Angie Thomas. Nicola Yoon. Tomi Adeyemi. Even if you’re not that into young adult literature (YA), you probably already know those three names. Their respective young-adult debuts either became blockbuster movies (Thomas’s The Hate U Give), book-club juggernauts (Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone), instantly beloved teen classics (Yoon’s Everything, Everything) or all of the above. These authors — all black women — have dominated YA bestseller lists and changed the face of a genre that seemed to exclude the stories of black teen girls for too long. I would know — I grew up craving characters that looked like me, and I get choked up every time I read a complex heroine like Adyemi's Zelie Adebola or Thomas' Starr Carter knowing the next generation’s only options won’t be to force themselves to relate to white dudes like Harry Potter or Holden Caulfield.
Based on these recent successes, you’d think that YA was the one category where black women rule, and where these women have singlehandedly toppled the patriarchal standard of the literary elite. That’s partly true! Black women have emerged as some of the brightest talents in YA. But Thomas, Yoon, and Adeyemi are still the exceptions in a publishing industry that is overwhelmingly white.
The number of YA books published by black authors has steadily been declining in the UK., and according to the Cooperative Children’s Book Centre, about 17% of new books published in the US. in 2018 were by black writers. It’s not that the writers aren’t there. There are so many talented black women writing great YA novels — and they were there long before The Hate U Give (see: Octavia Butler) — but the stats show that their work is published less than their peers. Their work is less celebrated and promoted. So, read Angie Thomas, Nicola Yoon, and Tomi Adeyemi. They are worthy of their hype. But don’t forget that there are so many other talented black women also occupying space in the YA genre that deserve love, too.