PageTurners: We’re in for a Helluva Literary Year

PageTurners: We’re in for a Helluva Literary Year

The Prophets; The Beautiful Struggle; Black Buck
The Prophets; The Beautiful Struggle; Black Buck
Image: Penguin Random House, Penguin Random House, HMH Books

One of my New Year’s resolutions is to find joy in reading again. I had this same goal last year–and let’s face it, every year for a while now–and even felt the hope of achieving that goal when we all went into lockdown, assuming I would have plenty of time to read and get back into that daily practice.

Absolutely not what happened.

However, we are only a few days into 2021 and my inspiration to read has already returned. The first Tuesday of the new year dropped books long-teased in 2020 that can now lay in our laps (or e-readers) as we take a much-needed deep breath and inhale that new book smell. We’d originally planned to publish the list of books that debuted on Jan. 5 last Wednesday, but you know, the whole coup/riot/terrorist attack/whatever you want to call it dominated the news, so here we are.

Now that we’re even more in need of an escape, each week new books published by Black writers will be compiled here, as here at The Root, Black lives—and Black books—matter.

Personally, I’m very excited about all of the Young Adult (YA) books slated to come out this year. I’m a great fan of YA novels, and especially appreciate how they are getting more and more progressive in their teachings to children, building future activists through literature.

Ready to get reading? Scroll through to peruse new books published by Black writers in the first two weeks of 2021 and dive into the compelling worlds and moments of Black joy they’ve created.

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The Prophets – Robert Jones Jr. (Fiction)

The Prophets – Robert Jones Jr. (Fiction)

The Prophets, Robert Jones Jr.
The Prophets, Robert Jones Jr.
Image: Penguin Random House

Robert Jones Jr’s debut novel, The Prophets, explores religion, race and sexuality framed in a narrative of slavery. Jones introduces us to the “Empty,” a Deep South plantation where protagonists Isiah and Samuel live, work, and are beloved by their community of fellow enslaved people. In turn, they love each other. When a fellow slave seeking to gain favor with the Empty’s cruel master begins preaching “The Word,” his alluring tone and enthusiasm for the religion cause strain on the relationships on the plantation—including between Isiah and Sammy.

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Black Buck – Mateo Askaripour (Fiction)

Black Buck – Mateo Askaripour (Fiction)

Black Buck, Mateo Askaripour
Black Buck, Mateo Askaripour
Image: HMH Books

Darren is a smart yet simple guy who enjoys his Starbucks job, his girlfriend, and his mother’s home-cooked meals in Mateo Askaripour’s debut novel, Black Buck. However, a chance encounter with the CEO of the biggest tech-startup in New York City, Rhett Daniels, lands Darren an invitation to work on their sales team. Finding a need to code-switch and assimilate after a grueling week of training, Darren reimagines himself as “Buck,” a high-powered and feared salesperson respected amongst his peers and unrecognized by family and friends. But when a family trauma occurs, Darren must revert back to himself in order to infiltrate the American workforce and begin opening doors for other young people of color.

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Happily Ever Afters – Elise Bryant (Young Adult)

Happily Ever Afters – Elise Bryant (Young Adult)

Happily Ever Afters, Elise Bryant
Happily Ever Afters, Elise Bryant
Image: HarperCollins

Happily Ever Afters by Elise Bryant follows sixteen-year-old Tessa Johnson who has never felt like the main character in her own story, even when she is the one writing. Tessa gets accepted to a prestigious creative writing program at an elite art school—only to find that her inspiration immediately vanishes. Stuck in a rut, Tessa’s best friend Caroline advises her to craft an ideal narrative of her own romance novel and live it out with the boys at her school. While the plan starts out great, Tessa finds herself losing grasp of why she’s really there for: to write.

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One of the Good Ones – Maika Moulite and Maritza Moulite (Young Adult)

One of the Good Ones – Maika Moulite and Maritza Moulite (Young Adult)

One of the Good Ones
One of the Good Ones
Image: HarperCollins

As discussed on our New Year’s Day episode of The Root Presents: It’s Lit!, this second book from award-winning authors Maika Moulite and Maritza Moulite (coincidentally, elder sisters of The Root’s producer, Jessica Moulite) looks at the ways in which society chooses who is to be remembered and who won’t be. In One of the Good Ones, Kezi Smith, a teenage YouTube influencer, history enthusiast, and activist is tragically killed, leaving her family to figure out how to preserve her legacy. Using The Negro Motorist Green Book as their guide, Kezi’s younger sister Happi and older sister Genny set out to finish a journey that Kezi started.—and both the journey and destination bring stunning twists and turns.

