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Updated by Jen Blair on Jun 04, 2020
Headline for Black Excellence
Jen Blair Jen Blair
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Black Excellence

Celebrate Black authors and their amazing contributions to the world of YA literature and American culture. All of these books are amazing. All of them. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Black Stories Matter.

Akata Witch (Akata Witch, #1) by Nnedi Okorafor

Akata Witch - Nnedi Okorafor

Magic and the spirit world. And the children who are brave enough to save us all.

From the publisher:
Twelve-year-old Sunny Nwazue, an American-born albino child of Nigerian parents, moves with her family back to Nigeria, where she learns that she has latent magical powers which she and three similarly gifted friends use to catch a serial killer.

Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson

Allegedly - Tiffany D. Jackson

Unsettling and true. This story will stay with you for a loooong time after you close the cover.

From the publisher:
A young girl, convicted of murder as a child, serves her sentence only to be placed in a group home, where, upon her release, she must grapple with starting over and an unplanned pregnancy.

American Street by Ibi Zoboi

American Street - Ibi Zoboi

What happens AFTER you immigrate. What kinds of choices are left for you? Is it even possible to attain the American Dream?

From the publisher:
Fabiola Toussaint, a young Haitian immigrant to the United States, must navigate her life, school and relationships, while dealing with her loud cousins after her mother is detained by the United States immigration department.

The Beauty That Remains by Ashley Woodfolk

The Beauty That Remains - Ashley Woodfolk

A mesmerizing treatise on friendship, grief, and the power of music to heal.

From the publisher:
Autumn always knew exactly who she was- a talented artist and a loyal friend. Shay was defined by two things- her bond with her twin sister, Sasha, and her love of music. And Logan has always turned to writing love songs when his real love life was a little less than perfect. But when tragedy strikes each of them, somehow music is no longer enough. Despite the odds, one band's music will reunite them and prove that after grief, beauty thrives in the people left behind.

The Belles (The Belles, #1) by Dhonielle Clayton

The Belles - Dhonielle Clayton

I love how this book really makes you look at the culture of beauty and what creates beauty ideals and what gives us power.

From the publisher:
Camellia Beauregard is a Belle. In the opulent world of Orleans, Belles are revered, for they control Beauty, and Beauty is a commodity coveted above all else. But once Camellia and her Belle sisters arrive at court, it becomes clear that being the favorite is not everything she always dreamed it would be. Behind the gilded palace walls live dark secrets, and Camellia soon learns that the very essence of her existence is a lie-that her powers are far greater, and could be more dangerous, than she ever imagined.

Booked by Kwame Alexander

Booked - Kwame Alexander

The intersection of humor, sports, and poetry. Only Kwame can do this. Only Kwame does this so well.

From the publisher:
Twelve-year-old Nick learns the power of words as he wrestles with problems at home, stands up to a bully, and tries to impress the girl of his dreams. Helping him along are his best friend and sometimes teammate Coby, and The Mac, a rapping librarian who gives Nick inspiring books to read.

Children of Blood and Bone (Legacy of Orïsha, #1) by Tomi Adeyemi

Children of Blood and Bone - Tomi Adeyemi

This is one of my favorite fantasies ever. Full stop. One of the few books that I have MADE the time to read twice. Which I never do. I just loved it so much, I needed to read it again.

From the publisher:
Zelie, her older brother Tzain, and rogue Princess Amari fight to restore magic to the land and activate a new generation of magi, but they are ruthlessly pursued by the Crown Prince Inan, who believes the return of magic will mean the end of the monarchy.

Clean Getaway by Nic Stone

Clean Getaway - Nic Stone

A story of a kid running away with his grandmother. A grandmother with a PAST. A grandmother who takes risks and gets away with it because she is white. But her grandson is not. A story that you don't often see, by Nic Stone, one of the masters of YA literature working today.

From the publisher:
For the life of him, William 'Scoob' Lamar can't seem to stay out of trouble--and now the run-ins at school have led to lockdown at home. So when G'ma, Scoob's favorite person on Earth, asks him to go on an impromptu road trip, he's in the RV faster than he can say freedom. With G'ma's old maps and a strange pamphlet called the 'Travelers' Green Book' at their side, the pair takes off on a journey down G'ma's memory lane. But adventure quickly turns to uncertainty: G'ma keeps changing the license plate, dodging Scoob's questions, and refusing to check Dad's voice mails. And the farther they go, the more Scoob realizes that the world hasn't always been a welcoming place for kids like him, and things aren't always what they seem--G'ma included.

