Young black teenager with braids, reading a book in a library.

Black History Month: Books for Teens Representing the Black Experience

Black History Month is an essential time for young people to cultivate cultural awareness, understanding, and self-education. It is a time to celebrate, support, and turn up the volume on the black voices of the younger generations. One way for teens to honor and celebrate this year is to dive head first and nose deep into the stunning literature of young black authors leading the movement to share stories representing the black experience for the modern world. To get started, check out our black history month book list for teens.

Call Us What We Carry by Amanda Gorman

#1 New York Times bestselling author and youngest presidential inaugural poet in US history, Amanda Gorman’s, debut poetry collection includes famed poem “The Hill We Climb” read at the 46th Presidential Inauguration of Joe Biden. The book explores identity and history along with grief, hope, and healing, among other powerful themes. Named by Urban Word the first-ever National Youth Poet Laureate of the United States in 2017, Amanda Gorman is an absolute inspiration to all, especially teens, striving to achieve their literary dreams.

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

Kiley Reid’s breakout novel explores issues of race and class as it details the story of a young black woman wrongly accused of kidnapping. The story reveals white guilt and white privilege in literary form. A New York Times bestseller and nominee for the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work for Debut Author, this book has become a rapid success since its publishing in 2019. 

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

A young adult novel written in free verse, Long Way Down is a story of a fifteen year old boy’s determination to avenge the murder of his brother. Themes of grief and gun violence permeate this book which has received multiple awards including Printz Honor Book, Coretta Scott King author award, and Newbery Honor. Reynolds has been appointed as the Library of Congress’ National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. He serves as an insightful role model and voice for the young generation. 

Black Sunday by Tola Rotimi Abraham

Abraham’s debut novel, Black Sunday, details the lives of twin sisters from Nigeria, and their two younger brothers, sent along different paths by political and social conflict. The book covers themes of violence, poverty, family, religion, and abandonment through the alternating perspectives of each sibling. Named a Kirkus Reviews’ Best Fiction Book of the Year, this heart-wrenching story reveals life’s real struggles, providing a keen window for understanding. 

Real Life by Brandon Taylor

This coming of age novel explores the story of a gay, black, biochemistry student who is consistenly condescended to and underestimated in a predominantly white environment. The story encompasses themes of race, sexuality, loneliness, and trauma. Chosen for a New York Times Editors’ Choice award, and shortlisted for additional awards, Brandon Taylor’s debut book reveals hardship through compelling literature. 

Homie by Danez Smith

In a collection of poetry, Danez Smith’s work Homie examines friendship, racism, and xenophobia. Smith’s book was a finalist for both the 2021 NAACP Image Award for Poetry and the 2021 Publishing Triangle’s Thom Gunn Award for Gay Poetry as well as a winner of the 2020 Minnesota Book Award for Poetry and the 2020 Heartland Bookseller Award for Poetry. Highly acclaimed, the power of friendship represented in these poems demonstrate with urgency the need to love.

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

Brit Bennet’s Historical Fiction novel examines the lives of twin sisters leading entirely different lives. One, living in the same small town she grew up in with her black daughter, and the other passing for white in a new city. #1 New York Times Bestseller and Goodreads Choice Awards Winner for Best Historical Fiction, the story explores themes of family alongside the historical context of passing. A timely read during black history month, teens can learn about the concepts from the past that have contributed to the society we live in today.

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

This poetic young adult novel and coming of age story is about a young girl who finds slam poetry as a means to help her understand herself, her mother’s religion, and her place in the world. By renowned slam poet Elizabeth Acevdeo, the story covers themes of sexuality, religion, and family. Winner of the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, Carnegie Medal, and the Golden Kite Award for Young Adult Fiction, this book comes with high praise. 

At Tilly’s Life Center, we are passionate about supporting, cultivating, and celebrating young black voices. As many of these books incorporate a variety of adult themes such as violence, abuse, and trauma, for young readers, we recommend parents and educators evaluate books for appropriateness based on age level and maturity. This book list for teens is only a jumping off point for those who want to begin, or continue, immersion into the literary world of the young and talented black authors telling their brilliant stories. It is our hope that as teens read these powerful stories, they open a door to their own voices, beginning to unlock what could be their greatest inspiration to shine brightly in whatever they do.