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20 YA Books You Need to Read—Especially During Black History Month

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20 YA Books You Need to Read—Especially During Black History Month

20 YA Books You Need to Read—Especially During Black History Month

Young adult books go above and beyond when it comes to representation—and it’s something that we, the YA community, authors, and readers continue to fight for every day. So, in honor of Black History Month, we want to take a look at some of the books that have been influential in this wave of representation and encourage you to read your way through the month!

And, let’s be real: They’re all really, really good.

From anthologies to graphic novels, atmospheric fantasies to realistic tales tinged by everyday issues, there’s something to offer every type of reader in every one of these stories. Start this year off strong by reading these Black History Month books—and yeah, you can thank us later!

 

20 YA Books to Read During Black History Month

(AND EVERY MONTH!)

 

1. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Our #1 recommendation for Black History Month is already a classic. From superstar author Angie Thomas, this stunning novel is inspired by the activists of Black Lives Matter and is 100% required reading for this month and beyond.

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

 

2. Kingdom of Souls by Rena Barron

So much of YA fantasy is set in European-inspired worlds, and while we love it, we are always craving something more. Rena’s West-African inspired high fantasy gives us the black girl magic we need this Black History Month.

A girl with no gifts must bargain for the power to fight her own mother’s dark schemes—even if the price is her life.

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. Under the disapproving eye of her mother, the Kingdom’s most powerful priestess and seer, she fears she may never be good enough.

But when the Kingdom’s children begin to disappear, Arrah is desperate enough to turn to a forbidden, dangerous ritual. If she has no magic of her own, she’ll have to buy it—by trading away years of her own life.

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.

Set in a richly imagined world inspired by whispered tales of voodoo and folk magic, Rena Barron’s captivating debut is the beginning of a thrilling saga about a girl caught between gods, monsters, and the gift and the curse of power.

 

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

Epic Reads HQ, 2020. Tiffany D. Jackson was right. This book is everything. The friendship between these characters set against a backdrop of Tiffany’s signature twists and turns makes us more than in love with this novel. You NEED this one for BHM.

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.

 

4. On the Come Up by Angie Thomas

Can you even believe that Angie Thomas managed to do it again? (We definitely can.) Her powerhouse sophomore novel is a must-read, always.

Sixteen-year-old Bri wants to be one of the greatest rappers of all time. Or at least win her first battle. As the daughter of an underground hip hop legend who died right before he hit big, Bri’s got massive shoes to fill.

But it’s hard to get your come up when you’re labeled a hoodlum at school, and your fridge at home is empty after your mom loses her job. So Bri pours her anger and frustration into her first song, which goes viral . . . for all the wrong reasons.

Bri soon finds herself at the center of a controversy, portrayed by the media as more menace than MC. But with an eviction notice staring her family down, Bri doesn’t just want to make it—she has to. Even if it means becoming the very thing the public has made her out to be.

Insightful, unflinching, and full of heart, On the Come Up is an ode to hip hop from one of the most influential literary voices of a generation. It is the story of fighting for your dreams, even as the odds are stacked against you; and about how, especially for young black people, freedom of speech isn’t always free.

 

5. Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

Justina Ireland is an utterly masterful writer, so it’s no surprise that Dread Nation has completely captured our hearts. This explosive examination of an alternate-history America is as timely as it is terrifying. We can’t recommend this highly enough for Black History Month.

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.

 

6. Deathless Divide by Justina Ireland

We’ve been dying to get our hands on this captivating sequel, and it’s finally here! Celebrate BHM by binge-reading Justina’s fantastic duology.

The sequel to the New York Times bestselling epic Dread Nation is an unforgettable journey of revenge and salvation across a divided America.

After the fall of Summerland, Jane McKeene hoped her life would get simpler: Get out of town, stay alive, and head west to California to find her mother.

But nothing is easy when you’re a girl trained in putting down the restless dead, and a devastating loss on the road to a protected village called Nicodemus has Jane questioning everything she thought she knew about surviving in 1880s America.

What’s more, this safe haven is not what it appears—as Jane discovers when she sees familiar faces from Summerland amid this new society. Caught between mysteries and lies, the undead, and her own inner demons, Jane soon finds herself on a dark path of blood and violence that threatens to consume her.

But she won’t be in it alone.

Katherine Deveraux never expected to be allied with Jane McKeene. But after the hell she has endured, she knows friends are hard to come by—and that Jane needs her too, whether Jane wants to admit it or not.

Watching Jane’s back, however, is more than she bargained for, and when they both reach a breaking point, it’s up to Katherine to keep hope alive—even as she begins to fear that there is no happily-ever-after for girls like her.

 

7. Not So Pure and Simple by Lamar Giles

What does it mean to be a “real man?” Lamar Giles tackles this subject and more in this masterful contemporary, a perfect add to any TBR at any time.

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.

