African American

Grade Level Interest
M
: Middle School (defined as grades 6-8).
S: Senior High (defined as grades 9-12).
A/YA: Adult-marketed book recommended for teens.

 

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation by M.T. Anderson

He is a boy dressed in silks and white wigs and given the best of classical educations. Raised by a mysterious group of rational philosophers known only by numbers, the boy and his mother – a princess in exile from a faraway land – are the only people in their household assigned names. When young Octavian begins to question the purpose behind his guardians’ fanatical studies and dares to open a forbidden door, he learns the hideous nature of their experiments – and his own chilling role in them. (S)

Tyrell by Coe Booth

Tyrell is a young African-American teen who can’t get a break. He’s living (for now) with his spaced-out mother and little brother in a homeless shelter. His father’s in jail. His girlfriend supports him, but he doesn’t feel good enough for her – and seems to be always on the verge of doing the wrong thing around her. There’s another girl at the homeless shelter who is also after him, although the desires there are complicated. Tyrell feels he needs to score some money to make things better. Will he end up following in his father’s footsteps? (S)

 

Not a Good Look by Nikki Carter

She’s got mad talent, her own singing group, and honor roll grades. Sunday Tolliver is this close to making her music industry career dreams come true—until her mother spends her entire college fund. Now Sunday’s only chance to get to college means slaving as a “personal assistant” to her diva cousin, Dreya. And since Dreya just got the record deal of a lifetime and an upcoming tour with hip-hop’s biggest rapper, Truth, Sunday is sure Dreya’s ego-tripping, among other things, couldn’t get worse. But when bad boy Truth starts pushing up on Sunday and her life becomes “Paparazzi Blogs Gone Wild,” a jealous Dreya is on the warpath. Can Sunday make the right moves before her dreams go up in smoke for good? (M, S)

 
Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis

It’s 1936 Flint, Michigan. Times may be hard, and Bud may be a motherless boy, but Bud’s got a few things going for him: 1. He has his own suitcase full of special things; 2. He’s the author of “Bud Caldwell’s Rules and Things for Having a Funner Life and Making a Better Liar Out of Yourself”; 3. His momma never told him who his father was, but she left a clue: posters of Herman E. Calloway and his band of renown, the Dusky Devastators of the Depression. Bud is sure those posters will lead him to his father. Once he decides to hit the road, nothing can stop him, not hunger, not fear, not even Herman E. Calloway himself. (M)

 

Bucking the Sarge by Christopher Paul Curtis

Fifteen-year-old wannabe philosopher Luther T. Farrell knows a few things about life. He knows the Sarge (his rich, shrewd, slumlord mom) is tougher than nails and that he better not cross her. He knows his chances of using Chauncey, the ancient condom in his wallet, are slim to none. And he knows that despite his goal to attend Harvard, he may end up stuck in Flint, Michigan, cleaning toilets in his mom’s loathsome empire. (M, S)

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Jason & Kyra by Dana Davidson

Kyra Evans isn’t popular or gorgeous. So why can’t Jason – basketball star and the hottest guy in school – get her out of his head? Under normal circumstances, Jason and Kyra would live in their separate worlds up until graduation. But fate intervenes and the unlikely duo is paired up for a class project. Preconceived notions abound on both sides…but Kyra soon realizes that Jason is not the dumb jock that she had assumed him to be. And Jason finds himself telling Kyra things he can’t even tell his best friend. As the two become friends and eventually start to fall in love, no one in school can believe it – especially not Jason’s ex, who is determined to break them up. Being together means navigating the obstacles that are coming their way – but staying apart may be impossible. (S)

 
Played by Dana Davidson

Ian Striver is popular and handsome, and all the girls like him. He is also part of a secret boys’ club called the CIA, which guarantees his standing in his school’s social elite. So when one of his CIA friends throws down a bet, Ian has to take it, or risk losing his rep. The bet is that Ian has three weeks to make a girl fall in love and have sex with him. (S)

