Black boys are precious. Let me say that again. Black boys, and the men they grow into, are precious.
It happens to be International Men’s Day today. As a result, the internet is full of Things About Men, good, bad, political, personal, and all points in between. I find myself thinking about the men I know and love in my life. A lot of those men are Black. I have two brothers and three giant man cousins, all much younger than me, and I think often of what they were like as boys. (They were cute. It’s hard to believe, looking at them now.) I remember how difficult it was for them to become men in the present world, and can only guess at the cultural and social pressures they navigate trying to be good men. I know that it’s popular to poo on the patriarchy, and with good reason. (I’m a Black woman, so duh.) But a systemic problem is not the same as a personal deficiency.
In other words, I like men, I like Black men, and I think y’all are precious and deserve love and care and tenderness and appreciation without reservation. You also deserve to be heroes, which is something I didn’t realize is often lacking in books until recently. I was speaking to my brothers about Black heroines in fantasy and one of them pointed out that he couldn’t name a single fantasy novel with a Black man or boy as the hero.
I have to admit–he stumped me for a while, but I am the Equal Opportunity Reader, after all. I found some books and series that feature Black boys as the heroes. These Black boys save the day, get the girl, and have the big moments of awesome. All of these books are by Black men, and all of them include, love, happiness, #blackboyjoy and plenty of adventure.
Before I get started, I want to share the poem that inspired the title of this blog, by the brilliant Danez Smith. It’s called “Dinosaurs in the Hood” and the last lines always bring a smile and a sigh. You can find it, and other stereotype-defying, joy-bringing verses in his poetry collection Black Movie.
If you want to see all of the books I’m about to talk about in one easy place, check out the booklist here.
And with that, let’s get started…
The Gatekeeper’s Staff (T.J Young and the Orishas 1), by Antoine Bandele (Bandele Books, 2021)
Is it okay if I start with my favorite book from this list? I’ve sung the praises of this on every possible platform and I’m not going to stop until the next book in the series comes out. (Then I’ll start hyping that one up!) TJ Young’s adventures are enormous fun, a wild mix of magic school, supernatural adventures and Afro-diasporic cultural play that ring every fantasy bell I possess. As a bonus, protagonist TJ is a really nice kid, the kind who rarely gets to be the hero in any kind of book, let alone a blackity-black YA fantasy. If you only read one book on this list, make sure it’s this one. Find it HERE.
Starlion: Thieves of the Red Night, by Leon Langford(Leroy Leonard Langford Jr, 2021)
I read and reviewed this pretty recently, and it was another pleasant surprise. It’s a great companion volume to TJ Young–it has similar magic school and supernatural themes, but adds in a hefty dollop of superhero shenanigans and a sprinkle of Yu-Gi-Oh. It’s another fun, joyous adventure that features a good kid with a gift that he’s not sure what to do with except help. While it’s not as polished as some of the other books on this list, I had a lot of fun reading it and kept thinking how much I would have loved to have a book like this when I was an elementary school nerd. Find it HERE.
The Tristan Strong Series, by Kwame Mbalia (Rick Riordan Presents, 2020, 2021)
This is probably the most famous Black boy hero series on this list and the first one from a mainstream publisher. Chicago middle schooler Tristan accidentally gets himself embroiled in an otherworldly conflict that seems to involve every key figure of Black American mythology, from Anansi to Brer Rabbit to John Henry. It’s a remarkably culturally literate series packed with history, but instead of being preachy or teachy, it’s exciting, fun, and often hilarious. There are three books in the series, each with a very different story; Tristan Strong Punches a Hole In The Sky, Tristan Strong Destroys The World, and Tristan Strong Keeps Punching. Find them in my bookshop HERE.
The Taking of Jake Livingston, by Ryan Douglass( G.P. Putnam, 2021)
This book is meant for much older kids and teens than the previous ones on this list, and it has a much more serious, far less fun tone. It’s a disturbing suburban ghost story, full of hauntings and depression and racist bullying. It also has a sweet first love subplot and a very epic hero showdown at the end. Jake is not my favorite main character on this list, but I appreciate his page presence because queer and neurodivergent Black boys need to have hero moments too. He has his fair share, and gets the guy, to boot. Find it HERE.
The Opposite of Always, by Justin Reynolds (Katherine Tegen Books, 2020)
This book is thoroughly unlike the others on this list in that it’s written for adults and rather than being a straightforward adventure, it’s an extremely sweet and gloopy romance. However, it’s told from the perspective of high school senior Jack, who gets stuck in a time loop trying to save the college girl he fell in love with at first sight. It’s an adventure, there’s a science fiction element, and it’s also a romance written by a Black man, from the perspective of a Black boy. It’s complex, and that complexity earns it a spot here for the more mature readers. Find it HERE.
It’s not lost on me that all of the books on this list were released in the past two years. The current publishing diversity renaissance (long may it last!) has opened the gates wide for Black boy joy and adventure, and I hope we see a lot more Black boys as the hero in new books this year and for years to come.
(Beautiful people, we all need a hero sometimes. Hopefully, you find a good one in this list! To see other booklists by me, click HERE. To support this blog so I can make lots more random booklists, check out the Equal Opportunity Bookshop This blog has affiliate relationships with Bookshop so if you purchase anything there, a commission will be earned. I’ll probably just buy more books with it. It’s up to you if you want to enable my habit or not. While you’re deciding, make sure to read something good! Peace! )
One thought on “[Booklist] And No-one Kills The Black Boy: A Selection of Black Boy Heroes”