In the last few years, there has been a boom in Black authors creating and publishing YA books. Many of them are even becoming instant classics, joining the ranks of notable books like Harry Potter, Hunger Games, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower. As a POC who has been obsessed with Young Adult (YA) books since before I even entered the target audience, I really appreciate that diverse stories are finally being told. So, as a part of Black history month, here’s a list of some of the best YA books written by Black authors that feature a Black female lead.
Note: Although this list has been personally curated, some of the links in this post are affiliate links and if you go through them to make a purchase we may earn a commission. This helps us with website maintenance costs as an independent media source.
Tochi Onyebuchi, author of Riot Baby
Massachusetts born Tochi Onyebuchi is a Yale, NYU Tische, and Columbia graduate who has dabbled in the worlds of tech, criminal justice, and immigration law. His vast range of experience and education is on full display in the short science fiction stories Black Enough: Stories of Being Young & Black in America. Most recently he published his most anticipated book thus far — Riot Baby — a short but intense book about a boy who was born during the Rodney King riots, and his sister who discovers her immense power.
Tomi Adeyemi, author of Children of Blood and Bone
Tomi Adeyemi is a Nigerian-American novelist who earned a seven-figure contract deal for her 2018 debut novel, Children of Blood and Bone. If that wasn’t impressive enough, she landed her book deal at just 24 years old. The book itself blends Nigerian culture with magical realism and includes Yoruba gods. One of the reasons she felt compelled to write the novel was because of the backlash of the Black characters in the Hunger Games. She wanted to make a book so good that “even racists would want to read it.”
Angie Thomas, author of The Hate You Give
Angie Thomas is the #1 NYT best-selling author of The Hate You Give. Born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi, Thomas was exposed to gun violence from a very young age, having witnessed a shootout at just six-years-old. One day, a professor told her that her personal experiences could be used to make an impact. That’s when she decided to write The Hate You Give. The story follows a young Black teen who witnesses the murder of her best friend by a white police officer. The novel is a reflection of the current issues facing Black Americans with police brutality and was created with the intent of giving a voice to those who have been silenced.
Claire Kann likes to create contemporary love stories, especially those featuring young Black queer women. In Let’s Talk About Love, Kann introduces the world to Alice, an asexual biromantic Nigerian-American girl who navigates her struggles at home with her strict family and an intercultural relationship with her Japanese boyfriend, Takumi. Her second novel, If It Makes You Happy is a coming-of-age novel that tackles themes of fatphobia, queerplatonic relationships, depression, racism, misogyny, emotional abuse and many others.
Nicola Yoon’s work is influenced by her very multicultural family. She herself is of Jamaican-American heritage and her husband is Korean. She’s stated that her main reason for writing books is so that her children are able to see themselves, and their parentage, reflected in the media. Both of her books, Everything, Everything and The Sun is Also a Star feature interracial pairings and were made into blockbuster movies.
L.L. McKinney, author of A Blade So Black
L.L. McKinney is best known for her novel, A Black So Black, a contemporary retelling of Alice in Wonderland featuring a Black female lead. The story is full of magical realism, incredible fight sequences, and a beautiful portrayal of the relationship between a Black mother and her daughter. Aside from writing, L.L. McKinney is also an activist. In 2020, she created the Twitter hashtag PublishingPaidMe to show the disparities in book advances for authors of color.
Justina Ireland, author of Dread Nation
Have you ever wondered what would’ve happened if the dead began to rise during the Civil War? Wonder no further, Justina Ireland has already written it. In her debut novel, Dread Nation, slaves are freed and must fight alongside their white counterparts to make sure that the dead stay dead. There is even a Native and Negro Education Act which requires children to attend combat school. Dread Nation is provocative. It features strong Black female characters. It also addresses racism, humanity, and sexism among other things. Ireland herself is a professor of Creative Writing at the York College of Pennsylvania and works for the U.S. Navy in addition to being an author.
Ibi Zoboi, author of Pride
Ibi Zoboi is the Haitian-American author of Pride, a novel that exposes the reality of gentrification. The story features Afro-Latina Zuri Benitez, who does everything in her power to stop the shifting nature of her Brooklyn neighborhood, but willpower alone doesn’t seem to be enough. Zoboi crafts a thought-provoking story of class and identity and it’s complete with the beauty of experiencing your first love.
Elise Bryant, author of Happily Ever Afters
Elise Bryant is a special education teacher in Southern Los Angeles, whose debut novel, Happily Ever Afters, was just released a few weeks ago. It follows the story of Tessa Johnson who begins attending a prestigious creative writing program, but is lacking in story ideas. She’s encouraged to go out and create her own love story in order to find that inspiration. It’s a simple yet sweet romance that doesn’t go too much into the complexities of race. It’s perfect for young Black readers who just want to be romanced.
This is just a short list of Black authors who have written YA books. There are so many more being published every day. Honestly, I can’t wait to read what other stories Black authors come up with!
Written by Jada Davis