Black Representation in YA Fiction
In honour of Black History Month, The Publishing Post looks at some of the best Young Adult books and authors that have been influential in this wave of representation. From dystopian fiction to romantic comedies, these YA novels offer Black children the opportunity to have their stories told, to see a Black person on the front cover and to relate to the experiences of the characters.
Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam
From award-winning author Ibi Zoboi and prison reform activist Yusef Salaam of the Exonerated Five, Punching the Air is a beautiful phenomenon everyone must read. Based on Yusef Salaam’s own experiences, the story follows a Black teen artist named Amal Shahid as he faces court and jail time for throwing a punch at a white boy. A white judicial system then proceeds to build a case based on what they think happened. Exploring important themes such as racial profiling, blatant and cold racism and prison abolition, this novel is breath-takingly raw, filled with poetic language that lends the reader to connect with Amal’s deepest inner thoughts and trauma. Punching the Air is a timely and incredibly important read for this Black History Month.
Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo
Based on the fated Flight AA587 in 2001, Clap When You Land is a story of mourning and loss when Camino and Yahaira lose their father. It is also a story of strength, new beginnings and love as Camino and Yahaira discover each other for the first time in their lives. Acevedo writes with the aim of creating characters that are part of the world she experienced as a child, often reflecting on the stories told to her by her mother to create the reality of the present. The construction of the story is exceptional in providing that reality, elevating the themes and ideas from the page as if you are, instead, watching a visual performance, such is the power of Acevedo’s novel-in-verse style.
Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson
Monday’s Not Coming is a ripped-from-the-headlines mystery about a teenage girl who goes missing, but no one seems to care aside from her best friend. Claudia Coleman and Monday Charles have been inseparable since childhood. When Monday does not show up to the first day of school, Claudia knows something is wrong. She seeks help from her parents, teachers, and even the police, but they dismiss Monday’s disappearance. Determined to find the truth about what happened to her best friend, Claudia takes matters into her own hands. Tiffany D. Jackson masterfully weaves heart into this emotional story about an unbreakable friendship, the disillusionment of youthful innocence and the desire for justice, ending with a huge twist you won’t see coming!
Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman
Published back in 2001, Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman is one of the most well-known YA books of the 21st Century. A Romeo and Juliet story set in a fictional dystopia in which those of African descent have gained technological and organisational advancement over the European people. As a young adult, I remember this book having a profound impact on the way I saw the world. It cleverly demonstrates the privilege white people have in our society in a way that is understandable for young adults. With a background of societal turmoil, the love story between Sephy and Callum is a shining light that the reader cannot help falling in love with. Thankfully, with five novels in the series, you can fully immerse yourself in the complicated lives of these characters.
Opposite of Always by Justin A. Reynolds
YA has all of the best modern love stories, whether they are heart-warming or heart-breaking. And with that comes the swoon-worthy boys. Justin A. Reynold’s YA novel Opposite of Always has you covered on all fronts.
When Kate and Jack meet at a party, Jack knows he is falling for her. Everything seems perfect. Until Kate dies. But their story doesn’t end there. Jack is suddenly sent back to the beginning, to the moment they first meet, and is given the opportunity to prevent her death. But his actions have consequences as Jack must choose what he is willing to do to save the people he loves. A perfect romance to have you completely in your feelings.
Black Boy White School by Brian F. Walker
Brian Walker’s Black Boy White School is an impressive debut. Its protagonist, Anthony ‘Ant’ Jones, is thrust into an almost entirely white prep school from his Cleveland neighbourhood. Putting the spotlight on a young Black man in this genre is an impactful choice, with Walker giving voice and representation to a demographic that has been largely ignored for most of literary history. Analysing what it means to blindly navigate classism, Ant faces stereotyping at every turn and must adapt and mature in his new opportunity to avoid losing himself entirely. A poignant book about what it means to feel at home, feel at ease in a space where on paper you are welcome and valid, but in reality, you are starkly othered.