Mare’s War by Tanita S. Davis

Octavia and Tali are dreading the road trip their parents are forcing them to take with their grandmother over the summer. After all, Mare isn’t your typical grandmother. She drives a red sports car, wears stiletto shoes, flippy wigs, and push-up bras, and insists that she’s too young to be called Grandma. But somewhere on the road, Octavia and Tali discover there’s more to Mare than what you see. She was once a willful teenager who escaped her less-than-perfect life in the deep South and lied about her age to join the African American battalion of the Women’s Army Corps during World War II. (M, S)

A la Carte by Tanita S. Davis

Lainey of becoming a world famous chef one day and maybe even having her own cooking show. (Do you know how many African American female chefs there aren’t? And how many vegetarian chefs have their own shows? The field is wide open for stardom!) But when her best friend—and secret crush—suddenly leaves town, Lainey finds herself alone in the kitchen. With a little help from Saint Julia (Child, of course), Lainey finds solace in her cooking as she comes to terms with the past and begins a new recipe for the future. (S)

Tears of a Tiger by Sharon Draper

After a car accident kills Robert, Andy’s best friend and teammate on the Hazelwood High Tigers, Andy doesn’t know if he can go on. He’s consumed with guilt for driving the night of the accident after a long evening of drinking and partying. With perceptiveness and compassion, Draper portrays an African-American teenager who feels driven to consider suicide in the wake of a devastating tragedy. (S)

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The Battle of Jericho by Sharon Draper

Sixteen-year-old Jericho is psyched when he and his cousin and best friend, Josh, are invited to pledge for the Warriors of Distinction, the oldest and most exclusive club in school. Just being a pledge wins him the attention of Arielle, one of the hottest girls in his class, whom he’s been too shy even to talk to before now. But as the secret initiation rites grow increasingly humiliating and force Jericho to make painful choices, he starts to question whether membership in the Warriors of Distinction is worth it. How far will he have to go to wear the cool black silk Warriors jacket? How high a price will he have to pay to belong? The answers are devastating beyond Jericho’s imagination. (S)

 
The Skin I’m In by Sharon Flake

Maleeka suffers every day from the taunts of the other kids in her class. If they’re not getting at her about her homemade clothes or her good grades, it’s about her dark, black skin. When a new teacher, whose face is blotched with a startling white patch, starts at their school, Maleeka can see there is bound to be trouble for her too. But the new teacher’s attitude surprises Maleeka. Miss Saunders loves the skin she’s in. Can Maleeka learn to do the same? (M)

 

Teenie by Christopher Grant

High school freshman Martine (Teenie for short) is a good student, with a bright future ahead of her. She’s desperate to be accepted into a study-abroad program in Spain so that she can see what life is like beyond the streets of Brooklyn. She wouldn’t mind escaping from her strict (though lovable) parents for awhile either. But when the captain of the basketball team starts to pay attention to her after she’s pined away for him for months and Cherise, her best friend, meets a guy online, Teenie’s mind is on anything but her schoolwork. Teenie’s longtime crush isn’t what he seemed to be, nor is her best friend’s online love. Can Teenie get her act together in time to save her friendship with Cherise, save her grade point average so that she can study in Spain, and save herself from a potentially dangerous relationship? (M, S)

 
Dark Sons by Nikki Grimes

Teen-age Sam can barely contain his fury and hurt when his father gets married again, this time to a young white woman, who gives Sam a new baby brother. In a parallel, first-person narrative that draws on Genesis, young Ishmael and his mother, Hagar, rejected by Abraham, wander in the desert, after Sarah bears Abraham’s child. (M, S)

A Girl Named Mister by Nikki Grimes

Mary Rudine, called Mister by almost everyone, has attended church and sung in the choir for as long as she can remember. But then she meets Trey. His smooth words make her question what she knows is right, and one mistake leaves her hiding a growing secret. Another Mary is preparing for her upcoming wedding and has done everything according to Jewish law. So when an angel appears one night and tells her that she–a virgin–will give birth, Mary can’t help but feel confused, and soon finds herself struggling with the greatest blessing the world will ever know. Feeling abandoned, Mister is drawn to Mary’s story, and together both young women discover the depth of God’s love and the mysteries of his divine plan. (M, S)

