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Bookworms Review: Beyond Black History Month

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a Nigerian writer of short stories, novels, and nonfiction. Seeking out diverse representation in our books is something we are working on after Black History Month. Illustration by Pearl McNames.

During this Black History Month many of us might be trying to branch out our reading and include more Black authors in our literary collections. We know that February is coming to a close, but we want to bring that readership into the next month and prioritize diversifying our bookshelves, always. If you’re looking to find some great stories by Black authors, about Black characters, here are some of our recommendations.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie uses descriptive (but simultaneously blunt) language to draw you into a captivating story of a young Nigerian woman named Ifemelu. She leaves Nigeria for America where she has to adjust to being Black in a predominantly white country. It’s a coming of age story interwoven with societal criticisms and humanity.  

For readers who tend to gravitate towards Young Adult romance, look no further. You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson follows Liz Lighty, a Black teenager in a mostly-white Midwestern small town, who decides to run for prom queen for a scholarship. Surprisingly intense prom queen preparation ensues, leading Liz to meet and develop feelings for a new student, Mack, who’s also in the running for prom queen. This romance is a large part of the book, but not all of it—Liz comes into her own and becomes more confident than ever before with a prom campaign that her small school could never have anticipated.

The Fifth Season by NK Jemisin is a truly unique piece of fantasy. Strange doesn’t even begin to describe the haunting feeling of this book. Essun is an ordinary woman in an extraordinarily terrible situation, following her husband, who has kidnapped their daughter, across their collapsed civilization. It’s a bit of a fever dream but a great book for someone who likes complex fantasy worlds that make you question everything.

For readers looking for contemporary fiction, Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid is the perfect book. With witty social commentary and a truly likable main character, this book highlights the effects of trying too hard to seem like an ally. Emira Tucker is accosted one night at a grocery store and accused of kidnapping the white toddler she’s babysitting. A video, which is taken by a bystander, goes viral—and Emira finds herself the sudden object of her employer, Alix Chamberlain’s attention; desperate to prove her “wokeness,” Alix white-saviors her way into some uncomfortable situations. Despite some secondhand embarrassment and cringe-worthy moments, this book is a worthwhile and entertaining read.

Another contemporary fiction that we love is Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers. This book is perfect for anyone who is struggling to figure out their place in the world. Grace Porter, 28 years old with a PhD in astronomy, doesn’t know where she’s heading in life. After a drunken night in Vegas, she finds herself unexpectedly married to a stranger. A whirlwind of out-of-character events lead her to begin reconciling her family expectations with mental health issues and trauma. This story is heartwarming and compelling, and Grace is easy to relate to and root for.

For the more nonfiction inclined reader, we’d recommend The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson. This Pulitzer Prize winner brings a personal aspect to a huge part of American history often overlooked, the Great Migration. The way in which narrative nonfiction, like this book, incorporates storytelling into factual information is also a great way for fiction readers to get into more nonfiction, and this particular book is a perfect and beautifully written starting point for learning more about African American History.

Honorable Mentions: Some books we’re looking forward to reading are The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett, My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite, Washington Black by Esi Edugyan, and The 1619 Project by Nikole Hannah-Jones. 

Some of these books contain upsetting or triggering content. For more information on these subjects, or if you have any suggestions, reactions, or additional opinions on books you want to share with us, we welcome all emails sent to [email protected].

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Bookworms Review: Beyond Black History Month