As an avid reader, I always felt like I was missing something in the books I would read. I was tired of reading books that lacked diversity and that seemed unrelatable. As a child, I dreamed of myself in the situations of the protagonist, changing my skin color to a lighter pigment, imagining my hair straighter and longer, a pair of blue or green or brown eyes, and maybe a pretty smile.
When I entered high school and started to become more interested in my heritage and black issues, I started to reject works that lacked diversity, including books that did not have characters that looked like me. I no longer wanted to look different, because I was entering a stage where I was starting to appreciate my blackness more and recognize it as something beautiful. The lack of exposure to diverse works in my English classes led me to look for works that had black characters, great life lessons, and diverse storylines among other things.
In celebration of Black History Month, I choose to celebrate written works that share the stories of black people to the world, so that others may read, learn and better understand the reason behind the celebration. Here are four works that you should read during and after Black History Month.
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Homegoing follows the lineage of two half-sisters from Ghana who were born in different villages, each one unaware of the other. One will marry an Englishmen and lead a life of comfort in the Cape Coast Castle, while the other will be captured, her village raided, imprisoned in the very same castle, and sold into slavery.
The novel follows the parallel paths of the two sisters’ descendants through generations from the Gold Coast to the plantations of Mississippi to the American Civil War to the Jazz Age in Harlem and eventually to the modern times.
After reading this book, I ached to trace down my own lineage and hopefully find the African country my ancestors were stolen from. Reading this book taught me a lot about the struggles blacks faced in not only America but in our native land as well.
What I loved about this work is that this book brought up issues about sexism, homophobia, poverty, human rights, drugs and racism – all issues that make up some of the black experience. The work’s emphasis on family and how the separation of black people from Africa completely altered the lives of an entire lineage made this novel by Yaa Gyasi a standout, and a work that I believe should be read by everyone.
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?
Despite this work being known for the relationship between Daniel and Natasha, I think Natasha’s story is incredibly relevant today, with immigration being one of the focal points in regards to today’s problems revolving around the removal of families and the separation of families. This work is absolutely beautiful, and I think Natasha’s strength shines through as the main character and as an activist.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.
Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.
But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.
For any black person who feels like they have had to alter their personality or the way they speak in front of non-black people, this work is extremely relatable. As someone who was constantly called the term “oreo” growing up due to the way I spoke and the music I listened to, I related to Starr’s struggle to be herself in two different environments. Starr’s fight for justice is inspiring and reminds us that we still have much to accomplish in terms of protecting black lives.
American Street by Ibi Zoboi
On the corner of American Street and Joy Road, Fabiola Toussaint thought she would finally find une belle vie—a good life.
But after they leave Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Fabiola’s mother is detained by U.S. immigration, leaving Fabiola to navigate her loud American cousins, Chantal, Donna, and Princess; the grittiness of Detroit’s west side; a new school; and a surprising romance, all on her own.
Just as she finds her footing in this strange new world, a dangerous proposition presents itself, and Fabiola soon realizes that freedom comes at a cost. Trapped at the crossroads of an impossible choice, will she pay the price for the American dream?
Fabiola’s story as an immigrant coming from a different country on her own reminds me of my mother’s own immigration story from Haiti. Fabiola’s struggle to practice her Haitian traditions in an environment that does not understand her shows how, as a character, she remains true to herself and her culture. It’s comforting to see a character who is true to herself and her love for her country and mother.
Featured Image Credit: Good Black News