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Book Review: Black Enough: Stories of Being Young and Black in America edited by Ibi Zoboi

Publisher’s description

black enoughEdited by National Book Award finalist Ibi Zoboi, and featuring some of the most acclaimed bestselling Black authors writing for teens today—Black Enough is an essential collection of captivating stories about what it’s like to be young and Black in America.

Black is…sisters navigating their relationship at summer camp in Portland, Oregon, as written by Renée Watson.

Black is…three friends walking back from the community pool talking about nothing and everything, in a story by Jason Reynolds.

Black is…Nic Stone’s high-class beauty dating a boy her momma would never approve of.

Black is…two girls kissing in Justina Ireland’s story set in Maryland.

Black is urban and rural, wealthy and poor, mixed race, immigrants, and more—because there are countless ways to be Black enough.

Contributors:
Justina Ireland
Varian Johnson
Rita Williams-Garcia
Dhonielle Clayton
Kekla Magoon
Leah Henderson
Tochi Onyebuchi
Jason Reynolds
Nic Stone
Liara Tamani
Renée Watson
Tracey Baptiste
Coe Booth
Brandy Colbert
Jay Coles
Ibi Zoboi
Lamar Giles

 

Amanda’s thoughts

This is a truly excellent collection of contemporary short stories. There wasn’t a dud in this anthology, which is pretty impressive, because I usually feel like collections  are often so uneven, that they have a few strong stories and just as many forgettable, undeveloped stories. These stories all focus on being young and black in America. They look at identity, tradition, ideas of blackness, relationships, and experiences in various urban and rural areas across the country.

 

In Renée Watson’s piece, 17-year-old Raven, a counselor at a camp for young girls from the Portland, Oregon area, is surprised to find one of her campers is her father’s daughter from the family he had after he left when Raven was seven. Varian Johnson’s story is set in South Carolina and follows Cam, who is visiting his grandma, as he deals with code switching, being called an Oreo, and thinking he’s not black enough for the girl he likes. Leah Henderson sets her story at a prep school where art, futures, and authentic selves are all in question. Lamar Giles’s “Black. Nerd. Problems” entertainingly focuses on a group of mall employees at an after-hours mall party.

 

Kekela Magoon’s main character mourns the loss of a school friend who was maybe the only person to see her real self. Jason Reynolds shows us a group of boys walking home from the pool through Bed-Stuy dreaming of the perfect sandwich. Brandy Colbert’s “Oreo” deals with a potentially Spelman-bound senior, her parents’ complicated feelings about HBCUs, and how her cousin from Missouri thinks she “acts white.” Tochi Onyebuchi shows readers a Nigerian American debate superstar who unexpectedly finds a passion for metal music. Liara Tamani’s story is set at a church camp where there’s pressure to send naked selfies. Jay Coles brings readers to the tiny town of North Salem where two boys from feuding families reveal their feelings toward each other while getting ready to compete in the big horse race.

 

Rita Williams-Garcia’s story is the only one to veer into fantasy, with a gay male model encountering an 1840s slave (either in a wash basin or in a dream) who can’t understand his modern life and freedoms. Tracey Baptiste’s “Gravity” takes place in a brief time span on a dance floor when a Trinidadian girl is sexually assaulted by her dance partner. A real standout story is Dhonielle Clayton’s “The Trouble with Drowning,” in which twin sisters from a wealthy area of Washington, DC experience a growing distance and a family unwilling to address mental health issues.

 

Justina Ireland’s main character, Devon, is in “the backwoods of Maryland” for the summer while her mother gets help for her depression and begins dating a local girl, trying to learn to live in the moment even though their relationship seems sure to end when they both leave for college. Coe Booth’s is set at college, where computer science student Garry hopes to be reunited with Inaaya, a girl he knew (and fell for) from past summer hackathons. Nic Stone’s main characters come from very different upbringings, but learn to see each other beyond their stereotypes and bond over their love of Percy Jackson books. And finally, Ibi Zoboi looks at the one night of freedom of Nigeria (Geri), the daughter of black nationalist revolutionary freedom fighter caught for tax evasion who can’t wait to be eighteen and leave the confines of the movement.

 

The stories, settings, and writing styles are varied. While readers will never know what to expect when they flip to the next story, they will not be disappointed. Each story is thoughtful and engaging, with tones varying from serious to more lighthearted. One of the best things about anthologies is the potential to introduce readers to writers they are unfamiliar with. This collection features so many wonderful authors and I hope that, if readers don’t already know their work, these stories will encourage them to seek out their books. Teachers and librarians, put this book up on a display featuring books by the authors included here. A great exploration of identity and cultures—a necessary addition to all collections. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780062698728
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 01/08/2019

#SJYALit: Time For Confrontation: Moving Forward in the Diversity Conversation, a guest post by S. K. Ali

sjyalitThe first time I saw myself, I got scared. I was twelve and I’d brought my plate of lentils and rice into the living room in order to sit beside my dad as he watched the news. And there she was: a girl like me. On television.

