YA SUMMER 2020: Focus on Black Identity

The titles in this listing provide perspectives by Black authors on the Black experience, helping readers to contemplate Black identity, The Black Lives Matters movement, past, present and future through fiction and nonfiction.  It is interesting to note that many of these titles were written before 2020, when in fact these books sharpen understanding of what is happening in the world today. 


CLAP WHEN YOU LAND by Elizabeth Acevedo (free verse)

This free verse novel tells the story of two Dominican sisters, Camino and Yahaira, who didn’t know they were siblings until the tragic death of their father in an airplane crash. Papi kept a secret life both in New York and the Dominican Republic. The two sisters are forced into coming to terms a new connection, a reflection of reality and dreams, and an a new understanding of the past, the present and the future, a new connection and a reflection of reality and dreams.  The book is presented in alternating voices, each with a singular poetry format. (Camino = 3 line verses; Yahaira in two line verses. Acevedo writes: ‘I wanted a more intimate portrayal of what it means to discover secrets, to discover the depths of your own character in the face of great loss – and gain.”

FELIX EVER AFTER by Kacen Callendar

Felix Love is very concerned about falling in love. Felix is black, queer and transgender. He is proud of his identity but also confused about what it means to be true to themself and what it means to accept love when it is offered to you.   Their  questionings are stretched through a somewhat troubled relationship with theirsingle father, through evolving feelings  with Declan who was considered an enemy but now holds strong potential as a boyfriend. and through a deep relationship with friend, Ezra.  When Felix receives hateful transphobic messages, their feelings about honesty and secrets and acceptance become further complicated. Felix is however a talented artist which provides him with an opportunity to express himself.  Award-winning author, Kacen Callender (Hurricane Child, King and the Dragonflies) tells stories from a place of authenticity. They hope that a reader who picks up this book ‘learns more about themselves and their identity and that becoming who they truly are is a possibility’. Felix Ever After that will support and change lives of many adolescent readers.


Like the novels, The Hate You Give and All American Boys, this title brings a strong perspective to police brutality on Black youth. Marvin and Tyler Johnson are two twins living in Alabama and one night chaos ensues and Tyler disappears. Teenage parties. Gangs. Police raids. Courtroom trials. Protests. Father in prison. Moreover, there is Marvin and Tyler’s anguish when Tyler goes missing.  Though the world of teenager, Marvin, Jay Coles gives voice to systemic racism white supremacy,  and dreams of a better future. (“I tell myself that I love this skin, that i’ve always loved my blackness, that if the world doesn’t love me, I will love myself for the both of us.”)

A FEW RED DROPS: The Chicago Race Riot of 1919 by Claire Hartfield (Nonfiction)

Poet, Carl Sandburg in the poem I am the People, The Mob wrote” “Sometimes I grown, shake myself and spatter a few drops of red for history to remember. Then – I forget.”  This nonfiction title provides readers with the story of Black and white immigrants who each sought a better life in city of Chicago. Against all odds, they worked in the busy stockyards, each race being pitted against each other by the rich who controlled the labor market. An incident that involved the drowning of a teenage Black boy who was struck by a white boy, launches the race riot of 1919 where 38 men of both races died and 537 more were wounded. The well-researched book, accompanied by photographs, tells a powerful story of racial justice – that continues to modern times. History needs to be remembered.

THIS BOOK IS ANTI-RACIST 20 lessons on how to wake up, take action and do the work by Tiffany Jewell; illus. Aurelia Durand (Nonfiction)

The intention of this book is to empower young people to stand up for what is right.  The book is a comprehensive guide that provides definitions, histories and questions that help students consider their own identities as they work towards ending racism. Activities that invite written responses to key questions, help students to consider the journey they are on to resist racism. This book is presented in 20 chapters, organized by 4 sections (1. Understanding and Growing Into My Identities; Making Sense of the World; Taking Action and Responding to Racism; Working in Solidarity Against Racism. A glossary offers definitions of terms that adolescents may or not be familiar with (e.g., agency, ethnicity, Folx of the Global Minority). Brightly-coloured illustrations make the pages come alive, often highlighting the text and quotations on offer (“When you know better, do better.” / Maya Angelou.

