Empowering YA Books by Black Authors
by Dianca London Potts
In her bestselling collection Call Us What We Carry, Amanda Gorman asks her audience, “Will we / forget, erase, censor, distort the experience as we live it, so / that it cannot be fully remembered? Or will we ask, carry, / keep, share, listen, truth-tell, so it need not be fully relived?” Within Gorman’s poetry and throughout the works featured on this list, the importance of sharing one’s truth takes center stage.
In a time of uncertainty, one thing is undeniable — the written word has the power to heal, uplift, and imagine. From Morgan Parker’s Who Put This Song On? and Mahogany L. Browne’s Vinyl Moon to the otherworldly battles in Ryan Douglass’s The Taking of Jake Livingston and Namina Forna’s The Gilded Ones, truth-telling is a form of Black survival, a testimony of resilience. Each of these stories is a reminder of the power of using your voice.
Who Put This Song On?
An earnest exploration of identity, mental health, and early aughts adolescence, Who Put This Song On? delves into the heart and mind of seventeen-year-old Morgan. She navigates the complexities of being Black, depressed, and emo in a predominantly white suburb. Determined to find refuge, Morgan turns to therapy, music, and her diary and, in doing so, finds her tribe, a circle of friends who — like her — understand what it feels like not to fit in. Who Put This Song On? is a memorable and urgent reminder that being yourself isn’t just a superpower, but a form of survival.
Nnedi Okorafor’s bestselling novel, Akata Witch, follows Sunny, a 12-year-old girl who exists between worlds. As an albino Nigerian girl born in America, Sunny is feared and ostracized because she is different until a foreboding vision changes everything. As an unexpected bond with a classmate blossoms, Sunny discovers she possesses magical powers. She and her new friends rally together to combat an evil that threatens to destroy the world. Akata Witch is the first in an unforgettable series about growing up and being courageous.
Mahogany L. Browne's stirring novel explores the complexities of loss and heartbreak and the transformative possibilities of the written page with luminous depth. As Angel reckons with the end of a relationship and the start of a new life in a new city, the written page becomes a portal and source of solace. Angel discovers the power of her own voice through the voices of literary titans like Zora Neale Hurston, Toni Morrison, and James Baldwin. From beginning to end, Vinyl Moon is a lyrical and vibrant celebration of resilience, belonging, and the limitlessness of storytelling.
Required Reading for the Disenfranchised Freshman
A pitch-perfect meditation on privilege, race, and selfhood, Kristen R. Lee's Required Reading for the Disenfranchised Freshman shines an unblinking light on the often hidden (and harrowing) histories of elite institutions. When the novel's heroine Savannah Howard receives a full-ride scholarship to Wooddale University, she soon discovers the school's polished exterior is a facade covering a legacy of elitism and racism. As Savanah uncovers her university's past and reckons with its present, she faces an irrevocable choice: to stay silent or shine a light on the truth. Fast-paced and urgent, Lee's debut is as powerful as it is memorable.
The Taking of Jake Livingston
Unlike his peers, Jake Livingston can see the dead. Besides being an adolescent medium, Jake must bear the weight of being one of the few Black students at St. Clair Prep. Between visions depicting the final living moments of the ghosts that haunt him and coping with racist teachers and peers, Jake’s life feels like a bad dream. Things improve when Allister befriends him, but as their friendship deepens, a ruthless ghost jeopardizes everything. A spellbinding tale about survival and bravery, this novel is an undeniable spectral wonder that readers will never forget.Preorder from:
If You Come Softly
Penned by the widely celebrated bestselling author Jacqueline Woodson, If You Come Softly is a riveting portrait of the power of love and friendship. As Brooklyn native Jeremiah prepares to cope with life at a Manhattan prep school, something unexpected happens — he meets Ellie. Despite their differences (Jeremiah is Black and Ellie is Jewish), the two become inseparable. As their romance blooms, both Ellie and Jeremiah must reckon with a world steeped in prejudice. If You Come Softly is cinematic and vibrant. Each page hums with life and truth.
The Gilded Ones
The Gilded Ones opens as Deka prepares to embrace her destiny within her village. Now that she's 16, Deka — who also possesses a powerful yet feared gift of intuition — is old enough to undergo the blood ceremony, which she hopes will help her feel more at home within her community. Her dream shatters when the ceremony confirms her worst fears. Soon after, Deka faces a choice: to give in to a foretold future or create one of her own, no matter the cost. This genre-defying saga is the first in a spellbinding series.
Call Us What We Carry
In Call Us What We Carry, presidential inaugural poet Amanda Gorman traces the topography of our current political and historical moment with heart, wisdom, and unwavering honesty. Infused with empathy, grief, and hope, Gorman's poems give voice to the weight of our communal moment while giving us space to envision a yet-to-be-written future. Each line honors the difficulties and beauty of being human. Gorman’s poetry is a balm for times like these.