“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.” – James Baldwin
Everyone deserves to see themselves reflected in the books that they read. That’s why I’ve compiled the following collection of recommended reads. These are books I have read, have in either the school library or my classroom, and which I have seen young people form real connections with.
Before you start reading the list, please I can just plug the publishers Knights Of and their bookshop Round Table books. They are an inclusive publishers with an inclusive bookshop, run by some incredible people who have done amazing things in the one year they’ve been running. They exist to celebrate underrepresented children’s books, writers and illustrators. They’re currently not ready to reopen the store, but please keep a close eye here for when that changes. And then buy *all* the books!
(From left to right.)
Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman
Sephy is a Cross: dark-skinned and beautiful, she lives a life of privilege and power. But she’s lonely, and burns with injustice at the world she sees around her. Callum is a nought: pale-skinned and poor, he’s considered to be less than nothing – a blanker, there to serve Crosses – but he dreams of a better life. They’ve been friends since they were children, and they both know that’s as far as it can ever go. Noughts and Crosses are fated to be bitter enemies – love is out of the question. Then – in spite of a world that is fiercely against them – these star-crossed lovers choose each other. But this is love story that will lead both of them into terrible danger . . . and which will have shocking repercussions for generations to come.
Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds
When the bell rings and school is finished for the day, the walkers are finally set free. For ten blocks they have no-one telling them what to do; they can talk about bogies, skateboard, plan dramatic escapes, make jokes, face bullies, and hear about the school bus that fell from the sky… In ten stories (one per block), find out what really happens on the walk home from school, when there are no parents or teachers to supervise (or stop the fun!). From hilarious escapades to brave challenges, join the walkers for one journey and many, many detours…
Opposite of Always by Justin A. Reynolds
When Jack and Kate meet at a party, he knows he’s falling – hard. Soon she’s meeting his best friends and Kate wins them over as easily as she did Jack. But then Kate dies. And their story should end there. Yet Kate’s death sends Jack back to the beginning, the moment they first meet, and Kate’s there again. Healthy, happy, and charming as ever. Jack isn’t sure if he’s losing his mind.Still, if he has a chance to prevent Kate’s death, he’ll take it. Even if that means believing in time travel. However, Jack will learn that his actions are not without consequences. And when one choice turns deadly for someone else close to him, he has to figure out what he’s willing to do to save the people he loves.
Home Girl by Alex Wheatle
When Naomi, a fourteen-year-old white girl, is placed with a black foster care family, her life takes some dramatic twists and turns. ‘This isn’t my home. Haven’t had a proper home since . . . This is just somewhere I’ll be resting my bones for a week and maybe a bit. This time next year you’ll forget who I am. I haven’t got a diddly where I’ll be by then. But I’m used to it.’
Black Flamingo by Dean Atta
This is not about being ready, it’s not even about being fierce, or fearless, IT’S ABOUT BEING FREE. Michael waits in the stage wings, wearing a pink wig, pink fluffy coat and black heels. One more step will see him illuminated by spotlight. He has been on a journey of bravery to get here, and he is almost ready to show himself to the world in bold colours … Can he emerge as The Black Flamingo?
The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton
If you could change everything about yourself, would you? Should you? Camellia and her sisters control beauty. They are Belles and they can make you ‘perfect’. Glossy hair, smooth skin, flawless body. You’ll feel better once it’s done. The results are worth the pain. And when they fade, the Belles will fix you all over again . . . But beauty has a price . . . What would you give to be beautiful?
Tyler Johnson Was Here by Jay Coles
When Marvin Johnson’s twin, Tyler, goes to a party, Marvin decides to tag along to keep an eye on his brother. But what starts as harmless fun turns into a shooting, followed by a police raid. The next day, Tyler has gone missing, and it’s up to Marvin to find him. But when Tyler is found dead, a video leaked online tells an even more chilling story: Tyler has been shot and killed by a police officer. Terrified as his mother unravels and mourning a brother who is now a hashtag, Marvin must learn what justice and freedom really mean.
