Ten YA Novels By BIPOC Authors You Need To Check Out!

Hi all! Today I’ll be talking about some YA novels by authors of color that I believe need more recognition. I tried to pick books that aren’t necessarily as present in the book community so that you could discover some new voices!

Disclaimer: Some synopsis’ are summarized by me, others are taken from goodreads.)

(PS: To add the books to goodreads, simply press on the book covers.)

1. The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee

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The story centers around seventeen-year-old Jo Kuan. By day, she works as a lady’s maid for the cruel daughter of one of the wealthiest men in Atlanta. By night, Jo writes for a newspaper advice column for the genteel Southern lady, “Dear Miss Sweetie.” And the story takes off from there in such an intriguing way.

This is a young adult historical novel about fighting racism and gendernorms, and I am 100% here for it!

2. Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko

Raybearer (Raybearer, #1) by Jordan Ifueko

Raybearer revolves around Tarisai, a teen who has always longed for the warmth of a family. She was raised in isolation by a mysterious, often absent mother known only as The Lady. The Lady sends her to the capital of the global empire of Aritsar to compete with other children to be chosen as one of the Crown Prince’s Council of 11. If she’s picked, she’ll be joined with the other Council members through the Ray, a bond deeper than blood. However, The Lady wants Tarisai to kill the Crown Prince once she gains his trust, as she as compelled to obey this order. Tarisai won’t stand by and become someone’s pawn—but is she strong enough to choose a different path for herself?

Doesn’t this sound like such a unique fantasy story? I definitely think so!

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3. Butterfly Yellow by Thanhha Lai

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Butterfly Yellow is a story about a young Vietnamese girl and her little brother. As they get ready to go to America, her brother Linh is ripped from her arms, leaving Hằng behind in Vietnam. After six long years, she makes it to Texas, USA as a refugee. Once Hằng finally reunites with her brother Linh, he doesn’t remember her! She has come so far, and will do anything to bridge the gap between them.

This is an incredibly heart wrenching and beautiful novel.

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4. The New David Espinoza by Fred Aceves

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The New David Espinoza revolves around a teenage boy named David. When a video of him getting knocked down by a bully’s slap goes viral at the end of junior year, David vows to use the summer to bulk up— do what it takes to become a man—and wow everyone when school starts again in the fall. Soon David is spending all his time and money at Iron Life, a nearby gym that’s full of bodybuilders. Frustrated with his slow progress, his life eventually becomes all about his muscle gains. As David falls into the dark side of the bodybuilding world, pursuing his ideal body at all costs, he’ll have to grapple with the fact that it could actually cost him everything. 

Male body dysphoria is something I rarely see present in books, so I’m happy to see the issue being addressed! This is also an own voices novel.

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5. This Train Is Being Held by Ismée Williams

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This is a young adult romance featuring two New York teens; Isabelle and Alex. Isabellle is a dancer, and Alex, a baseball player who wants to be a poet. Over the course of multiple subway encounters spanning the next three years, Isabelle learns of Alex’s struggle with his father, who is hell-bent on Alex being a contender for the major leagues, despite Alex’s desire to go to college and become a poet. Alex learns about Isabelle’s unstable mother, a woman with a prejudice against Latino men. But fate—and the 1 train—throw them together when Isabelle needs Alex most.

This is an authentic young adult drama with one of the best family dynamics I have ever seen!

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6. Once Upon an Eid by A Collection of Authors

Once Upon an Eid: Stories of Hope and Joy by 15 Muslim Voices: Amazon.ca:  Ali, S. K., Saeed, Aisha, Alfageeh, Sara: Books

This is a collection of short stories that showcases the most brilliant Muslim voices writing today, all about the most joyful holiday of the year: Eid!

This book is just the cutest thing ever! If you’re looking for an own-voices Muslim rep, this is definitely the book for you!

