These books with Black leads need to be added to your to-be-read list, like, yesterday.
As an avid reader, I truly appreciate summer break’s time away from school because that means I finally have enough free time to read what I want to read, rather than what I am required to read if I want to pass exams. Once I learned to read, there was actually no going back. I was reading street signs, TV commercials, souvenir fridge magnets, opening and closing credits for High School Musical 2; the list goes on.
Junie B. Jones was my homegirl, but the book I held and still hold dearest to me is Ruby and the Booker Boys by Derrick Barnes. My first-grade teacher Mrs. Gore gifted each student in my class a book for Christmas that year, and this book, I genuinely treasured. It was the first book I read in which I could truly identify with the main character – a Black girl. Seriously, we probably had the same hairstyle when I got the book, and to this day, it remains among one of my favorite gifts.
The delight I experienced from imagining myself in Ruby’s shoes so vividly – without replacing descriptions of long wavy hair for cornrows or blue eyes for brown ones as I read – motivates me today to scout out books that amplify Black voices. Like the viral sound circulating Black Booktok (book-focused content creators on TikTok) said, “If there’s a Black girl on the cover… I’m gonna buy it, I’m gonna read it, I’m gonna love it.” And I have (almost) every time.
In this series, I will be featuring a list of Black fiction that I recommend everyone read because they deserve recognition, but also because it feels so good to have content that is not focused on Black strife and pain. My hope from the creation of this series is to initiate conversations on contemporary Black authors, their work, and their legacies. Let’s get started!
This spicy novel is about two novelists, Eva Mercy and Shane Hall, who have been secretly writing to and about each other in their books for years. New to her high school in Washington D.C., Eva and Shane meet one another in the schoolyard and after a series of violent occurrences, they run away together for a week.
During this fateful week in June, Eva and Shane find comfort in each other because of their shared experiences of lovelessness and neglect. They fell in love, yet their week came to an abrupt and ugly end. They run into one another fifteen years later, and in yet another week in the month of June, they demonstrate that they have grown and changed, which allows them to rekindle their love.
As a trigger warning, the novel has heavy subject matter including alcoholism, generational trauma, assault, child neglect and abandonment, and more that may upset some readers, so proceed with caution.
I don’t read romance novels often, but I found myself adoring this story because it features a Black woman experiencing a platonic, romantic, and familial love that encompasses her and appreciates her as she is. As a lover girl in her lover-girl era, I was so gushy and excited because of the way Shane expressed his love for Eva and vice versa.
However, this book differed widely from other works I have read up until this point because the main characters grew up in broken homes. Their approaches to the woes of life stemmed from a trauma I have no experience in so I could not anticipate or reason with the characters’ next moves when they were young, but Williams’ writing style allows the reader to sympathize with these people in a way that makes it feel as though you’ve known them personally.
My rating for this novel would be an 8/10. It had a slow start, but once Shane and Eva met up to have their first conversation in over a decade, the book became a hot page-turner that had me wondering how the characters were doing long after I finished the book.
Black Cake follows the life of Covey Lyncook/Eleanor Bennet/Eleanor Douglass through a voice recording she left for her children Benny and Bryon in the wake of her death. Following Eleanor Bennet’s now post-mortem instructions, attorney Charles Mitch brings the estranged siblings together to listen to their mothers’ confessions, which tell the story of her life that she kept hidden from the world.
In this recording, Eleanor informs Benny and Byron that she left black cake in the freezer for them to enjoy together when the time is right. The contents of this recording reveal life-altering details that leave these two questioning their identities and reevaluating what they thought they knew about one another.
I’m convinced Eleanor and her husband Bert were Jamaican, and while it was never exactly stated, as a Jamaican, it must be the right answer. Black cake is a Caribbean dessert – dried fruits soaked in rum or wine for months at a time are poured on top of a cake brown or black in color. The longer the fruits are left to ferment, the stronger the rum. Next, many of the characters had nicknames based on minute details about them which is a very Jamaican thing. Often, people can’t even remember the person’s given name because they’ve only known them by their nicknames.
There is so much to be said about these characters and the way each of them handled (or didn’t handle) their business, but I’ll keep it brief.
My beef with Eleanor is her blind devotion to her husband as a thank-you for the sacrifices he’s made to be with her. While I do understand her perspective, I am not in the business of putting a partner above children, and we see Eleanor do that time and time again.
To me, Byron has no mind of his own. Though he’s an intelligent man, he lets others tell him what to think. When Benny was rejected by her family, her parents cut all communication with her, and he did too. He called her selfish for doing so when in reality, she just needed someone in her corner. As the big brother who adored his sister up until that moment, I was so disappointed in him!
Benny’s adult life is characterized by her not knowing when to act on something, or rather, her hesitancy to act. Had she only let her partner know about her relationship with her family, I think things would have played out totally differently. Benny had them feeling like they were being kept a secret! A big no-no. Covey’s father had his priorities all the way messed up and it cost him quite literally everything. That’s a conversation for another day.
I rate this novel a 6.5/10 because I found myself feeling bored at times due to the repetition of information. Love the story, but like, we get it. Other than that, it was a spectacular story!
Stay tuned for more book reviews by me, your resident bookworm.