• By Jacquelyn White
  • Posted Monday, August 10, 2020

#BlackLit Matters: A reading list for Teens

Our hope is that by exploring these and other titles in our collection, all people can work together to grow and inform themselves, their families, and their neighbors about injustices, race relations, and other important topics that impact our lives.


"A Song of Wraiths and Ruin" by Roseanne A. Brown

Starring: Malik, a refugee who makes a deadly deal to save his sister; and Karina, a princess who turns to bloody necromancy in her grief over her mother’s death.

What happens: For Malik, the Solstasia festival is a chance to escape his war-stricken home and start a new life with his sisters in the prosperous desert city of Ziran. But when a vengeful spirit abducts his younger sister, Nadia, as payment to enter the city, Malik strikes a fatal deal--kill Karina, Crown Princess of Ziran, for Nadia's freedom. But Karina has deadly aspirations of her own. Her mother, the Sultana, has been assassinated; her court threatens mutiny, and Solstasia looms like a knife over her neck. Grief-stricken, Karina decides to resurrect her mother through ancient magic...requiring the beating heart of a king. And she knows just how to obtain one: by offering her hand in marriage to the victor of the Solstasia competition. When Malik rigs his way into the contest, they are set on a heart-pounding course to destroy each other. But as attraction flares between them and ancient evils stir, will they be able to see their tasks to the death?

Why you might like it: For fans of the layered plots and vivid world-building in Tomi Adeyemi’s Legacy of Orisha series.


"Let's Talk About Love" by Claire Kann

What it’s about: Alice is done with romance. She just got dumped by her girlfriend after coming out as asexual, an experience she doesn’t want to repeat. Her resolve is tested, however, by new friend Takumi, who’s unfairly cute...but is he more understanding than Alice’s ex?

Read it for: Alice’s relatable stress about her future; her funny, supportive crew of friends; and her satisfying determination to be herself.


"Anger Is a Gift" by Mark Oshiro

What it’s about: Six years ago, Moss Jefferies' father was murdered by an Oakland police officer. Along with losing a parent, the media's vilification of his father and lack of accountability has left Moss with near crippling panic attacks. Now, in his sophomore year of high school, Moss and his fellow classmates find themselves increasingly treated like criminals in their own school. New rules. Random locker searches. Constant intimidation and Oakland Police Department stationed in their halls. Despite their youth, the students decide to organize and push back against the administration. When tensions hit a fever pitch and tragedy strikes, Moss must face a difficult choice: give in to fear and hate or realize that anger can actually be a gift.

For fans of: unflinching realistic fiction about diverse characters who organize and take action in the face of injustice.

About the author: You might recognize Mark Oshiro from his "Mark Does Stuff" blogs, where he reviews popular books and TV series.


"Let Me Hear a Rhyme" by Tiffany D. Jackson

What it’s about: Three Brooklyn teens plot to turn their murdered friend into a major rap star by pretending he's still alive. 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. Soon, everyone wants a piece of him. When his demo catches the attention of a hotheaded music label rep, the trio must prove Steph's talent from beyond the grave. 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. And with everything riding on Steph's fame, they need to decide what they stand for or lose all that they've worked so hard to hold on to -- including each other.

Read it for: convincing characters, emotional depth, and a vivid 1990s Brooklyn setting.


"Tyler Johnson Was Here" by Jay Coles

What it's about: You have twin brothers Tyler and Marvin, they're raised in the inner city. Their father is currently in jail and their mother works long hours to support the family. They are entering their senior year in high school and up until now, they’ve been really close. But they are starting to drift apart. Marvin is a high achieving A+ student and Tyler is starting to ignore school in favor of hanging out with his friends in the streets. Cut to after attending a party Tyler is unjustly killed by a police officer, and Marvin is overwhelmed by grief, his angry because now the police are saying his brother was a criminal when he wasn’t as if that justifies his murder, and he has to deal with the public's response to his personal loss.

Why you might like it: Similar to Angie Thomas' The Hate U Give or Nic Stone's Dear Martin , Tyler Johnson Was Here takes a knowing, heart-wrenching look at the effects of injustice, oppression, and violence in one black teen's life.


"Monday's Not Coming" by Tiffany D. Jackson

What it's about : Eight grader Claudia's best friend Monday doesn't show up for the first day of school -- or any of the days that follow -- Claudia knows that something is seriously wrong. She knows that her best friend wouldn’t just leave her to deal with school alone without word. So she starts asking some hardcore questions: Why does Monday's family give conflicting reasons for her absence? And why does no one else care that a girl has disappeared?

Why you might like it : This book will keep you guessing and stay with you long after the final page. I recommend this to any fans of Jason Reynolds or Sharon Draper.


With the Fire on High" by Elizabeth Acevedo

What it's about : High school senior Emoni Santiago, who has "magic hands" in the kitchen, it’s like a super power the way her food just feels the people who eat with good vibes. She also happens to be a single teen mom. And while she wants nothing more to just devote her life to becoming a chef, head off to culinary school she’s worried that doing this won't help her build a future for herself and her two-year-old daughter.

Why you might like it : Because food. The way Acevedo writes about Emoni’s cooking... Also the characters so realistic, I was so here for Emoni the whole time and then I finished the book and I was like Ahh I miss her and little Emma. And then recommended it to at least five teens that same day and they all checked it out and loved it so bam.

I also recommend this one to reluctant reader’s it’s written in short precise prose that makes it easy and joy to read.