HBO’s Insecure is a wrap for this year, and you still want more? Let books be a balm to help ease the binge withdrawal. (Actually, books are always balm. #ALLDAY.) With these seven reads, you can get your fix of stories featuring the Black experience out front instead of pushed to the margins. These books are perfect for fans of shows like Insecure, Scandal, Queen Sugar, Black-ish, and Atlanta, in which art imitates real life, illustrating how Black Life is truly diverse—from ordinary to otherworldly. And I’m ready to devour every last morsel of this compelling smorgasbord. (Like I said, #ALLDAY.)
For fans of Chewing Gum
Both the British comedy series and this debut novel set in Jamaica delve deep into the socioeconomics and cultural infrastructure of life on the other side of the tracks. The novel centers around a 30-year-old woman who works in several capacities at a resort hotel and lives with her street-vendor mother and younger sister, and it shines a bright light on the country’s gritty underside that tourists rarely take a moment to consider.
Capturing the distinct rhythms of Jamaican life and dialect, Nicole Dennis-Benn pens a tender hymn to a world hidden among pristine beaches. In HERE COMES THE SUN, Margot works as a prostitute to send her little sister to school while shielding her from the same fate. When she catches a glimpse of opportunity for financial independence, Margot must fight to balance the burdens she shoulders with the freedom she craves.
For fans of Insecure
Much like the way Insecure delves into the complicated, so-been-there relationship dilemmas between Issa and Jay (and between Issa and her ride-or-die homie Molly), AMERICANAH explores young adults trying to negotiate the path to their best selves. This rich, captivating novel is about love, loneliness, and belonging. But mostly it’s about being a Black woman in a country that often acts as though you’re invisible.
This powerful story of race and gender is centered on Ifemelu, a brilliant and self-assured young woman who departs military-ruled Nigeria for an American university where, for the first time, she is forced to grapple with her identity as a black woman. Ifemelu faces difficult choices and challenges, suffers defeats and triumphs, finds and loses relationships, and eventually achieves success as the writer of an eye-opening blog about race in America. Fearless and gripping, Americanah is a richly told story set in today’s globalized world.
For fans of Queen Sugar
Set in Louisiana, Queen Sugar (adapted from a novel by the same name) chronicles the lives of three estranged siblings trying to figure out how to save their recently deceased father’s sugar plantation and honor his legacy in the process. Angela Flournoy’s engrossing novel is also about the places and tangled ties that bind a family. The Turner family—Francis, Viola, and their 13 kids—have lived in the same Detroit house for more than 50 years, but they are forced to consider selling it when Viola falls ill.
In this masterful debut novel, 13 siblings must decide the fate of their mother’s Detroit home, which housed the family for 50 years before mirroring the disarray and crisis of the city around them by falling into debt and misfortune. Secrets, addiction, and even a malevolent spirit all work against the siblings, but in the end Angela Flournoy shows how it takes more than walls to keep a family together.
For fans of Dear White People
Unlike many popular young adult novels, THE HATE U GIVE is not set in a dystopian future but in a more disturbing time: present-day America and its terrifying reality of institutional oppression, racism, and police brutality against African Americans. The focus of this story is 16-year-old Starr Carter, who attends an affluent private school far from her working class neighborhood and witnesses the murder of her unarmed childhood friend Khalil by a police officer. Like the characters in Dear White People, Starr is waking up to the harsh and often heartbreaking realities of privilege, race, and community, and the power in using your voice to speak out against injustice.
For fans of Loosely Exactly Nicole
Like the scripted comedy series where the show’s star tries to navigate the world of dating and living life in modern-day Hollywood, this collection of seriocomic essays will have you full-on belly-laughing two pages in. Samantha Irby, the “thirty-five-ish, but could easily pass for sixtysomething" creator of the popular bitches gotta eat blog, lets loose her wit and honesty covering everything from why she should be the next Bachelorette (complete with fake application) to what’s like living with Crohn’s disease.
For fans of Being Mary Jane
If you’re into messy dramas like Being Mary Jane, THE PERFECT FIND is for you. Jenna Jones is a 40-year-old fashion magazine editor who gets dumped by her fiancé and fired from her job all in the same week. She retreats to Virginia to recover, but her big comeback to New York City two years later is drah-ma, especially the steamy affair with her very young (he’s 22!) co-worker.
For fans of the movie adaptation Everything, Everything
Just like in the movie, this is not your typical girl-meets-boy story. The girl, Madeline, is mixed race—African American and Asian—and has a rare disease that makes her essentially “allergic to the world.” The boy, Olly, is her new, white neighbor, and their meet-cute happens from behind the glass of their distant bedroom windows while their relationship develops via snappy, charming texts and emails. This novel is well drawn, smart and—despite the uniqueness of Madeline’s condition—wholly relatable.