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When You Look Like Us – Pamela N. Harris (Young Adult)

When You Look Like Us – Pamela N. Harris (Young Adult)

When You Look Like Us, Pamela N. Harris
When You Look Like Us, Pamela N. Harris
Image: HarperCollins

Jay Murphy has become accustomed to—and even comfortable with—people going missing in his neighborhood; they always show back up, usually after a day or two. But now it’s been longer than usual, he’s well past comfortable, and his sister still hasn’t come back. The police don’t care about kids that look like Jay—kids with brown skin and braided hair, dark eyes and fades—seeing them as trouble and not worth their while. Knowing the police won’t do anything and blaming himself, When You Look Like Us follows Jay and his perseverance to break stigmas and stereotypes while doing everything he can to bring his sister home.

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Bevelations: Lessons from a Mutha, Auntie, Bestie – Bevy Smith (Memoir)

Bevelations: Lessons from a Mutha, Auntie, Bestie – Bevy Smith (Memoir)

Bevelations, Bevy Smith
Bevelations, Bevy Smith
Image: Macmillan

Fashion icon, philanthropist and SirusXM’s Bevelations host, Bevy Smith’s memoir is hot, hilarious and honest. Smith was living the life of that bougie auntie, her career in fashion advertising awarding her luxurious opportunities such as traveling to Europe for Fashion Week, dining at only the best restaurants and partying at the hottest spots. However, all of the hype of that industry began to wear on her, and after a pivotal moment in a glamorous Milanese hotel, Bevy reclaimed her life and set herself on a path towards freedom, clarity and creativity.

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In Search of The Color Purple – Salamishah Tillet (Memoir, Literary History)

In Search of The Color Purple – Salamishah Tillet (Memoir, Literary History)

In Search of The Color Purple
In Search of The Color Purple
Image: Abrams Press

Salamishah Tillet explores the praise, controversy and enduring importance of Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. In Search of The Color Purple combines historical analysis, cultural criticism and memoir. Tillet interviews Alice Walker as well as others involved with the book and film adaptation such as Oprah and Quincy Jones and discusses the conversations about race, class and gender that sparked when the book was originally published in 1983. Going back to the roots of the story, she writes about how her own history connects with the themes of the novel and where she was in her life when she first read it.

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Aftershocks: A Memoir – Nadia Owusu (Memoir)

Aftershocks: A Memoir – Nadia Owusu (Memoir)

Aftershocks: A Memoir
Aftershocks: A Memoir
Image: Simon Schuster

Nadia Owusu discusses her nomadic lifestyle, family turmoil and journey to self-identity in her new memoir, Aftershocks. Nadia and her siblings grew up following their father from Europe to Africa and back again. Their mother hadn’t been fully present in their lives since Nadia was two, and after the tragic death of her father, she found herself and her health slipping. Aftershocks follows Nadia from her nomadic childhood through her move to New York City where she tries to find herself while keeping it all together.

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Concrete Rose – Angie Thomas (Young Adult)

Concrete Rose – Angie Thomas (Young Adult)

Concrete Rose, Angie Thomas
Concrete Rose, Angie Thomas
Image: HarperCollins

Angie Thomas takes us back seventeen years before The Hate U Give to Garden Heights, in its prequel, Concrete Rose, where seventeen-year-old Maverick Carter is balancing gang life, school and fatherhood. Maverick, better known as Mav, knows that the only way to be a man is to always take care of one’s family—which he does by selling drugs for a local gang, the King Lords. But when he is offered a chance out of that life, Mav has to make a difficult decision: remain loyal to the gang whose history runs through his blood, or walk away forever.

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You’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey – Amber Ruffin and Lacey Lamar (Memoir)

You’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey – Amber Ruffin and Lacey Lamar (Memoir)

You’ll Never Believe What Happened To Lacey
You’ll Never Believe What Happened To Lacey
Image: Grand Central Publishing

Amber Ruffin, writer and performer of Late Night With Seth Meyers, and host of The Amber Ruffin Show, tackles modern-day racism with her sister, Lacey Lamar in You’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey. Amber is living her best and frankly normal life in New York City. But Lacey is living what could be described as a Black girl’s nightmare. From racist comments at donut shops to being called a prostitute (or Harriet Tubman) to even the unthinkable someone-has-put-their-whole-ass-hand-in-my-hair moment. In a beautiful and honest conversation format, Amber and Lacey recount some of the wildest and most hilarious stories of their lives and what it means to be a Black woman in America.

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The Beautiful Struggle (Adapted for Young Adults) – Ta-Nehisi Coates (Young Adult, Memoir)

The Beautiful Struggle (Adapted for Young Adults) – Ta-Nehisi Coates (Young Adult, Memoir)

The Beautiful Struggle
The Beautiful Struggle
Image: Penguin Random House

Ta-Nehisi has adapted his 2008 memoir, The Beautiful Struggle, for young adults. Coates dives into the story of his childhood from his militant Vietnam vet father to his relationship with his mother and navigating Baltimore as it crumbled. The ever-present threat of walking into a battle-zone Coates navigates the racist society he was born into. Filled with relatable anecdotes of an estranged and polar-opposite older brother, extended family trouble in school (and girls), Coates creates an atmosphere where young adults can connect to someone with shared experiences.

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