Dear every single Black author who dropped a book today,
As an avid reader, I gracefully thank you for giving me material to make up the longest summer to be read (TBR) list in the history of summer TBRs. The wide variety of books that started off the month is not only compelling but absolutely beautiful. It’s amazing to see how many authors are embracing their characters and pouring unconditional love into the work they’re doing, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction, memoir or poetry, or even a smattering of young adult and new adult novels.
The young adult books this week encapsulate Black joy and love and pain. The long-awaited second novel from The Sun Is Also a Star author Nicola Yoon has a touch of magical realism mixed with ballroom dance competitions and a male protagonist who goes by one letter alone. Bethany C. Morrow gives us a literary conversation about literal Black Girl Magic, offering multiple points of view and storylines across two different novels.
We also really do appreciate a good mystery/thriller over here, and combined with 1920s Harlem Renaissance and a love befitting Pride Month, Dead Dead Girls by Nekesa Afia is a page-turning comedic mystery bound to have you wanting for more. Seven Days in June by Tia Williams follows two authors who haven’t seen each other in over a decade but have remained in communication through their published works, all the while pretending to be strangers.
Clint Smith’s How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America, is both an honoring and exposé of slavery’s legacy in America and how this nation is built upon the experiences, blood, sweat and tears of the formerly enslaved.
It’s only the second day of June and already there are narratives upon narratives that explore Black love, life, pain and joy to keep you occupied and engaged all summer long.
A Chorus Rises: A Song Below Water Novel – Bethany C. Morrow (Young Adult)
Naema Bradshaw is an Eloko—a charismatic person with the gift of a perfect, melodious voice everyone loves—and she is adored by all. That is, until she’s cast as the villain responsible for exposing a siren to the world. Dragged by the media, Naema escapes to the Southwest, where she is met with open arms by a group of fans who would do absolutely anything for her. At first, it’s a comfort, but Naema soon realizes that these “fans” are attacking other Black girls online, and though the influence of her fame can only get her so far, the reality of her real power can do so much more.
Written in conversation with Morrow’s A Song Below Water (featured below), A Chorus Rises looks at the perils of racism and sexism in a young Black girl’s life through the lens of fantasy and magical realism.
June 1, 2021, Macmillan Publishers
A Song Below Water: A Novel – Bethany C. Morrow (Young Adult)
“Young, Black and secretly magical.” Diving into the challenges of racism and sexism young women have to deal with today, A Song Below Water follows Tavia as she navigates her junior year of high school while keeping her siren powers under lock and key. Her best friend, Effie, is dealing with her own family struggles, thrown to the literal demons of her past. At the absolute worst moment possible, Tavia accidentally sets her magical voice free in the wake of a siren murder that shakes the nation to its core. As their hometown crumbles around them, Tavia and Effie cling to their unbreakable sisterhood to save themselves from falling into the deep.*
*This book is in conversation with A Chorus Rises: A Song Below Water Novel
June 1, 2021, Macmillan Publishers
Ace of Spades – Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé (Young Adult)
There’s a mysterious tyrant roaming the hallowed halls of the Niveus Private Academy. Devon Richards and Chiamaka Adebayo are selected to be two of the school’s senior class prefects—an opportunity that looks great on their college applications and puts them in line for class valedictorian. But when someone by the name of Aces starts sending anonymous texts to expose secrets about Devon and Chiamaka, their carefully planned lives are thrown to the wolves, and what started as a sick prank turns into a dangerous game with all of the cards stacked against them.
Relevant social commentary combined with heart-pounding suspense and a brilliant combination of Gossip Girl meets Get Out, Àbíké-Íyímídé’s debut is a page-turning thriller that will keep readers on the edge of their seats.
“All you need to know is . . . I’m here to divide and conquer. Like all great tyrants do. —Aces”
June 1, 2021, Macmillan Publishers
Dead Dead Girls (A Harlem Renaissance Mystery #1) – Nekesa Afia (Fiction)
It’s 1926, and young Black women like Louise Lloyd are showing up dead all over Harlem. After experiencing a traumatizing kidnapping, Louise is doing all she can to lead a normal life—she’s doing a great job too, spending her days working at the café and nights at Harlem’s hottest speakeasy, the Zodiac. But her girlfriend, Rosa Maria Moreno, might say otherwise, crediting Louise’s newfound productivity and put-togetherness to a repression of memories as she runs from her past.
