Stocking A Teen’s Bookshelf

paula_thumb.jpgYA and teens go well together – they’re both in awkward stages.

Teens (and for the sake of conversation let’s include tweens ages 10-12) are newly indepenent thinkers, yet not ready to fly solo.  Some blame the underlying tension and conflict between teens and parents on a generation gap – but I think it has more to do with them wanting to make decisions on their own and us wanting to guide them in the direction we know may work out best. An ounce of prevention and all that jazz.

And like its readers, YA is a pretty mixed bag. Some books are so edgy they may singe your eyelashes, while others are so mild and sweet, you wonder if there are any unjaded teens out there to enjoy it. 

Dealing with such a huge range of books can make it hard for parents to know what their teen is reading, much less know what to buy them as gifts. If you’re anything like me, you’re thinking gift card!

Still, it can’t hurt to know what’s out there. And since YA by African American authors mix and mingle with all YA, it’s sometimes harder to find the books revolved around characters of color.  So here’s a microcosm of what’s out there, from the sweet to the upper.

I’ve even created a rudimentary chart to help somewhat decipher “edgy” from sweet.  Key thing to remember is that sweet vs. upper is about content.  That means that sweet YA can be read and enjoyed by both younger and older teens, while upper will contain content that a parent may want to check first for younger teen readers.

(S)weet – Content appropriate for 10+

U(pper) – Content for 13+

November Blue (U)

Red Polka Dot In A World Full of Plaid (U)


Urban Goddess (U)


Freshman Focus(S)

Dance Jam Productions

Hip Hop High School (U)

Teen Series
The Bluford High Series (U)


The Good Girlz Series (S) – 3 books

Divine Series (S) – 2 books

Del Rio Bay Clique Series (S)- 2 books

The Perry Skky Series (S) – 3 books


Drama High (U) – 3 books


Kimani Tru Series

6 thoughts on “Stocking A Teen’s Bookshelf

  1. I’m growing so much in my knowledge of what’s out there, being a part of this initiative. I’ve read RED POLKA DOT (loved it), and of course I’m familiar with the DEL RIO BAY CLICUE series and FRESHMAN FOCUS. But the others are completely new for me. Very informative post.

  2. I’m finding, as I do signings and library visits, that many people are simply unaware of these books, Don. It’s frustrating yet gives me hope. I keep thinking – well so once people know they’re out there we’re on our way. But spreading the message takes many voices and that’s where The Brown Bookshelf comes in, I hope!!!

  3. I’ve read Red Polka Dot and loved it as well. Matter of fact, I sent Varian an e-mail once I finished reading it because I was kind of upset about the ending, lol.

    Reading So Not the Drama, I saw several parallels with Freshman Focus, mainly So Not the Drama’s Jessica with Freshman Focus’ Destiny.

    As we begin to promote The Brown Bookshelf, I hope those who come to the site see that we have a purpose and really are filling a void within children’s lit.

  4. And, something I should have pointed out in my blog – per the full disclosure rule is: obviously, I’ve chosen primarily popular fiction books to showcase. 1) Because I’m a pop fiction author 2) pop fiction books are the books most people aren’t aware are available for young black readers and 3) I think, overall, many people tend to push literary books a bit too much on black teens – when we do that, without a balance, either those teens cut down on their reading, turn to mainstream books without any thought to searching for multi-culti lit or they turn to urban lit.

    So I apologize for my myopic offerings, but indeed if a teen or their parent wanted to find more literary fare featuring black protags, they can because those books are typically well publicized and easy to locate.

  5. I am totally printing this list (with color pictures!) to put in the book suggestions notebook in the library’s teen area. What a good, helpful bibliography!

  6. I recommend all the Kimani-Tru books. They are really great books for black teens. They will keep your attention and on the edge of your seat. You can get this series of books at your local library or at your local book store. There is about 11 books so far in the series with about 250 pages each. The topics of these books are about what most black teens are going through today. For ensist drugs, fashion, sex, school, relationships, money, and last of all popularity. I promise that you will enjoy this collection of books.

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