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Read Harder: An Own Voices YA Book With a Black Main Character That Isn’t About Black Pain

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I read an interesting article by author L.L. McKinney where she pointed out that Black authors should not be only valued by the amount of Black trauma they can produce in the publishing industry. Over the summer we saw the number of anti-racist books that made the New York Times Best Seller lists and while I am happy that more Black authors got their recognition, I knew that kind of support would be performative for many. While I want people to support anti-racism books and theories, I also want people to recognize that being Black doesn’t mean you should only consume our stories if they illustrate us in a constant state of pain.

Black pain is profitable, without a doubt. Our deaths and pain turn into popular song lyrics, jewelry, social events, and T-shirts. While the Black experience varies and isn’t linear, where is the same support for authors who are writing stories that capture Black joy? There are some quality stories about Black joy, and definitely a lot more than what’s listed here. I’d like to see the same energy given to these titles and titles like them.

Are people comfortable reading books where Black people aren’t targeted or traumatized for being Black? Can non-Black people relate to books where the default is Black and they just exist?

I’m also thinking about young, Black readers. They need escapism, especially while we still remain in quarantine. They need corny love stories, adventure, and fantasy where they can see themselves as heroes and heroines without having it be about state-sanctioned violence as well. So while you are seeking to diversify your bookcase and fulfilling the 2021 Read Harder Challenge, please remember to include books where Black teens can be happy or solve problems without being inflicted with an unfair level of pain to explain their Black experience.

Charming as a Verb by Ben Philippe

This is a lighthearted and entertaining read about a teen named Henri “Halti” Haltiwanger who has an entrepreneurial spirit. Henri has a successful dog walking business catering to wealthy New York City residents who haven’t realized that the company is the brainchild of Halti—not some secret tech startup. Halti knows he can sway almost anyone with his smile, except for his classmate and neighbor Corinne. Even though this book doesn’t center Black trauma, Halti is still a Black teen who experiences systemic racism and classism as he applies for college.

Love Is a Revolution by Renée Watson

Yes, we need more dark skin, plus-size heroines in books! Nala is just a regular teen who attends an open mic with her cousin who is also her BFF. While there, she falls head over heels with Tye Brown, who is an MC and activist. To get the guy she wants, she embellishes a few truths. It’s a story about learning that radical love is self-love. This title will be available in February 2021.

Roman and Jewel by Dana L. Davis

For all the Black theater kids who need representation in books, this is for you. Inspired by Romeo and Juliet, here’s an interesting romcom that takes place in the form of a play that’s an enjoyable mix of Shakespeare, hip-hop, and the musical Hamilton. This book is ideal for readers who just want to see a Black girl win in a Hallmark-esque romance setting.

Smash It! by Francina Simone

High school is the pinnacle of teenage life and Smash It! introduces a teen who is tired of living in her own shadow. After being inspired by Shonda Rhimes’s book, she decides to take more risks and put herself first. This leads to her falling for her boyfriend’s best friend and other complicated love interests. Funny, inspiring, and entertaining, this book will even convince adult readers to remember their purpose and face their challenges head-on.

Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko

If you are in need of some fantasy in your life sans the Black trauma, you will enjoy this title. Blending in West African mythology, readers will find the world-building in Raybearer to be enjoyable. While this confronts heavy subjects such as generational trauma, gender identity, and even sexual assault, the characters are so multidimensional you’ll find yourself invested in their stories. If you need a magic fix, here it is.

Dear Haiti, Love Alaine by Maika Moulite and Maritza Moulite

Besides having a beautiful cover, this is a story of a 17-year-old named Alaine Beauparlant who can’t stop getting in trouble at school. As a result, if she doesn’t want to be expelled from her private school she has to agree to spend some extended time in Haiti where her parents grew up. While staying with her aunt, Alaine learns more about herself and the history of Haiti. During her self-discovery, she learns more about her mother, who is also in Haiti after an embarrassing event took place back in the States as well. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by the variety of mediums this story is told in, such as the hand-written notes, emails, and journal entries.

Daughters Of Nri (The Return of the Earth Mother) by Reni K. Amayo

Featuring goddesses separated at birth, this alternative historical fiction combines fantasy and Nigerian politics for a compelling story. While this story is a bit of a slow burn, it is worth it. We get to see how the sisters grow up thinking they are mere humans and how they navigate society. I love that as a reader I get to learn some Igbo words. When the twins finally meet, they are faced with the biggest challenge of their lives—destroying Eze Ochichiri, the ruler of the Kingdom of Nri.

A Song Below Water: A Novel by Bethany C. Morrow

Morrow does a great job of framing the injustices of Black people and framing it as an allegory, which minimizes the impact of Black trauma on the reader without erasing the significance of social justice. It’s hard to resist a book based on Black mermaids. Two friends in Portland, where only so many Black people live, are carrying a secret that no one can find out. Equally magical as it is realistic, it is ultimately a story about how society forces Black girls to be silent.

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