Dear Martin by Nic Stone
Justyce McAllister is top of his class and set for the Ivy League – but none of that matters to the police officer who just put him in handcuffs. And despite leaving his rough neighbourhood behind, he can’t escape the scorn of his former peers or the ridicule of his new classmates. Justyce looks to the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for answers. But do they hold up anymore? He starts a journal to Dr. King to find out.
Then comes the day Justyce goes driving with his best friend, Manny, windows rolled down, music turned up – way up, sparking the fury of a white off-duty police officer beside them. Words fly. Shots are fired. Justyce and Manny are caught in the crosshairs. In the media fallout, it’s Justyce who is under attack.
Slay by Brittney Morris
By day, seventeen-year-old Kiera Johnson is a college student, and one of the only black kids at Jefferson Academy. By night, she joins hundreds of thousands of black gamers who duel worldwide in the secret online role-playing card game, SLAY. No one knows Kiera is the game developer – not even her boyfriend, Malcolm. But when a teen in Kansas City is murdered over a dispute in the SLAY world, the media labels it an exclusionist, racist hub for thugs. With threats coming from both inside and outside the game, Kiera must fight to save the safe space she’s created. But can she protect SLAY without losing herself?
Rose, Interrupted by Patrice Lawrence
Eighteen months ago, 17-year-old Rose and 13-year-old Rudder escaped a strict religious sect with their mum. They are still trying to make sense of the world outside – no more rules about clothes and books, films and music, no more technology bans. But also no more friendship with the people they’ve known all their lives, no community and no certainty. It doesn’t help that their mum has to work all hours to pay rent on their cramped, smelly, one-bed flat above a kebab shop in Hackney. While Rudder gorges on once-taboo Harry Potters and dances to Simon and Garfunkel and show tunes, Rose swaps the ankle skirts and uncut hair of the Woodford Pilgrims for Japanese-cute fairy dress and her new boyfriend, Kye. Kye, who she wants with all her being. But there’s loads of scary stuff about their new life that Rose and Rudder have no idea how to handle – it’s normal for girls to let their boyfriends take naked pictures of them, right?When Rudder accidently sets a devastating chain of events into action, Rose must decide whether to sacrifice everything and go back to the life she hates, in order to save the people she loves.
Booked by Kwame Alexander
Twelve-year-old Nick is a football-mad boy who absolutely hates books. In this follow-up to the Newbery-winning novel The Crossover, football, family, love, and friendship take centre stage as Nick tries to figure out how to navigate his parents’ break-up, stand up to bullies, and impress the girl of his dreams. These challenges – which seem even harder than scoring a tie-breaking, game-winning goal – change his life, as well as his best friend’s. This energetic novel-in-verse by the poet Kwame Alexander captures all the thrills and setbacks, the action and emotion of a World Cup match.
Oh My Gods by Alexandra Sheppard
Life as a half-mortal teenager should be epic. But, for Helen Thomas, it’s tragic. She’s just moved in with her dorky dad and self-absorbed older siblings – who happen to be the ancient Greek gods, living incognito in London! Between keeping her family’s true identities secret, trying to impress her new friends, and meeting an actually cute boy, Helen’s stress levels are higher than Mount Olympus.She needs to rein in her chaotic family before they blow their cover AND her chances at a half-normal social life. Or is Helen fated for an embarrassment of mythical proportions?
On The Come Up by Angie Thomas
Bri wants to be one of the greatest rappers of all time. As the daughter of an underground hip hop legend who died right before he hit big, Bri’s got massive shoes to fill. But when her first song goes viral for all the wrong reasons, Bri finds herself at the centre of controversy and portrayed by the media as more menace than MC. And with an eviction notice staring her family down, Bri no longer just wants to make it – she has to. Even if it means becoming the very thing the public has made her out to be.
A Blade So Black by L.L. McKinney
The first time the Nightmares came, it nearly cost Alice her life. Now she’s trained to battle monstrous creatures in the dark dream realm known as Wonderland with magic weapons and hardcore fighting skills. Yet even warriors have a curfew. Life in real-world Atlanta isn’t always so simple, as Alice juggles an overprotective mom, a high-maintenance best friend, and a slipping GPA. Keeping the Nightmares at bay is turning into a full-time job. But when Alice’s handsome and mysterious mentor is poisoned, she has to find the antidote by venturing deeper into Wonderland than she’s ever gone before. And she’ll need to use everything she’s learned in both worlds to keep from losing her head… literally.
