After reading Last Gate of the Emperor, I was pleased to interview co-authors Kwame Mbalia and Prince Joel Makonnen. You may already know Kwame Mbalia from his Tristan Strong series. Prince Joel Makonnen is the great-grandson of the last Ethiopian monarch, Emperor Haile Selassie. We chatted about writing a good fantasy story, Ethiopian culture, creating an engaging, accessible story, and their partnership as co-authors. This is such a fantastic, enlightening interview and Kwame’s responses (especially) are entertaining to read.
Excuse Me While I Ugly Cry is Joya Goffney’s debut YA novel. It follows list-making high-schooler Quinn whose journal full of *very* private lists and confession is stolen. The thief then blackmails her into completing the items on one of her lists, one of which is telling her parents that she did not actually get into Columbia, the university she already told them she was accepted into. Quinn is convinced that her blackmailer is Carter Bennett, the last person to have had her journal. But when a page of her journal is posted on Instagram, Quinn is desperate enough to join forces with Carter to find the blackmailer.
Kai is from a family of dancers, and he seems to be the odd man out. The family has been invited to their Auntie Nina’s wedding, and Kai and his siblings will have roles in the wedding. Kai immediately becomes worried because he has a history of messing up his moves. He even tripped over someone the last time he tried the electric slide.
Henri “Halti” Haltiwanger’s mom says he’s “charming as a verb” — and she’s right! Henri’s parents are Haitian immigrants. While his dad is their building’s Super, his mom is studying to become a firefighter. He’s popular at his high school and runs a successful dog walking business. The thing is: he tells customers that there’s an entire network of dogwalkers, of which he’s just one. When his neighbor and fellow high schooler Corrine’s mother hires him to walk their dog, Corrine quickly uncovers his sham of a company.
In Love Is a Revolution, Nala Robertson is a big Black girl who lives with her cousin Imani and Imani’s parents. Imani is an environmental activist with the group Inspire Harlem. When Nala attends Imani’s birthday open-mic night, she meets a charismatic young man named Tye. Tye is also an activist who is immediately drawn to Nala. Nala is eager to impress and starts a series of lies, telling Tye that she is a vegan and pretending to be active in community work at her grandmother’s home for the elderly.
The two soon start dating but the relationship is obviously built on lies. Nala quickly becomes uncomfortable, worrying that Tye only likes her for the fake persona she created.
In Off to See the Sea, a boy is cajoled into bath time, and with his mother’s help and an active imagination, bath time becomes a more whimsical and enjoyable experience.
A (not by any means exhaustive) list of 65 superb young adult novels by black authors featuring black protagonists. Get stacking!
In Happily Ever Afters, Tessa Johnson and her family have moved into a new neighborhood, hoping for a fresh start. Tessa will be attending a high school for the arts where she can have dedicated writing classes and be surrounded by other creative kids. Her brother Miles, has disabilities due to a form of cerebral palsy and Tessa looks after him a lot of the time. Tessa also enjoys creating love stories, which her best friend Caroline (and only Caroline so far) reads and enjoys.
As she starts at the new school, She reluctantly cultivates a relationship with Sam, the culinary arts kid who lives next door. But when Tessa attends her first creative writing workshop, she develops a crush on Nic, a guy in her class, as well as a major case of writer’s block mostly due to her severe anxiety around sharing her work with others.
I was a bit scared to read Jackson’s Grown, because I’ve read both of her books and they were absorbing, but difficult to read. I was worried about getting my head into a potentially triggering plot, but I survived. At a singing audition, 17-year-old Enchanted Jones catches the eye of superstar musician Korey Fields, who is 28. Korey promises her a future in music and the starstruck teen is quickly swept into an illicit relationship with drugs and abuse. That is until Korey Fields is found dead with Enchanted on the scene and all fingers pointing at her.
Black middle-grade books are a rarity. Trust me, in sourcing the books for this book list, it was hard to find recommendations. Many recommendations were also historical fiction, which is good and well, but not always my jam.
Sometimes Black people and Africans need books about mundane issues. So whether it’s books about female friendships or even about food — sign me up. In this list of Black middle-grade books, you’ll find only books by Black authors featuring Black protagonists.
Paula Chase’s Dough Boys is an emotion-charged middle-grade novel about two boys navigating their changing friendship while caught up with a local drug ring.