If you are uncertain where to start in supporting anti-racism causes, “Black Lives Matter” books are a great way to educate yourself and promote empathy. Books uniquely help you in trying to walk a mile in someone’s shoes and be able to respond, “I see you.”
There are many, many books out there that feature Black struggles and protagonists. I have not read them all. Below I have compiled a list of those that I have read and do recommend. I will continue to update it over time.
My goal is sharing these books is to allow the voices within the books to speak — not mine — so I am sharing only brief thoughts of my own in order to help you make a decision, along with a quote from each book and a brief narrative. I sincerely hope these “Black Lives Matter” books are helpful to you and this cause.
“Black Lives Matter” Books
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
“But home isn’t where you land; home is where you launch. You can’t pick your home any more than you can choose your family. In poker, you get five cards. Three of them you can swap out, but two are yours to keep: family and native land.”Tayari Jones
An American Marriage is an Oprah’s Book Club pick, and it is a contemplative novel about young Black newlyweds living the American Dream in the South, until the husband is convicted of a crime he may not have committed. As his years in prison pass, they are forced to deal with the past and hope for the future, as the wife lives a new life in his absence.
For more, read my full review of An American Marriage.
Becoming by Michelle Obama
“For me, becoming isn’t about arriving somewhere or achieving a certain aim. I see it instead as forward motion, a means of evolving, a way to reach continuously toward a better self. The journey doesn’t end.”Michelle Obama
The #1 New York Times bestseller Becoming is an Oprah’s Book Club pick and is the exquisite memoir of the first Black First Lady of the United States, told with the wisdom and relatable nature for which she is known.
Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue
“People don’t want to open their eyes and see the Truth because the illusion suits them. As long as they’re fed whatever lies they want to hear they’re happy, because the Truth means nothing to them.”Imbolo Mbue
New York Times bestseller Behold the Dreamers is also an Oprah’s Book Club pick (and one of my favorite reads of the year), and is the compulsively readable, suspenseful and engrossing story of the American Dream, as a Cameroonian immigrant living in Harlem who becomes a chauffeur of a Lehman Brothers executive just prior to the economic crash of 2008.
For more, read my full review of Behold the Dreamers.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
“What’s the point of having a voice if you’re gonna be silent in those moments you shouldn’t be?”Angie Thomas
As far as I’m concerned, the #1 New York Times bestseller The Hate U Give should be required reading. It is one of the best audio books of all time, one of the most poignant “Black Lives Matter” books and one of the best books set in school, which touches on the subject directly, after Black teenager Starr witnesses her friend being shot and killed by a police officer. She lives in a “thug” neighborhood but attends a preppy private school and struggles to deal with the aftermath of being “the witness” in both of these different worlds. It’s highly educational and the characters are complex and feel alive within the pages.
For more, read my full review of The Hate U Give.
Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson
“The power of just mercy is that it belongs to the undeserving. It’s when mercy is least expected that it’s most potent—strong enough to break the cycle of victimization and victimhood, retribution and suffering. It has the power to heal the psychic harm and injuries that lead to aggression and violence, abuse of power, mass incarceration.”Bryan Stevenson
The #1 New York Times bestseller Just Mercy is another book that should be required reading. If you are doing a 50 States of America reading challenge, this also makes a great book for Alabama. It is the memoir of a Black attorney of a man wrongly convicted of murder and sent to prison. What’s utterly shocking about this story is how long the system continues to work against him despite overwhelming evidence of his innocence.
For more, read my full review of Just Mercy.
More Than Enough: Claiming Space for Who You Are (No Matter What They Say) by Elaine Welteroth
“I realized that if we aren’t vigilant, we can move through our entire lives feeling smaller than we actually are—by playing it safe, by unconsciously giving away our power, by dimming our radiance, by not recognizing there is always so much more waiting for us on the other side of fear.”– Elaine Welteroth
More Than Enough is the memoir and uplifting manifesto of a half-Black young women’s journey through living and dating in her 20s in the magazine industry.
It’s filled with “Black Lives Matter” themes, and it reminded me in some ways of many popular books: Save Me the Plums, The Devil Wears Prada, Lean In, The Hate U Give and Becoming. If you like those books and want another “Black Lives Matter” book for your TBR list, I highly recommend More Than Enough. I powered through it in one day.
Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson
“Look how beautifully black we are. And as we dance, I am not Melody who is sixteen, I am not my parents’ once illegitimate daughter—I am a narrative, someone’s almost forgotten story. Remembered.”Jacqueline Woodson
Instant New York Times bestseller Red at the Bone is a quick, poetic read about 16 year old Melody’s coming of age celebration at her grandparents’ Brooklyn brownstone, exploring how her family got to that moment over the past several decades, and touching upon such issues as sexual desire and identity, ambition, gentrification, education, class, status and parenthood.
Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
“One day, when Emira would say good-bye to Briar, she’d also leave the joy of having somewhere to be, the satisfaction of understanding the rules, the comfort of knowing what’s coming next, and the privilege of finding a home within yourself.”Kiley Reid
Instant New York Times bestseller Such a Fun Age is another Reese Witherspoon book club pick, and it explores “white saviorism” through the modern, coming-of-age lens of 25 year old Black nanny Emira, who is accused of kidnapping the child with whom she is working. Her boss’s good intentions are mismanaged in ways that end up hurting Emira more than helping her, and likable Emira must learn to come into her own in this story that feels utterly fresh and real.
The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life, Freedom, and Justice by Anthony Ray Hinton
“There’s no sadder place to be in this world than a place where there’s no hope.”-Anthony Ray Hinton
The Sun Does Shine is another true story of a Black man wrongfully convicted of murder and imprisoned for decades on death row, later exonerated by Equal Justice Initiative attorney Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy. It’s different from Just Mercy, as it’s written from a different perspective (client versus attorney), but they make the perfect companions.
The Sun Does Shine is also an Oprah’s Book Club book from the perspective of Hinton on death row — oftentimes more positive than you may imagine him to be, and a storyteller in his own right. Again, what’s most shocking is how much overwhelming evidence there was to exonerate him, and for how long the justice system failed him.
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
“She hadn’t realized how long it takes to become somebody else, or how lonely it can be living in a world not meant for you.”– Brit Bennett
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett is the Good Morning America book club pick that is the mesmerizing story of Black light-skinned identical twin sisters who grew up together in a light-skinned Black town in Louisiana. Twin sister Stella then runs away from New Orleans and marries a white man, and she lives a new secret life as a white woman, estranged from her sister. Twin sister Desiree marries a dark-skinned Black man and has a dark-skinned daughter.
The Vanishing Half follows the lives of the twins and their complex families through decades from the 1950s to the 1990s and a variety of American settings, amidst the backdrop of their different identities.
I simply cannot convey my love of this immersive and thoughtful book in mere words (so I wrote an entire guide to The Vanishing Half), and I couldn’t recommend it more highly, especially for fans of Celeste Ng, Elena Ferrante and Ann Patchett. It’s one my Best Book of 2020 and one of my favorite family dramas as well.
With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo
“And sometimes focusing on what you can control is the only way to lessen the pang in your chest when you think about the things you can’t.”Elizabeth Acevedo
In the beloved With the Fire on High, Emoni is a Black and Puerto-Rican teen mom in Philadelphia (and this is one of my favorite books set in Philly) grappling with motherhood and the decision between college and her passion of cooking amidst the backdrop of a diverse neighborhood. Her voice is unique, engrossing and refreshing, and this would also make a good book club read because members can cook the book’s recipes and also discuss the options available to Emoni and whether she made the right choice and why.
For more, read my full review of With the Fire on High.
Year of Yes by Shonda Rimes
“Saying yes . . . saying yes is courage. Saying yes is the sun. Saying yes is life.”Shonda Rimes
Beloved tv creator Shonda Rhimes is the every woman in Year of Yes . No, really, it’s like you can hear her singing “I’m Every Woman” and “dancing it out,” as she likes to say. Shonda takes this as a challenge to say “yes” for a year to things other than work and motherhood. Along the way, she does such things as gives speeches, loses weight and learns to say “no.” She writes in a way that makes the reader feel like they know her and are welcomed into her mind.
Those “Black Lives Matter” books are recommended to promote education and empathy in Black History Month and beyond.
The above links are directed to Amazon, but if you prefer to support independent bookstores, you can shop these “Black Lives Matter” books on my Bookshop.org list.
Lastly, pin this post to Pinterest because you can both share the impact of these books with others and refer back to it at a time when you need this resource most.