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 check 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 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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