His dad thinks his wires are crossed, and his best friend, Qwan, doesn’t believe any girl is worth the long game. But Del’s not about to lose his dream girl, and that’s where fellow pledger Jameer comes in. He can put in the good word. In exchange, Del just has to get answers to the Pledgers’ questions…about sex ed.

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?

 

8. The Field Guide to the North American Teenager by Ben Philippe

Who doesn’t love an award-winner? Ben Philippe’s hilarious debut is the perfect read for Black History Month for all of us who love a combination of humor and the socially conscious.

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…like loner Liam, who makes it his mission to befriend Norris, or Madison the beta cheerleader, who is so nice that it has to be a trap. Not to mention Aarti the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, who might, in fact, be a real love interest in the making.

But the night of the prom, Norris screws everything up royally. As he tries to pick up the pieces, he realizes it might be time to stop hiding behind his snarky opinions and start living his life—along with the people who have found their way into his heart.

 

9. Black Enough, edited by Ibi Zoboi

This author lineup is honestly… unmatched. This collection of unflinching stories about being young and Black in America is one of the best YA anthologies to hit shelves, ever.

Edited by National Book Award finalist Ibi Zoboi, and featuring some of the most acclaimed bestselling Black authors writing for teens today—Black Enough is an essential collection of captivating stories about what it’s like to be young and Black in America.

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.

 

10. Monster: A Graphic Novel by Walter Dean Myers, adapted by Guy A. Sims

Monster is the ultimate classic, an ever-important story that opens up conversations about what “justice” often looks like for black teenagers. The graphic novel adaptation is just as utterly stunning and the perfect read for Black History month.

A stunning graphic novel adaptation of Walter Dean Myers’s New York Times bestseller Monster.

Monster is a multi-award-winning, provocative coming-of-age story about Steve Harmon, a teenager awaiting trial for a murder and robbery. As Steve acclimates to juvenile detention and goes to trial, he envisions how his ordeal would play out on the big screen.

Guy A. Sims, the acclaimed author of the Brotherman series of comic books, collaborated with his brother, the illustrator Dawud Anyabwile, in this thrilling black-and-white graphic novel adaption of Monster.

Monster was the first-ever Michael L. Printz Award recipient, an ALA Best Book, a Coretta Scott King Honor selection, and a National Book Award finalist.

Fans of Monster and of the work of Walter Dean Myers—and even kids who think they don’t like to read—will devour this graphic adaptation.

 

11. Calling My Name by Liara Tamani

Stunning and lyrical, Calling My Name made us feel all the feelings. You should definitely add this to your BHM TBR.

This unforgettable novel tells a universal coming-of-age story about Taja Brown, a young African American girl growing up in Houston, Texas, and deftly and beautifully explores the universal struggles of growing up, battling family expectations, discovering a sense of self, and finding a unique voice and purpose.

Told in fifty-three short, episodic, moving, and iridescent chapters, Calling My Name follows Taja on her journey from middle school to high school. Literary and noteworthy, this is a beauty of a novel that captures the multifaceted struggle of finding where you belong and why you matter.

 

12. Pride by Ibi Zoboi

We love our classics, but we also love fresh, modern retellings of our favorites. In this showstopper, Ibi balances cultural identity, class, and gentrification against the magic of first love, all with the same bottom line: having pride in who you are.

Zuri Benitez has pride. Brooklyn pride, family pride, and pride in her Afro-Latino roots. But pride might not be enough to save her rapidly gentrifying neighborhood from becoming unrecognizable.

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.

In a timely update of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, critically acclaimed author Ibi Zoboi skillfully balances cultural identity, class, and gentrification against the heady magic of first love in her vibrant reimagining of this beloved classic.

 

13. Opposite of Always by Justin A. Reynolds

It’s so important for everyone to see themselves in books, particularly ones that offer hope and don’t end tragically. Read the one and only Opposite of Always this Black History month—and beyond!

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.

 

14. A Blade So Black by L.L. McKinney

A retelling of Alice in Wonderland with a black heroine? Um, yes, please. Black History Month is full of total badasses, and while juggling school, her family, and her social life all the while keeping the Nightmares at bay, Alice is definitely the epitome of a badass.

The first time the Nightmares came, it nearly cost Alice her life. Now she’s trained to battle monstrous creatures in the dark dream realm known as Wonderland with magic weapons and hardcore fighting skills. Yet even warriors have a curfew.

Life in real-world Atlanta isn’t always so simple, as Alice juggles an overprotective mom, a high-maintenance best friend, and a slipping GPA. Keeping the Nightmares at bay is turning into a full-time job. But when Alice’s handsome and mysterious mentor is poisoned, she has to find the antidote by venturing deeper into Wonderland than she’s ever gone before. And she’ll need to use everything she’s learned in both worlds to keep from losing her head… literally.