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7. Want by Cindy Pon

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Jason Zhou survives in a divided society where the elite use their wealth to buy longer lives. The rich wear special suits that protect them from the pollution and viruses that plague the city, while those without suffer illness and early deaths. Frustrated by his city’s corruption and still grieving the loss of his mother, who died as a result of it, Zhou is determined to change things, no matter the cost. With the help of his friends, Zhou infiltrates the lives of the wealthy in hopes of destroying the international Jin Corporation from within. Jin Corp not only manufactures the special suits the rich rely on, but they may also be manufacturing the pollution that makes them necessary. Yet the deeper Zhou delves into this new world of excess and wealth, the more muddled his plans become. And against his better judgment, Zhou finds himself falling for Daiyu, the daughter of Jin Corp’s CEO. Can Zhou save his city without compromising who he is or destroying his own heart?

This is a perfect novel for all the science fiction and dystopian lovers out there!

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8. Internment by Samira Ahmed

Internment

Set in a horrifying near-future United States, seventeen-year-old Layla Amin and her parents are forced into an internment camp for Muslim American citizens. With the help of newly made friends also trapped within the internment camp, her boyfriend on the outside, and an unexpected alliance, Layla begins a journey to fight for freedom, leading a revolution against the internment camp’s Director and his guards.

Despite being fictional, Internment tells the story of many people today. It’s an eye-opening book perfect for those who enjoyed The Hate U Give.

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9. Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids by A Collection of Authors

Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids

This is a collection of intersecting stories set at a powwow that bursts with hope, joy, resilience, the strength of community, and Native pride. In a high school gym full of color and song, Native families from Nations within the borders of the U.S. and Canada dance, sell beadwork and books, and celebrate friendship and heritage. They are the heroes of their own stories.

If you want to read more Indigenous own voice books, then this is 100% the book for you!

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10. Pet by Akwaeke Emezi

Pet

Pet is a rather unusual, but gripping tale about a girl named Jam. In her city Lucille, there are no more monsters anymore, or so the children in the city are taught. With doting parents and a best friend named Redemption, Jam has grown up with this lesson all her life. But when she meets Pet, a creature made of horns and colors and claws, who emerges from one of her mother’s paintings and a drop of Jam’s blood, she must reconsider what she’s been told. Pet has come to hunt a monster, and the shadow of something grim lurks in Redemption’s house. Jam must fight not only to protect her best friend, but also to uncover the truth, and the answer to the question — How do you save the world from monsters if no one will admit they exist?

Pet is a bizarre yet astounding tale that I just know whimsical fiction lovers will come to adore!

I hope you found some great books to add to your TBR! Have you read any of these? I’d love to know. Stay safe everyone! 💙

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A Song Below Water | A Review

Hiya! Today I will be reviewing the contemporary fantasy YA novel; A Song Below Water By Bethany C Morrow. Enjoy!

A Song Below Water: A Novel: Amazon.ca: Morrow, Bethany C.: Books

(Synopsis from goodreads)

Tavia is already at odds with the world, forced to keep her siren identity under wraps in a society that wants to keep her kind under lock and key. Never mind she’s also stuck in Portland, Oregon, a city with only a handful of black folk and even fewer of those with magical powers. At least she has her bestie Effie by her side as they tackle high school drama, family secrets, and unrequited crushes.

But everything changes in the aftermath of a siren murder trial that rocks the nation; the girls’ favorite Internet fashion icon reveals she’s also a siren, and the news rips through their community. Tensions escalate when Effie starts being haunted by demons from her past, and Tavia accidentally lets out her magical voice during a police stop. No secret seems safe anymore—soon Portland won’t be either.

Let’s talk about the plot! The original premise sounded so incredibly bone rattling and revolutionary! The execution however, let me down. The whole story was very confusing, and many of the magical creatures weren’t explained beforehand. As someone who doesn’t know much about magical realism and fantasy, I was extremely confused. I also longed for more social commentary. I felt like there was barely any, which is such a shame as it could have made this book 10 times more enjoyable.

Fortunately though, I liked the main characters. Effy and Tavia had the best relationship! It was just the sweetest. I absolutely loved the talk about black hair! I actually learnt quite a bit about black hair through A Song Below Water. Wallace was another great character. He was kind, charismatic, and charming. At times I felt as though Effy was cold towards Wallace for absolutely no reason whatsoever. For example, he’d try to help her, and she’d snap at him. The fluctuation from I-love-Wallace to I-hate-Wallace was a bit off, and didn’t transition smoothly.

