Black Kings

Welcome to Black History Month! Last year I focused on Black Girl Magic and spotlighted some of my favorite Black heroines. With Black Panther coming out next week (did ya’ll buy your tickets yet?) and in honor of King T’Challa, I wanted to focus on our Black Kings in YA literature.

As I was compiling my list of favorite characters, I realized that a bunch of them all come from the mind of Jason Reynolds, who is truly a king himself. So, here are two of my favorite characters that Jason created.

Matt Miller – The Boy in the Black Suit
Matt was such a sweet soul who was having to deal with one of the hardest moments of his life – losing his mother, and by extension his father who was not handling the loss well. I felt that Matt’s introspective nature about life, family, and dating is what really connected with me. I felt sorry for him for his loss, but yet was touched by his strength to keep going, to find a job, and to handle being thrust into an adult role without losing it. Matt is a character that many teens can relate to and also a teen who could be a literary role model.

 

 

Miles Morales – Miles Morales: Spiderman
When I was younger I was a Peter Parker stan but after reading Spiderman, I’m like “Peter who?” I loved Miles for all of his snarkiness, his humor, his desire to seek out justice, and his inquisitive nature. He is a smart kid who is using his powers for good, but he was a wonderfully flawed character at the same time. I could imagine Miles in my classroom being that kid that I know has so much potential if given just the right nudge. I know many teens would be able to connect with him (as one of my students really does love Miles) as they will see themselves in him and see that an Afro-Latino boy can be a superhero.

 

 

Marlon Sunday – Orangeboy by Patrice Lawrence
One of the reasons I love Marlon is because he is one of the most frustrating character. Poor Marlon was put in an unfortunate position and tried to make the best of a horrible situation but ended up doing everything wrong. So many times I wanted to scream at Marlon, but that is what made him real to me. He was this geeky kid who was living with the legacy of a troubled older brother, dealing with an intense mystery that is spiraling out of control, and wanting to protect his mom from further heartbreak. What I loved about him was that no matter how many mistakes he made, he always got back up again and tried his best. His determination, his desire to help his brother and his family really stood out to me. I feel that kids who might make all the wrong mistakes can look to Marlon as an example of getting up each time you fall because that is was truly matters.

 

Seven Carter – The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
While Seven is not the main character of THUG, he does play a significant role in Starr’s life. Seven is the type of older brother I wish I had. He’s the one that can tease you like no one else, but also be the one who will have your back whenever you need it. I truly loved his and Starr’s relationship, but also that he was a young man who had a good head on his shoulder and was always looking forward. He is definitely a character that many teens can relate to both as a young man who is trying to figure out life as a young man on the cusp of adulthood, and as a big brother.

Black Girl Magic

One of the most anticipated debuts of 2017 is Angie Thomas’s “The Hate U Give”. At the center of the story is 16 year Starr, a young Black girl, who witnesses her friend fatally shot by a police officer. Word on the street is that Thoma’s debut novel is one that will break your heart and move you into action at the same time. Of course, we at Rich in Color are excited as well, so instead of just reading and reviewing the book, “The Hate U Give” will be our first discussion book of 2017! Read along with us when the novel comes out at the end of this month and then share your thoughts with us.

But before that, I thought I’d celebrate Thomas’s debut by sharing some of my favorite YA Black heroines (and for Black History Month).

1. Flora from The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough
First off, Flora is a pilot! Who can’t love a Black heroine who is one of the few women flying planes in this Depression-era novel. Not only does Flora want to be like Amelia Earhart, she is a talented singer who works in her family’s night club. She loves her family fiercely and would do anything for them, much to the chagrin of the young man who wants her attention. While she is intrigued by her suitor, Flora has her priorities set and resists him because she is fully aware of the racism that she and her suitor would face as an inter-racial couple. Flora has tremendous agency in this novel and is not a passive participant in the romance once it begins to develop. In fact, her suitor ends up following her lead. Flora’s determination and drive to be unapologetic-ally herself in a time when Black women were facing so much oppression can show teens that they can be anything they put their heart into.

2. Natasha from The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon
One of the many great characteristics that Natasha has is that she is aware of her authentic self, which is often very unusual in a teenager which is why Natasha is so captivating. She is in a position where she knows the odds are against her but she decides to try to fight her deportation the best way she can. Even though she does experience moments of self doubt, she has a strong sense of who she is and decides to fight on because for her not trying something is failure. She is smart, witty, and funny, and like Flora, is not a passive participant in the romance. She doesn’t just react to her situation, but makes responsible decisions to actively change her situation. She doesn’t always get it right, but Natasha always tries and just that reason alone makes her an admirable character.

3. Lauren (Panda) from Endangered by Lamar Giles
I found Lauren/Panda to be a fun character with a lovely sarcastic attitude but also with a deeply caring heart. Panda’s initial reasons for why she exposes secrets come from a good place but really she ends up being just as bad as the people that hurt her initially. What makes Panda so special is that this is a character who becomes aware of this fault, reflects on it, then works hard to correct her mistake. Through her experience she also learns how to forgive and that forgiveness can set you free. I also love Panda because of the relationship she has with her parents. Like many teens, she keeps secrets from them, but when she realizes she truly needs the help of her parents, she has the integrity to come clean about her misdeeds knowing that she will face consequences. Panda is the type of teen that everyone can relate to because at some point, we’ve all been Panda.

4. Sierra Santiago from Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older
What I love best about Sierra is that she learns she has been dealt a raw deal by her family and instead of getting angry and raging at her family, she puts her energy into learning her magic and trying to solve the mystery. Sierra is a typical mono-myth hero whose life is turned upside down due to outside forces and must learn how to navigate in this new world she finds herself in. There are times when Sierra is frustrated and confused, but it is her love for her family, her friends, and her community that propels her to continue on her hero’s journey. Sierra is the mono-myth heroine we need because she finds her strength through her experiences and shows that Black girls can have amazing adventures and save the day.

5. Emily (Bird) from Love is the Drug by Alaya Dawn Johnson
Watching Bird change from sweet DC socialite to becoming woke is what makes her such a fascinating character. As Bird becomes more entrenched in solving the mystery, she also begins to become aware of the falseness of the people around her and becomes more confident in her Blackness. In turn, by becoming woke, she gains a stronger sense of self that actually scare some of the people around her, but she doesn’t care. That is what I loved best about her. Bird went from a girl needed everyone’s approval and acceptance to demanding that people accept her for who she is. For a teenager, to make that sort of demand is huge and empowering, which makes Bird a great fictional role model for all teens.

6. Genna from A Wish After Midnight & A Door at the Crossroads by Zetta Elliott
I am a huge fan of character transformations and Genna’s transformation from a girl who tries to hide her true self to one where she takes control of her life is a beautiful one. At the beginning, Genna seems almost mystified to find herself with a boyfriend, but with their separation and the need to survive in 1863, a completely different world of her own, Genna learns that she is much stronger than she ever realized, she just needed the opportunity. The Genna at the end of the book is a completely different Genna from the beginning. The Genna at the end of the novel is one who is willing to take risks, to fight for her family and friends, and willing to stand up for herself. I found myself truly rooting for Genna to succeed, especially in the sequel where she has now realized her true power and decides to use it. Genna is the heroine we all root for and want in our corner.