More importantly, it is the kickoff of Black History Month, so I'm going to take this opportunity to talk a bit about African-Americans in literature. That segue. It was great, I know. This is brief and the issues of people of color (POC) in fiction are long and complicated, but I'm not African-American and don't feel completely qualified to give expert opinions on this topic. (In May, when it's Asian-Pacific-American Heritage Month, I'll be doing a weekly post on Asian-Americans in literature and society.)
POC are clearly underrepresented in fiction, and I have to admit, the list I came up with this post of books I've read in this area is sadly limited. That's my fault. But I don't think it would be too much of a false accusation to say YA publishers are not eager to put out books with POC. There have been many recent incidents of cover white-washing, the most publicized being LIAR by Justine Larbalestier, and now, even complaints of ACROSS THE UNIVERSE by Beth Ravis is getting buzz for its subtly photoshopped cover (the ARC apparently featured a more ethnic-looking profile). Cover white-washing is unacceptable.* It makes me sick. The prevailing reason for it -- POC books don't sell/bad economics -- is 100% shit. The old South said they couldn't get rid of slavery because their economy would crumble without it. Sorry, racism can't be justified by the economy; couldn't be back then and can't be now.
So without further ado, these are books I've read and enjoyed with POC.
1) UNCLE TOM'S CABIN by Harriet Beecher Stowe. "The little lady who started the great war" has written an enduring classic, my favorite classic, actually. I read it when I was ten. The vocabulary and colloquialisms were tough, but it was SO worth it. This is the only classic to date that has brought me to laughter and tears. It's masterfully written and should be required reading for everyone. I honestly can't believe Pride and Prejudice is more required than this book. Travesty, I say. It's a splendid, moving read, full of devastating historical momentum and emotion. Please, if you only read one more book in your life, go read this one. You won't regret it.
2) BLACK ANGELS by Rita Murphy. An older book, this is set in the summer of 1961 in Georgia. Historical, with perfect touches of magic realism, this is a book about discovering your roots, having the courage to stand up for something when everyone else disagrees, and what happens when you are not who you thought you were. The main character, Celia, is wonderful, and her struggle with learning about a side of the family she didn't know is real and affecting. I highly recommend it. It's beautiful to read, all around.
3) ALLIGATOR BAYOU by Donna Jo Napoli. My favorite author makes an appearance on this list. The main character, Calogero, is Sicilian and not black. But this is a book set in the Deep South, and it tells a story about race, what makes someone "not white" and the multi-faceted tensions between races in the post-slavery South. It's based on a true, horrifyingly unspeakable event, which is what makes the ending even more unforgettable. The second I turned the last page, I immediately went to find out more about the circumstances this book is based on. So will you. I love this book, from every loaded scene to every carefully considered word.
Others, equally awesome:
DAY OF TEARS Julius Lester
OTHELLO Julius Lester
LIAR Justine Larbalestier
THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD Zora Neale Hurston
BELOVED Toni Morrison
ROLL OF THUNDER, HEAR MY CRY Mildred D. Taylor
Anything by Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston (some excellent short stories, definitely check those out), or Maya Angelou is recommended. This is a nice link for more authors of color. Look around the Internet. There are plenty more links where that came from.
And YOU. The world is full of different colors, and books should be too! Don't write your stories monochromatic.
*99.99999999999% of the time, the cover!fails are not the author's fault. It's the marketing department or whoever decided to make the cover. As we all know, authors get little to no input in their own covers. Just to clarify. Not faulting any of the authors listed for cover scandals.