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

The Crossover / Rebound - Kwame Alexander

Just more greatness from Kwame Alexander. Two generations of greatness.

From the publisher:
"With a bolt of lightning on my kicks . . . The court is SIZZLING. My sweat is DRIZZLING. Stop all that quivering. 'Cuz tonight I'm delivering," raps twelve-year-old Josh Bell. Thanks to their dad, he and his twin brother, Jordan, are kings on the court. But Josh has more than basketball in his blood--he's got mad beats, too, which help him find his rhythm when it's all on the line.

As their winning season unfolds, things begin to change. When Jordan meets a girl, the twins' bond unravels.Told in dynamic verse, this fast and furious middle grade novel that started it all absolutely bounces with rhythm and bursts with heart.

Dread Nation (Dread Nation, #1) by Justina Ireland

Dread Nation - Justina Ireland

Zombies and the Civil War and girls in long dresses who kick some serious butt. I am in.

From the publisher:
Jane McKeene was born two days before the dead began to walk the battlefields of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania--derailing the War Between the States and changing the nation forever.

In this new America, safety for all depends on the work of a few, and laws like the Native and Negro Education Act require certain children attend combat schools to learn to put down the dead.

But there are also opportunities--and Jane is studying to become an Attendant, trained in both weaponry and etiquette to protect the well-to-do. It's a chance for a better life for Negro girls like Jane. After all, not even being the daughter of a wealthy white Southern woman could save her from society's expectations.

But that's not a life Jane wants. Almost finished with her education at Miss Preston's School of Combat in Baltimore, Jane is set on returning to her Kentucky home and doesn't pay much mind to the politics of the eastern cities, with their talk of returning America to the glory of its days before the dead rose.

But when families around Baltimore County begin to go missing, Jane is caught in the middle of a conspiracy, one that finds her in a desperate fight for her life against some powerful enemies.

And the restless dead, it would seem, are the least of her problems.

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

Everything Everything - Nicola Yoon

Nicola Yoon is a serious romantic in real life. And no one writes a swoonier romance than she does. There's a reason why you can never find this title on the library shelves.

From the publisher:
What if you couldn't touch anything in the outside world? Never breathe in the fresh air, feel the sun warm your face . . . or kiss the boy next door? In Everything, Everything, Maddy is a girl who's literally allergic to the outside world, and Olly is the boy who moves in next door . . . and becomes the greatest risk she's ever taken.

The Field Guide to the North American Teenager by Ben Philippe

The Field Guide to the North American Teenager - Ben Philippe

Smart, snarky, and real. A "fish out of water" tale about a young man who must learn not to judge others by stereotypes or appearances. And learn he does. One of the more charming, pitch-perfect comedies you will ever read.

From the publisher:
Norris Kaplan is clever, cynical, and quite possibly too smart for his own good. A Black French Canadian, he knows from watching American sitcoms that those three things don't bode well when you are moving to Austin, Texas.

Plunked into a new high school and sweating a ridiculous amount from the oppressive Texas heat, Norris finds himself cataloging everyone he meets: the Cheerleaders, the Jocks, the Loners, and even the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Making a ton of friends has never been a priority for him, and this way he can at least amuse himself until it's time to go back to Canada, where he belongs. Yet against all odds, those labels soon become actual people to Norris.

From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks

From the Desk of Zoe Washington - Janae Marks

From the publisher:
Zoe Washington isn't sure what to write. What does a girl say to the father she's never met, hadn't heard from until his letter arrived on her twelfth birthday, and who's been in prison for a terrible crime?

Could Marcus really be innocent? Zoe is determined to uncover the truth. Even if it means hiding his letters and her investigation from the rest of her family. Everyone else thinks Zoe's worrying about doing a good job at her bakery internship and proving to her parents that she's worthy of auditioning for Food Network's Kids Bake Challenge.

Ghost / Patina / Sunny / Lu by Jason Reynolds

Ghost / Patina / Sunny / Lu - Jason Reynolds

The series begins with the tale of a kid called Ghost who isa runner. A on the run away from all the trouble in his life. Can you ever go wrong with a Jason Reynolds book? No. No you can't.