A girl turns up dead in front of the café, making it the third young Black girl to have been murdered in the past few weeks. Forced to confront her own demons—which may or may not have included fighting a police officer—Louise is given a choice: help solve the case or end up in jail. What could go wrong?
June 1, 2021, Penguin Random House
Field Study – Chet’la Sebree (Poetry)
In the aftermath of a failed relationship with a white man, James Laughlin Award-winning poet Chet’la Sebree conducts a poetic field study of herself, looking for the answers to her questions through an objective lens, completely devoid of emotion. However, her grasp on emotional unavailability begins to slip the deeper and deeper she dives into her study as she tries to understand and respond to the raw data about her life. Her study concludes with one long provocative work that is “formerly inventive, playfully candid and soul-piercingly sharp.”
Interspersed with clips from her life, important works from Black intellectuals who inspire her, pieces of television characters and more, Sebree looks at herself the same way society sees her. Field Study exposes Sebree’s own attraction and affection—and rejection—towards white men and how that manifests in prolonged manifestations of “colorism and misogynoir throughout the American history and media.”
June 1, 2021, Macmillan Publishers
How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America – Clint Smith (Nonfiction)
Deep within this nation’s history are stories that have never been brought to light. Clint Smith’s How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America shows those stories, as well as how the world turns a blind eye and is woefully ignorant to the ways in which slavery still impacts this country today. Smith includes stories of Thomas Jefferson’s letters from the Monticello Plantation in Virginia that endorsed and fought for liberation while enslaving more than four hundred people. There is the story of Angola, a former plantation turned maximum security prison that only houses Black men who work tirelessly on the 18,000 acres the prison sits on. It is the story of the Whitney Plantation, one of the only former plantations that honor and preserves the experiences of formerly enslaved people.
How the Word Is Passed follows Smith through his hometown of New Orleans and brings readers on an “unforgettable tour of monuments and landmarks—those that are honest about the past and those that are not—that offer an intergenerational story of how slavery has been central in shaping our nation’s collective history, and ourselves.”
June 1, 2021, Little, Brown and Company
Instructions for Dancing – Nicola Yoon (Young Adult)
The strangest thing happened to Evie—she witnessed a couple kissing in front of her and instantly saw how their relationship was going to end. So obviously, she no longer believes in love. In the wake of this event, she finds herself at the La Brea Dance Studio learning to dance with a boy named X—who is everything Evie is not. X says yes to everything. He’s passionate and adventurous, even daring at times.
If her visions of heartbreak have taught her anything, then Evie questions why she’s even falling for X. In her eyes, love only leads to loss and never getting out unscathed. But after a ballroom dance competition and allowing herself to say yes to X, Evie questions everything she’s known about love and life and forced to consider if it’s worth it to push it all aside and risk it all.
June 1, 2021, Penguin Random House
Long Division – Kiese Laymon (Fiction)
Before Kiese Laymon’s critically acclaimed memoir Heavy came out in 2018, Laymon released a novel, Long Division, now re-released with new revisions. Long Division features two interwoven stories—combining the humor of an onstage meltdown in the middle of a nationally televised contest with the story of a time-traveler from 1964, desperately seeking to protect his family from the Ku Klux Klan. After fourteen-year-old Citoyen “City” Coldson’s meltdown, he’s sent to live with his grandmother in a small town, but before he leaves, he is given a book about a main character named City Coldson—only this book is set in 1985.
Between the disappearance of a young girl, a stolen cellphone and laptop, and not even the slightest clue on how they’ve done it, City and his friends begin on a course through time travel, bringing these items back to 1964 to help another time-traveler protect his family.
June 1, 2021, Lemuria Books
Seven Days in June – Tia Williams (Fiction)
Much to everyone’s surprise, Shane Hall, reclusive, enigmatic award-winning author, is back in New York, where Eva Mercy, single mother and bestselling author, lives. When they bump into each other at a literary event, sparks fly, whispers begin and speculation about their relationship runs wild. But what no one knows is that Eva and Shane do know each other—and have for the last fifteen years, having spent that time writing to each other within the pages of their own books. Eva, desperate to get Shane out of her life again, has only one week to get the answers she needs before sending him on his way—but maybe, just maybe, she’ll let herself fall in love again.