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New Boy by Julian Houston

As the first black student in an elite Connecticut boarding school in the late 1950s, Rob Garrett, 16, knows he is making history. He works hard not to fall off the honor roll, even as he misses his home in Virginia and feels like a stranger in the dorm and in class. When his friends in the South plan a sit-in against segregation, he knows he must be part of it. (S)

The First Part Last by Angela Johnson

Bobby is your classic urban teenaged boy – impulsive, eager, restless. On his sixteenth birthday he gets some news from his girlfriend, Nia, that changes his life forever. She’s pregnant. Bobby’s going to be a father. Suddenly things like school and house parties and hanging with friends no longer seem important as they’re replaced by visits to Nia’s obstetrician and a social worker who says that the only way for Nia and Bobby to lead a normal life is to put their baby up for adoption. (S)

 
Sweet, Hereafter by Angela Johnson

After leaving home for reasons fiercely felt but difficult to define, Shoogy moves into a woodland cabin with Curtis, who has returned to Heaven, Ohio, after a tour of duty in Iraq. There, in the quiet, the two young people fall in love as they work through their own complicated, private grief. (S)

Day of Tears by Julius Lester

In 1859, Emma is a slave owned by Pierce Butler and caretaker of his two daughters. Pierce is a man with a mounting gambling debt and household to protect. Emma wants to teach his daughters—one who opposes slavery and one who supports it—to have kind hearts. Meanwhile, in a desperate bid to survive, Pierce decides to cash in his “assets” and host the largest slave auction in American history. And on that day, the skies open up and weep endlessly on the proceedings below, as more than 400 slaves are sold. (M, S)

Hotlanta by Denene Millner

The Duke twins, Sydney and Lauren, live the life: They attend the fanciest school in Atlanta, they live in Buckhead, the most exclusive neighborhood, and they only date the hottest guys. And their secrets? Are the darkest of all. When their estranged father is released from prison and a murder is committed, their lives are plunged into a whirlwind of tabloid scrutiny, vicious gossip, and shocking revelation. Lauren, always such a party girl, and Sydney, bent on perfection by way of the Ivy League, can’t trust anyone. Not their mother, not their rich stepfather. Maybe not even each other. (S)

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Joseph by Shelia P. Moses

Fourteen-year-old Joseph Flood is the victim of his mother Betty’s addictions to crack and alcohol. An African American boy living in a North Carolina ghetto neighborhood, Joseph has little chance for survival if his soldier father doesn’t come home soon from Iraq to sort out the mess into which Betty has gotten herself and their son. Living in a shelter and being bussed to yet another new school, Joseph’s life looks like it’s hitting bottom. He’s afraid to leave his mother, but he knows he needs to find his own path before it’s too late. (S)

47 by Walter Mosley

Number 47, a fourteen-year-old slave boy growing up under the watchful eye of a brutal master in 1832, meets the mysterious Tall John, who introduces him to a magical science and also teaches him the meaning of freedom. (M, S)

 
 
Street Love by Walter Dean Myers

In short lines of free verse, teens in Harlem tell a story of anger, loss, and love across social-class lines. Damien, 17, is a basketball champion and academic star, accepted into a top college. His parents want him to date middle-class Roxanne, but he falls in love with gorgeous Junice, 16, who is desperate to protect her little sister after their single-parent mom is sentenced to 25 years for dealing drugs. (S)

Monster by Walter Dean Myers

A Harlem drugstore owner was shot and killed in his store, and the word is that 16-year-old Steve Harmon served as the lookout. Was he involved or was he simply in the wrong place at the wrong time? An amateur filmmaker, Steve transcribes his trial into a movie script, showing scene by scene how his life was turned around in an instant. (S)

