My favorite things: While this doesn’t dip into the supernatural they way that Sing did, it still traces similar themes that I was hoping to find. Each character experiences specific manifestations of systemic racism unique to their era but undeniably tied to those of the other generations. The lines between each are clear, with the desperation escalating in younger characters. The people missing from each character’s life have almost as much of an impact on their stories as do those who are present.
Who it’s great for: Fans of family histories that trace multiple generations. Readers looking for writers telling complex stories of the African-American family; fans of Jesmyn Ward, Tayari Jones, and Angela Flournoy.
What it’s about: Baldwin writing a letter to his young nephew, telling him how it is to be a black man in America.
What made me pick it up: Abby mentioned it was very short, and I’d been meaning to read it so I checked it out. We both finished it in one sitting.
My favorite things: This really reminded me of Between the World and Me (as it should, since that is structured similarly and inspired by this) — beautiful writing, and unfortunately timeless observations about the treatment of black people in this country. I wish this weren’t still so resonant, but that is not the case. Baldwin talks about the difficulties of maintaining relationships with people of all colors during the distrust of the black power movement and his hopes for a more equal standing for African Americans in future America. I also learned a fair amount about the Nation of Islam and the empowering effect the Muslim religion had on African Americans in the 60s.
Who it’s great for: Anyone reading voraciously on the themes of racial justice.
What it’s about: A modern southern gothic story set in a contemporary rural Mississippi Gulf Coast community chronicling a family’s struggles with poverty, addiction, incarceration, and the ghosts of past injustices.
What made me pick it up: I read Ward’s early novel Salvage the Bones last year and was excited to pick up her newest work.
My favorite things: Sing, Unburied, Sing is beautifully written and almost painful to read from the first page. The climax, however inevitable, left me stunned and heartbroken – but I’m here for it. The saddest parts of Ward’s stories don’t feel like cheap shots or emotional manipulation the way writing sometimes comes across. Instead, it feels honest and necessary. I love the way she seamlessly incorporates ghosts and spirits into the fabric of this family’s life.
Who it’s great for: Southern gothic readers; fans of Beloved.
What it’s about: An 11-year-old African-American girl named Stella growing up in a small North Carolina town in the 1930s and all the challenges she and her family and other African-Americans in her town face.
What made me pick it up: It came up when I placed another book on hold as a suggestion, but I can’t remember what that book was anymore. I’ll pick up almost any title with racial justice themes these days, so I think that may have played a role.
My favorite things: The language in this book is beautiful. I liked how just because it’s a children’s book it didn’t shy away from brutality and injustice to favor a happy ending. The depictions of bravery by young children like Stella, and family and community are very heartwarming and heart wrenching all at once.
Who it’s great for: Anyone interested in the poor treatment of African-Americans in the south during the Jim Crow era.
What it’s about: A teen girl watches her oldest friend as he is murdered by the police. She contemplates Tupac’s concept of THUG LIFE (The Hate U Give Little Infants F***s Everyone) while struggling to stand up for her community.
What made me pick it up: This has been getting crazy good press so I scooped it up as soon as I could.
My favorite things: Starr’s voice is genuine and her heartbreak palpable. Thomas captures the essence and urgency of the Black Lives Matter movement without exploiting or forgetting the real lives that have been lost. The current movement is tied to the past through more than Tupac’s words; reminiscent of the response by Bloods and Crips to the Rodney King verdict, local opposing gangs band together to protect their communities and join in protest against the violence they face at the hands of the state. The overall effect is both breathtaking and devastating.
Who it’s great for: Teens and adults looking to understand and process the violence faced by communities of color in our society.
What it’s about: Phoebe Robinson reflects on her experiences as a black woman in comedy and on her observations about race and gender. She challenges her readers to do better.
What made me pick it up: This one has been making the rounds at work so I’ve had it on my TBR list for a while.
My favorite things: Robinson easily discusses race and gender in a way that is both accessible and unapologetic. Her sharp wit is so compelling that you can’t help but laugh even if what she’s calling out is you or something you do. I appreciate that she writes the same way she talks – with a lot of unnecessary abbreviations. Although, I’m not sure I agree with her spelling of cazsh (casual).
What it’s about: The story of a 1921 murder in Tulsa, Oklahoma unwinds through two perspectives: William’s, set at the time of the murder, and Rowan’s in the present day.
What made me pick it up: I read a prepub review that piqued my interest and put it on hold as soon as our library ordered it.
My favorite things: Latham uses the dual timelines explore the parallels between racially motivated violence in the early 20th century and the violence of today that has inspired the Black Lives Matter movement. Based on the 1921 massacre of Tulsa’s African American community, the author effectively uses mystery and suspense to bring attention to an often forgotten part of American history.
Who it’s great for: Teens interested in understanding racial violence and justice in American history. Fans of murder mysteries and readers of historical fiction.
What it’s about: Racism, the kind you respond to viscerally, but also not the kind you might think. When an infant dies of a medical emergency the black nurse who was helping care for him is accused of murder by his white supremacist father. Her white lawyer says that, despite the obvious, race can’t be mentioned during the trial.
What made me pick it up: I really like Jodi Picoult as an author. She writes trials extremely well, and always has some twist at the end to make your jaw drop. The way she weaves stories and characters together enthralls me. When I heard this was about race, I was intrigued. When it started getting phenomenal reviews, I jumped on the holds list.
My favorite things: The word that most comes to mind is masterful. Picoult left me completely speechless with this book. My Goodreads review just says “wow”. Her character building is solid, even of her extremely and overtly racist characters. She does a great job of filling in their back stories and giving you glimpses of their motivations as well as evolution. Most importantly, her examination of race and racism both implicit and explicit is well researched and thoughtful. If you want an added bonus, get yourself an audio version of the book. It’s partly read (and performed expertly) by the great Audra McDonald.
Who it’s great for: Jodi Picoult fans. Readers who enjoy twisty legal books. Anyone interested in racism in our country today.
Find Small Great Things at Amazon (affiliate link) or your local library.
What it’s about: This book traces racist ideas and their impact on African American and other Black lives in the US from the earliest arrival of European settlers through today. Okay, so I have one problem with this book: the subtitle. Not a lot of time is given to other people of color in the US and, realistically, one book couldn’t do that and probably shouldn’t try. I definitely don’t want to diminish the impact of the book-I think it’s very well done and important. To me the subtitle is a little misleading, but maybe it’s just me.
What made me pick it up: It won the 2016 National Book Award for Nonfiction, and I’m trying to make sure that I read all of the winners.
My favorite things: This book is meticulously researched and incredibly thorough. Kendi breaks down racist belief systems into a variety of often conflicting ideas. He identifies assimilationist and segregationist thoughts that have sometimes been used to promote civil rights, and contrasts them with truly antiracist ideas. Kendi does a great job of illustrating the ways these ideas have been built upon over time and how we have arrived in the current moment with some voices declaring a “post-racial” society while others point out clear racial tensions and divisions.
Who it’s great for: People who want to understand where the Black Lives Matter movement came from and why it seems so divisive. History buffs interested in a different focus than they may be used to reading. Readers interested in racial justice and civil rights.