The Best YA Books Written By Black Women That You Haven't Read Yet

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.
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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 U.K., and according to the Cooperative Children’s Book Centre, about 17% of new books published in the U.S. 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.
Here are 12 books by powerhouse Black women authors that you should know.
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The Effigies Series, Sarah Raughley

There are a lot of YA sci-fi fantasy series to choose from. I get it if you feel a bit overwhelmed by the options, but women of color are coming out STRONG in the genre. I promise The Effigies Series by Sarah Raughley is worth your time. Raughly grew up in Southern Ontario and says she started "writing stories about freakish little girls with powers” because she dreamed of being one. It’s an ambitious dream, but Raughley pulled it off through Maia, a teen who is unexpectedly thrust into being a hero and a celebrity.

In this fantasy world, the Effigies are made up of four girls — the most popular girls in the world — with the power to control the elements in order to fight the evil Phantoms. Think the Kardashians meets the Avengers. When one Effigy dies, someone must take her place. Enter Maia, an Effigy fangirl whose world is changed forever when she becomes one of the role models she idolized. Now, she has to save the world while dealing with fandoms and fame. Legacy of Light, the third and final book in the series, dropped last year and nicely wrapped up the riveting series that explores what it means to be a young woman facing immense pressure in society.
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Finding Yvonne, Brandy Colbert

Yvonne’s story starts with a universal high school dilemma: What does life look like after leaving those familiar hallways? She’s loved the violin for as long as she can remember, especially after her mom left. But as graduation approaches, Yvonne isn’t sure her passion can translate into a post-secondary career. The stress leads her to Omar, a street violinist with dreadlocks who quickly becomes more intriguing than her almost-boyfriend Warren.

Just when she thinks life is tough enough, Yvonne gets pregnant and has even bigger decisions to make. Finding Yvonne is about teenage uncertainty, racial and sexual dynamics and double standards, and finding yourself through it all. If all the aforementioned DRAMA hasn’t sold you, Brandy Colbert’s previous book, Little & Lion, won Stonewall Children's and Young Adult Literature Award, and her upcoming novel The Revolution of Birdie Randolph is one of the most anticipated YA books of the year.
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Frying Plantain, Zalika Reid-Benta

June 4

Most great YA novels explore identity. What are your teen years if not an awkward phase of fumbling for answers to life’s big questions like who am I? Frying Plaintain’s Kara Davis is a girl straddling two worlds. She’s a Canadian growing up in Toronto’s “Little Jamaica” neighborhood with an overbearing grandmother while trying to live up to the expectations of her Jamaican heritage. Though Kara, Zalika Reid-Benta explores the experience of second-generation Canadians and cultural expression. In 12 interconnected stories, we see Kara tackle the growing pains of girlhood; face bullying by her so-called high school best friends; and navigate the always-complicated relationship between mother and daughter.

I may be biased here because I’m a Canadian with a Jamaican mother so this book was basically written for me, but you don’t have to have lived this experience to relate to it. It’s an incisive and sharp must-read coming-of-age story. Plus, the title makes my mouth water.
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If It Makes You Happy, Claire Kann
June 4

The official description of If It Makes You Happy starts with, “Winnie is living her best fat girl life…” They had me at this line alone, and the cover that shows a beautiful Black girl who isn’t a size 2 looking happy! What a concept. Winnie is a protagonist that is not only Black, but she’s also representing size diversity in a genre that desperately needs it.

Winnie lives in the small town of Misty Haven and works at a '50s-inspired diner owned by her grandmother. She’s making good tips and ready to take on her last summer before college with her “ungirlfriend.” That is, until she becomes Misty Haven’s Summer Queen and is matched with her Merry Haven Summer King, who changes everything. She has to face her fear of being in the spotlight and figure out what being queer, fat, and Black means in a world that isn’t kind to any one of those designations, let alone all three. Claire Kann’s mission with her work is simple: “I want my books to be seen as a safe space for teens." I think If It Makes You Happy is going to be a safe space for a lot of people, not just teens.
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Monday's Not Coming, Tiffany D. Jackson

Last month, we highlighted some missing girls of color who may not have Netflix documentaries about them or find themselves in the middle of a media firestorm, but still deserve attention. Tiffany D. Jackson’s Monday's Not Coming sheds light on this issue through a fictional story that was inspired by two real missing person cases. Jackson says she wanted to tackle media bias “when it comes to reporting about missing white children vs. missing children of color” and comment on the ways in which the system fails Black teen girls who go missing. Her thriller centers on two girls, Monday and Claudia. When Monday goes missing, Claudia seems to be the only one who notices or cares that she’s gone.

Jackson’s first book, Allegedly, was hailed as a “searing and true” indictment of America’s criminal justice system. Set in Washington, D.C. (home of the #MissingDCGirls hashtag) Monday's Not Coming looks like another harrowing observation of the lives of Black teens in America.
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Oh My Gods, Alexandra Sheppard

Helen Thomas is half regular teenage girl, half ancient Greek god. No big deal. When her mom passes away, Helen moves to North London with her dad and siblings — the full gods in her family — and has to keep their identifies secret. Helen is just trying to have a normal social life, make new friends and maybe even date a cute boy, but instead she may be walking straight into a Greek tragedy.