Game by Walter Dean Myers

Drew Lawson knows basketball is taking him places. It has to, because his grades certainly aren’t. But lately his plan has run squarely into a pick. Coach’s new offense has made another player a star, and Drew won’t let anyone disrespect his game. Just as his team makes the playoffs, Drew must come up with something big to save his fading college prospects. It’s all up to Drew to find out just how deep his game really is. (S)

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Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor

Sunny lives in Nigeria, but she was born American. Her features are African, but she’s albino. She’s a terrific athlete, but can’t go out into the sun to play soccer. There seems to be no place where she fits. And then she discovers something amazing – she is a “free agent,” with latent magical power. Soon she’s part of a quartet of magic students, studying the visible and invisible, learning to change reality. But will it be enough to help them when they are asked to catch a career criminal who knows magic too? (M, S)

 
 
Lost and Found by Anne Schraff

This, the first book in the Bluford Series, centers on the life of Bluford sophomore Darcy Wills. Darcy contends with the return of her long-absent father, the troubling behavior of her younger sister Jamee, and the beginning of her first relationship. (M, S)

If I Was Your Girl by Ni-Ni Simone

Seventeen year-old mother of a baby boy, Toi McKnight realizes that things are not the way she imagined they would be. Gone are her dreams of being a family with her baby’s father, Quamir, chilling with her friends, dressing in the flyest gear and attending college to become a teacher. She soon realizes that along with being a mother comes responsibilites and priorities come first. (S)

 
The Hoopster by Alan Lawrence Sitomer

Andre Anderson is an African American teenager with a bright future. He loves to play basketball. He loves to hang out with his friends. He loves to laugh. Andre has skills, brains, and heart. He also has a dream. Then he is viciously attacked. Now everything he ever believed about the world has been called into question—even his deadly jump shot. How can a man get up when he has been unjustly beaten down? Andre is about to find out. Andre is The Hoopster. (S)

Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith

All Ida Mae Jones wants to do is fly. Her daddy was a pilot, and years after his death she feels closest to him when she’s in the air. But as a young black woman in 1940s Louisiana, she knows the sky is off limits to her, until America enters World War II, and the Army forms the WASP – Women Airforce Service Pilots. Ida has a chance to fulfill her dream if she’s willing to use her light skin to pass as a white girl. She wants to fly more than anything, but Ida soon learns that denying one’s self and family is a heavy burden, and ultimately it’s not what you do but who you are that’s most important. (M, S)

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Black and White by Paul Volponi

Marcus and Eddie are best friends who found the strength to break through the racial barrier. Marcus is black; Eddie is white. Stars of their school basketball team, they are true leaders who look past the stereotypes and come out on top. They are inseparable, watching each other’s backs, both on and off the basketball court. But one night—and one wrong decision—will change their lives forever. Will their mistake cost them their friendship…and their future? (S)

Hurricane Song by Paul Volponi

When Miles’s mother remarries, Miles decides to move to New Orleans to be with his father. But he and his father are very different—Miles’s dad lives for jazz, while Miles’s first love is football. Then Hurricane Katrina hits, and the two must seek refuge in the Superdome. What would normally be a dream come true for a football fan, this safe haven turns into a nightmare when the power fails and gangs take over. And when his father decides to rebel, Miles must make a choice that will alter their relationship— and their lives—forever. (S)

 

Black Boy White School by Brian F. Walker

Anthony “Ant” Jones has never been outside his rough East Cleveland neighborhood when he’s given a scholarship to Belton Academy, an elite prep school in Maine. But at Belton things are far from perfect. Everyone calls him “Tony,” assumes he’s from Brooklyn, expects him to play basketball, and yet acts shocked when he fights back. As Anthony tries to adapt to a world that will never fully accept him, he’s in for a rude awakening: Home is becoming a place where he no longer belongs. (S)

 

