Black History Month 2021: Some Books to Start You Off!
I love Black History Month. Honestly, I love any time when I can see Blackness as celebratory and on full display in a way that we choose. Where we are thriving and vibing, rather than simply surviving. As the saying goes Black is beautiful! When we show out, we do it in the best way. I do not ever want to erase the years of suffering that our ancestors went through, that we still go through. That trauma is there, and it is real. As we focus on Black History Month wee cannot forget that.
Yet being Black does not just mean being in pain. It cannot mean only that. I am tired of seeing narratives where all it shows is us being tired. More than anything what I love is to see Black joy. And so, for the start of Black History Month, I am listing below some of the books I have reviewed in the past that contain these multitudes.
These books are from a few different genres, and each of them tells a different story. A lot of them do include pain, but as I said they also include moments of joy, of family, of togetherness, and of triumph, each in their own unique way. Thes books aren’t about Black History Month. Instead, I selected books I read in 2020 and had fun with. I hope you do as well! The links included here all lead to longer reviews I have written for each book.
Note: This page contains affiliate links. If you choose to purchase after clicking a link, I may receive a commission at no extra cost to you.
A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow
The world of A Song Before Water is incredibly like our own, with a few key differences. Primarily, many of the fantastic beings of legend, in our world relegated to myth, are instead fully realized and recognized here. That recognition, however, comes at a cost. For protagonist Tavia, the cost is that she must keep her status as a siren completely secret. In the past, people knew sirens across a spectrum of identities. Nevertheless, in the contemporarily they are exclusively known to be Black women. This extra layer of persecution is a major theme. Morrow uses the fantastical context as a bridge to show how Black lives, and particularly the lives of Black women, are disregarded and undervalued. At the same time, it shows the strength of Black women and highlights the tight bonds formed within Black communities.
Buy A Song Below Water on Bookshop.org (If this is out of stock try your local bookstore!)
Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron
Cinderella is Dead is a Cinderella story unlike any other. For one thing, Cinderella really has been dead for 200 years. Her story served up on a platter as reasoning for why women should be forced to go to the yearly ball. The ball that forces them into either marriage, death, or a fate worse than.
Cinderella is Dead can be a tough read. The culture of Lille, the kingdom in which the story is set, is filled with misogyny. Yet it is clear that there is an enduring legacy of women who have fought against the patriarchal norms. While Sophia is the first dissenting voice we hear, she is far from the first, last, or only. Cinderella is Dead has a plethora of amazing female characters. Some whom have unfortunate fates, some whom are not what they seem, and some whom absolutely shine.
Buy Cinderella is Dead at Bookshop.org (If this is out of stock try your local bookstore!)
Legendborn by Tracy Deonn
The protagonist of Legendborn, Bree, absolutely thrives in her Blackness! It’s in a way that I have not experienced in any other book I have read. To pinpoint what, I love most about this book, it’s the seamless way that the mundane and the magical are blended. This allows for a main character that I can identify with better than I ever have with another protagonist.
For all that I love Legendborn, I caution potential readers that a certain amount of emotional preparedness is required to read the book. Legendborn tackles grief head on, and opens with the death of Bree’s mother. Bree’s grief and the trauma from this incident are what fuel the narrative of the novel. Bree’s belief that her mother’s death may not have been an accident is the catalyst for her to join the Order of the Round Table. The secret society just may hold the key to getting the answers she needs.
Buy Legendborn at Bookshop.org (If this is out of stock try your local bookstore!)
Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko
Raybearer tells the story of Tarsai, a girl who has been commanded and compelled by her mother to kill the crowned prince of the Arit Empire as soon as she is anointed as part of his coveted circle of Eleven. Yet there is a catch. She cannot be anointed until she loves him.
More than anything, Raybearer pushes the boundaries of what it means to be family to one another. In terms of friendship, in terms of blood, and in terms of romance. Raybearer also pushes forth the question of how to settle cultural differences in a blended Empire. Seeds are planted towards the beginning of the book which eventually burst forth into blooming flowers. Tensions rise between those from the different realms of the Arit Empire and conflict erupts. The leading events and the harsh Imperial response are integral to the book. They speak to more than this fictional universe alone, but to all notions of Empire and the nuances and similarities of assimilation and oppression.
Buy Raybearer at Bookshop.org (If this is out of stock try your local bookstore!)
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
The Vanishing Half is an intergenerational series of narratives woven together that spans decades and snakes across the country. It starts in the fictional town of Mallard, Louisiana — a place so small it never appears on any map — and travels to New Orleans. Characters find themselves in Boston, D.C., Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New York, and places both in between and further abroad.
The lives of twinsDesiree and Stella lay at the heart of the book. They are deescribed as youths as either one person split into two or two people poured into one. They are inseparable…. Until Stella makes what Desiree considers an unthinkable choice to ‘cross over’ and live her life as a white woman. In time, the narrative begins to follow Jude, Desiree’s unquestionably Black, dark-skinned, daughter, and Kennedy, Stella’s daughter, who has never known herself to be anything but white. The themes of family and community run deep in this story. While there is deep pain that is perhaps beyond healing, there is also a hope. Prominent features of the book are acceptance and queer identity.
Buy The Vanishing Half at Bookshop.org (If this is out of stock try your local bookstore!)
You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson
Liz Lighty, the protagonist of You Should See Me in a Crown, is a delight. She is a character who makes mistakes, who learns from them, and who gets a chance to set things right. In this book you get the chance to see her live her dreams. You also see her fall and get back up again. The romance in this story is awkward and fun and dramatic in the best way.
Liz changes so much about her outer self and her presentation throughout this book. Its conceit is that she needs to change her self-image from that of an outsider to someone capable of winning prom queen. Liz has not received the elusive music scholarship she applied for and needs the prize money. Nevetheless, at her core Liz stays true to herself. When it matters, she prioritizes what is most important to her inner self — her family, her friendships, her relationships, and the things that bring her true joy.
Buy You Should See Me in a Crown at Bookshop.org (If this is out of stock try your local bookstore!)
I hope that this Black History Month is one of joy. Black History Month is about more that history — it’s also about kinship in the present and coming together.