My 2024 Black YA TBR
Welcome to yet another year at my Black young adult book column, The Afro YA!
I’m excited to read newer and older young adult books by Black authors in various genres. From SFF to contemporary to novels in verse, here are some of the books on my 2024 Black young adult book TBR.
A Phoenix Must First Burn, edited by Patrice Caldwell
Inspired by the legendary sci-fi author Octavia Butler, this 2020 anthology consists of sixteen stories that explore the Black experience through sci-fi and fantasy and women and gender nonconforming protagonists.
I’ve had this book on my Kindle for a hot minute and I’ve finally started to read it. As of right now, I’ve read two stories, one about a Black girl confronting aliens in space and the other about a Black metal-bending witch slave. Expect a full review in March, but I’m enjoying what I’ve read so far.
Escaping Mr. Rochester by L. L. McKinney
A 2024 YA reimagining of Charlotte Bronte’s classic novel that asks: what if the real villain of Jane Eyre was actually Mr. Rochester? In this queer romance, Jane Eyre and Bertha Mason—Mr. Rochester’s wife, whom he’s imprisoned within the house for years—must save each other from the horrifying machinations of Mr. Rochester.
Jane Eyre was a comfort read during my teen years. As I grew older, the problematic aspect of Mr. Rochester locking up his first wife, the mentally ill Creole woman Bertha Mason, tainted my fondness for this book. I’m hoping that L.L. Mckinney’s retelling will give Bertha and Jane a better story.
Forever Is Now by Mariama J. Lockington
This novel in verse tells the story of Sadie, who develops agoraphobia after witnessing an incident of police brutality. Retreating inside her home, she gradually embarks on a path of healing as her friend Evan keeps her up to date on the protests in their city. In order to find the strength to use her voice, Sadie must learn to rebuild a safe place inside herself.
If you’re a longtime reader of this column, then you know that I love novels in verse and that Black young adult books about mental health are dear to me. Not only is this book’s cover gorgeous, but the subject matter is timely. I’m looking forward to seeing how they are explored through poetry.
Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé
Published in 2021, this is a thriller about two Nigerian-American students at an elite school dealing with an anonymous bully. When they are both selected to be senior class prefects, someone who goes by “Aces” uses anonymous text messages to reveal secrets about the two of them that could ruin their futures. As the stakes become higher and more dangerous, the two must do everything they can to stop Aces for good.
This book is a little outside of my comfort zone, because I don’t think I’ve ever read a YA thriller before. However, after reading a sample, I was intrigued to see how things would turn out for both characters.
Full Disclosure by Camryn Garrett
Full Disclosure is the author’s debut YA novel about a girl born HIV+, and how her previous attitude of acceptance toward her status shifts when she becomes sexually interested in someone for the first time.
It’s not often that I come across a sex-positive YA novel about an HIV+ Black girl. It’s also not often that I come across a Black YA novel written by someone who was a teen at the time of writing. I’m looking forward to seeing how the author’s voice shines and how this book tackles subjects considered taboo to discuss.
Pet by Akwaeke Emezi
There are no monsters anymore—or so the children in the city of Lucille are taught. Jam and her best friend, Redemption, have grown up with this lesson all their life. But when Jam meets Pet, a creature made of horns and colors and claws, who emerges from one of her mother’s paintings and a drop of Jam’s blood, she must reconsider what she’s been told. Jam must fight not only to protect her best friend but also to uncover the truth and find the answer to the question, How do you save the world from monsters if no one will admit they exist?
I bought this 2019 book on sale some time ago because I was touched by Emezi’s surreal, fantastical, and dark adult book Freshwater. This book piqued my interest for its Black trans girl protagonist and for the author’s dazzling and haunting imagination.
The Afro YA promotes black young adult authors and YA books with black characters, especially those that influence Pennington, an aspiring YA author who believes that black YA readers need diverse books, creators, and stories so that they don’t have to search for their experiences like she did.
Latonya Pennington is a poet and freelance pop culture critic. Their freelance work can also be found at PRIDE, Wear Your Voice magazine, and Black Sci-fi. As a poet, they have been published in Fiyah Lit magazine, Scribes of Nyota, and Argot magazine among others.