Written by: Andrea Marks-Joseph
Black History Month is an important annual spotlight on Black people as an impactful, integral part of our society throughout history. It’s a time to recognize and honor the central role Black people played in developing the world as we know it. In publishing, it’s also a time to make sure we amplify the voices of Black authors and celebrate the incredible work they’re putting out into our world. For book lovers, it’s a month when readers try to discover and read more Black authors than they usually do.
We support, showcase, and recommend reading books by Black authors all year round, and will continue to do so, but we’ve made up a special list for this moment. Whether you’re looking for time-travel, mystery, social commentary, magic, or romance, we’ve got the perfect, Black-authored story to enrich your reading list this month.
These books focus on Black joy, culture, history, and adventure. They’ve given young Black protagonists magical powers and supernatural battles to fight; Others are talented, experts in their field –be that multi-dimensional research or concert violinist. They’re all the heroes of their stories. When these books discuss race, it’s from a nuanced, thrilling, captivating, Black-centered “by us for us” perspective, and the characters triumph over their struggles. We’re delighted to recommend ten of the most exciting and impressive storytellers of our time:
1 - Tales of the Astonishing Black Spark by Charlie J. Eskew
This is a superhero story unlike any other! Written as if it’s the first draft of a Black superhero’s memoir, it’s self-aware, smart and endlessly entertaining; Equally saturated with Blackness as it is with humor, heart, and superhero fandom social commentary. Tales of the Astonishing Black Spark is “at once a fanboy’s homage to the history of superhero storytelling in America and a keen-eyed satire of those same stories, raising questions about race and privilege that are becoming impossible to ignore.” The protagonist’s narration ensures that his story will make you laugh out loud, and make you rethink the world of superheroes as we know it.
2 - One Verse Multi by Sander Santiago
There’s so much that’s unique and fascinating about this novel. The protagonist’s job: For ten years, Martin King has been a rift repair technician for the Multi-verse Protection Corporation (MVP), closing gaps between universes. The big problem: He joins a research team that discovers there’s a multi-verse collision event on its way to destroy everything. And then he is kidnapped by an anti-MVP group!
The collection of characters: From the very first page of this novel, it’s clear that the author is committed to reflecting an authentic reality for so many of us: A world where there are many people of color, and people of many genders and ethnicities, in each other’s everyday lives. Another highlight includes Martin developing feelings for two people, and thoughtfully exploring non-monogamy while trying to keep the multiverse from collapsing!
3 - The Violin Conspiracy by Brendan Slocumb
The Violin Conspiracy is a crime thriller, a passionate mystery, and a story about generational wealth and privilege. I couldn’t say it better than the blurb does: “Ray McMillian loves playing the violin more than anything, and nothing will stop him from pursuing his dream of becoming a professional musician.
Not his mother, who thinks he should get a real job, not the fact that he can't afford a high-caliber violin, not the racism inherent in the classical music world. And when he makes the startling discovery that his great-grandfather's fiddle is actually a priceless Stradivarius, his star begins to rise.
Then with the international Tchaikovsky Competition—the Olympics of classical music—fast approaching, his prized family heirloom is stolen. Ray is determined to get it back. But now his family and the descendants of the man who once enslaved Ray's great-grandfather are each claiming that the violin belongs to them.”
4 - Yesterday Is History by Kosoko Jackson
In Kosoko Jackson’s time traveling story, Andre gains a new magical ability after receiving a life-saving organ transplant. Yesterday Is History puts a queer Black teenage boy at the heart of two love stories as he bounces between past and present time. Andre’s incredible new talent brings him a fresh outlook on life, loss, and family.
It’s a coming-of-age story, a little bit of queer history, and an interesting, emotional exploration of a Black teenager suddenly finding himself in magical scenarios. Jackson’s also got a powerful, poignant new novel called Survive the Dome releasing in March which you need to look out for.
‘Wahala’ translates to ‘trouble’, and this novel certainly is filled with the best kind of trouble –complicated female friendships. Inspired by “a long (and loud) lunch with friends,” it’s written by an Anglo-Nigerian woman about a group of Anglo-Nigerian friends (who can rival the Sex & The City ladies) and “the lethally glamorous fourth woman who infiltrates their group”.
This debut depicts Black women living modern, cosmopolitan lives, adventuring through love, sex, food, and family; It’s funny, scandalous, and unputdownable, and it’s being turned into major TV drama for BBC!
6 - Required Reading for the Disenfranchised Freshman by Kristen R. Lee
Pitched as Dear White People meets the college admissions scandal —which, honestly, is all I need to know to want it— Required Reading for the Disenfranchised Freshman is about Savannah Howard, who had always planned to go to an HBCU, “but when she is accepted to the ivy-covered walls of Wooddale University on a full ride, how can she say no?”
Except that when she arrives at the prestigious university, she’s faced with all the microaggressions that come with generations of racism and elite culture. As Savannah uncovers more of the school’s racist history and exposes its privileged student body, the story allows us to engage with the cost of her actions, and considers the risk to her future as she stands up for what is right.
A modern twist on Arthurian legend with a Black girl at the center. Need I say more? After her mother dies in an accident, sixteen-year-old Bree witnesses a magical attack on her school’s campus, and discovers an underground magical society of “Legendborn” –the descendants of King Arthur’s knights.
When Bree infiltrates the society and learns that a magical war is coming, she must decide how far she’ll go for the truth about the night her mother died, and whether she should use her magic to take the society down—or join the fight.
The sequel to Legendborn (titled Bloodmarked) releases later this year, and it’s just been announced that Legendborn is going to be adapted for TV!
8 - Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid
This New York Times Bestseller and Reese’s Book Club pick is exhilarating in the way it depicts millennial Black women. The dialogue between Black friends is so realistic; the protagonist’s subtle battles with her white employers both hilariously relatable and appropriately tense.
This is a particularly perfect book for readers of color who have babysat or au paired for white families, because that’s the situation the drama centers around. Such A Fun Age is about growing up, working for “well-intentioned” white people, the difficulties of choosing a career in this economy, and being young and Black right now.
Kiera is a seventeen-year-old honors student, sister, girlfriend, and secretly the developer of a massively popular game, SLAY, created exclusively for Black gamers —the rules, characters, features, and powers are all rooted in Black history and culture.
When there’s fatal fallout in the real world over clashes in her game world, her video game becomes a divisive conversation and a controversial issue all over the media, which affects every aspect of her life. “Driven to save the only world in which she can be herself, Kiera must preserve her secret identity and harness what it means to be unapologetically Black in a world intimidated by Blackness.”
10 - Cameron Battle and the Hidden Kingdoms by Jamar J. Perry
Pitched as Percy Jackson meets Black Panther, this is an adventurous, ambitious middle-grade fantasy inspired by West African and Igbo mythology. Cameron discovers magic in a book passed through his family over generations and realizes it may be up to him and his friends to save a hidden kingdom.
It’s not easy, and there’s so much they have to learn and practice together in order to become the heroes the kingdom needs, but they work together. Cameron Battle and the Hidden Kingdoms is about strong friendships, Black ancestral history, and a queer Black boy discovering his power.
Bonus recommendations: Blackout, This Poison Heart by Kalynn Bayron, Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers, Black Boy Joy by Kwame Mbalia, Fast Pitch by Nic Stone, Within These Wicked Walls by Lauren Blackwood, and many more in our previous monthly recommendations lists!
Andrea Marks-Joseph is a South African freelance writer and book reviewer. She can be found on Goodreads, Twitter @stargirlriots, and at stargirlriots.com.