Since its release in 2017, The Hate U Give has appeared on the NYT Best Sellers list. The novel is destined to become a timeless classic because of the impactful and personal way it addresses social justice issues. Told from the POV of a Black teen girl whose friend is killed by a police officer, Angie Thomas’ debut depicts a realistic and jarring account of anti-Black racism and police brutality. The YA books listed below raise awareness of the barriers Black people face in an unequal society and are critical reads for understanding and dismantling systemic racism.
(Note that many of these books have trigger warnings for racist violence, police brutality, and various forms of assault and abuse.)
1. This is My America, by Kim Johnson
For seven years, Tracy Beaumont has been writing letters to the Innocence X organization to save her wrongly incarcerated father from death row. But she’s running out of time. When police accuse her older brother, Jamal, of killing a white girl, his reputation as a promising track star is scarred. In a town that treats her family with fear and scorn, Tracy vows to uncover the truth and clear her brother’s name. With a mystery plot that will keep you turning pages, This is My America challenges the problems of the American justice system, intergenerational trauma, and mass incarceration.
2. Dear Martin, by Nic Stone
Justyce McAllister is excelling in school and planning to attend an Ivy League university, but the police officer who accosts him one night doesn’t care. To cope with the traumatic experience and resulting judgement from his peers, he writes a journal containing letters to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in search of advice and encouragement. But when he and his friend go out for a drive, they catch the attention of an off-duty cop, and a violent altercation takes place. In the tragic aftermath, the media presents Justyce as the bad guy, even as he struggles to come to terms with what happened. In Dear Martin, Stone tackles the issues of toxic masculinity, racial profiling, and internalized racism, amongst other critical themes.
3. Tyler Johnson Was Here, by Jay Coles
Twins Marvin and Tyler Johnson are drifting apart, so when Tyler invites Marvin to a party, the latter reluctantly tags along to keep his brother out of trouble. However, things at the party implode with the occurrence of a gang shooting and a subsequent police raid. Tyler goes missing the next day, and Marvin discovers that Tyler has been shot and killed by a police officer. Burdened with discrimination at school, his father’s incarceration, and now his brother’s murder, Marvin must face his fears and seek justice while navigating a world of grief in Tyler Johnson Was Here.
4. Grown, by Tiffany D. Jackson
Seventeen-year-old Enchanted Jones knows two things: her memory of the night before is hazy, and the famous R&B artist Korey Fields is lying in a pool of blood. Before she becomes the prime suspect, Enchanted is an aspiring singer trying to find her place as the only Black girl in school after her family’s move. When Korey Fields spots her at an audition, he offers her singing lessons and an opportunity to join his tour, but things turn bad quickly as she falls prey to his abusive and controlling nature. Grown is yet another breathtaking and thrilling novel by Tiffany D. Jackson that must be added to your bookshelf.
5. All American Boys, by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
Rashad is beaten up by a police officer for no reason, other than that he’s a Black boy in baggy clothes who accidentally dropped a bag of chips at the convenience store. Now he’s recovering in the hospital and absent from school, reflecting on the injustice of his experience. Quinn is a white boy who witnessed the brutality, but he keeps it to himself because he knows the cop personally and thinks he misunderstood the situation. Quinn soon realizes he can’t be a bystander if he wants to stay on the right side of history and decides to take a stand. All American Boys follows two separate POVs–a Black boy and a white boy–and how each of them navigates their place in a racist world.
6. Slay, by Brittney Morris
Honours student Kiera Johnson is one of the few Black students at her school. She secretly creates an online, Black-centred role-playing card game called SLAY, the only place where she feels she fits in. When someone is killed as a result of a dispute in the game, media depicts it as a virtual space for gangs and an anonymous troll threatens to sue Kiera for her exclusion of white people. While trying to defend her game and keep herself out of the public eye, Kiera learns to embrace her identity even when others try to vilify it. Slay is a STEM-focused book that also discusses themes of toxic masculinity and intersectional feminism.
7. Punching the Air, by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam
Written in verse, Punching the Air follows the story of Amal Shahid, a boy unjustly incarcerated by the system that works against him. Amal is an artist and poet enrolled in art school, but he is still labelled with racist stereotypes. When a violent altercation takes place between Amal’s friends and a group of racist boys, one of them ends up in a coma. Amal does not receive the same lenience as the white boys do, and he is sent to prison for a crime he didn’t commit. To fight against the injustice and define his humanity, he turns to his art and hopes his words might have the power for change.
8. The Black Kids, by Christina Hammonds Reed
At the end of their senior year, Ashley Bennett and her friends are ready to soak up the summer. When four police officers are acquitted after beating a Black man with excessive force, protests take over Los Angeles. Ashley tries to pretend nothing has happened, uncomfortable with the attention she gets for her Blackness. However, her emotional sister gets involved in the riots, her family’s affluent social status is at risk, and Ashley unintentionally spreads a rumour about a fellow Black classmate that could ruin his life. Ashley must decide where she belongs before her world completely falls apart. Set against the 1992 Rodney King riots, The Black Kids is a coming-of-age story that explores the main character’s personal growth as much as it makes a social commentary.
9. I’m Not Dying with You Tonight, by Kimberly Jones and Gilly Segal
Lena and Campbell go to the same school, but they have nothing in common. Popular Lena is ready to take over the world with her boyfriend at her side, while Campbell has just moved to the area and wants to survive the rest of high school without incident. When they both attend a football game where a fight escalates into neighbourhood riots, they must rely on each other to get home safely. I’m Not Dying with You Tonight is a fast-paced exploration of a budding friendship between a Black and white girl that also alludes to racial tension in their community.