Reading List: 8 Fiction Books by Black Authors

Black History Month TBR

To kick off the last week of Black History Month, I’ve put together a list of fiction books by Black authors that you should add to your TBR. From the well-known to the lesser known, from the just-released to the been-around-the-block-a-few-times, this is a quick list of captivating reads you can’t go wrong with this year!

  1. Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid

“Such A Fun Age” was released in December of 2019 and is Reid’s debut novel. The book follows the experiences of Emira Tucker, a young Black woman who is racially profiled by a security guard while she is at the store with the three year-old (white) child she babysits. After the incident, the child’s mother and Emira’s boss, Alix Chamberlain, decides she needs to make a better effort to know and understand Emira. “Such A Fun Age” explores the concepts of a post-racist society, white guilt, white allyship, performative activism, and power & privilege, all while exploring Emira’s anxieties surrounding her identity and emerging adulthood. A multi-layered and riveting page-turned, “Such A Fun Age” will reveal different meanings to different audiences – some more pleasant than others.

“Such A Fun Age” Synopsis

Alix Chamberlain is a woman who gets what she wants and has made a living, with her confidence-driven brand, showing other women how to do the same. So she is shocked when her babysitter, Emira Tucker, is confronted while watching the Chamberlains’ toddler one night, walking the aisles of their local high-end supermarket. The store’s security guard, seeing a young black woman out late with a white child, accuses Emira of kidnapping two-year-old Briar. A small crowd gathers, a bystander films everything, and Emira is furious and humiliated. Alix resolves to make things right.

But Emira herself is aimless, broke, and wary of Alix’s desire to help. At twenty-five, she is about to lose her health insurance and has no idea what to do with her life. When the video of Emira unearths someone from Alix’s past, both women find themselves on a crash course that will upend everything they think they know about themselves, and each other.

With empathy and piercing social commentary, Such a Fun Age explores the stickiness of transactional relationships, what it means to make someone “family,” and the complicated reality of being a grown up. It is a searing debut for our times.

2. You Should See Me In a Crown by Leah Johnson

Released in June of 2020, “You Should See Me In a Crown” is the fun, colorful, butterfly-filled queer romance you never knew you needed. The novel is centered around Liz, a high school senior who runs for prom queen in order to win a much-needed scholarship – only to fall for her competition. Featuring a vibrant cover and vibrant cast of characters, “You Should See Me In a Crown” is a story about what it means to be Black, queer, and young & in love – with your partner, with your friends, and with yourself.

“You Should See Me In a Crown” Synopsis

Liz Lighty has always believed she’s too black, too poor, too awkward to shine in her ​small, rich, prom-obsessed midwestern town. But it’s okay — Liz has a plan that will get her out of Campbell, Indiana, forever: attend the uber-elite Pennington College, play in their world-famous orchestra, and become a doctor.

But when the financial aid she was counting on unexpectedly falls through, Liz’s plans come crashing down… until she’s reminded of her school’s scholarship for prom king and queen. There’s nothing Liz wants to do less than endure a gauntlet of social media trolls, catty competitors, and humiliating public events, but despite her devastating fear of the spotlight she’s willing to do whatever it takes to get to Pennington.

The only thing that makes it halfway bearable is the new girl in school, Mack. She’s smart, funny, and just as much of an outsider as Liz. But Mack is also in the running for queen. Will falling for the competition keep Liz from her dreams—or make them come true?

3. Happily Ever Afters by Elise Bryant

Released just this year, in January of 2021, “Happily Ever Afters” is a storybook romance made for those who seldom see themselves portrayed as romantic interests. Bryant wrote “Happily Ever Afters” because she wanted to see herself – and young women like her – represented in the “swoony love stories” she loved growing up. In the novel, protagonist Tessa Johnson has also never found herself in the stories she loves and turns to her own writing to achieve this. After struggling through a serious case of writer’s block, Tessa decides to find inspiration by chasing down a real-life love story of her own. With a well-rounded and diverse cast of characters, “Happily Ever Afters” is a fun and swoon-worthy read.

“Happily Ever Afters” Synopsis

Sixteen-year-old Tessa Johnson has never felt like the protagonist in her own life. She’s rarely seen herself reflected in the pages of the romance novels she loves. The only place she’s a true leading lady is in her own writing—in the swoony love stories she shares only with Caroline, her best friend and #1 devoted reader.

When Tessa is accepted into the creative writing program of a prestigious art school, she’s excited to finally let her stories shine. But when she goes to her first workshop, the words are just…gone. Fortunately, Caroline has a solution: Tessa just needs to find some inspiration in a real-life love story of her own. And she’s ready with a list of romance novel-inspired steps to a happily ever after. Nico, the brooding artist who looks like he walked out of one of Tessa’s stories, is cast as the perfect Prince Charming.

But as Tessa checks off each item off Caroline’s list, she gets further and further away from herself. She risks losing everything she cares about—including the surprising bond she develops with sweet Sam, who lives across the street. She’s well on her way to having her own real-life love story, but is it the one she wants, after all?

4. Black Enough by Ibi Zoboi

“Black Enough” was released in January of 2020. “Black Enough” is a collection of stories about what it means to be young and Black in America and features contributions from Renée Watson, Nic Stone, Kekla Magoon, Justina Ireland, Brandy Colbert, and more. It is a diverse anthology that taps into the creative voices of Black authors from incredibly diverse backgrounds. By showing that Black kids can be anything – nerdy, gay, immigrants, artists, successful, struggling, etc. – the authors of “Black Enough” show that there is no singular way to be Black. “Black Enough” is an essential and captivating read.