From the publisher:
Ghost. Lu. Patina. Sunny. Four kids from wildly different backgrounds with personalities that are explosive when they clash. But they are also four kids chosen for an elite middle school track team--a team that could qualify them for the Junior Olympics if they can get their acts together. They all have a lot to lose, but they also have a lot to prove, not only to each other, but to themselves.

The Good Luck Girls by Charlotte Nicole Davis

The Good Luck Girls - Charlotte Nicole Davis

A tale of five girls banding together against impossible odds. I will never forget tough girls Aster and Violet. There are the women you want on your side when it gets tough.

From the publisher:
The country of Arketta calls them Good Luck Girls--they know their luck is anything but. Sold to a 'welcome house' as children and branded with cursed markings. Trapped in a life they would never have chosen. When Clementine accidentally kills a man, the girls risk a dangerous escape and harrowing journey to find freedom, justice, and revenge in a country that wants them to have none of those things. Pursued by Arketta's most vicious and powerful forces, both human and inhuman, their only hope lies in a bedtime story passed from one Good Luck Girl to another, a story that only the youngest or most desperate would ever believe.

Kingdom of Souls by Rena Barron

Kingdom of Souls - Rena Barron

Magic, witch doctors, gods and goddesses. Arrah yearns for magic while understanding the moral imperative of wielding that power. A protagonist and a world that you won't soon forget.

From the publisher:
Heir to two lines of powerful witchdoctors, Arrah yearns for magic of her own. Yet she fails at bone magic, fails to call upon her ancestors, and fails to live up to her family’s legacy. Arrah’s borrowed power reveals a nightmarish betrayal, and on its heels, a rising tide of darkness that threatens to consume her and all those she loves. She must race to unravel a twisted and deadly scheme… before the fight costs more than she can afford.

Let Me Hear a Rhyme by Tiffany D. Jackson

Let Me Hear a Rhyme - Tiffany D. Jackson

You will be swept back in time to 1998 Bed-Stuy. Jackson's love of music and community shines through.

From the publisher:
Brooklyn, 1998. Biggie Smalls was right: Things done changed. But that doesn't mean that Quadir and Jarrell are cool letting their best friend Steph's music lie forgotten under his bed after he's murdered--not when his rhymes could turn any Bed Stuy corner into a party. With the help of Steph's younger sister Jasmine, they come up with a plan to promote Steph's music under a new rap name: the Architect. As the pressure of keeping their secret grows, Quadir, Jarrell, and Jasmine are forced to confront the truth about what happened to Steph. Only, each has something to hide.

Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks by Jason Reynolds

Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks - Jason Reynolds

A series of interconnecting stories. Questions asked in one tale are answered in another. Like call and response in novel form. Or genius. Because Jason Reynolds is a genius.

From the publisher:
This story was going to begin like all the best stories. With a school bus falling from the sky. But no one saw it happen. They were all too busy--

Talking about boogers.
Stealing pocket change.
Wiping out.
Braving up.
Executing complicated handshakes.
Planning an escape.
Making jokes.
Lotioning up.
Finding comfort.
But mostly, too busy walking home.

Miles Morales: Spider-Man by Jason Reynolds

Miles Morales, Spider-Man - Jason Reynolds

Because there is nothing that Reynolds can't do. So why not a superhero story as well?

From the publisher:
Miles Morales is just your average teenager. Dinner every Sunday with his parents, chilling out playing old-school video games with his best friend, Ganke, crushing on brainy, beautiful poet Alicia. He's even got a scholarship spot at the prestigious Brooklyn Visions Academy. Oh yeah, and he's Spider Man.

Not So Pure and Simple by Lamar Giles

Not So Pure and Simple - Lamar Giles

A romance, a social treatise, a coming to terms with male toxicity in the most humorous and real way. A must read for everyone.

From the publisher:
Del has had a crush on Kiera Westing since kindergarten. And now, during their junior year, she's finally available. So when Kiera volunteers for an opportunity at their church, Del's right behind her. Though he quickly realizes he's inadvertently signed up for a Purity Pledge.

With other boys circling Kiera like sharks, Del needs to make his move fast. But as he plots and plans, he neglects to ask the most important question: What does Kiera want? He can't think about that too much, though, because once he gets the girl, it'll all sort itself out. Right?

