Diversity has become the watchword in YA recently, but that doesn’t mean that publishing has answered the call just yet. Building a library with characters that reflect the appearance and lives of kids of color is difficult, but NEVER FEAR. I can help. Here are 7 fun books for teens with Black Boy leads.

All American Boys
Jason Reynolds and Brendon Keily
Atheneum, 2015
978-1481463331Contemporary Fiction

Told from Dual points of view, All American Boys, explores an incident of police brutality at a northeastern high school. The two boys, one the boy brutalized and the other a white classmate and witness, have to come to grips with what happened, how it affects not only themselves, but their community and the nation as a whole. It’s heartfelt and scarily relevant.

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume I: The Pox Party
MT Anderson
Candlewick, 2008

Historical Fiction
Octavian is a young slave owned by a group of scientists paid to study the ability of the negro to learn. The problem is that Octavian doesn’t know that. Raised in comfort and given the best tutoring that anyone could hope for in pre-Revolutionary War New England he believes he is a student. It isn’t until the death of his mother and the stirrings of war begin to rumble through the city does he begin to understand who he is and what he must do. An engaging and emotional read, adventure lovers and history lovers will be more than satisfied.

Fake ID
Lamar Giles
Amistad, 2014


Nick Pearson is on the run. With a new name and a new identity every few years he’s tired and just wants to settle in. When the only friend he’s had a chance to make at his new school ends up dead he’s forced to dive headfirst into a mystery that could blow his cover at the very least and at worst end his own life. Super fun and full of twists and turns, mystery lovers will love this novel.

When I Was the Greatest
Jason Reynolds
Atheneum, 2015
Contemporary Fiction


Hood tales abound on the reluctant reader circuit, but you have to search for a truly good story. Winner of the Coretta Scott King Award, When I Was the Greatest tells the tale of Ali, a fierce friend and his friends Noodles and his brother Needles. Needles has Tourette’s syndrome and knitting seems to calm his flailing and curses, but that doesn’t mean that everyone is so understanding of his needs. When Needles is severely beaten at a party Noodles and Ali must navigate their own emotions in addition to the fallout in their Brooklyn neighborhood. Told with heart and attention to detail, this story will delight anyone looking for a real life story that’s as beautiful and tragic as life can be.

The Marvelous Effect
Troy Cle
Simon and Schuster, 2008

Louis Proof is special, more special than he ever imagined. When Louis receives a mysterious invitation to an amusement park his world his turned upside down. Soon he’s battling strange beings from another dimension. This hip-hop adventure features beats, rhymes, fast cars and interplanetary intrigue. An easy-read it will appeal to middle grade readers and teen readers alike.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
Junot Diaz
Riverhead Books, 2008
Literary Fiction/Contemporary

Oscar is a geek. A fantasy loving, Klingon speaking, light saber wielding geek from the Bronx by way of the Dominican Republic. Without the least bit of swagger he has a hard time navigating the world, a world that pretends he doesn’t exist. In his Pulitzer Prize winning novel, Diaz takes us through the lives of  Oscar, his sister and his mother, while detailing nearly 50 years of island life, internal and external racism and the quest for love and acceptance. I recommend the audiobook in order to really immerse yourself in the music of the language. 

Sag Harbor
Colson Whitehead
Anchor, 2010
Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction

In Whitehead’s novel we follow Benji, a black prep school student who’s spending the summer of 1985 in Sag Harbor among a small community of elite black folk. Like all summer novels he’ll have his usual mishaps with the townsfolk and making new friends, but Benji’s sheltered and performing his blackness isn’t something he’s used to. Watch Benji smile. Watch Benji code switch. Benji is happy. Benji feels like a moron.

Colson has gotten a lot of great press lately for his newest novel, The Underground Railroad, so Sag Harbor may be a good introduction into the author’s aesthetic.

Special thanks to everyone who responded to my inquiry during the #askalibrarian twitter chat on Thursdays at Noon.

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