Juneteenth is this Saturday, June 19, commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. On this day, it’s important to acknowledge the painful legacy and impact of slavery, while also celebrating the progress and achievement of Black life now. So today, we’re recommending books across all genres that offer dynamic, varied celebrations and portrayals of Black life in America. We hope these stories of Black love, joy, power, pride, and everything else, provides ample opportunities to reflect and rejoice this weekend—and all year long too!
The linguistic dynamism present in Kiese Laymon’s memoir HEAVY and essays HOW TO SLOWLY KILL YOURSELF AND OTHERS IN AMERICA is on full display in his debut novel LONG DIVISION, in which he discusses topics such as race and the power of language woven into a compelling story. The book starts in 2013, with fourteen-year-old protagonist Citoyen “City” Coldson becoming an overnight YouTube celebrity after having a meltdown onstage during a nationally televised quiz contest. In the aftermath, he is sent to stay with his grandmother in a small Mississippi coastal community. Before he leaves, he is given a book without an author’s name entitled Long Division, which stars him and his love interest back in 1985, attempting to time travel into the past to save a fellow time traveler’s family in 1964.
From Kiese Laymon, author of the critically acclaimed memoir Heavy, comes a “funny, astute, searching” (The Wall Street Journal) debut novel about Black teenagers that is a satirical exploration of celebrity, authorship, violence, religion, and coming of age in post-Katrina Mississippi.
Written in a voice that’s alternately humorous, lacerating, and wise, Long Division features two interwoven stories. In the first, it’s 2013: after an on-stage meltdown during a nationally televised quiz contest, fourteen-year-old Citoyen “City” Coldson becomes an overnight YouTube celebrity. The next day, he’s sent to stay with his grandmother in the small coastal community of Melahatchie, where a young girl named Baize Shephard has recently disappeared.
Before leaving, City is given a strange book without an author called Long Division. He learns that one of the book’s main characters is also named City Coldson—but Long Division is set in 1985. This 1985-version of City, along with his friend and love interest, Shalaya Crump, discovers a way to travel into the future, and steals a laptop and cellphone from an orphaned teenage rapper called...Baize Shephard. They ultimately take these items with them all the way back to 1964, to help another time-traveler they meet to protect his family from the Ku Klux Klan.
City’s two stories ultimately converge in the work shed behind his grandmother’s house, where he discovers the key to Baize’s disappearance. Brilliantly “skewering the disingenuous masquerade of institutional racism” (Publishers Weekly), this dreamlike “smart, funny, and sharp” (Jesmyn Ward), novel shows the work that young Black Americans must do, while living under the shadow of a history “that they only gropingly understand and must try to fill in for themselves” (The Wall Street Journal).
Fifteen-year-old Miriam Horton is wholly immersed in her evangelical Black Southern community—especially since her own father is a domineering preacher whose words and patriarchal healing powers are close to divine. But when Miriam develops healing powers of her own, her curiosity sends her on a spiritual awakening filled with life-altering revelations. A propulsive coming-of-age story, REVIVAL SEASON explores the themes of disillusionment in authority and faith through a compassionate three-dimensional lens.
The daughter of one of the South’s most famous Baptist preachers discovers a shocking secret about her father that puts her at odds with both her faith and her family in this “tender and wise” (Ann Patchett, author of Commonwealth) debut novel.
Every summer, fifteen-year-old Miriam Horton and her family pack themselves tight in their old minivan and travel through small southern towns for revival season: the time when Miriam’s father—one of the South’s most famous preachers—holds massive healing services for people desperate to be cured of ailments and disease.This summer, the revival season doesn’t go as planned, and after one service in which Reverend Horton’s healing powers are tested like never before, Miriam witnesses a shocking act of violence that shakes her belief in her father—and in her faith.
When the Hortons return home, Miriam’s confusion only grows as she discovers she might have the power to heal—even though her father and the church have always made it clear that such power is denied to women. Over the course of the next year, Miriam must decide between her faith, her family, and her newfound power that might be able to save others, but, if discovered by her father, could destroy Miriam.
Celebrating both feminism and faith, Revival Season is a story of spiritual awakening and disillusionment in a Southern, black, Evangelical community. Monica West’s transporting coming-of-age novel explores complicated family and what it means to live among the community of the faithful.
Nicola Yoon’s INSTRUCTIONS FOR DANCING opens with the line “Despite how it might seem, this is not a love story.” And it upholds that promise. The narrative revolves around high school senior Evie Thomas, who suddenly acquires the ability to envision entire love stories of couples around her—from beginning to end. She’s still struggling to understand why that is happening when she joins a dance studio and partners up with Xavier, nicknamed X. As Evie learns to tango and foxtrot with X, he upends all her wildest imaginings of what true love and heartbreak could be.
Not only is Black detective Easy Rawlins one of the most popular characters in crime fiction, his first outing, DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS, has been recognized as one of the top 100 mystery novels of all time. Author Walter Mosley’s debut novel immediately draws you into the life of Easy, a Black war vet who’s just trying to get by in 1948’s Los Angeles. Working as a P.I. is the furthest thing from his mind until he’s offered a much-needed paycheck to find a missing woman named Daphne Monet. Of course, the rest is history, and you shouldn’t miss a minute of it.
