2021 told 2020 to hold it’s beer and what a month January has been! Publishing YA also came out swinging with a slew of new books (many already bestsellers) in what we hope will be another banner year for BIPOC stories.
Week of January 5th
The Life I’m In by Sharon G. Flake
My feet are heavy as stones when I walk up the block wondering why I can’t find my old self.
In The Skin I’m In, readers saw into the life of Maleeka Madison, a teen who suffered from the ridicule she received because of her dark skin color. For decades fans have wanted to know the fate of the bully who made Maleeka’s life miserable, Char.
Now in Sharon Flake’s latest and unflinching novel, The Life I’m In, we follow Charlese Jones, who, with her raw, blistering voice speaks the truths many girls face, offering insight to some of the causes and conditions that make a bully. Turned out of the only home she has known, Char boards a bus to nowhere where she is lured into the dangerous web of human trafficking. Much is revealed behind the complex system of men who take advantage of vulnerable teens in the underbelly of society. While Char might be frightened, she remains strong and determined to bring herself and her fellow victims out of the dark and back into the light, reminding us why compassion is a powerful cure to the ills of the world.
Sharon Flake’s bestselling, Coretta Scott King Award-winning novel The Skin I’m In was a game changer when it was first published more than twenty years ago. It redefined young adult literature by presenting characters, voices, and real-world experiences that had not been fully seen. Now Flake offers readers another timely and radical story of a girl on the brink and how her choices will lead her to either fall, or fly. — Cover image and summary via Goodreads
Happily Ever Afters by Elise Bryant
Balzer + Bray
Sixteen-year-old Tessa Johnson has never felt like the protagonist in her own life. She’s rarely seen herself reflected in the pages of the romance novels she loves. The only place she’s a true leading lady is in her own writing—in the swoony love stories she shares only with Caroline, her best friend and #1 devoted reader.
When Tessa is accepted into the creative writing program of a prestigious art school, she’s excited to finally let her stories shine. But when she goes to her first workshop, the words are just…gone. Fortunately, Caroline has a solution: Tessa just needs to find some inspiration in a real-life love story of her own. And she’s ready with a list of romance novel-inspired steps to a happily ever after. Nico, the brooding artist who looks like he walked out of one of Tessa’s stories, is cast as the perfect Prince Charming.
But as Tessa checks each item off Caroline’s list, she gets further and further away from herself. She risks losing everything she cares about—including the surprising bond she develops with sweet Sam, who lives across the street. She’s well on her way to having her own real-life love story, but is it the one she wants, after all?
One of the Good Ones by Maika Moulite and Maritza Moulite
ISN’T BEING HUMAN ENOUGH?
When teen social activist and history buff Kezi Smith is killed under mysterious circumstances after attending a social justice rally, her devastated sister Happi and their family are left reeling in the aftermath. As Kezi becomes another immortalized victim in the fight against police brutality, Happi begins to question the idealized way her sister is remembered. Perfect. Angelic.
One of the good ones.
Even as the phrase rings wrong in her mind–why are only certain people deemed worthy to be missed?–Happi and her sister Genny embark on a journey to honor Kezi in their own way, using an heirloom copy of The Negro Motorist Green Book as their guide. But there’s a twist to Kezi’s story that no one could’ve ever expected–one that will change everything all over again.
Roman and Jewel by Dana L. Davis
If Romeo and Juliet got the Hamilton treatment…who would play the leads? This vividly funny, honest, and charming romantic novel by Dana L. Davis is the story of a girl who thinks she has what it takes…and the world thinks so, too.
Jerzie Jhames will do anything to land the lead role in Broadway’s hottest new show, Roman and Jewel, a Romeo and Juliet inspired hip-hopera featuring a diverse cast and modern twists on the play. But her hopes are crushed when she learns mega-star Cinny won the lead…and Jerzie is her understudy.
Falling for male lead Zeppelin Reid is a terrible idea–especially once Jerzie learns Cinny wants him for herself. Star-crossed love always ends badly. But when a video of Jerzie and Zepp practicing goes viral and the entire world weighs in on who should play Jewel, Jerzie learns that while the price of fame is high, friendship, family, and love are priceless.