 

15. Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

Leave it to Jason Reynolds for being able to tell a story that takes place over the course of 60 seconds but can leave an impression for ages. Long Way Down opens our eyes to a new perspective on the discussion of gun violence.

Fifteen-year-old Will—has a cannon, a strap, a tool, a gun—shoved in the back waistband of his jeans. See, his brother Shawn was just murdered. And Will knows the rules. No crying. No snitching. Revenge. That’s where Will’s now heading, with that gun shoved in the back waistband of his jeans, the gun that was his brother’s gun. He gets on the elevator, seventh floor, stoked. He knows who he’s after. Or does he?

As the elevator stops on the sixth floor, on comes Buck. Buck, Will finds out, is who gave Shawn the gun before Will took the gun. Buck tells Will to check that the gun is even loaded. And that’s when Will sees that one bullet is missing. And the only one who could have fired Shawn’s gun was Shawn. Huh. Will didn’t know that Shawn had ever actually USED his gun. Bigger huh. BUCK IS DEAD. But Buck’s in the elevator?

And so it goes, the whole long way down, as the elevator stops on each floor, and at each stop someone connected to his brother gets on to give Will a piece to a bigger story than the one he thinks he knows. A story that might never know an END…if WILL gets off that elevator.

 

16. The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton

So much of today’s beauty standards are centered around Eurocentric beauty beliefs, and in The Belles Dhonielle Clayton peels back the layers of intersectional feminism and patriarchy with a fantastical twist. A fantastic read and conversation starter for BHM—and beyond.

Camellia Beauregard is a Belle. In the opulent world of Orléans, Belles are revered, for they control Beauty, and Beauty is a commodity coveted above all else. In Orléans, the people are born gray, they are born damned, and only with the help of a Belle and her talents can they transform and be made beautiful.

But it’s not enough for Camellia to be just a Belle. She wants to be the favorite—the Belle chosen by the Queen of Orléans to live in the royal palace, to tend to the royal family and their court, to be recognized as the most talented Belle in the land. 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. And when the queen asks Camellia to risk her own life and help the ailing princess by using Belle powers in unintended ways, Camellia now faces an impossible decision.

With the future of Orléans and its people at stake, Camellia must decide—save herself and her sisters and the way of the Belles—or resuscitate the princess, risk her own life, and change the ways of her world forever.

 

17. Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

If you’re looking for a book where the world, the characters, and the magic are rich and captivating, then this is the book for you. We anticipate seeing Children of Blood and Bone in required reading roundups everywhere. We know it’s on ours.

Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zélie’s Reaper mother summoned forth souls.

But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope.

Now Zélie has one chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must outwit and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good.

 

18. Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani

Based on real-life experiences of Nigerian girls kidnapped by Boko Haram, Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree sheds new light on the victims’ perspectives. It implores readers to see the victims as more than just a number and tells a side of history that not many people know; read this for a truly stunning take this Black History Month.

A new pair of shoes, a university degree, a husband—these are the things that a girl dreams of in a Nigerian village. And with a government scholarship right around the corner, everyone can see that these dreams aren’t too far out of reach.

But the girl’s dreams turn to nightmares when her village is attacked by Boko Haram, a terrorist group, in the middle of the night. Kidnapped, she is taken with other girls and women into the forest where she is forced to follow her captors’ radical beliefs and watch as her best friend slowly accepts everything she’s been told.

Still, the girl defends her existence. As impossible as escape may seem, her life—her future—is hers to fight for.

 

19. Dear Martin by Nic Stone

In a debut told in the view of a young Black male living in today’s America, Nic Stone boldly takes on the topics of police brutality and racism—something that doesn’t exist only in Black history, but unfortunately in today’s world as well.

Justyce McAllister is top of his class and set for the Ivy League—but none of that matters to the police officer who just put him in handcuffs. And 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.

 

20. The Revolution of Birdie Randolph by Brandy Colbert

Brandy always brings it with vibrant characters while fabulously handling serious topics. Birdie Randolph is no exception. It’s a powerful story of a young Black girl growing up in Chicago that doesn’t shy away from highlighting both the cultural pride and racial challenges of a city that has so much black history in its roots.

Dove “Birdie” Randolph works hard to be the perfect daughter and follow the path her parents have laid out for her: She quit playing her beloved soccer, she keeps her nose buried in textbooks, and she’s on track to finish high school at the top of her class. But then Birdie falls hard for Booker, a sweet boy with a troubled past…whom she knows her parents will never approve of.

When her estranged aunt Carlene returns to Chicago and moves into the family’s apartment above their hair salon, Birdie notices the tension building at home. Carlene is sweet, friendly, and open-minded–she’s also spent decades in and out of treatment facilities for addiction. As Birdie becomes closer to both Booker and Carlene, she yearns to spread her wings. But when long-buried secrets rise to the surface, everything she’s known to be true is turned upside down.

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