“Black Enough” Synopsis

Black is…sisters navigating their relationship at summer camp in Portland, Oregon, as written by Renée Watson.

Black is…three friends walking back from the community pool talking about nothing and everything, in a story by Jason Reynolds.

Black is…Nic Stone’s high-class beauty dating a boy her momma would never approve of.

Black is…two girls kissing in Justina Ireland’s story set in Maryland.Black is urban and rural, wealthy and poor, mixed race, immigrants, and more—because there are countless ways to be Black enough.

5. The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna

“The Gilded Ones” is a new release. It was released just this month in February of 2021 and is Forna’s debut novel.  A fantasy story, “The Gilded Ones” is about sixteen-year-old Deka who discovers she has the blood of an alaki – near-immortal female warriors charged with defending their patriarchal empire. Lauded as a dark feminst tale that draws parallels to “Children of Blood and Bone,” “Mulan,” and “Black Panther,” “The Gilded Ones” is a provocative and exciting must-read.

“The Gilded Ones” Synopsis

Sixteen-year-old Deka lives in fear and anticipation of the blood ceremony that will determine whether she will become a member of her village. Already different from everyone else because of her unnatural intuition, Deka prays for red blood so she can finally feel like she belongs.

But on the day of the ceremony, her blood runs gold, the color of impurity–and Deka knows she will face a consequence worse than death.

Then a mysterious woman comes to her with a choice: stay in the village and submit to her fate, or leave to fight for the emperor in an army of girls just like her. They are called alaki–near-immortals with rare gifts. And they are the only ones who can stop the empire’s greatest threat.

Knowing the dangers that lie ahead yet yearning for acceptance, Deka decides to leave the only life she’s ever known. But as she journeys to the capital to train for the biggest battle of her life, she will discover that the great walled city holds many surprises. Nothing and no one are quite what they seem to be–not even Deka herself.

6. Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

Initially released in August of 2011, “Salvage the Bones” by Jesmyn Ward tells the story of fourteen year-old Esch and her family, poverty-stricken Black Mississipians, in the days leading up to the devastating Hurricane Katrina. Also from Mississippi, Ward was compelled to write “Salvage the Bones” based on her own experiences with Hurricane Katrina and her frustrations with how quickly public attention about the devastation faded. “Salvage the Bones” is a deeply moving tale that captures the restrictive and cyclic realities of poverty, the true devastation natural disasters can wreak on already vulnerable communities, and the ability for unwavering familial love to survive despite.

“Salvage the Bones” Synopsis

A hurricane is building over the Gulf of Mexico, threatening the coastal town of Bois Sauvage, Mississippi, and Esch’s father is growing concerned. A hard drinker, largely absent, he doesn’t show concern for much else. Esch and her three brothers are stocking food, but there isn’t much to save. Lately, Esch can’t keep down what food she gets; she’s fourteen and pregnant. Her brother Skeetah is sneaking scraps for his prized pitbull’s new litter, dying one by one in the dirt. Meanwhile, brothers Randall and Junior try to stake their claim in a family long on child’s play and short on parenting.

As the twelve days that make up the novel’s framework yield to their dramatic conclusion, this unforgettable family–motherless children sacrificing for one another as they can, protecting and nurturing where love is scarce–pulls itself up to face another day. A big-hearted novel about familial love and community against all odds, and a wrenching look at the lonesome, brutal, and restrictive realities of rural poverty, Salvage the Bones is muscled with poetry, revelatory, and real.

7. Dear Martin by Nic Stone

“Dear Martin” was released in October of 2017. It tells the story of Justyce McAllister, a Black student attending an primarily white private school. After he is racially profiled and put in handcuffs, Justyce turns to the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for comfort and answers. The target of racist classmates and further police violence, Justyce finds himself caught up in a battle over police brutality and race. In response, Justyce embarks on a ‘Dear Martin’ project in which he journals to Dr. King and attempts to live like him. Combining portrayals of microaggressions and police violence with the day-to-day anxieties of a high school student (college, parental expectations, relationships, etc.), Stone creates a story that is achingly realistic and easy to get lost in.

“Dear Martin” Synopsis

“Justyce McAllister is a good kid, an honor student, and always there to help a friend—but none of that matters to the police officer who just put him in handcuffs. Despite leaving his rough neighborhood behind, he can’t escape the scorn of his former peers or the ridicule of his new classmates.

Justyce looks to the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for answers. But do they hold up anymore? He starts a journal to Dr. King to find out.

Then comes the day Justyce goes driving with his best friend, Manny, windows rolled down, music turned up—way up, sparking the fury of a white off-duty cop beside them. Words fly. Shots are fired. Justyce and Manny are caught in the crosshairs. In the media fallout, it’s Justyce who is under attack.

8. Opposite of Always by Justin A. Reynolds

“Opposite of Always” by Justin A. Reynolds was released in March of 2019. “Opposite of Always” is a love story with a twist. Jack and Kate meet, they hit it off, and they fall in love . . . and then Kate dies. Instead of that being the end of their love story, however, it is the beginning of a supernatural romance that has Jack traveling back in time again and again as he attempts to rewrite the ending. Bittersweet and emotional, “Opposite of Always” tackles the complexities of life, death, and love.

“Opposite of Always” Synopsis

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. However, Jack will learn that his actions are not without consequences. And when one choice turns deadly for someone else close to him, he has to figure out what he’s willing to do to save the people he loves.

If you’re interested in reading non-fiction, check out my Non-fiction Books By Black Authors reading list!

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