The Awakening of Malcom X by Ilyasah Shabazz & Tiffany D. Jackson
Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Byr)
In Charlestown Prison, Malcolm Little struggles with the weight of his past. Plagued by nightmares, Malcolm drifts through days unsure of his future. Slowly, he befriends other prisoners and writes to his family. He reads all the books in the prison library, joins the debate team and the Nation of Islam. Malcolm grapples with race, politics, religion, and justice in the 1940s. And as his time in jail comes to an end, he begins to awaken — emerging from prison more than just Malcolm Little: Now, he is Malcolm X.
Here is an intimate look at Malcolm X’s young adult years. While this book chronologically follows X: A Novel, it can be read as a stand-alone historical novel that invites larger discussions on black power, prison reform, and civil rights.
When You Look Like Us by Pamela N. Harris
When you look like us—brown skin, brown eyes, black braids or fades—people think you’re trouble. No one looks twice at a missing black girl from the projects because she must’ve brought whatever happened to her upon herself. I, Jay Murphy, can admit that, for a minute, I thought my sister, Nicole, got too caught up with her boyfriend—a drug dealer—and his friends.
But she’s been gone too long now.
If I hadn’t hung up on her that night, she’d be spending time with our grandma. If I was a better brother, she’d be finishing senior year instead of being another name on a missing persons list. It’s time to step up and do what the Newport News police department won’t.
Week of January 12th
Chlorine Sky by Mahogany L. Browne
Crown Books for Young Readers
She looks me hard in my eyes
& my knees lock into tree trunks
My eyes don’t dance like my heartbeat racing
They stare straight back hot daggers.
I remember things will never be the same.
I remember things.
With gritty and heartbreaking honesty, Mahogany L. Browne delivers a novel-in-verse about broken promises, fast rumors, and when growing up means growing apart from your best friend.
The Meet-Cute Project by Rhiannon Richardson
Simon & Schuster
Mia’s friends love rom-coms. Mia hates them. They’re silly, contrived, and not at all realistic. Besides, there are more important things to worry about—like how to handle living with her bridezilla sister, Sam, who’s never appreciated Mia, and surviving junior year juggling every school club offered and acing all of her classes.
So when Mia is tasked with finding a date to her sister’s wedding, her options are practically nonexistent.
Mia’s friends, however, have an idea. It’s a little crazy, a little out there, and a lot inspired by the movies they love that Mia begrudgingly watches too.
Mia just needs a meet-cute.
Concrete Rose (The Hate U Give, #0) by Angie Thomas
Balzer + Bray
If there’s one thing seventeen-year-old Maverick Carter knows, it’s that a real man takes care of his family. As the son of a former gang legend, Mav does that the only way he knows how: dealing for the King Lords. With this money he can help his mom, who works two jobs while his dad’s in prison.
Life’s not perfect, but with a fly girlfriend and a cousin who always has his back, Mav’s got everything under control.
Until, that is, Maverick finds out he’s a father.
Suddenly he has a baby, Seven, who depends on him for everything. But it’s not so easy to sling dope, finish school, and raise a child. So when he’s offered the chance to go straight, he takes it. In a world where he’s expected to amount to nothing, maybe Mav can prove he’s different.
When King Lord blood runs through your veins, though, you can’t just walk away. Loyalty, revenge, and responsibility threaten to tear Mav apart, especially after the brutal murder of a loved one. He’ll have to figure out for himself what it really means to be a man.
Angel of Greenwood by Randi Pink
Feiwel and Friends
Seventeen-year-old Isaiah Wilson is, on the surface, a town troublemaker, but is hiding that he is an avid reader and secret poet, never leaving home without his journal. A passionate follower of WEB. Du Bois, he believes that black people should rise up to claim their place as equals.
Sixteen-year-old Angel Hill is a loner, mostly disregarded by her peers as a goody-goody. Her father is dying, and her family’s financial situation is in turmoil. Also, as a loyal follower of Booker T. Washington, she believes, through education and tolerance, that black people should rise slowly and without forced conflict.
