With Black History Month coming up, you’re likely wondering what books to add to your TBR (to be read) pile. We’ve put together this great list of books you’re guaranteed to enjoy no matter what month you’re reading them in.
Nonfiction - YA
The Underground Railroad: Next Stop, Toronto! is the brand new edition by Adrienne Shadd, Afua Cooper, & Karolyn Smardz Frost that explores Toronto’s role as a destination for thousands of freedom seekers before the American Civil War. With new biographies, images, and information from a 2015 archaeological dig, this is ideal reading for the teen who wants to learn more about Black history beyond the classroom.
Talking about Fredom: Celebrating Emancipation Day in Canada by Natasha L. Henry tells us the story of Emancipation Day, a little-known part of Canadian history, that has never been accessible to the teen reader through either the school curriculum or classroom resources despite its significance in the story of Canada. Talking About Freedom closes this gap by exploring both the background to August 1 commemorations across Canada and the importance of these long-established annual celebrations. (For adults wanting to learn more - keep scrolling to our nonfiction section below).
Since we're on the topic of YA Nonfiction, here’s one you might want to pre-order:
Funny Gyal: My Fight Against Homophobia in Jamaica by Angeline Jackson with Susan McClelland is the inspiring story of Angeline Jackson, who stood up to Jamaica’s oppression of queer youth to demand recognition and justice. President Barack Obama even had this to say about Angeline: “Instead of remaining silent, she chose to speak out…that’s the power of one person.” Pre-order at Indigo, Amazon, your local Canadian indie, or your local US indie.
Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia's debut novel, The Son of the House, was shortlisted for the 2021 Scotiabank Giller Prize. It details the lives of Julie and Nwabulu who are kidnapped together and forced to await their fate in an underground location, where they tell their stories of pain, loss, and love. Themes of social class, inequality, and motherhood are set against a vibrant Nigeria, spanning decades.
If you're looking for a powerful story of revenge and forgiveness, One Night in Mississippi by Craig Shreve is for you. This is the story of a young activist named Graden Williams, who was brutally murdered in Mississippi during the sixties. After the perpetrators were charged but quickly released, Graden’s brother, Warren, drifted aimlessly for decades, estranged from the rest of his family and struggling with guilt over his brother’s death. But when cases like Graden’s are reopened, Warren dedicates himself to bringing Graden’s killers to justice.
In Something Remains by Hassan Ghedi Santur, our main character Andrew Christiansen, a war photographer turned cabdriver, is having a bad year. His mother has just died; his father, on the verge of a nervous breakdown, gets arrested; and he’s married to a woman he doesn’t love. To make matters worse, Sarah, the gifted actress from his past, storms back into his life, bringing with her a hurricane of changes and the possibility of happiness. Keeping Andrew rational is his camera and friendship with Zakhariye, a Somali-born magazine editor grieving the death of a son. Through Zakhariye we glimpse a world beyond Toronto, a world where civil wars rage and stark poverty delivers everyday sorrow and anguish.
The Polished Hoe by Austin Clarke is a dark novel about an elderly Bimshire village woman who calls the police to confess to a murder. The result is a shattering all-night vigil that brings together elements of the African diaspora in one epic sweep. Set on the post-colonial West Indian island of Bimshire in 1952, The Polished Hoe unravels over the course of 24 hours but spans the lifetime of one woman and the collective experience of a society informed by slavery.
In Red Jacket by Pamela Mordecai, Grace Carpenter never feels like she really belongs growing up on St. Chris. Although her large, extended family is black, she is a redibo. Her skin is copper-coloured, her hair is red, and her eyes are grey. A neighbour taunts her, calling her “a little red jacket,” but the reason for the insult is never explained. Only much later does Grace learn the story of her birth mother and decipher the mystery surrounding her true identity.
Yume by Sifton Tracey Anipare takes place in a small city in Japan, where Cybelle teaches English. Her contract is up for renewal, her mother is begging her to come back to Canada, and she is not sure where she belongs anymore. She faces ostracism and fear daily, but she loves her job, despite its increasing difficulties. She vows to do her best — even when her sleep, appetite, and life in general start to get weird, and conforming to the rules that once helped her becomes a struggle.
The Stone Thrower by Jael Richardson is a moving story about race and destiny written by a daughter looking for answers about her own black history. As Richardson begins unravelling the story of her father’s life, she begins to compare her own childhood growing up in Canada, with her father’s US civil rights era upbringing. Along the way, she also discovers the real reason – despite his athletic accomplishments – her father was never drafted into the National Football League.
Chuck Ealey is the first Black quarterback to win the Grey Cup, and also had a stellar career in college football at the University of Toledo. He is finally being inducted in the College Football Hall of Fame later this year.
In Persephone's Children by Rowan McCandless, she chronicles her odyssey as a Black, biracial woman escaping the stranglehold of a long-term abusive relationship. Through a series of thematically linked and structurally inventive essays, McCandless explores the fraught and fragmented relationship between memory and trauma. Multiple mythologies emerge to bind legacy and loss, motherhood and daughterhood, racism and intergenerational trauma, mental illness and resiliency.
Austin Clarke is a distinguished and celebrated novelist and short-story writer. His works often centre around the immigrant experience, of which he writes with humour and compassion, happiness and sorrow. In ’Membering, Clarke shares his own experiences growing up in Barbados and moving to Toronto to attend university in 1955 before becoming a journalist. With vivid realism he describes Harlem of the ’60s, meeting and interviewing Malcolm X and writers Chinua Achebe and LeRoi Jones. Clarke went on to become a pioneering instructor of Afro-American Literature at Yale University and inspired a new generation of Afro-American writers.*If you're looking for the adult version of Emancipation Day: Celebrating Freedom in Canada by Natasha L. Henry, click here.