“We should all speak like sirens. Use our voices to make a difference, because all of them matter.”

― Bethany C. Morrow, A Song Below Water

Tavia’s parents were dislikeable, and their actions where discriminatory towards sirens. (Tavia is a siren by the way.) Fortunately, I was very intrigued to see the father-daughter dynamic play out, so that was cool! Moreover, the other side characters such as Naema and Priam were flat out mean. I won’t talk much about the actual actions some characters made as I don’t want to give spoilers. However, it seemed that a lot of their actions were done ‘just because,’ and didn’t have any meaning behind doing so.

The dialogue between Effy and Tavia was the best thing ever! I absolutely adored their late night talks! If you’re looking for a story about sisters, do check out A Song Below Water. I also loved how Tavia and Effy used sign language to communicate when Tavia was not able to speak. Sign language is something hard to find in YA novels, let alone fictional novels! As mentioned previously, I was hoping for more talk about the discrimination that sirens, let alone African Americans, face.

“What we need isn’t dissuading, or discouragement, or consoling. We don’t need to be told we’re all helpless. What we need is action.”

― Bethany C. Morrow, A Song Below Water

For the most part, the writing style felt choppy and hard to follow. I did however, like how I was able to distinguish between Effy and Tavia’s point of views. In many books, it’s hard to tell which character’s head the readers are in, but with A Song Below Water, I was able to distinguished perfectly between the two! They each had their own unique way of thinking, and I’m so glad the author delved into that vigorously! The best thing about the book though, was that there was barely any swearing or cursing! Isn’t that amazing? I don’t know about you, but it left me feeling very happy.

I’m sad to say that the overall enjoyment level of A Song Below Water wasn’t very high. I was way too confused to feel completely immersed in the story. It took me over 200 pages to get into the storyline. Fortunately, the plot was whimsical perfection, so that added to the overall enjoyment of the book!

A Song Below Water was an enlightening read that I recommend to whimsical fiction lovers!

Age Rating: 12 and up

TW: Police brutality, forced outing, colorism, racism, talk of murder, bullying, cyber bullying

Final Rating: 6/10 or 3 stars

⭐⭐⭐

Have you read A Song Below Water? If so, let me know what you thought of it in the comments below! Have a wonderful day!

(PS: If anyone’s curious, I posted a pic of this novel on my bookstagram)

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This Train Is Being Held | A Review

Hiya everyone! Today I’ll be reviewing This Train Is Being Held by Ismée Williams. Before I get into my review, look at this beautiful cover! I say this in every review, but I can always, ALWAYS, appreciate a stunning book cover. This was easily my most anticipated YA novel of 2020, so I’m super excited to have finally read it! Without further ado, let’s jump right into it!

This Train Is Being Held by Ismée Amiel Williams

When private school student Isabelle Warren first meets Dominican-American Alex Rosario on the downtown 1 train, she remembers his green eyes and his gentlemanly behavior. He remembers her untroubled happiness, something he feels all rich kids must possess. That, and her long dancer legs. Over the course of multiple subway encounters, Isabelle learns of Alex’s struggle with his father, who is hell-bent on Alex being a contender for the major leagues, despite Alex’s desire to go to college and become a poet. Alex learns about Isabelle’s unstable mother, a woman with a prejudice against Latino men. But fate—and the 1 train—throw them together when Isabelle needs Alex most.

First, let’s talk about the plot. The original premise of ‘This Train Is Being Held’ sounded, rather generic. We’ve all heard the story of ‘they meet one day on a train.’ However, going into the story, I knew I wouldn’t be delving into a creative plot. And you know what? I’m okay with that. I prefer contemporary, so it was nice to be met with a rather simplistic story. The plot was executed pretty well, so I had no issues with that aspect of the novel. Unfortunately though, it was a bit too insta-love for my liking.

