YA Books About Being Black in America

Racial and social injustice are hard topics to talk about, but stories surrounding these issues should be heard no matter how difficult. Books are a great way for these stories to take form and be shared amongst everyone, no matter their life experiences. So if you are looking for stories about being young and black in America, check out the titles in the list below. 

*All descriptions are from the publisher.

Black Enough: Stories of Being Young and Black in America edited by Ibi Zoboi

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.

Accessible as: Overdrive ebook, Overdrive audiobook, and hoopla audiobook

The Field Guide to the North American Teenager by Ben Philippe

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.

Accessible as: Overdrive ebook, Overdrive audiobook, and hoopla audiobook

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely

A bag of chips. That’s all sixteen-year-old Rashad is looking for at the corner bodega. What he finds instead is a fist-happy cop, Paul Galluzzo, who mistakes Rashad for a shoplifter, mistakes Rashad’s pleadings that he’s stolen nothing for belligerence, mistakes Rashad’s resistance to leave the bodega as resisting arrest, mistakes Rashad’s every flinch at every punch the cop throws as further resistance and refusal to STAY STILL as ordered. But how can you stay still when someone is pounding your face into the concrete pavement?

But there were witnesses: Quinn Collins—a varsity basketball player and Rashad’s classmate who has been raised by Paul since his own father died in Afghanistan—and a video camera. Soon the beating is all over the news and Paul is getting threatened with accusations of prejudice and racial brutality. Quinn refuses to believe that the man who has basically been his savior could possibly be guilty. But then Rashad is absent. And absent again. And again. And the basketball team—half of whom are Rashad’s best friends—start to take sides. As does the school. And the town. Simmering tensions threaten to explode as Rashad and Quinn are forced to face decisions and consequences they had never considered before.

Accessible as: Overdrive ebook and Overdrive audiobook

Dear Martin by Nic Stone

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.

Accessible as: Overdrive ebook and Overdrive audiobook

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

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.

Accessible as: Overdrive ebook and Overdrive audiobook

And if you want to become more informed about racial justice, check out our Racial Justice Reading List.

Racial Justice Reading List

In an often confusing and difficult time of upheaval, we at the Abbot Public Library are committed to providing resources to expand your knowledge and become better informed on current events and social issues.

If you are seeking books on the topic of racial justice, please use this list as a primer to put the headlines into context. All items can be accessed — free with your library card — through our digital collections:

So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo

How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Waking Up White: And Finding Myself in the Story of Race by Debby Irving

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo

Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi (and for young adults, Stamped — Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds & Ibram X. Kendi)

When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors & asha bandele

Jason Reynolds’ Grab the Mic

Jason Reynolds was recently appointed as the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature by the LIbrary of Congress, and for his term he wants to speak to young readers in America. To do this during our time of quarantine, he has created two digital features under his “GRAB THE MIC: Tell Your Story” platform, which focuses on listening and empowering students to share their own personal stories. The video series titled “Write. Right. Rite” is where Reynolds shares his passion for storytelling and creativity. Each video ends with a prompt to encourage young people to work towards a specific idea and fun-filled activities. The “GRAB THE MIC: Tell Your Story” newsletter is a monthly newsletter where Reynolds can talk to you directly about relevant topics of the day. 

Visit Grab the Mic on the LOC website to explore your creativity with Jason Reynolds!

You can also check out some of his titles through Overdrive, which include:

Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks

This book, told in ten tales, tells of all the detours that happen on the way home. It is one the book LeVar Burton has read aloud during Levar Burton Reads

Check it out in the Libby app or online in ebook and audiobook format.

Long Way Down

One of the YA Novels in Verse staff picks, this is the story about teen gun violence and what a brother would do for his family. 

This book is also in ebook and audiobook format.

Miles Morales: Spider-Man

Miles Morales is Spider-Man. But he wonders if he is meant to save the world or just himself.

In ebook and audiobook format on Libby/Overdrive, and the one Jason Reynolds book currently available in hoopla.

Three YA Novels in Verse (And a Bonus Memoir!) to Celebrate National Poetry Month

April is National Poetry Month, and what better way to celebrate than, well, by reading poetry? If poetry is your thing (and even if it isn’t!), mix things up this month with some young adult novels in verse. These books combine the best of both worlds: the deeply impactful, engrossing storylines of a novel, with the linguistic lyricism of poetry. Check out a couple of these excellent, quick reads (or listens — all audiobooks here are four hours long or less) to get your poetry fix.

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

In this beautiful, award-winning debut novel by acclaimed slam poet Elizabeth Acevedo, Xiomara Batista grapples with religion, identity, and all of the complexities of being a teenager through the medium of slam poetry. If you have ever felt unsure or unheard and are looking for your voice, this one’s for you. Give this a listen if you can — Acevedo narrates the audiobook in expert slam poet fashion and it is superb.

Available as an ebook and e-audio on Overdrive/Libby and hoopla.

Bull by David Elliott

David Elliott’s Bull takes on the classic story of Theseus and the Minotaur and twists it into a rowdy, witty, Hamilton-esque myth-in-verse for the modern age. This dark comedy gives an unexpected, behind-the-scenes view of one of Greek mythology’s most infamous monsters and his cohorts. Sass abounds as some of the all-time Greek mythology greats chime in with their lyrical two cents. Ever wondered what it would be like if Poseidon could rap? Wonder no more. Warning for some explicit language, and also a warning for laughing your socks off. 

Available as an ebook on Overdrive/Libby and hoopla.

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds 

Jason Reynolds began his life as a poet before going on to become an award-winning and prolific middle grade and young adult novelist. Long Way Down is his return to the world of poetry, and it is one heck of a homecoming. This is a dark, dizzying, and often difficult read about teenage gun violence, the lengths we will go to for the people we love, and the ghosts of the past that we just can’t shake. Reynolds narrates the powerful audio version of this book, which is well worth a listen.

Available as an ebook and e-audio on Overdrive/Libby. 

Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson

Laurie Halse Anderson’s deeply personal poetic memoir will break your heart — in the best way. She recounts her life, through poetry, and all of the events that were the basis for her modern classic, Speak. It is brave, touching, and raw, and will leave you with a healthy dose of righteous indignation and a little more courage than you came here with. Give a listen to the audiobook, too — it’s really something special to hear the author give voice to her own story. 

Available as an ebook and e-audio on Overdrive/Libby.