The girl had on a blue hijab exactly like the one I wore to school. But this girl wasn’t going to school. She was getting bombed — by “our” side.

I remember the scene vividly; remember how my chewing slowed and how my father shook his head and how I felt a profound sense of disruption, of dissonance.

I mean I’d never seen people who looked like me on TV before. And this first time wasn’t fun TV like my favorite show, The Facts of Life.

This was my earliest memory — a searing one — of seeing myself represented, or rather, myself presented to me. I wish I could say that things got better but of course they didn’t. Due to the subsequent Gulf Wars and the North American media coverage of them, as well as books and films set abroad featuring the Sad Plight of Muslim Girls, I only saw Muslim women who were either to be hated or pitied.

Growing up, looking in the mirror meant seeing the negativity surrounding my Muslim identity reflected back, almost web-like over my real self.

Viewing yourself as others have misconstrued you either silences you or enrages you. Both these outcomes are detrimental — at the individual as well as societal level.

And here, I pause to present my privilege. I hope when you’re reading it, you think of those without this privilege and the depth of internalized pain carried around as a result.

When I think of the girl sitting beside her father, eating lentils and rice, watching the news, I also see the bookshelves lining the walls behind her.

I was fortunate to live in a home housing knowledge that challenged this negative view of myself — my father’s library had hundreds of books on Islam and Muslims that told another story — and so I was able to see through the web disfiguring me.

Yet still, the knowledge of self that I gleaned from my family, our home library, the mosque, and Muslim events stayed on a parallel course, a far one, from the “knowledge” about Muslims served daily on the news and at school by teachers who talked about “them” while one of “them” was sitting right there in her hijab.

The two streams of knowledge never met because to merge them would mean confrontation and I hated confrontation.

But then one more frustrating, negative news story about people like me led me to a decision at seventeen: I would tear at the web strands that disguised who I truly was. If it meant challenging things publicly – in classrooms, on the streets, writing to newspapers, so be it. If it meant confrontation, so be it.

Much of my University years were spent fighting Islamophobia, including undertaking a yearlong research paper surveying the depiction of Muslim women in popular culture.

This thesis, written over twenty years ago, documented the negativity surrounding Muslim identity, in particular female Muslim identity. It pains me to say that so very little has changed.

With one exciting exception.

The exception is a result of an intersection of sorts, a confrontational intersection.

The point at which real, dynamic change occurs. Where real stories, real characters, real art emerges.

The intersection happens when the authentic knowledge we hold about ourselves as we truly are, as members of marginalized communities, confronts the knowledge about us that has been in circulation for years, or, in many cases, centuries.

To have these streams of knowledge run parallel to each other, never meeting, has proven to be dangerous. The increase in hate crimes and policies affecting certain communities disproportionally provides that proof.

Old, untrue narratives hurt, internally and externally. They’re also same-old, same-old boring.

But now, we’re seeing an increase in stories arising that challenge the old. The exciting exception.

Ali - Saints and MisfitsOver the past few years, the invaluable work of diversity advocates like WNDB brought the important task of changing the publishing landscape to the fore. The #ownvoices movement sharpened the focus and asked us to consider the important question: who gets to tell “diverse” stories?

Earlier this year, #MuslimShelfSpace asked readers to reflect on whether they were making space for Muslim-authored content in the face of increased Islamophobia.

Who gets to tell stories featuring Muslims? I say it’s the children who grew up — who are growing up still — unable to see themselves clearly when they look in the mirror.

They’re the ones with the stories you’ve probably never heard. They’re the ones who’ll confront the same-old.

They’re the ones with Art to share.

Meet S.K. Ali

SKAliPicPrintS.K. Ali is the author of Saints and Misfits. She has written on Muslim culture and life for various media.

 

 

 

About SAINTS AND MISFITS by S.K. Ali

Saints and Misfits is an unforgettable debut novel that feels like a modern day My So-Called Life…starring a Muslim teen.

There are three kinds of people in my world:

1. Saints, those special people moving the world forward. Sometimes you glaze over them. Or, at least, I do. They’re in your face so much, you can’t see them, like how you can’t see your nose.

2. Misfits, people who don’t belong. Like me—the way I don’t fit into Dad’s brand-new family or in the leftover one composed of Mom and my older brother, Mama’s-Boy-Muhammad.

Also, there’s Jeremy and me. Misfits. Because although, alliteratively speaking, Janna and Jeremy sound good together, we don’t go together. Same planet, different worlds.

But sometimes worlds collide and beautiful things happen, right?

3. Monsters. Well, monsters wearing saint masks, like in Flannery O’Connor’s stories.

Like the monster at my mosque.

People think he’s holy, untouchable, but nobody has seen under the mask.

Except me.