Many of us have had our ability to read diminished by this stressful year, myself included. One thing that kept me reviewing books for this column was the hope that my review could either make the author happy or make a potential reader happy. Despite everything going on, I’ve still managed to read, review, and discuss some fun and powerful middle grade and YA books this year.

With the holiday season upon us, it is the perfect time to whittle down your To Be Read pile. Whether you want to read for yourself or get a book for someone else, I have plenty of suggestions for you. Here are the middle grade and young adult books that are perfect gifts for Black readers this holiday 2020.

Magnifique Noir Book 2: You Are Magical by Briana Lawrence

I’ve been a big fan of Briana Lawrence’s Magnifique Noir comic book novel series for a few reasons. One is that the artwork for the series oozes fun and quirky Black Girl Magic, with sparkles, glitter, and bright colors used to depict its Black queer college-aged heroines. Another reason is that these books tackle difficult topics that Black girls and women experience, such as misogynoir, the Strong Black Girl archetype, and respectability politics. If you’ve got an older teen or adult reader in your life who enjoys Sailor Moon or Black coming-of-age stories, this book (and the rest of the series) is perfect for them.

(Full Review)

The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta

Novels in verse and coming-of-age stories go together like peanut butter and jelly, especially when the main character is on a journey of self-discovery. This is the case with Michael Angeli, the Black gay UK lead of Dean Atta’s The Black Flamingo. Michael undergoes an artistic and personal transformation that is expressed in verse and told in a compelling story arc involving his discovery of drag culture. Poetry lovers will fall head over heels for this book.

(Full Review)

The Beauty That Remains by Ashley Woodfolk

There have been many losses this year, and the grief can be overwhelming to experience alone. While this book won’t completely alleviate it, seeing the way its characters experience and come to terms with their grief may provide some comfort. Shay, Logan, and Autumn’s stories are told from each character’s perspective in a way that demonstrates how differently grief affects people and how a medium such as music can help you remember a loved one.

(Full Review)

Tristan Strong Destroys The World by Kwame Mbalia

This memorable fantasy sequel shows that being a hero isn’t always easy, especially when your mind is still traumatized by your last adventure. Tristan Strong, the savior of Alke, knows this well, even as he knows he must return to the land of Alke, the now war-torn magical land of African and African American myths and folklore. Yet magic and life still remains within the land, even as a new force arises to destroy what is left of it. Through Tristan, readers embark on an epic adventure starring characters old and new.

(Full Review) | (Book 1 Review)

Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender

Although this coming of age book is set during Pride Month in NYC, the themes of family, friendship, self discovery, and self love are timeless. The story of Felix Love, an artistic Black trans demiboy, will resonate with anyone who has had to fight to define themselves on their own terms and needed the right words or medium to do so. After Felix’s pre-transition photos are revealed to the world, Felix must figure out who is responsible while asking himself and those around him some hard questions about his identity. Featuring the highs and the lows of Black queer coming of age experiences, this book demonstrates that your own personal happiness is worth believing in.

(Full Review)

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