ALL BOYS AREN’T BLUE: A Memoir-Manifesto by George M. Johnson (Nonfiction)

Activist George M. Johnson digs into his memories of growing up Black and queer in America, telling his stories of family, gender identity, virginity, racism and homophobia to help teenagers who may have to navigate similar experiences in their own lives. Johnson writes, “I believe that the dominant society establishes an idea of what ‘normal’ is simply to suppress difference which means that any of us who fall outside of their ‘normal’ will eventually be oppressed.” (p. 6) (NOTE: the novel King of the Dragonflies by Kacen Callender is an engaging fictional title about a black boy coming to terms with his gay identity).

A GOOD KIND OF TROUBLE by Lisa Moore Ramee (ages 11- 13)

7th grader, Shayla (Shay0 gets itchy pals whenever trouble approaches.  Life in Junior High is abound with trials and tribulations: boy trouble, friendship trouble, following school rules trouble and track competing trouble.  But bigger trouble is happening in the city when the a white policeman is declared innocent after shooting a black person. A powerful protest that Shay and her family participates in has the young teenager her own Black identity./ To support the Black Lives Matter movement, Shayla starts wearing an armband which means more itchy palms.  This is a book that will inspire readers to look at the world outside and inside themselves and as they strive stand up for what they believe in.

IF YOU COME SOFTLY by Jacqueline Woodson (YA)

This novel by Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award Winner Jacqueline Woodson was first published in 1998. In the preface to the 20th anniversary edition, Ella, a white Jewish teenager living in Manhattan, falls in love with Jeremiah (Miah) a black boy who lives in Brooklyn with his famous parents. Though they come from different worlds, they fall deeply in love despite a world that seems unsettled by interracial relationships. Woodson writes (2018), “What I didn’t know was that the book I was writing in the mid-nineties would only continue to resonate with many but would become relevant to more and more people as the use of social media grew, as groups like Black Lives Matter formed, as the cases of police brutality skyrocketed. I didn’t know a story I was writing about two young people falling in love would continue to be about so much more.” If You Come Softly is story of privilege and race that seems to resonate even more in current time than it did in 1998, 2018.

BEHIND YOU by Jacqueline Woodson (YA)

This is the companion book to If You Come Softly. (spoiler alert) Jeremiah looks down from the afterlife on the friends and family who are trying to cope with the grief of his loss. This short novel (118 pages) is told in short chapters through different voices that we met in the first novel, Ellie, the white girl who so loved Jeremiah, Nelia his mother who is struggling to write again, Carlton his best friend who is coming to terms with being gay, and Kennedy, a star basketball player. This is a good ‘companion novel’ for readers who enjoyed the first book and want to contemplate how people move on after losing the person they have deeply loved.

BLACK ENOUGH: Stories of Being Young & Black in America edited by Ibi Zoboi (short stories/ YA)

This is a collection of 17 short stories, realistic fiction by acclaimed Black YA authors. These teenagers and young adults come from different social classes, different family circumstances, and different sexual preferences. I read this anthology chronologically and enjoyed every story which helped me delve into stories of being Black in America. Stories include three friends talking about their favourite sandwich creations ( ‘The Ingredients’ by Jason Reynolds); infatuation (‘Hackathon Summers’, by Coe Booth); same sex relationships (‘Kissing Sarah Smart’ by Justina Ireland) inappropriate nude pictures at a church retreat (‘Stop Playing’ by Liara Tamani) and hairstyles o (‘Half a Moon’ by Renee Watson). Editor, Ibi Zoboi writes “my hope is that Black Enough will encourage all Black teens to be their free, uninhibited selves without the constraints of being Black, too Black or not Black enough. They will simply be enough just as they are.” (p. xiv)



MARCH by John Lewis with Andrew Aydin; illus. by Nate Powell (graphic biography)

This book celebrates the life of Black U.S. Congressman, John Lewis, committed to justice and nonviolence in fighting for civil rand human rights against Jim Crow laws  The  series recounts Lewis’s early life on a sharecropper Alabama farm to the 1963 March on Washington. Here is a remarkable story of a man who received both countless beatings from state troopers to receiving the Medal of Freedom from President Obama. Book One spans Lewis youth in Alabama, a meeting with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the battle to tear down segregation through lunch counter sit-ins. (March the first title, winner of the four awards for nonfiction literature, is the first  in a trilogy.


March: Book One by [John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell]

JOHN ROBERT LEWIS (February  21, 1940 – July 17, 2020)

“Though I may not be here with you, I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe. In my life, I have done all i can to demonstrate that way of peace, the way of love and nonviolence is the more excellent way. Now it is your turn to let freedom ring.”

(from  Lewis’s final words published, July 30, 2020, before his funeral was to start)