The Sun Is Also A Star by Nicola Yoon
Natasha: I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Falling in love with him won’t be my story. Daniel: I’ve always been the good son, the good student, living up to my parents’ high expectations. Never the poet. Or the dreamer. But when I see her, I forget about all that. Something about Natasha makes me think that fate has something much more extraordinary in store—for both of us. The Universe: Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true?
In The Skin I’m In by Sharon G.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?
Crossover by Kwame Alexander
12-year-old Josh and his twin Jordan have basketball in their blood. They’re kings of the court, star players for their school team. Their father used to be a champion player and they each want nothing more than to follow in his footsteps. Both on and off the court, there is conflict and hardship which will test Josh’s bond with his brother. In this heartfelt novel in verse, the boys find that life doesn’t come with a play-book and it’s not all about winning.
Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
After Will’s brother is shot in a gang crime, he knows the next steps. Don’t cry. Don’t snitch. Get revenge. So he gets in the lift with Shawn’s gun, determined to follow The Rules. Only when the lift door opens, Buck walks in, Will’s friend who died years ago. And Dani, who was shot years before that. As more people from his past arrive, Will has to ask himself if he really knows what he’s doing.
And The Stars Were Burning Brightly by Danielle Jawando
When fifteen-year-old Nathan discovers that his older brother Al, has taken his own life, his whole world is torn apart. Al was special. Al was talented. Al had so many dreams … so why did he do it? Convinced that his brother was in trouble, Nathan decides to retrace Al’s footsteps. As he does, he meets Megan, Al’s former classmate, who is as determined as Nathan to keep Al’s memory alive. Together they start seeking answers, but will either of them be able to handle the truth about Al’s death when they eventually discover what happened?
Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo
Xiomara has always kept her words to herself. When it comes to standing her ground in her Harlem neighbourhood, she lets her fists and her fierceness do the talking. But X has secrets – her feelings for a boy in her bio class, and the notebook full of poems that she keeps under her bed. And a slam poetry club that will pull those secrets into the spotlight. Because in spite of a world that might not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to stay silent.
The Children of Virtue and Vengeance by Tomi Adeyemi
After battling the impossible, Zélie and Amari have finally succeeded in bringing magic back to the land of Orïsha. But the ritual was more powerful than they could’ve imagined, reigniting the powers of not only the maji, but of nobles with magic ancestry, too. Now, Zélie struggles to unite the maji in an Orïsha where the enemy is just as powerful as they are. But with civil war looming on the horizon, Zélie finds herself at a breaking point: she must discover a way to bring the kingdom together or watch as Orïsha tears itself apart.
Crongton Knights by Alex Wheatle
Living on the South Crongton council estate has its worries – and life for McKay has been even tougher since his mum died. His dad has been working all hours to keep the bailiffs from their door. His brother is always out riding the streets at night, tempting trouble And now, having strayed off his turf on a ‘heroic’ (if misguided) mission to help out a girl, McKay finds himself facing a friend’s crazy ex-boyfriend, some power-tripping hood-rats and a notoriously violent gangster with a vendetta which hits too close to home. Poor McKay. He never asked for trouble . . . But during one madcap night of adventure and danger, he will find out who his true friends are and what it means to stick with your family.
Some Places More Than Others by
Face by Benjamin Zephaniah
In the moving and compelling debut novel from Benjamin Zephaniah, a young man’s life is completely changed when his face is badly scarred in a car accident. Martin seems to have it all. He’s cool, funny, and he’s the undisputed leader of the Gang of Three, who roam their East London estate during the holidays looking for fun. But one night after the Gang leave a late night rap club, Martin accepts a ride from Pete, a Raider’s Posse gang member. Too late, he realises that the car is stolen, and that the police are after them. What happens next will change Martin’s life and looks, and show him the true meaning of strength, courage, discrimination and friendship.