux #TopTenTuesday

June 23, 2020

Whew, it has been a minute since I’ve done a Top Ten Tuesday post. Did you know there’s a new host? And that today is the meme’s tenth birthday? Whew, time passes so quickly.

Top Ten Tuesday (2)

Today’s prompt is to pick a past TTT topic you’ve done and re-do/update it, which is perfect because I’m still mad about all the books/movies/TV shows being promoted as Black stories but that only show Black pain or Black poverty or just read my original post about it. In fact, I’m mad enough about it that I’ve had more than one conversation with friends about how stupid and annoying it is, and I have concluded (again) that Toni Morrison is right about racism functioning as nothing but a distraction.

The point is that I was already planning to update this particular topic when I first saw this prompt, but I’m even more motivated to do so now that my anger levels have risen again. Oh, and not to put too fine a point on it again, but this is also why Black people are so angry and tired: We literally keep saying the same things over and over again and nobody listens to us until you see a man murdered right in front of your eyes.

I wrote my original post in 2013, and here’s what I said then:

My list is inspired by a conversation I had with my friend Jasmine about the lack of books about middle class black teens. As she pointed out, if you go into any bookstore, it’s easy to find books about black teens who live in the hood or are dealing with jail or street drugs. Suuuuuper easy to find books about slavery or about Being Black. But it’s really hard to find books about black teens outside of those stereotypical narratives. So, here are some books about black middle class teens doing middle class teen things.

Seven years (or 400+ years) later and we’re still having the exact same conversations.

Anyway, on to the list. I will note that this time the list includes books written only by Black authors and that these are books I’ve read since May 2013 (when I wrote the last post). I have also included some middle grade books (the protagonists are 12) because I do what I want. Also, some stories are set in the hood but not about “the hood.” And you know exactly what I mean when I say that.

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

Aya: Life in Yop City by Marguerite Abouet

Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones

The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson

Pointe by Brandy Colbert

Ghetto Cowboy by G. Neri

The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds

A Certain October by Angela Johnson

Fast Sam, Cool Clyde, and Stuff by Walter Dean Myers

This Side of Home by Renée Watson

The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

Zahrah the Windseeker by Nnedi Okorafor

Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

Shadows of Sherwood by Kekla Magoon

Calling My Name by Liara Tamani

Perfect Liars by Kimberly Reid

The Blazing Star by Imani Josey

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

The Harlem Charade by Natasha Tarpley

Here’s what’s sad: I read over 200 books since 2013, and these are the only ones I had on my list. This is mostly because I know that most books about Black teens that are heavily marketed or praised are not books I want to read because they are all about Black kids getting murdered or in prison or being in prison or Being Black. (LL McKinley recently wrote about this, and I agree with pretty much every single thing she said.) And while I love supporting Black authors, those are also not the books I want to read most of the time. But you know what’s harder to find? Books that are not about those things! So, anyway, now we all have somewhere to start (even though many of these books are older–I am terrible at keeping up with most new reads because of my to-read backlog), and now many of you can balance out your Issue/Problem books with books that explore the full spectrum of the Black experience.

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  1. lydiaschoch

    Bravo! I couldn’t agree with you more.

    My TTT.

  2. Rabeeah

    I really like this list, thanks for writing! You make many excellent points, specifically about the poor marketing in the industry for these types of books, many of which are new to me. Your recs are great. Shadowshaper has been on my TBR for the longest time – it’s such a unique fantasy premise! – and I’ve recently added Silver Sparrow on there too, so I look forward to reading.

  3. Dani

    I didn’t feel like Angie Thomas’ books are particularly “hood,” but I see your point. I want to read Silver Sparrow!

  4. Lauren @ Always Me

    Shadowshaper is so good. I can’t wait to read the finale! 🙂

    Check out my TTT

  5. Elisabeth Ellington

    I love this list and so appreciate and agree with the points you make here. We need to be talking about this more. Excellent article by McKinney (whose books I haven’t read but they sound so perfect for me!).


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