More often than not, YA books depict Black boys as the victims of hate crimes, a side character, or even not at all. What they don’t show are their hobbies, their quirks, their feelings—and that’s what Black Boy Joy is all about. It’s about being a part of the conversation on why it’s important to change the narrative for Black boys, especially in today’s world. We’d like you to meet Ben Philippe, Lamar Giles, and Justin Reynolds—three men in YA working to reclaim Black Boy Joy. (Taken from the Epic Reads Event)
Three authors of YA contemporary books featuring Black main characters, specifically teenage boys, come together as they discuss what it means to write about and represent Black Boy Joy in their novels. Moderated by Damon Young, co-founder of Very Smart Brothas, and in partnership with Uncle Bobbie’s Coffee & Books! Check out the crowdcast replay here.
I got the chance to attend about half of this talk and it was really poignant. I am hopeful that publishing will keep releasing stories about Black joy and not only Black pain. I’ll attach a list of my favorites at the end of this post!
I’ve already read Early Departures by Justin A. Reynolds and oh my god y’all, it was emotionally fraught. I still need to write my review of it, but you can *eventually* find that here. Check out the covers and synopses below!
Early Departures by Justin A. Reynolds
Justin A. Reynolds, author of Opposite of Always, delivers another smart, funny, and powerful stand-alone YA contemporary novel, with a speculative twist in which Jamal’s best friend is brought back to life after a freak accident . . . but they only have a short time together before he will die again.
Jamal’s best friend, Q, doesn’t know he’s about to die . . . again.
He also doesn’t know that Jamal tried to save his life, rescuing him from drowning only to watch Q die later in the hospital. Even more complicated, Jamal and Q haven’t been best friends in two years—not since Jamal’s parents died in a car accident, leaving him and his sister to carry on without them. Grief swallowed Jamal whole, and he blamed Q for causing the accident.
But what if Jamal could have a second chance? An impossible chance that would grant him the opportunity to say goodbye to his best friend? A new health-care technology allows Q to be reanimated—brought back to life like the old Q again. But there’s a catch: Q will only reanimate for a short time before he dies . . . forever.
Jamal is determined to make things right with Q, but grief is hard to shake. And he can’t tell Q why he’s suddenly trying to be friends with him again. Because Q has no idea that he died, and Q’s mom is not about to let anyone ruin the miracle by telling him. How can Jamal fix his friendship with Q if he can’t tell him the truth? Epic Reads Sneak Peek!
Charming As a Verb by Ben Philippe
Henri “Halti” Haltiwanger can charm just about anyone. He is a star debater and popular student at the prestigious FATE academy, the dutiful first-generation Haitian son, and the trusted dog walker for his wealthy New York City neighbors. But his easy smiles mask a burning ambition to attend his dream college, Columbia University.
There is only one person who seems immune to Henri’s charms: his “intense” classmate and neighbor Corinne Troy. When she uncovers Henri’s less-than-honest dog-walking scheme, she blackmails him into helping her change her image at school. Henri agrees, seeing a potential upside for himself.
Soon what started as a mutual hustle turns into something more surprising than either of them ever bargained for. . . .
This is a sharply funny and insightful novel about the countless hustles we have to keep from doing the hardest thing: being ourselves. Epic Reads Sneak Peek!
Not So Pure & Simple by Lamar Giles
“Hysterical. I couldn’t put it down.” (Nic Stone) “I laughed, I gasped, I church grunted through every chapter.” (Tiffany D. Jackson) “Heartfelt and hilarious on every page!” (Justin A. Reynolds)
4 starred reviews! * An Indie Next List Pick!
Two-time Edgar Award finalist Lamar Giles spotlights the consequences of societal pressure, confronts toxic masculinity, and explores the complexity of what it means to be a “real man.”
Del has had a crush on Kiera Westing since kindergarten. And now, during their junior year, she’s finally available. So when Kiera volunteers for an opportunity at their church, Del’s right behind her. Though he quickly realizes he’s inadvertently signed up for a Purity Pledge.
His dad thinks his wires are crossed, and his best friend, Qwan, doesn’t believe any girl is worth the long game. But Del’s not about to lose his dream girl, and that’s where fellow pledger Jameer comes in. He can put in the good word. In exchange, Del just has to get answers to the Pledgers’ questions…about sex ed.
With other boys circling Kiera like sharks, Del needs to make his move fast. But as he plots and plans, he neglects to ask the most important question: What does Kiera want? He can’t think about that too much, though, because once he gets the girl, it’ll all sort itself out. Right?
“With true-to-life characters and a straightforward handling of sex, including often ignored aspects of male sexuality, Giles’s thoughtful, hilarious read offers a timely viewpoint on religion, toxic masculinity, and teen sexuality.” (Publishers Weekly, “An Anti-Racist Children’s and YA Reading List”) Epic Reads Sneak Peek!
Andy’s Top Ten Books about Black Joy Written by Black Authors
- Odd One Out by Nic Stone
- Kingdom of Souls by Rena Barron
- The Weight of the Stars by K. Ancrum
- Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender
- On the Come Up by Angie Thomas
- Slay by Brittney Morris
- With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo
- Raybearer by Jordan Ifeuko
- Pointe by Brandy Colbert
- Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia
All of these books are ones I read and loved. I think I wrote reviews for them all besides Pointe since apparently I forgot in college. Anyway, I totally recommend these and they are all standalones or the first in a series! These aren’t in any hierarchical ranking except which I could remember first. These books center Black joy, but there are still microaggressions and racist remarks (usually from white characters) in the story.