Books. I know, no one wants to read them. But what if I told you that there’s a book starring YOU as the main character? You’d probably think I’m joking, right? I’ve spent my entire elementary and middle school life as a major bookworm, and, as a Black girl, I was able to gather a list of what I believe are some of the most influential books every Black girl should read in their lives. These books are easy to immerse yourself in, super relatable, and almost all of the protagonists are Black young women that you will more than likely be able to connect with!
1. “The Coldest Winter Ever” by Sister Souljah
Winter Santiaga, a 17-year-old Black girl living the high life through her daddy’s drug game money is the definition of high fashion. And as far as she’s concerned she runs New York. Still, she has a major fall from grace after her mother’s accident and her father’s imprisonment. She fights to get her siblings out of foster care while also dodging Child Protective Services herself and dealing with fake friends, halfway homes, boy problems, and a plethora of other issues. This book is a gem busting right out of 1999 and many Black girls can see parts of themselves in this dynamic character.
2. “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison
This book deals with societal beauty standards, and how a little dark-skin girl with curly hair and brown eyes named Pecola Breedlove experiences them. She prays for “beauty” as other kids tease her, except her perception of beauty takes the form of blonde hair and blue eyes. The author confronts these beauty standards in an incredibly powerful way! My mother, who endured the “you’re pretty for a dark-skin girl” backhanded compliments, loved this book. My mother, who as a child struggled with being dark-skinned, was given this book by her mother and learned valuable lessons about self-love.
3. “Flyy Girl” by Omar Tyree
Tracy Ellison is a 17-year-old, pretty brown-skinned girl from Philadelphia. Because of her parents’ jobs, she lives a very comfortable life — but the gag is that Tracy’s “living life as fast as she can.” She’s boy crazy, in love with the material world. She and her friends “love and leaves the young men who’ll do anything to get next to them.” In this coming of age novel, meaningless sex prompts Tracy to reevaluate her life, goals and sexuality. This book warns against promiscuity as Tracy witnesses another woman’s descent from grace and touches on the cocaine epidemic that sprouted in the eighties.
4. “Pretty Ugly” by Karyn Langhorne Folan (of the “Bluford High” Series)
Jamee is desperate to fit in with a clique of popular girls, but when those very girls start to bully a new girl named Angel, Jamee confronts a fork in the road. Jamee stands up for soft-spoken Angel at the expense of the clique, drama ensues and Jamee takes some heat! Torn between not snitching and telling her family, she has to do something to stop the madness. This book captures the root of what many girls go through and how peer pressure, bullying and the struggle to do what’s right can make or break friendships – sometimes for the better.
5. “Burn After Writing” by Rhiannon Shove
Burn After Writing is a special adaption of your typical self-reflection journal simply because it encourages you to burn the journal itself after you finish writing in it. Pretty cool, right? This is a powerful book for Black girls because there isn’t always space for us to thoroughly discuss our thoughts, feelings, memories, dreams, etc. Self-reflection, especially at a young age, is essential to self-care and growth because the more you get to know who you are and who you want to be, the better off you’ll be. This book allows you to do that.
6. “No Easy Answers: Short Stories about Teenagers Making Tough Choices” by Donald R. Gallo
Finally, “No Easy Answers” is based solely on teens making hard choices concerning peer pressure, gang violence, drug use and many other things. I picked this book to end on because it’s multifaceted. It can apply to you, a friend, a coworker, or a classmate as well. This book sheds light on the fact that teens too can go through things that pull them in all sorts of directions that are hard to navigate. This book is great for teens who might’ve found themselves in situations similar to the ones in the book. It’s relatable, a quick read, and, as realistic as it is, powerful in theme.
Books are as relevant and powerful as the themes they present to the reader. I hope that many Black teenage girls can use the list I provided to see the light I saw in all of these books. These aren’t average by any means, and each one of these books features a character that Black teenage girls are more than likely to relate to. From topics like peer pressure and femininity to self-reflection, these books can give readers a sense of familiarity, entertainment, and lessons to take away from them.