Over the past few weeks, many campaigners, activists, and social media users have been sharing how people can show up for the Black Lives Matter movement, including here in the UK. One way is engaging with literature – both fiction and non-fiction – that explores Black British history and identity. If you're equipped with information, you are far more likely to be an effective anti-racist ally. However, it's also important to read works by Black creatives that aren't strictly "educational" but instead celebrate Black British life or simply tell a compelling tale. For example, there are countless Young Adult (YA) novels by Black British writers to sink your teeth into, and I've listed a handful below to get you started. Although not all of the novels featured in my list fit neatly into the YA category, they will certainly appeal to lovers of this genre.
When you think of YA fiction, it’s likely that one name immediately comes to mind. I spent hours pouring over Malorie Blackman’s Noughts & Crosses when I was growing up; she really was the queen of young adult writing, and her stories dealt with the complexities of race, power, and ill-fated love in a way that young readers could easily understand. With the latest instalment Cross Fire coming out in 2019 and the books being adapted into a huge BBC One series this year, the author is clearly still top of her game, and as popular as ever.
However, while Blackman's talent should absolutely be celebrated (and her books read and re-read as often as possible), it's worth noting that she is not the only Black British YA author to deserve a spot on your bookshelf. Authors such as Alex Wheatle (a multi-award-winning London-born writer with 14 books to his name) and Aminatta Forna OBE (whose books have been translated into 22 languages), as well as legendary novelist Andrea Levy and Booker Prize winner Bernardine Evaristo are also pivotal players in the UK's YA literary canon. They, along with seven others, are featured below.
Marlon, 16, has made a promise to his mum that he will try his best to be good. He buries himself in school work, books, and music. However, when a first date ends in tragedy, he is suddenly in a lot of danger. He faces the possibility of entering a dangerous world in order to protect those closest to him.
'And The Stars Were Burning Brightly' tackles the topics of suicide, mental health, bullying, grief, and social media. After Nathan learns that his brilliant brother Al has committed suicide, he sets himself a personal mission of finding some meaning behind it. However, he can never forget what he finds out.
'Black Flamingo's central message is this: the boldest and bravest thing you can do is be your authentic self. Michael is coming to terms with who he is. As a mixed race gay teen, he doesn’t feel like he’s living life as freely as he could. That is until he goes to university and discovers the drag scene.
At the centre of Dorothy Koomson’s terrifying thriller is The Blindfolder, a serial kidnapper. A decade ago Pieta was kidnapped but she never told a soul about her horrific ordeal, during which she kept her eyes closed for two days in order to stay alive. However, when it becomes clear The Blindfolder is back, she has to work out how she can talk about what she went through.
Dinah, 17, doesn’t know who she is outside of the commune that she grew up in. That’s why, one day, she decides to leaving, looking to hitch a ride down south. However, her journey takes an unexpected turn and, having left behind everything that’s familiar, she encounters unlikely new friends and the reality of what’s happened to her in the past.
Under the most unlikely circumstances on London’s Waterloo Bridge, Jean and Attila’s worlds collide. Attila is trying to track down a friend’s daughter, who hasn’t phoned home in a while, and Jean – an American studying the habits of urban foxes – may be able to help.
At the age of 14, Naomi finds her world turned upside down when she’s placed in a foster home. She knows it isn’t permanent but she also doesn’t know where she’ll end up. Naomi's family situation has forced her to grow up quickly and as the adults around her try to decide what’s best, she has to work out who she really is.
Faith knows very little about her parents' lives before they settled in England. She’s got a glamorous job backstage in TV, plus tonnes of friends and a lavish apartment. So, when her parents tell her they plan on returning to Jamaica to retire, it throws her life into disarray. Angry that they’d leave but becoming increasingly aware of the microaggressions she experiences everyday, she goes to Jamaica to put together her family tree.
All Helen wants is a normal social life and to fit in at school. She figures she’s doing just fine but her older siblings and dad might be the ones to give her away. It doesn’t help that they’re literally Greek Gods. She’s working out what being a half-mortal teen means when you’re surrounded by an out-of-this-world family.
Six teenagers are setting off on an expedition that they’ve been waiting their entire lives for. Earth is dying and they’re among the cohort of scientists and explorers who intend to find Terra-Two. It will take them 23 years to get there and, not too long into their journey, they realise that means two decades with only each other for company.