Celebrate African American heritage by picking up one (or all!) of these novels:
1. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
This new book has received tons of acclaim, and deserves every bit of it. In this dramatic re-imagining, the underground railroad is a literal railroad that sweeps young Cora, a slave in a Georgian plantation, towards the northern states. Like Dante descending through Hell, Cora is introduced to a new horror in each state she passes through, all while being pursued by a terrifying slave catcher. This book is incredible for its sheer creativity, though readers should be aware that the content is obviously upsetting and can be graphic in its portrayals of the inhumanity of slavery.
2. Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson
A great option for younger readers, Chains tells the story of thirteen-year-old Isabel and her sister Ruth, who find themselves sold as slaves for a cruel New York City couple during the Revolutionary War. Isabel encounters a slave with ties to the Patriots, who encourages her to spy on her owners for the sake of the Revolution. I found myself cheering Isabel on as she faces her own fight for independence, and enjoyed the thoughtful parallel between her desire to be free and the nation’s own fight for sovereignty. This is a perfect book to introduce young readers to the challenging topic of slavery in America’s history. (Ages 10-15)
3. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Effia and Esi are half-sisters in 18th century Ghana. Effia is married to a British slaver and, unbeknownst to her sister, Esi is purchased by the same slaver and is shipped off to America. Ambitious and sweeping, this story details the generations that follow these two women, paralleling the struggles of Ghanaian warfare with the brutality that leads to the American Civil War and beyond. I was particularly impressed by Gyasi’s writing; clear, descriptive and captivating, Homegoing sucked me right in.
Jessie Hawkes is a freelance writer who loves ending her day with a mug of tea and a good book. She’s a recent Peterborough resident with roots in Maine and Utah, and professional writing experience in the travel and outdoor industries. Check out her blog The Desert Bookworm for more book recommendations, or follow her @wildwilkey.