Oh My Gods is a quirky family drama with a mythical twist. How do you juggle homework and high school when your dad is Zeus, your sister is Aphrodite, and your brother is Apollo? Awkwardly and hilariously. Oh My Gods is Alexandra Sheppard’s debut YA novel and a formidable introduction to a writer to watch.
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Pride, Ibi Zoboi

One thing you get really good at as a teen of color is finding yourself in characters that weren’t written for you or about you. That skill is especially necessary when you’re reading the “classics.” Last year, Ibi Zoboi took a beloved classic and made it Black. Her take on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice called Pride stars all characters of color and reimagines Elizabeth Bennett as Zuri Benitez.

Zuri is proud of her neighborhood in Brooklyn, but she’s losing it to gentrification. When a wealthy family moves in across the street, Zuri instantly clashes with one of the family’s teen sons, Darius Darcy. You can guess where the rest of the story is heading. Zuri is juggling her confusing feelings for Darius and a boy Warren who is trying to woo her, all while processing Bushwick’s changing landscape and her four sisters. Even if remakes aren’t your thing, Pride will win you over with its refreshing and timely retelling that may even be better than the original. I said what I said.
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With the Fire on High, Elizabeth Acevedo
May 7

Renowned slam poet Elizabeth Acevedo’s novel The Poet X is one of my all-time fave YA debuts. She’s back with her follow-up called With the Fire on High. It’s about Emoni Santiago, a teen who got pregnant her freshman year of high school and who now has to make tough sacrifices for her daughter and her abuela. She wants to be a chef but might have to set aside her dream to take care of her family. When Emoni starts cooking, her familial obligations float away, and it’s just her and the kitchen.

Acevedo’s sophomore work is already critically acclaimed, with Publishers Weekly calling it an, “unvarnished depiction of young adulthood [that] is at once universal and intensely specific.” School Library Journal calls it, “a love letter to food and a tribute to young, single mothers.” Emoni sounds like a heroine unlike we’re used to seeing in YA but that doesn’t make her story any less necessary or valid. I’m counting down the days until I can devour this book in one sitting.
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The Everlasting Rose, Dhonielle Clayton

Dhonielle Clayton is the COO of We Need Diverse Books, a non-profit that advocates for diversity in publishing. She’s emerged as a necessary voice railing against literature’s status quo while also becoming a bestselling author who’s changing the landscape through her YA novels.

First, you to need to read Clayton’s The Belles, mainly because The Everlasting Rose is its sequel, but also because it is SO GOOD. In an age when beauty standards are set by Instagram filters and FaceTune, The Belles is the perfect commentary on attractiveness and power. In the fantasy world of Orleans, opulence is ubiquitous, and beauty is the one thing everyone wants. The people in Orleans are born gray and ugly, and The Belles can grant them the looks they desire. Camellia wants to beat out her sisters to become the favorite Belle, but being the best comes with responsibility Camellia isn’t prepared for, like saving a dying princess. In The Everlasting Rose, Camellia – now the former favorite Belle— must race to find Princess Charlotte, who is still ailing but has disappeared. The Belles series delivers the high-stakes action of the Disney princess movies we grew up with, but with a hero who doesn’t look like Snow White.
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Watch Us Rise, Renée Watson and Ellen Hagan

We’ve been watching Renée Watson rise for years. Her YA novels, Piecing Me Together and This Side of Home were both nominated for the award for Best Fiction for Young Adults by the American Library Association. She’s a New York Times bestselling, Coretta Scott King Award-winning author and renowned educator and activist who uses her work — including picture books for children — to help young people cope with trauma.

For her latest work, she teamed up with poet Ellen Hagan for Watch Us Rise, a story about two best friends who start a Women's Rights Club at their NYC high school. After Jasmine and Chelsea’s poems and essays about female empowerment and microaggressions go viral, the principal shuts the club down, but Jasmine and Chelsea will not be silenced. This intersectional, feminist novel about two budding activists is an inspiring look at the power of the passionate young people and the strength of female friendship.
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When the Ground Is Hard, Malla Nunn
June 4

All the best friendships start with a mutual taste in literature. Malla Nunn’s When the Ground Is Hard revolves around a shared copy of Jane Eyre. Adele is one of the most popular girls at her Swaziland boarding school, but when her best friend Delia ditches her for a new girl, Adele has to room with Lottie, a poorer girl who doesn’t pray and is shunned socially. Adele wants nothing to do with Lottie until the two girls from entirely different worlds get to know each other through Charlotte Bronte’s words. They join forces to take on bullies and judgmental teachers, and when a boy goes missing, they must solve the mystery together. Adele and Lottie’s friendship prevails through the complicated power dynamics and racial politics of Swaziland. I’m already rooting for them.
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Akata Witch and Akata Warrior, Nnedi Okorafor

I’m sure there were Nnedi Okorafor fans who were yelling throughout the intro to this roundup about Black women YA authors you already know like, “WHAT ABOUT NNEDI OKORAFOR!?” They’re right. Let’s put some respect on Okorafor’s name. Her Akata Witch sci-fi series has been pegged “The Nigerian Harry Potter.” But there’s only one Nnedi Okorafor, and her work is singular.

The Akata Witch series follows Sunny Nwazue, an American-born girl Nigerian girl, who has to stop an apocalypse after developing super powers. She also belongs to the super-secret Leopard Society. It’s a spellbinding story that is a must read for any fan of the fantasy YA genre.

Fun fact: Okorafor is writing the forthcoming Marvel comic book series about Shuri, Princess of Wakanda, vibranium genius, and Black Panther’s little sister.
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