Sunday 2 February 2020

Black History Month - 20 Recommended Authors

I wanted to do something for Black History Month so thought I'd put together a list of recommendations. Before I start, this is a list of 20 Black authors whose works I think are outstanding. It is NOT meant to be a ‘best of’ or anything because my knowledge isn’t good enough, and my tastes change regularly – but I think there if you’re a fan of romance novels, YA, or MG books, you should definitely find some books here you like!

Elizabeth Acevedo – Elizabeth Acevedo’s lyrical The Poet X, about a girl dealing with family tension by writing slam poetry, is a glorious verse novel, perhaps the best I’ve ever read. Her next book, With The Fire On High, about a teenage mom taking a culinary arts course to try and channel her natural talent for cooking into building a future for herself and her daughter, is in prose this time but is just as exquisitely written. Drop everything if you get the chance to read either of them!

Kwame Alexander – Kwame Alexander’s poetry is phenomenal, I’ve read three of his sports verse novels – Booked, The Rebound and The Crossover - and each one of them has been fabulous. With so few words, he creates compelling characters and situations and brings them brilliantly to life. He's incredibly talented.

Tanya Byrne – Tanya Byrne’s Heart-Shaped Bruise, told by a young girl in a Young Offenders’ Institute after committing a terrible crime, was a scintillating debut which was one of the best YA books of the last decade for me. Follow up Follow Me Down was another excellent read, dark and atmospheric like its predecessor, looking at a Nigerian girl who makes a close friend when she comes to boarding school in Britain only for the friendship to be devastated as they both fall for the same guy, and for her friend to disappear. Upcoming Afterlove, about a girl who dies and becomes a Grim Reaper, and is determined to see the girl who was her first love once more, sounds fantastic as well.

Camryn Garrett – I’ve been following Camryn Garrett for several years on Twitter and it’s always been clear from reading anything she’s written that she has huge potential as an author. Her debut Full Disclosure, about a bisexual girl with HIV who’s falling in love with a guy but receiving threatening notes telling her to break it off or have her condition exposed, absolutely fulfils that potential. I love the relationship MC Simone has with her two dads while the musical theatre backdrop (she’s directing a controversial school production of Rent) is awesome, and love interest Miles is awesome. An excellent debut which has me hugely excited for more from her.

Tasha L Harrison – Tasha Harrison’s The Truth of Things is a stunning adult romance with a fantastic central pairing (photographer and the kind-hearted, idealistic cop she falls for) and sizzling chemistry. The story takes a gut-wrenching turn which I wasn’t expecting, making the last 25% or so a tough read but well worth it. The sequel to this one is another that’s high up my TBR pile.

Justina Ireland – Justina Ireland’s Dread Nation features one of the most brilliantly created settings I’ve ever read, an alternate history where zombies rose to interrupt the American Civil War. Central character Jane McKeene, a student at Miss Preston’s School of Combat for Negro Girls, discovers a conspiracy and tries to get to the bottom of it. Tons of awesome action scenes here while I love the friendship/rivalry between Jane and fellow student Katherine. (And YAY, great ace rep!)

This is about to be my next read as I’m desperate to reread it before the sequel, Deathless Divide, comes out in just a couple of days! Deathless Divide is definitely one of my most-anticipated novels of the year and I’m so excited to get to it.

Sharna Jackson – Sharna Jackson’s debut High Rise Mystery is a brilliant MG mystery featuring an awesome pair of detectives – two Black sisters – investigating a death in their block of flats to try and clear their father’s name. This is a fabulous first novel; I love the setting of high-rise The Tri, and the inhabitants who Sharna Jackson brings to life so vividly. Upcoming sequel Mic Drop should be brilliant.

Tiffany D Jackson – Tiffany D Jackson’s Allegedly features one of the most memorable protagonists in years, a teenage girl who was convicted of killing a child at the age of just 9 who is trying to clear her name to stop her unborn baby from being taken away from her. This has an incredible main character and is a really tense read, which kept me guessing all along. Her other books Monday’s Not Coming and Let Me Hear A Rhyme also sound great.

NK Jemisin – Starting to feel like I’m the only SFF fan reading diversely who HASN’T read The Fifth Season, which is a fairly major oversight, but Jemisin’s first two series – The Inheritance Trilogy and the Dreamblood Duology are favourites of mine thanks to her gorgeous prose and wonderful world-building. Upcoming novel The City We Became, about the six avatars of New York trying to fight an ancient evil, also looks like it should be brilliant.

Cat Johnson – Cat has been writing amazingly great UKYA for ages, she’s definitely one of the first UKYA authors I’d recommend to someone who wanted to read brilliant historical fiction. Her Sawbones/Blade and Bone duology is a fantastic pair of novels about an apprentice to a London surgeon who gets mixed up in a disturbing series of events including grave-robbing and body-switching, while The Curious Case of Lady Caraboo is a wonderful story of a girl taken in by a wealthy family who think that she’s a princess from a far-off land.