Though they’ve attended the same schools, Isaiah never noticed Angel as anything but a dorky, Bible toting church girl. Then their English teacher offers them a job on her mobile library, a three-wheel, two-seater bike. Angel can’t turn down the money and Isaiah is soon eager to be in such close quarters with Angel every afternoon.
But life changes on May 31, 1921 when a vicious white mob storms the community of Greenwood, leaving the town destroyed and thousands of residents displaced. Only then, Isaiah, Angel, and their peers realize who their real enemies are.
Week of January 19th
Thirty Talks Weird Love by Alessandra Narváez Varela
Cinco Puntos Press
Out of nowhere, a lady comes up to Anamaría and says she’s her, from the future. But Anamaría’s thirteen, she knows better than to talk to some weirdo stranger. Girls need to be careful, especially in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico—it’s the 90’s and fear is overtaking her beloved city as cases of kidnapped girls and women become alarmingly common. This thirty-year-old “future” lady doesn’t seem to be dangerous but she won’t stop bothering her, switching between cheesy Hallmark advice about being kind to yourself, and some mysterious talk about saving a girl.
Anamaría definitely doesn’t need any saving, she’s doing just fine. She works hard at her strict, grade-obsessed middle school—so hard that she hardly gets any sleep; so hard that the stress makes her snap not just at mean girls but even her own (few) friends; so hard that when she does sleep she dreams about dying—but she just wants to do the best she can so she can grow up to be successful. Maybe Thirty’s right, maybe she’s not supposed to be so exhausted with her life, but how can she ask for help when her city is mourning the much bigger tragedy of its stolen girls?
This thought-provoking, moving verse novel will lead adult and young adult readers alike to vital discussions on important topics—like dealing with depression and how to recognize this in yourself and others—through the accessible voice of a thirteen-year-old girl.
Your Corner Dark by Desmond Hall
Things can change in a second:
The second Frankie Green gets that scholarship letter, he has his ticket out of Jamaica.
The second his longtime crush, Leah, asks him on a date, he’s in trouble.
The second his father gets shot, suddenly nothing else matters.
And the second Frankie joins his uncle’s gang in exchange for paying for his father’s medical bills, there’s no going back…or is there?
As Frankie does things he never thought he’d be capable of, he’s forced to confront the truth of the family and future he was born into—and the ones he wants to build for himself.
Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo
Dutton Books for Young Readers
“That book. It was about two women, and they fell in love with each other.” And then Lily asked the question that had taken root in her, that was even now unfurling its leaves and demanding to be shown the sun: “Have you ever heard of such a thing?”
Seventeen-year-old Lily Hu can’t remember exactly when the question took root, but the answer was in full bloom the moment she and Kathleen Miller walked under the flashing neon sign of a lesbian bar called the Telegraph Club.
America in 1954 is not a safe place for two girls to fall in love, especially not in Chinatown. Red-Scare paranoia threatens everyone, including Chinese Americans like Lily. With deportation looming over her father—despite his hard-won citizenship—Lily and Kath risk everything to let their love see the light of day.
If I Tell You the Truth by Jasmin Kaur
Told in prose, poetry, and illustration, this heartrending story weaves Kiran’s and Sahaara’s timelines together, showing a teenage Kiran and, later, her high school–aged daughter, Sahaara.
Kiran is a young Punjabi Sikh woman who becomes pregnant after being sexually assaulted by her fiancé’s brother. When her fiancé and family don’t believe her, she flees her home in India to Canada, where she plans to raise the child as a single mother. For Kiran, living undocumented means constant anxiety over finances, work, safety, and whether she’ll be deported back to the dangers that await her in Punjab.
Eighteen years later, Kiran’s daughter, Sahaara, is desperate to help her mother, who has been arrested and is facing deportation. In the aftermath, Kiran reveals the truth about Sahaara’s conception. Horrified, Sahaara encourages Kiran to speak out against the man who raped her—who’s now a popular political figure in Punjab. Sahaara must find the best way to support her mother while also dealing with the revelation about her parents.
