Fiction Books to Spark Racial Conversations

As an English teacher, I feel that the most natural way for me to discuss real world topics is to view the world from a fictional character’s eyes; this type of conversation permeates my classroom and has engaged me as a student most of my life. I truly believe in the art of creating characters who replicate real people with real complex thought processes; often times, we can see more into a character (the author’s own mind and extensive research) than we can through a conversation with someone else. Don’t get me wrong, I do not think fiction books can replace the real conversations, but they are certainly a stepping stone into a very complex mind.

This list is just my personal experience with books written by black authors that spark conversation about race. I do not feel like I can speak to the plethora of books out there but would like to share these that I have taught, read, partially read, or have had highly recommended by respectable English teachers. I challenge you as I challenge myself to pick one up in the coming week’s especially if grappling what is going on around you is challenging.

For Young Adults (and let’s be real – adults too)

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

This is what I call a teen hype book (and WELL worth the hype) and even teens who don’t like reading LOVE this book. My high school adapted this book into our junior year curriculum this past year. I taught THUG for the first time last fall, and to be honest, I was nervous because I am a white female trying to cultivate conversations about race with a very diverse group of students. It has such a raw, relevant narrator Starr that witnesses a her best friend being shot by a cop. It brings up the very topics that need to be discussed. After our first classroom conversation, I realized this is what needs to be happening in all classrooms across the country. I also learned so much from my students about what it means to be black during this time too. If you haven’t read this one, it is the perfect time to pick it up! Also check out Angie Thomas’s On The Come Up!

Amazon Link: The Hate U Give & On The Come Up

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds & Brenden Kiely

I have actually taught this one twice to juniors and it is a runner-up to The Hate U Give because the authentic, addicting narrator of Starr (from THUG) can not be reproduced. The most fascinating part of this book is the fact that it is written by a white male and a black male author. The chapters switch between the authors’ voice representing their own races’ voice and perspective as teenage basketball players both intertwined in a police brutality situation. Both perspectives are shared and questions are raised about police and black men/boys. The first time I read this I was sold, and think the perspectives give a different twist that is unique. If you loved THUG, read this too. If you haven’t read THUG, read that first 🙂

Amazon Link: All American Boys

Dear Martin by Nic Stone

Honest truth: I have never read this one or opened to the first page BUT I have heard only positives about how this male narrator Justyce battles racial injustices and police brutality. I have heard the focus on the media’s role is well-played in this novel. This is top of my list to read to learn even more through this character and his unique perspective and story.

Amazon Link: Dear Martin

Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

I just flew through Xiomara’s poetic verse that tells her story of being an Afro-Latino teenager. My students are immersed in this form and the narrator’s voice (told all through poetic verse). Although it does not have the type of conflicts that the other’s have on this list, it truly shows the hardships that black and mixed race teenagers face every day. My eyes were opened to the cultural differences and the strength the characters show each day. It may not be the most relevant to today’s crisis BUT it is worth putting on any young adult list right now.

Amazon Link: Poet X

For Adults:

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

This one was just recommended on Instagram to me, and after reading the summary, I knew I would be hooked. I used my June Audible credit and am already captured by the plot and the lovable characters. Although I am not completed yet, I see a complex story line that is developing between two characters: the 25 year old black babysitter and a young wealthy white mom. This contemporary work places Emira in a situation that is far too common in today’s society where she is judged for her skin color and accused of kidnapping Alix’s daughter when she is really just babysitting her. Alix has a set of complex issues that unfold as well dealing with her husband’s job and her own circle of friends. Supposedly, the two begin a relationship that crosses the boundaries of race. I can not wait to find out what each character learns from the other throughout the novel.

Amazon Link: Such a Fun Age

American Marriage by Tayari Jones

I have only broke into the first few pages of this book, but the hype that it has received over the last few years prompted me to purchase it right away. I plan to pull this anticipated work out this weekend. Apparently, it is a masterpiece that follows the story of a black couple who had their whole lives in front of them with successful careers and a happy marriage until Roy is wrongly convicted of a crime and sentenced to 12 years. I can not imagine what I can learn from the questions that will be brought up and discussed about race through the eyes of a black couple dealing with an injustice commonly seen today.

Amazon Link: American Marriage

What are fiction book suggestions do you have that will spark racial conversations?

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