Furthermore, with that said, the characters were complex. It was amazing to see an almost all Latinx and Hispanic cast. The diversity within the cast was so cool! The main characters; Isa and Alex weren’t bland. Alex wants to be a poet, and Isa wants to be a dancer. In many immigrant households, pursuing the arts is a rather taboo topic. So it was great to see that they were showing colored people in the arts. However, I was hoping for more communication between the characters. From the parents to the children, to Isa and Alex, there was so much miscommunication! That part of the story left me a bit frustrated. Without giving away spoilers, for a large part of the story, Alex kept on trying to talk to Isa, but she would constantly respond to him indirectly. And Alex always kept on assuming things without even trying to communicate with other people.

“Because it doesn’t matter where you come from. If you work hard enough, you can do anything. Become anyone.”

― Ismée Amiel Williams, This Train Is Being Held

The side characters were also well crafted. First we have Isa and Alex’ parents. Their parents were complex, and I loved that. In a lot of stories, the parents literally have no personality. In This Train Is Being Held, Isa’s mom and older brother are bipolar. I can’t say for sure how accurate the illness was portrayed in the novel because it simply isn’t my place to comment on that. However, Isa’s mother has a fascinating backstory. (You’ll have to find out what is it for yourself. 😏) I also liked how Alex has a sweet relationship with his parents. He has a great relationship with his mom, and step mom; Yaritza. His dad however, not so much. I like how the family dynamic was explored throughout the book. Alex’s dad is hard on him and his little brother Robi. Robi is just such a cutie, and I love how Alex was protective over him. Alex’s friends; Danny and Bryan are great characters as well. In the story, the police constantly target Alex and his friends because of the color of their skin. They assume they’re in a gang, much like the one Danny’s brother was in. The book readily explores police brutality, and I thought it was so amazing and unique to see such topics present in contemporary novels. Another interesting side character was Kiara; a girl that likes Alex. Without giving away too much, in the beginning I didn’t like her. However, she proved to be an empathetic character in the end! Isa also has a loving relationship with her older brother Merrit. She looks up to her brother, and cares for him. It was refreshing to see a brother-sister dynamic where the dialogue isn’t just “GeT OuT oF My RoOM.”

Looking back, I realize that there wasn’t much dialogue between Alex and Isa for the last 3/4 of the book. For the dialogue that there was, I would say it was rather unrealistic. Within the first 20 pages, they kiss….um what. Nevertheless, I was very intrigued with the dialogue between Alex and his friend Danny. A portion of the narration was in Spanish. Personally, I found it to be rather refreshing. Although I don’t understand the language, it was still nice to see another language other than English spoken in a American YA novel.

“I want to be with you through the bad. Not just laugh next to you during the good.” He tells me what his mami told him. That falling in love is easy but fighting for it is hard. “You, this.” He points to the two of us. “It’s worth fighting for.”

― Ismée Amiel Williams, This Train Is Being Held

The writing style was raw, and I loved that. It was nice to see Alex and Isa’s inner thoughts. The point of view is in first person, and in present tense. Present tense writing is something I don’t encounter often within the Young Adult Genre. I enjoyed the writing because it was very ‘in the moment.’ This allowed the readers to immerse completely into the story. Unfortunately though, the pacing was incredibly awkward, and the words girlfriend and boyfriend, were only mentioned till way later. That made me extremely confused as to whether or not they were dating, or simply just liked each other. On a side note, the description of the foods present in the novel where done so well. I’ve never tried guava pastries, but I really want to now!

The overall enjoyment level of the book will be different for everyone. If you enjoy contemporary, then I recommend This Train Is Being Held! However, if romance isn’t your thing, then you might not enjoy this book as much as I did. What others would define as boring, I define as nail-biting suspense. The author had me hooked throughout the entire story!

I will admit, I was going to give this one three stars. The middle proved frustrating, but the ending was phenomenal. So I bumped it up to four stars!

Age Rating: 15 and up

TW: Police brutality, gang violence, some mature content

Final Rating: 7.5/10 or 3.75 stars

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

What is your favorite YA contemporary novel? Have a fabulous day everyone!

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