The first novel by “master of mystery” (The New York Times) Walter Mosley, featuring Easy Rawlins, the most iconic African American detective in all of fiction. Named one of the “best 100 mystery novels of all time” by the Mystery Writers of America, this special thirtieth anniversary edition features an all new introduction from the author.
The year is 1948, the town is Los Angeles.
Easy Rawlins, a black war veteran, has just been fired from his job at a defense factory plant. Drinking in his friend’s bar, he’s wondering how he’ll manage to make ends meet, when a white man in a linen suit approaches him and offers him good money if Easy will simply locate Miss Daphne Money, a missing blonde beauty known to frequent black jazz clubs.
Easy has no idea that by taking this job, his life is about to change forever.
“More than simply a detective novel…[Mosley is] a talented author with something vital to say about the distance between the black and white worlds, and with a dramatic way to say it” (The New York Times).
WHILE JUSTICE SLEEPS is Stacey Abrams’s first foray into political thrillers, and this gripping, twisty story proves that she is as masterful in her fiction writing as she is in the political sphere. The book follows law clerk Avery Keene as she balances her career with her troubled family life. When her boss, the venerable Justice Howard Wynn, slips into a coma, Avery is tasked with serving as his legal guardian and power of attorney, along with deciphering the research of Justice Wynn on a controversial case presented before the Supreme Court.
For years leading up to Juneteenth, brave Black Americans persevered through immense hardships and fought for freedom in the Civil War. Reading about it in history books is one thing, but experiencing it through fiction is a whole other. Alyssa Cole brings this period alive in her novel AN EXTRAORDINARY UNION, which tells the story of Elle Burns, a former slave turned Union spy. Elle is an unforgettable heroine and patriot who risks her life every day to help turn the tide of the war, defeat the Confederacy, and finally bring an end to slavery in the U.S. But she’s also a young woman who finds herself falling in love with a fellow undercover agent at the worst possible time—well, that’s life for you. AN EXTRAORDINARY UNION is a multifaceted tale with a perfect mix of history, action-adventure, and romance.
With its poignant and hilarious cultural critiques on popular culture, BLACK NERD PROBLEMS is a must-read essay collection. It explores Black nerd culture with a lighthearted perspective; however, the material isn’t all funny—at times it’s also sad, serious, exhilarating, and so much more. This essay collection explores key popular culture icons from X-Men to Simba, while also tackling heavier subjects such as the intersection of social justice and popular culture, BIPOC representation in the media, and other current events. It doesn’t come out until September so preorder it now and peruse their website while you wait!
The creators of the popular website Black Nerd Problems bring their witty and unflinching insight to this engaging collection of pop culture essays on everything from Mario Kart and The Wire to issues of representation and police brutality across media.
When William Evans and Omar Holmon founded Black Nerd Problems, they had no idea whether anyone beyond their small circle of friends would be interested in their little corner of the internet. But soon after launching, they were surprised to find out that there was a wide community of people who hungered for fresh perspectives on all things nerdy, from the perspective of owned voices.
In the years since, Evans and Holmon have built a large, dedicated fanbase eager for their brand of cultural critique, whether in the form of a laugh-out-loud, raucous Game of Thrones episode recap or an eloquent essay on dealing with grief through stand-up comedy. Now, they are ready to take the next step with this vibrant and hilarious essay collection, which covers everything from X-Men to Breonna Taylor with insight and intelligence.
A much needed and fresh pop culture critique from the perspective of people of color, Black Nerd Problems is the ultimate celebration for anyone who loves a blend of nerd and social commentary, and unafraid to admit that they love all things nerdy.
Seventeen-year-old Kiera is an honors student and math tutor by day, but at home, she is the developer behind the multiplayer online role-playing card game SLAY, where thousands of Black gamers duel worldwide as Nubian personas. When a teenager is murdered over a dispute in the SLAY world and a troll infiltrates the game threatening to sue Kiera for “anti-white discrimination,” our protagonist must attempt to save SLAY while protecting her secret identity as the game’s developer.
A Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2019!
“Gripping and timely.” —People
“The YA debut we’re most excited for this year.” —Entertainment Weekly
“A book that knocks you off your feet while dropping the kind of knowledge that’ll keep you down for the count. Prepare to BE slain.” —Nic Stone, New York Times bestselling author of Dear Martin and Odd One Out
Ready Player One meets The Hate U Give in this dynamite debut novel that follows a fierce teen game developer as she battles a real-life troll intent on ruining the Black Panther–inspired video game she created and the safe community it represents for Black gamers.
By day, seventeen-year-old Kiera Johnson is an honors student, a math tutor, and one of the only Black kids at Jefferson Academy. But at home, she joins hundreds of thousands of Black gamers who duel worldwide as Nubian personas in the secret multiplayer online role-playing card game, SLAY. No one knows Kiera is the game developer, not her friends, her family, not even her boyfriend, Malcolm, who believes video games are partially responsible for the “downfall of the Black man.”
But when a teen in Kansas City is murdered over a dispute in the SLAY world, news of the game reaches mainstream media, and SLAY is labeled a racist, exclusionist, violent hub for thugs and criminals. Even worse, an anonymous troll infiltrates the game, threatening to sue Kiera for “anti-white discrimination.”
Driven to save the only world in which she can be herself, Kiera must preserve her secret identity and harness what it means to be unapologetically Black in a world intimidated by Blackness. But can she protect her game without losing herself in the process?
Photo credit: Scribner Books