In her insightful article, ‘Kid Lit Equality – Fantasy or Reality?’ author Zetta Elliot says “There’s clearly a direct link between the misrepresentation of Black youth as inherently criminal and the justification given by those who brazenly take their lives. The publishing industry can’t solve this problem, but the relative lack of children’s books by and about people of color nonetheless functions as a kind of “symbolic annihilation.” Despite the fact that the majority of school-age children in the US are now kids of color, the US publishing industry continues to produce books that overwhelmingly feature white children only. The message is clear: the lives of kids of color don’t matter.”
While there should be much more literature written for and about Black youth, there are several great works out there. Below is a list of some of the better and more unique works for YA readers, aged 12-18. This list is not exhaustive by any means, but is a great intro to some amazing Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror books, which are sorely needed in Black homes, schools, libraries and cultural centers worldwide.
Devil’s Wake, by Steven Barnes and Tananarive Due. What happens when an unprecedented infection sweeps the world, leaving the earth on the brink of the Apocalypse?
But this infection goes far beyond disease. Beyond even the nightmare images of walking dead or flesh-eating ghouls. The infected are turning into creatures unlike anything ever dreamed of…more complex, more mysterious, and more deadly.
Trapped in the northwestern United States as winter begins to fall, Terry and Kendra have only one choice: they and their friends must cross a thousand miles of no-man’s-land in a rickety school bus, battling ravenous hordes, human raiders, and their own fears.
In the midst of apocalypse, they find something no one could have anticipated…love.
Amber and the Hidden City, by Milton Davis. Thirteen year old Amber Robinson’s life is full of changes. Her parents are sending her to a private school away from her friends, and high school looms before her. But little does she know that her biggest change awaits in a mysterious city hidden from the world for a thousand years. Why?
Amber’s grandmother is a princess from this magical kingdom of Marai. She’s been summoned home to use her special abilities to select the new king but she no longer has the gift, and her daughter was never trained for the task. That leaves only one person with the ability to save the city: Amber!
But there are those who are determined that Amber never reaches Marai and they will do anything to stop her.
Prepare yourself for an exciting adventure that spans from the Atlanta suburbs to the grasslands of Mali. It’s a story of a girl who discovers her hidden abilities and heritage in a way that surprises and entertains.
A Wish After Midnight, by Zetta Elliott. Genna wants out of her tough Brooklyn neighborhood. But she gets more than she bargained for when a wish gone awry transports her back in time. Facing the perilous realities of Civil War–era Brooklyn, Genna must use all her wits to survive.
This is the affecting and inspiring tale of a fearless young woman’s fight to hold on to her individuality and her humanity in two different worlds.
The Chaos, by Nalo Hopkinson. Sixteen-year-old Scotch struggles to fit in—at home she’s the perfect daughter, at school she’s provocatively sassy, and thanks to her mixed heritage, she doesn’t feel she belongs with the Caribbean, white, or Black American people. And even more troubling, lately her skin is becoming covered in a sticky black substance that can’t be removed. While trying to cope with this creepiness, she goes out with her brother—and he disappears. A mysterious bubble of light just swallows him up, and Scotch has no idea how to find him.
Soon, the Chaos that has claimed her brother affects the city at large, until it seems like everyone is turning into crazy creatures. Scotch needs to get to the bottom of this supernatural situation before the Chaos consumes everything she’s ever known—and she knows that the black shadowy entity that’s begun trailing her every move is probably not going to help.
A blend of fantasy and Caribbean folklore, at its heart this tale is about identity and self acceptance – because only by acknowledging her imperfections can Scotch hope to save her brother.
The Keys, by Balogun Ojetade. Pyramids – located all over the world, among different cultures and nations – are actually portals that allow teleportation between them.
For thousands of years, there was peace between nations; there was exchange of knowledge and culture and all of the pyramid cultures worldwide advanced because of it. But the peace soon shattered and the world was cast into the bloodiest and most costly of wars.
At the same time, the Iberian Empire, led by Infante (“Prince”) Henry the Navigator, attacked the Aztec Empire. Henry, the Navigator believed the legendary Christian kingdom of Prester John (“Presbytu Johannes”) to be the Aztec Empire’s Nueva Guatemala de la Asuncion (now called Guatemala City). He wanted to find the kingdom and achieve immortality and would murder the world if it meant achieving his goal.
The Aztec allied with the powerful Oyo Empire of West Africa and together they defeated Henry the Navigator and his monstrous army and restored a fragile peace to the world, deactivating the power of the world’s pyramids until humanity was once again ready to use their power responsibly.
Two gods – one Oyo and one Aztec – were placed into a deep sleep within the bloodlines of two warrior families from the great Oyo-Aztec Alliance. These gods, lying dormant within two unwitting teenagers known as The Keys, are to awaken only when the world – and the gods’ teenaged hosts – is ready.
YOU choose to be one of the two heroes of this highly unique and exciting gamebook: Jordan Drummond, college basketball phenomenon and math genius; or Theresa “Terry” De Fuego, self-proclaimed “extreme journalist.”
YOU battle the forces of evil and maybe even save the world!
YOU decide your destiny… for YOU are the Hero!
The Shadow Speaker, by Nnedi Okorafor. This novel opens in Saharan Africa in the year 2070, then takes its 14-year-old heroine on a quest in a world where magic, mysticism, and mind-blowing technology reign supreme.
Years after an act of bioterrorism on earth, its most dramatic effect, the opening of a border with the planet Ginen, has just materialized.
An untrained “shadow speaker,“ Muslim teen Ejii is compelled by otherworldly voices to help avert a war between the newly joined worlds.
Readers who appreciate invention will delight in Okorafor’s world building, especially the plant-based technology that allows mansions to spring from “abode seeds” and phone calls to be transmitted via gourds. Many will also embrace the novel’s complicated characters and the appearance of African and Muslim traditions in a fantasy setting.
Slice of Cherry, by Dia Reeves. Kit and Fancy Cordelle are sisters of the best kind: best friends, best confidantes, and best accomplices. The daughters of the infamous Bonesaw Killer, Kit and Fancy are used to feeling like outsiders, and that’s just the way they like it. But in the city of Portero, where the weird and wild run rampant, the Cordelle sisters are hardly the oddest or most dangerous creatures around.
It’s no surprise when Kit and Fancy start to give in to their deepest desire—the desire to kill. What starts as a fascination with slicing open and stitching up quickly spirals into a gratifying murder spree. Of course, the sisters aren’t killing just anyone, only the people who truly deserve it. But the girls have learned from the mistakes of their father, and know that a shred of evidence could get them caught. So when Fancy stumbles upon a mysterious and invisible doorway to another world, she opens a door to endless possibilities…
Ninth Ward, by Jewell Parker Rhodes. Twelve-year-old Lanesha, an African-American girl who can talk to ghosts, lives in a tight-knit community in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward. She doesn’t have a fancy house like her uptown family or lots of friends like the other kids on her street. But what she does have is Mama Ya-Ya, her fiercely loving caretaker, wise in the ways of the world and able to predict the future. So when Mama Ya-Ya’s visions show a powerful hurricane – Katrina – fast approaching, it’s up to Lanesha to call upon the hope and strength Mama Ya-Ya has given her to help them both survive the storm.
Ninth Ward is a deeply emotional story about transformation and a celebration of resilience, friendship, and family – as only love can define it.