Something is going on with YA literature. And it is amazing.

African American women authors speaking to the racial pains and injustices in our country through narrative. Dedications of warmth/love/hope to those struggling and hurting and feeling pain.

  • See Justina Ireland’s dedication in Dread Nation:
    • For all the colored girls. I see you. < 3

Afterwords speaking to police brutality and the slaughter of unarmed black men at the hands of police.

  • See Jewell Parker Rhodes’s afterword in Ghost Boys.
  • Read Tomi Adeyemi’s afterword to Children of Blood and Bone.

I’m not sure how I stumbled onto these recent works. I don’t browse YA stacks at my local library because I don’t want to scare away the teens hanging out there. Old men like me need not be there. I don’t work in middle schools or high schools or with public school libraries who know what is out there. I don’t teach fiction and haven’t taken a fiction class since my first semester as an MA student; and that was modern poetry. (God bless Elizabeth Bishop; that was tough stuff).

But I try to keep a pulse on popular culture. I flip through Entertainment Weekly, scroll Twitter. And it was EW and Twitter that pointed me in this direction. EW did a feature piece on Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give, a novel about the murder of a young black man by police. Coming soon to our theaters.

I knew I needed to read it. I need to hear these stories and feel these hurts.

My local library had a waiting list of 45 patrons. Good / not good.

On Twitter later that day: Steve Price at Mississippi College tweeted about Parker Rhodes’s Ghost Boys, another novel of a young black kid gunned down by police. The boy, Jerome, meets other ghost boys, including Emmitt Till. I read it quickly, feeling the poetic rhythm of Parker Rhodes’s prose. Had trouble sleeping that night. Finished it in the morning with a heavy sigh.

And then onto Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing, an adult novel and required reading for incoming Duke students.

Then Elizabeth Acevedo’s The Poet X, a novel in verse about a Dominican-American pre-teen grappling with boys, religion, struggling to find her voice. Turns to slam poetry. Read it quickly. Handed it to my sister-in-law to read.

Then Children of Blood and Bone at the beach with the in-laws, a fantasy novel with black names, black characters, black culture. Because, for some reason, all people in Lord of the Rings are white, because, for some reason, there are only a smattering of people of color in the whole darn George Lucas/Mickey Mouse galaxy, because, for some reason, we can imagine a boy wizard and quidditch, but we cannot imagine more than a smattering (if that) of characters who do not have white skin.

YA novels are saying things other mediums are not. Keep talking, writers. I’m trying to listen and learn and grow.


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