Tutored by Allison Whittenberg

Hakiam Powell and Wendy Anderson are on opposite ends of the spectrum: social spectrum, financial spectrum, opportunity spectrum, you name it. But their divisions never seem sharper than the moment Hakiam steps into the tutoring center and meets Wendy at the front desk. She looks pretentious and uptight; he looks disheveled and disinterested. But for Wendy, Hakiam’s personality is a challenge, and for Hakiam, Wendy’s drive, honesty, and caring ways are fascinating. Both are in need of someone who will listen without judgment and can focus on the things that really matter. (M, S)

 

Sellout by Ebony Joy Wilkins

NaTasha has a wonderful life: she’s popular, wealthy, and being the only African American in her school has never even crossed her mind. So when she spends the summer with her grandmother, volunteering at a teen crisis center for girls in the Bronx, she’s surprised to find that for the first time in her life she doubts herself. The girls at Amber’s Place are rough, streetwise, and sure of themselves. They hate NaTasha. They call her a sellout. She could run back home, and everything would go back to normal. But there are two boys in the neighborhood who like her and back home she’s never had a boyfriend. And a couple of girls at the center have opened up to her, showing her a light at the end of the tunnel. So NaTasha stands her ground and discovers that friendship, love, and joyful self-discovery have been waiting for her all along. (M, S)

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Broken China by Lori Aurelia Williams

China Cup Cameron might miss school or fall asleep in class sometimes, but she’s trying hard to be a good mother to Amina, her two-year-old daughter. When tragedy befalls the small family, China must quit school and work full-time to make ends meet. But the only place in town that’s willing to hire a fourteen-year-old high-school dropout is Obsidian Queens, a strip club, and China is forced to make some difficult and potentially self-destructive decisions. (S)

 
When Kambia Elaine Flew In From Neptune by Lori Aurelia Williams

Shayla lives with her mother and her teenage sister, Tia, in a poor, rough area of Houston. While Tia, to her mother’s distress, has taken up with a local boy who is none-to-bright, Shayla becomes friends with Kambia Elaine, the strange girl who has moved in next door. (M, S)

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia

Eleven-year-old Delphine has it together. Even though her mother, Cecile, abandoned her and her younger sisters, Vonetta and Fern. When the girls arrive to stay with their mother in Oakland in the summer of 1968, Cecile wants nothing to do with them. She makes them eat Chinese takeout dinners, forbids them to enter her kitchen, and never explains the strange visitors with Afros and black berets who knock on her door. Rather than spend time with them, Cecile sends Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern to a summer camp sponsored by a revolutionary group, the Black Panthers, where the girls get a radical new education. (M)

Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolff

LaVaughn needed a part-time job, something she could do after school to help earn money for college. Jolly needed a babysitter, someone she could trust with two kids while she worked the evening shift. It didn’t matter that LaVaughn was fourteen – only three years younger than Jolly. It didn’t matter that Jolly didn’t have a husband – or a mom and dad – because LaVaughn gives Jolly and her two babies more love and understanding than should be possible for a fourteen-year-old, because if she doesn’t no one else will. (M, S)

After Tupac and D Foster by Jacqueline Woodson

The day D Foster enters Neeka and her best friend’s lives, the world opens up for them. Suddenly they’re keenly aware of things beyond their block in Queens, things that are happening in the world—like the shooting of Tupac Shakur—and in search of their Big Purpose in life. When—all too soon—D’s mom swoops in to reclaim her, and Tupac dies, they are left with a sense of how quickly things can change and how even all-too-brief connections can touch deeply. (M)

When the Black Girl Sings by Bil Wright

Lahni Schuler is the only black student at her private prep school. She’s also the adopted child of two loving, but white, parents who are on the road to divorce. Struggling to comfort her mother and angry with her dad, Lahni feels more and more alone. But when Lahni and her mother attend a local church one Sunday, Lahni hears the amazing gospel choir, and her life takes an unexpected turn. It so happens that one of Lahni’s teachers, Mr. Faringhelli, has nominated her for a talent competition, and she is expected to perform a song in front of the whole school. Lahni decides to join the church choir to help her become a better singer. But what starts out as a way to practice singing becomes a place of belonging and a means for Lahni to discover her own identity. (M, S)

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