Patrice Lawrence – Patrice burst onto the scene with the YA Prize/Waterstones Prize for Older Readers-winning Orangeboy, a stunning story of a boy caught up in the criminal underworld which blew me away with its realistic characters and superb dialogue. Following it up with Indigo Donut, about a girl growing up in the care system, and Rose, Interrupted, about a family newly free from a strict religious sect, confirmed her place as a rising star of UKYA.

Jason Reynolds – Jason Reynolds, multi-award winning author, poet, and the newly-appointed National Ambassador for Young People's Literature, probably needs little introduction. I was thrilled when Knights Of signed up his Track series – the first of which, Ghost, is a superb gritty MG about a young boy living in poverty who is trying to outrun his past, and ends up on a track team. Hard-hitting and raw, but with some lovely moments of triumph, this is a stunner of a series starter and I’m excited to read the rest.

Jewell Parker Rhodes – Rhodes’s 2018 MG novel, Ghost Boys, was featured in my top ten stand-alone books of the last decade (along with The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas and Mama Can’t Raise No Man by Robyn Travis, who both appear later in this list.) The story – about a 12-year-old boy shot dead after waving a toy gun, who meets Emmett Till as a ghost and learns how racism has affected Black boys through the ages – is incredibly powerful; a hard-hitting tragedy.

Na’ima B Robert – Na’ima B Robert’s Black Sheep is a phenomenal contemporary read, a Romeo and Juliet style story about badman Dwayne and Misha, the high-flying daughter of a local councillor. The pair fall in love, despite the disapproval of Misha’s mother, and Misha makes Dwayne want to be a better person. Two breathtaking voices here, with Dwayne’s words in particular blowing me away as they ‘dance and jive and shimmy’.

Farrah Rochon – I’ve been meaning to read Farrah Rochon, often described as one of the best active Black romance writers, for ages since getting heavily into romance last year. The wait was absolutely worth it as I devoured the first in her New York Sabers series, Huddle With Me Tonight. It’s a steamy read with a wonderful couple, an NFL player opening a restaurant for the sister who brought him up and the blogger who savages his cookbook leading to a rivalry which quickly turns into a heated romance.

Nic Stone – Nic Stone’s Dear Martin is another hard-hitting book about police brutality, with a main character writing to Martin Luther King to try and make sense of what he’s going through, while she showed her range by following up with Odd One Out, a slow burn love triangle about two girls and a guy as they try to figure out their feelings for each other. I love the way that the author looks with care at teens questioning their sexualities here and all three mains are amazing characters, leaving me desperately wanting all of them to find happiness. Clean Getaway, her upcoming MG, sounds fabulous also.

Angie Thomas - The Hate U Give is one of the most powerful novels I’ve read in the my life, a hugely hard-hitting book dealing with police brutality and its aftermath featuring an incredible MC learning to use her voice. I’m still waiting to read On The Come Up, partly because sometimes I struggle with having ridiculously high expectations for the second book from an author whose first I’ve absolutely loved, but everything I’ve heard about it says it’s another excellent read.

Robyn Travis – Robyn Travis’s debut novel, Mama Can’t Raise No Man, is a breathtaking debut novel told in letters between a young Black man in prison and his friends and family (with a few court transcripts.) The voice of every character is amazingly strong, while the book is an entertaining, sometimes heartbreaking, and always deeply thought-provoking story of Black masculinity, injustice, life in prison and on the streets, and of being the child of a single mother. It builds to an incredible climax - a truly superb read.

Alex Wheatle – Alex Wheatle’s books about life on the fictional Crongton estate – 4 novels, starting with Liccle Bit, and novella Kerb Stain Boys – are superb reads with fabulous dialogue that really lifts them above many other contemporaries. He creates memorable characters and his plotting is outstanding. He is also an established – and acclaimed – writer for adults.

Ibi Zoboi – Ibi Zoboi’s own voices novel American Street about a young Haitian immigrant moving in with her aunt and cousins after her mother is unexpectedly detained by authorities is a gorgeously written vodou culture-infused coming of age story. Her Pride and Prejudice-inspired Pride is a fabulous rewrite with a wonderful setting of a neighbourhood undergoing gentrification. She’s so good that she’s quickly becoming an auto-buy author for me.

Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé – I had to give a 21st spot to someone I hadn’t read because Faridah is a 2021 debut and I’m so excited for Ace of Spades! She’s someone I’ve been following on Twitter for a while and she’s really knowledgeable about YA, which is always a very promising sign for a debut. Usborne described Ace of Spades as “an explosive high-school thriller that delves deep into the heart of institutionalised racism”, which sounds stunning. (Also, her agent Hannah Sheppard has PHENOMENALLY good taste in books!)

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