June 1, 2021, Grand Central Publishing
Somebody’s Daughter: A Memoir – Ashley C. Ford (Memoir)
Searching for unconditional love while battling poverty, adolescence and a tumultuous relationship with her mother, Ashley C. Ford constantly found her world spinning out of control. Her father, who was incarcerated for reasons Ford never knew, wasn’t able to help her navigate through the worries that plagued her and she found herself scrambling to find someone to help. After a relationship with a boy—who her mother hates—goes awry, Ford grapples with the aftermath of her rape and how to keep it from her family. But when a cacophony of secrets comes spilling out, everything she’s held onto slips from her grasp and Ford’s world is turned upside down.
June 1, 2021, Flatiron Books: An Oprah Book
The Other Black Girl: A Novel – Zakiya Dalila Harris (Fiction)
Nella Rogers, a twenty-six-year-old editorial assistant at Wagner Books, is tired of being the only Black employee. The constant microaggressions and isolations have begun to grate against her nerves right as another Black girl, Hazel, born and raised in Harlem begins working next to her. But after a “string of uncomfortable events,” Hazel is crowned Office Darling, and Nella is left feeling just as alone as before.
Nella starts to spiral out of control and into an obsessive place when threatening notes appear on her desk. The Other Black Girl is not only a hilarious and insightful look into the microaggressions that exist within office culture but jam-packed with twists and turns that has been described as a cross between Get Out and The Devil Wears Prada and will keep the reader guessing until the very last page.
Intrigued? You can learn more when author Zakiya Dalila Harris appears on this Friday’s episode of The Root Presents: It’s Lit!
June 1, 2021, Atria Books
The Second: Race and Guns in a Fatally Unequal America – Carol Anderson (Nonfiction)
Gun or no gun, being Black has been criminalized and seen as a threat that “must be neutralized or punished,” regardless of the action or charge. New York Times bestselling author of White Rage, Carol Anderson offers an honest and previously disregarded account of the Second Amendment and the way it has punished Black people for centuries.
The Second Amendment has always meant that the moment a Black person exercises the right to bear arms, their life can be taken from them in a second—Philandro Castile, Tamir Rice, Alton Sterling. These people have been folded into a historical narrative that criminalizes protection. Anderson offers a “penetrating investigation show[ing] that the Second Amendment is not about guns but about anti-Blackness,” bringing to life the horrible truth behind another untold aspect of racism in America.
June 1, 2021, Bloomsbury
Vulnerable AF – Tarriona Ball (Poetry)
Tarriona “Tank” Ball—Grammy-nominated artist from the funky group Tank and the Bangas and slam poet aficionado—debuts her literary voice in Vulnerable AF. The collection follows Ball’s past through short vignettes, poems and prose pieces. Ball’s effortless and inviting bravado are spread across the pages with her relatable and honest insights mixed with her whimsical realness. In Vulnerable AF you’ll find the answers—and more questions—about the difference between true love and infatuation, how easy it is to slip into the confusion and lose yourself, and how to come out onto the other side of heartbreak “with your sense of self-worth—and your sense of humor—stronger for it.”
June 1, 2021, Simon and Schuster
Walking on Cowrie Shells: Stories – Nana Nkweti (Essays)
Nana Nkweti’s debut story collection Walking on Cowrie Shells pulls from and blends different genres to create “deft realism” within each reimagined version of a genre. Caine Prize finalist story “It Takes a Village, Some Say” exposes the racial prejudice in international adoption through the lens of a teenage girl who uses her adoptive parents to propel herself. “The Devil is a Liar” follows a pregnant pastor’s wife as she struggles to western Christianity and the traditional Cameroonian belief system she was brought up in, and how that will affect her unborn child.
Walking On Cowrie Shells pulls from horror, mystery, realism, myth and graphic novels. Showcasing the complexity and vibrancy of her characters, Nkweti gives readers a “dazzling [and] inventive debut.”
June 1, 2021, Graywolf Press