Early in my career as a school librarian, I observed that students frequently assumed—often correctly—that a Black person on a book cover signaled that it would be serious and not a “fun” read. Recent events have led to long-overdue interest by non-Black people in reading about racism and sharing titles about it with young people. Of course understanding systemic racism is critical. But, as author Christine Taylor-Butler has pointed out, when we only encounter Black characters in books that center their pain and suffering, we overlook Black joy. We still need many more titles like the following, but for now, here are some fantastic #ownvoices Black novels for summer reading.
The Jumbie God’s Revenge by Tracey Baptiste (Algonquin, 2019): One day, an out-of-season hurricane turns the island upside down. Corinne finds Papa Bois, guardian jumbie of the forest. He tells her the storm is the work of the jumbie god, Huracan. Even though she’s half jumbie herself, Corinne isn’t sure how to stop the mighty god from destroying the island.
The Last Last-Day-of-Summer by Lamar Giles (Versify/HMH, 2019): Veteran sleuths Otto and Sheed are coming to terms with the end of their brave, heroic summer at Grandma’s. They’ve got their lifesaving maneuvers committed to memory and ready to save any day. Save the day they must, as a mysterious, bendy gentleman and an oversized, clingy platypus have been unleashed on the city.
The Magic in Changing Your Stars by Leah Henderson (Sterling, April 7): Ailey Benjamin Lane, named for Black dancer Alvin Ailey and astronomer/inventor Benjamin Banneker, is headed into stiff competition for the role of the Scarecrow in The Wiz. Black excellence, Black fantastic, and Black family combine for a transformational story of passion and persistence.
The Season of Styx Malone by Kekla Magoon (Wendy Lamb/Random, 2018): Cooler-than-cool Styx Malone takes brothers Caleb and Bobby Gene on a mischievous, path-altering summer adventure in rural Indiana. Heartening and hopeful, this is a love letter to Black male youth grasping the desires within them, absorbing the worlds around them, striving to be more otherwise than ordinary.
Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia (Rick Riordan Presents/Disney, 2019): Chicago seventh grader Tristan Strong travels to Alke, where African American folk characters are gods. Tristan [is] mourning the death of his best friend, Eddie. On the ride to summer exile with his grandparents, Tristan begins reading Eddie’s journal. [It] allows Tristan to see folk heroes sending an unseen someone off on a mission.
All the Things We Never Knew by Liara Tamani (Greenwillow, June 9): For Carli and Rex, it’s love at first sight when he blows her a kiss from the free-throw line as she watches on the sidelines. Tamani crafts layers of complexity around falling in love, making hard choices, and dealing with loss—on and off the court—in this deeply intimate story of two talented, sensitive teens.
Deathless Divide by Justina Ireland (Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins, Feb. 4): Two young Black women kick zombie ass from the post–Civil War East to the late-1800s American West. Alternating between Jane’s haunted life and Katherine’s more devout but no less deadly existence, each chapter takes readers farther west, with hopes resting on happy endings for the duo in California.
No One Here Is Lonely by Sarah Everett (Knopf, 2019): Before his accidental death, Will signed up to be a Cognitive Donor with a service that allows people to talk to a Companion—a facsimile of the deceased. Keeping her phone on as she moves through her summer, Eden takes Will with her everywhere and falls in love with him despite knowing he’s not real.
The Sound of Stars by Alechia Dow (Inkyard Press, Feb. 25): A human teen and an alien invader make an unlikely and potentially dangerous connection. When the spaceships came to Earth, large numbers of humans died and the Ilori took over. Seventeen-year-old Ellie managed to hold onto a trove of forbidden books. There is much to enjoy in this story featuring a complex Black teen.
Truly Madly Royally by Debbie Rigaud (Point/Scholastic, 2019): Zora, a young Black community organizer, commutes from New Jersey to a summer program at a local Ivy League. A chance encounter leads to a relationship with Owen, a White boy who is prince of a small European country. Readers will root for smart, talented Zora as she navigates the world of the rich.
Laura Simeon is a young readers' editor.