We Free the Stars (Sands of Arawiya #2) by Hafsah Faizal
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
The battle on Sharr is over. The dark forest has fallen. Altair may be captive, but Zafira, Nasir, and Kifah are bound for Sultan’s Keep, determined to finish the plan he set in motion: restoring the hearts of the Sisters of Old to the minarets of each caliphate, and finally returning magic to all of Arawiya. But they are low on resources and allies alike, and the kingdom teems with fear of the Lion of the Night’s return.
As the zumra plots to overthrow the kingdom’s darkest threat, Nasir fights to command the magic in his blood. He must learn to hone his power into a weapon, to wield not only against the Lion but against his father, trapped under the Lion’s control. Zafira battles a very different darkness festering in her through her bond with the Jawarat—a darkness that hums with voices, pushing her to the brink of her sanity and to the edge of a chaos she dare not unleash. In spite of the darkness enclosing ever faster, Nasir and Zafira find themselves falling into a love they can’t stand to lose…but time is running out to achieve their ends, and if order is to be restored, drastic sacrifices will have to be made.
Lush and striking, hopeful and devastating, We Free the Stars is the masterful conclusion to the Sands of Arawiya duology by New York Times–bestselling author Hafsah Faizal.
Week of January 26th
Written in Starlight (Woven in Moonlight #2) by Isabel Ibañez
Page Street Kids
If the jungle wants you, it will have you…
Catalina Quiroga is a Condesa without a country. She’s lost the Inkasisa throne, the loyalty of her people, and her best friend. Banished to the perilous Yanu Jungle, Catalina knows her chances of survival are slim, but that won’t stop her from trying to escape. It’s her duty to reclaim the throne.
When Manuel, the son of her former general, rescues Catalina from a jaguar, a plan forms. Deep in the jungle, the city of gold is hidden, home to the fierce Illari people, who she could strike an alliance with.
But the elusive Illari are fighting a battle of their own—a mysterious blight is corrupting the jungle, laying waste to everything they hold dear. As a seer, Catalina should be able to help, but her ability to read the future in the stars is as feeble as her survival instincts. While searching for the Illari, Catalina must reckon with her duty and her heart to find her true calling, which could be the key to stopping the corruption before it destroys the jungle completely.
The Knockout by Sajni Patel
If seventeen-year-old Kareena Thakkar is going to alienate herself from the entire Indian community, she might as well do it gloriously. She’s landed the chance of a lifetime, an invitation to the US Muay Thai Open, which could lead to a spot on the first-ever Olympic team. If only her sport wasn’t seen as something too rough for girls, something she’s afraid to share with anyone outside of her family. Despite pleasing her parents, exceling at school, and making plans to get her family out of debt, Kareena’s never felt quite Indian enough, and her training is only making it worse.
Which is inconvenient, since she’s starting to fall for Amit Patel, who just might be the world’s most perfect Indian. Admitting her feelings for Amit will cost Kareena more than just her pride–she’ll have to face his parents’ disapproval, battle her own insecurities, and remain focused for the big fight. Kareena’s bid for the Olympics could very well make history–if she has the courage to go for it.
Wings of Ebony (Wings of Ebony #1) by J. Elle
Denene Millner Books/Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
“Make a way out of no way” is just the way of life for Rue. But when her mother is shot dead on her doorstep, life for her and her younger sister changes forever. Rue’s taken from her neighborhood by the father she never knew, forced to leave her little sister behind, and whisked away to Ghizon—a hidden island of magic wielders.
Rue is the only half-god, half-human there, where leaders protect their magical powers at all costs and thrive on human suffering. Miserable and desperate to see her sister on the anniversary of their mother’s death, Rue breaks Ghizon’s sacred Do Not Leave Law and returns to Houston, only to discover that Black kids are being forced into crime and violence. And her sister, Tasha, is in danger of falling sway to the very forces that claimed their mother’s life.
Worse still, evidence mounts that the evil plaguing East Row is the same one that lurks in Ghizon—an evil that will stop at nothing until it has stolen everything from her and everyone she loves. Rue must embrace her true identity and wield the full magnitude of her ancestors’ power to save her neighborhood before the gods burn it to the ground.