Recommended Reads #20

Black History Month #1

Betty Before X by Ilyasah Shabazz

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In Detroit, 1945, eleven-year-old Betty’s house doesn’t quite feel like home. She believes her mother loves her, but she can’t shake the feeling that her mother doesn’t want her. Church helps those worries fade, if only for a little while. The singing, the preaching, the speeches from guest activists like Paul Robeson and Thurgood Marshall stir African Americans in her community to stand up for their rights. Betty quickly finds confidence and purpose in volunteering for the Housewives League, an organization that supports black-owned businesses. Soon, the American civil rights icon we now know as Dr. Betty Shabazz is born.

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Everything's changing for twelve-year-old Marlee. Her brother's gone off to college and her sister's moved out of the room they've shared since Marlee was born. To Marlee, it feels like her whole world's falling apart.


On top of all that, she's starting middle school and has to break in new teachers - teachers who don't yet know Marlee doesn't talk. At least not until she meets Liz, the new girl at school. Liz is she's brave, brash and always knows the right thing to say, especially to the resident mean girl, Sally. Liz even helps Marlee overcome her fear of speaking. But when Liz leaves school without even a good-bye, the rumor is that Liz was really a colored girl caught passing for white. Marlee decides that doesn't matter. She just wants her friend back. And to stay friends, Marlee and Liz are even willing to take on segregation and the dangers their friendship could bring to both their families.

Stella by Starlight, by Sharon Draper

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Stella lives in the segregated South—in Bumblebee, North Carolina, to be exact about it. Some stores she can go into. Some stores she can’t. Some folks are right pleasant. Others are a lot less so. To Stella, it sort of evens out, and heck, the Klan hasn’t bothered them for years. But one late night, later than she should ever be up, much less wandering around outside, Stella and her little brother see something they’re never supposed to see, something that is the first flicker of change to come, unwelcome change by any stretch of the imagination. As Stella’s community—her world—is upended, she decides to fight fire with fire. And she learns that ashes don’t necessarily signify an end.

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Eleven-year-old Isabella's parents are divorced, so she has to switch lives every week: One week she's Isabella with her dad, his girlfriend Anastasia, and her son, Darren, living in a fancy house where they are one of the only black families in the neighborhood. The next week she's Izzy with her mom and her boyfriend, John-Mark, in a small, not-so-fancy house that she loves.


Because of this, Isabella has always felt pulled between two worlds. And now that her parents are divorced, it seems their fights are even worse, and they're always about her. Isabella feels even more stuck in the middle, split and divided between them, than ever. And she's is beginning to realize that being split between Mom and Dad is more than switching houses, switching nicknames, switching backpacks: It's also about switching identities. Her dad is black, her mom is white, and strangers are always commenting: "You're so exotic!" "You look so unusual." "But what are you really?" She knows what they're really saying: "You don't look like your parents." "You're different." "What race are you really?" And when her parents, who both get engaged at the same time, get in their biggest fight ever, Isabella doesn't just feel divided, she feels ripped in two. What does it mean to be half white or half black? To belong to half mom and half dad? And if you're only seen as half of this and half of that, how can you ever feel whole?


It seems like nothing can bring Isabella's family together again - until the worst happens. Isabella and Darren are stopped by the police. A cell phone is mistaken for a gun. And shots are fired.

On the Come Up by Angie Thomas

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Sixteen-year-old Bri wants to be one of the greatest rappers of all time. Or at least win her first battle. As the daughter of an underground hip hop legend who died right before he hit big, Bri's got massive shoes to fill.


But it's hard to get your come up when you're labeled a hoodlum at school, and your fridge at home is empty after your mom loses her job. So Bri pours her anger and frustration into her first song, which goes viral...for all the wrong reasons.


Bri soon finds herself at the center of a controversy, portrayed by the media as more menace than MC. But with an eviction notice staring her family down, Bri doesn't just want to make it - she has to. Even if it means becoming the very thing the public has made her out to be.