Odd One Out by Nic Stone

Odd One Out - Nic Stone

As I'm putting this list together I realized that Nic Stone is just out there telling the stories no one else is brave enough to tell. This is what happens when life-long best friends wonder if they should be more than friends and then when adding the new girl to the mix, who stays friends? Who becomes lovers? It's not what you think.

From the publisher:
Courtney Cooper and Jupiter Sanchez (Coop & Jupe!) have been next-door neighbors and best friends since they were seven-years-old. She's his partner-in-crime and other half. But lately, Cooper can't ignore he might want something more than friendship from Jupiter.

When Rae Chin moves to town she can't believe how lucky she is to find Coop and Jupe. Being the new kid is usually synonymous with pariah, but around these two, she finally feels like she belongs. She's so grateful she wants to kiss him...and her.

Jupiter has always liked girls. But when Rae starts dating Cooper, Jupe realizes that the only girl she ever really imagined by his side was her.

One story. Three sides. No easy answers.

Opposite of Always by Justin A. Reynolds

Opposite of Always - Justin A. Reynolds

A beautiful take on Groundhog Day that explores the meaning of love, and friendship, and choices with the most refreshing, witty, and hilarious writing.

From the publisher:
When Jack and Kate meet at a party, bonding until sunrise over their mutual love of Froot Loops and their favorite flicks, Jack knows he's falling--hard. Soon she's meeting his best friends, Jillian and Franny, and Kate wins them over as easily as she did Jack. But then Kate dies. And their story should end there. Yet Kate's death sends Jack back to the beginning, the moment they first meet, and Kate's there again. Healthy, happy, and charming as ever. Jack isn't sure if he's losing his mind. Still, if he has a chance to prevent Kate's death, he'll take it. Even if that means believing in time travel.

Pet by Akwaeke Emezi

Pet - Akwaeke Emezi

A Utopia where justice and kindness prevail...but now it is more important than ever to be brave and face the truth...and confront the monsters before they can come back. Such a slim, but powerful novel. This one will blow you away.

From the publisher:
There are no monsters anymore, or so the children in the city of Lucille are taught. Jam and her best friend, Redemption, have grown up with this lesson all their life. But when Jam meets Pet, a creature made of horns and colors and claws, who emerges from one of her mother's paintings and a drop of Jam's blood, she must reconsider what she's been told. Pet has come to hunt a monster, and the shadow of something grim lurks in Redemption's house. Jam must fight not only to protect her best friend, but also to uncover the truth, and the answer to the question--How do you save the world from monsters if no one will admit they exist?

Pride by Ibi Zoboi

Pride - Ibi Zoboi

A retelling of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Pure poetry in celebration of, and for, the hood. The Fierce and Fabulous Benitez Sisters will remain in my heart for a long, long time.

From the publisher:
When the wealthy Darcy family moves in across the street, Zuri wants nothing to do with their two teenage sons, even as her older sister, Janae, starts to fall for the charming Ainsley. She especially can't stand the judgmental and arrogant Darius. Yet as Zuri and Darius are forced to find common ground, their initial dislike shifts into an unexpected understanding. But with four wild sisters pulling her in different directions, cute boy Warren vying for her attention, and college applications hovering on the horizon, Zuri fights to find her place in Bushwick's changing landscape, or lose it all.

Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko

Raybearer - Jordan Ifueko

A fascinating take on the study of history, voice, loyalty, and love. I'm still thinking about this book long after I finished it.

From the publisher:
Nothing is more important than loyalty.
But what if you've sworn to protect the one you were born to destroy?

Tarisai has always longed for the warmth of a family. She was raised in isolation by a mysterious, often absent mother known only as The Lady. The Lady sends her to the capital of the global empire of Aritsar to compete with other children to be chosen as one of the Crown Prince's Council of 11. If she's picked, she'll be joined with the other Council members through the Ray, a bond deeper than blood. That closeness is irresistible to Tarisai, who has always wanted to belong somewhere. But The Lady has other ideas, including a magical wish that Tarisai is compelled to obey: Kill the Crown Prince once she gains his trust. Tarisai won't stand by and become someone's pawn--but is she strong enough to choose a different path for herself?