Top Ten YA Books about Middle Class Black Teens

May 28, 2013

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday is freebie week, which means blogger’s choice. 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.

1. Played and Jason & Kyra by Dana Davidson: These books are both romances dealing with stupid boys who care more about what their friends think than having super cool girlfriends. Jason is a little better than the boy in Played but only because he really likes Kyra and finds ways to deal with his friends. Ian, on the other hand, is a putz.

Bonus points for Kyra having natural hair, btw. My Life as a Rhombus by Varian Johnson

2. Dancer by Lorri Hewett: This novel is about a ballerina whose parents want her to be mindful of how hard it would be to pursue a life of dance.

3. Saving Maddie and My Life as a Rhombus by Varian Johnson: Saving Maddie is about a preacher’s kid whose childhood best friend comes back to town and his quest to save her from herself.

My Life as a Rhombus deals with a developing friendship between two girls from very different backgrounds. Both books have excellent father/daughter and son/daughter stuff.

4. Bad Kitty series by Michele Jaffe: Jasmine and her friends solve crimes in exotic locales. Okay, Vegas and Italy, so one exotic locale.

5. The Skin I’m In by Sharon G. Flake: This one is about a young girl trying to deal with the horrors of middle school. You know, being picked on for how she looks and dresses and the fact that she breathes. Typical middle school hell.

6. 8th Grade Superzero by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich– Main character Reggie is also trying to navigate middle school hell while dealing with questions of faith and character. Bonus points for my girl Ruthie who is amazing.

7. Bucking the Sarge by Christopher Paul Curtis – Luther’s mom is like The Godfather of their neighborhood. Also, Luther is totally into philosophy.

8. The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan – Okay, fantasy/mythology, yes, but Carter and Sadie are the main characters who get to save the world as opposed to being relegated to sidekick status.

9. Kimani Tru books – I haven’t read any of these books, but I know they run the gamut of black teen cultural experience and mostly focus on romance. They are probably more visible where I was raised (the DC area) than they are where I live now (somewhere with a decidedly smaller black population).

10. Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith – Historical fiction that’s not about slavery or the Civil Rights Movement! (It’s about WWII.)

After compiling this list, I can say that Jasmine’s lament about the lack of books featuring a middle class black teen experience wasn’t in vain. I had to leave a couple of books off my list because, while I enjoy them, they fall right in line with the stereotypical story lines often seen. (I love Walter Dean Myers and Coe Booth, but their books are about poor black teens.) And even with them added, my list probably still would’ve topped out at about fifteen.

So what does that mean? Publishers and agents have to do better. I know there are stories being written about atypical (and they’re NOT atypical, btw) black experiences. And I know those stories are being lived because my daughter’s experiences are not at all in line with “urban” stories. Mine were, but hers are not. She deserves to see stories about herself and her friends’ lives being told–as do all of the other millions of middle class black kids out there.

For more books featuring teens of color, Reading in Color (though currently on hiatus) is an excellent resource.

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  1. Sarah

    What a fantastic list! Thank you so much!

  2. Adira

    I love this list! The Skin I’m In has been my favorite book sine I was 8 smh the emotions that Draper put into this book were phenomenal and heart-wrenching.

  3. Shan

    I’m making note of the list so when my daughter gets to that age I can get them for her. I’m sure they’ll be a little out of date but given the way things are, I’m sure there won’t be a whole lot more options. I’m happy that some of my favourite Christian authors like ReShonda Tate Billingsley and Victoria Christopher Murray also write teen fiction.

    • Akilah

      Yes, I read a book by one of those authors but it was connected to a series she had written, so I don’t think I got as much out of it as I would have if I had read the series.

  4. Crystal Brunelle (@librarygrl2)

    I love this list! We have some of these books on our goodreads shelf, but I will add the rest. I’m a co-blogger for Rich in Color ( and we keep a goodreads shelf of diverse ya and ya written by authors of color. Thanks for sharing these titles.

    • Akilah

      Fantastic. Thanks for telling me about your Rich in Color blog. I look forward to checking it out.


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