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Three YA Titles That Talk About Black Lives Matters and Protests

For the past several weeks the United States – and the world, really – has been wrestling with our deep and unrelenting history of racism with a series of global protests. As a white woman, I have seen a lot of my teens and friends wrestling with what this moment means in history. I’ve also seen a lot of important conversations about what protests can and should look like, with some pretty profound discussion about things like tone policing. One of the comments I have seen over and over again is that white people like me don’t get to tell Black people how to feel or respond to the justified anger they have about history, policing and racism in general. Today I want to share with you some excellent books by Own Voices Black authors that tackle this topic that is relevant reading, especially for white readers who are looking to engage in anti-racist reading.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Publisher’s Book Description:

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, this is a powerful and gripping YA novel about one girl’s struggle for justice. 

Karen’s Thoughts: This book has been on the New York Time’s Besteseller List, usually in the #1 spot, for over 2 years now. It has also been made into a major motion picture which you should watch, but only after reading the book. I read this book with an adult book club I am in. The members of my book club are all white women in their 30s or higher and range from liberal to very conservative. This conversation was one of the ones I was most tense about having but it went surprisingly well. This book really focuses on its main character, Starr, trying to find her voice when her friend is killed by a police officer while she sits in the car next to him. It’s stark, haunting and should move everyone to anger. Part of Starr’s voice comes in choosing to participate in local protests.

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely

Publisher’s Book Description:

Rashad is absent again today.

That’s the sidewalk graffiti that started it all…

Well, no, actually, a lady tripping over Rashad at the store, making him drop a bag of chips, was what started it all. Because it didn’t matter what Rashad said next—that it was an accident, that he wasn’t stealing—the cop just kept pounding him. Over and over, pummeling him into the pavement. So then Rashad, an ROTC kid with mad art skills, was absent again…and again…stuck in a hospital room. Why? Because it looked like he was stealing. And he was a black kid in baggy clothes. So he must have been stealing.

And that’s how it started.

And that’s what Quinn, a white kid, saw. He saw his best friend’s older brother beating the daylights out of a classmate. At first Quinn doesn’t tell a soul…He’s not even sure he understands it. And does it matter? The whole thing was caught on camera, anyway. But when the school—and nation—start to divide on what happens, blame spreads like wildfire fed by ugly words like “racism” and “police brutality.” Quinn realizes he’s got to understand it, because, bystander or not, he’s a part of history. He just has to figure out what side of history that will be.

Rashad and Quinn—one black, one white, both American—face the unspeakable truth that racism and prejudice didn’t die after the civil rights movement. There’s a future at stake, a future where no one else will have to be absent because of police brutality. They just have to risk everything to change the world.

Cuz that’s how it can end.

Karen’s Thoughts: This is such a great book and I highly recommend it. This book tells a compelling story which is told in alternating points of view, with both a Black and white main character. The internal dialogues of both characters and how they wrestle with the police shooting and whether or not they want to get involved in the protests is profound. Like The Hate U Give, this book is essential reading.

Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely on NPR

I’m Not Dying with You Tonight by Kimberly Jones and Gilly Segal

Publisher’s Book Description:

“An absolute page turner, I’m Not Dying with You Tonight is a compelling and powerful novel that is sure to make an impact.” —Angie Thomas, New York Times bestselling author of The Hate U Give

An NAACP Image Award Nominee, I’m Not Dying with You Tonight follows two teen girls—one black, one white—who have to confront their own assumptions about racial inequality as they rely on each other to get through the violent race riot that has set their city on fire with civil unrest.

Lena has her killer style, her awesome boyfriend, and a plan. She knows she’s going to make it big. Campbell, on the other hand, is just trying to keep her head down and get through the year at her new school.

When both girls attend the Friday-night football game, what neither expects is for everything to descend into sudden mass chaos. Chaos born from violence and hate. Chaos that unexpectedly throws them together.

They aren’t friends. They hardly understand the other’s point of view. But none of that matters when the city is up in flames, and they only have each other to rely on if they’re going to survive the night.

Karen’s Thoughts: I listened to this audio book just yesterday while shelving books in a new branch that my system is hoping to open soon. Like All American Boys, this book also is told with two alternating point of view with both a Black and a white main character. There is mention of Black Lives Matter and protests in this title, but this book also most explicitly talks about and uses the word riot. This is a town that has obviously been struggling with racial tension for quite some time. There is discussion about how when the police show up the situation escalates, there is very specific discussion about white privilege, and many other nuanced conversations about race take place within this story. I highly recommend this book for everyone.

Also, please check out author Kimberly Jones talking about the Black Lives Matter movement in the videos below.


  1. Christine M Lively says:

    All of those books are incredible. It’s amazing how powerfully and directly YA writers have confronted this issue and how it affects teens. Every time i’ve seen that unbelievably powerful Kimberly Jones video, I have responded with, “Go buy her book to show your support!” I think she’s made some sales based on that video. It’s so undeniably powerful, brilliant, and emotional.

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