Wings of Ebony by Houston author J. Elle.

The average bibliophile has a moment in their history when a book becomes more than a book, a story becomes more than a story, and tearing their eyes away from a page becomes more of a chore than the laundry in the hamper or the dishes in the sink. A book can come with all sorts of thrills, chills, and adventure, but what truly hooks a fledgling reader is the ability to relate to the characters they’re introduced to, and to see themselves represented in the words.

Though the young adult genre is often written off as immature or "kids' stuff," it’s one of the most diverse literary classifications, and those who’ve experienced their own magic moment deep in the pages of a YA title understand the power of an inspiring coming-of-age story. In that spirit, Houston-raised author and writing mentor J. Elle set out to tell her own story and to highlight the strength of her community, completing her manuscript in only 35 days. And just one week after the release of her debut novel on January 26, she found herself on the New York Times best-seller list.

In Wings of Ebony, the southeast side of Houston becomes a place of fantasy. A young, unapologetic heroine named Rue challenges the racist deities threatening her neighborhood, and discovers just how powerful a Black teenage girl can be. “This book is a love letter to younger me, to my teen sisters, to my community and the home that raised me,” J. Elle said in a release. “I grew up seeing communities like mine depicted only as troublesome, wrought with crime, full of kids ‘not going anywhere.’ But that wasn’t how I viewed my home growing up.” 

To further reach young readers, J. Elle and her team concocted a free, six-week curriculum designed to help audiences have safe, productive discussions about race, including lesson plans, activities, and a vocabulary list. “This book is for underdog changemakers and their allies, those who know how to become allies, and those hungry to learn," she says.

Inspired by Wings of Ebony’s timely Black History Month release, we reached out to local librarians for more YA-focused recommendations to add to our ever-growing reading lists. Amy Girgnhuber, a YA librarian with Fort Bend County Libraries, says that her picks are favorites that deserve more mainstream attention. “Ultimately, I chose titles where the protagonists stand up for what they believe is right,” she says, “whether that’s in our current time, the past, or even a possible (perhaps alien-filled) future.”

Calling My Name by Houston author Liara Tamani. 

Calling My Name, Liara Tamani

Recommended by Erin Schuelke, teen services librarian, Brazoria County Library System

“Another Houston author is Liara Tamani. Her debut, Calling My Name, came out in 2017, and her sophomore book in 2020 is All the Things We Never Knew. Both books are Texas-based, and I like to support Houston authors.”

Spin, Lamar Giles

Recommended by Amy Girgnhuber, young adult librarian, Fort Bend County Libraries

“Two young Black women in conflict have to set aside their differences to learn the truth behind their mutual friend’s murder. This is a story that will resonate with many different readers whether they appreciate a good mystery, the music industry, social media, or what ultimately amounts to young Black women standing up for themselves.”

A Universe of Wishes, edited by Dhonielle Clayton

Recommended by Sally Bates, teen selector/assistant juvenile selector, Houston Public Library

“A multicultural collection of 15 fantasy stories written in partnership with the organization We Need Diverse Books. Short story anthologies are great because they introduce you to authors you might want to explore further.”

Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor. 

Akata Witch, Nnedi Okorafor

Recommended by Erin Schuelke, teen services librarian, Brazoria County Library System

“This is a slightly older title, but the Akata Witch fantasy series by Nnedi Okorafor has often been called the next Harry Potter. She has also written some Shuri titles for Marvel, and she did the graphic novel adaptation for Kindred by Octavia E. Butler.”

Daughters of Jubilation, Kara Lee Thornton

Recommended by Amy Girgnhuber, young adult librarian, Fort Bend County Libraries

“This is a different kind of historical fantasy where a young Black woman growing up in the Jim Crow South must learn to harness her magic, her ‘jubilation,’ in order to fight against the darkness brought on by the hatred of the time. Seeing Evvie’s strength grow should hopefully inspire other young readers to believe in their own abilities.”

Punching the Air, Ibi Zoboi

Recommended by Sally Bates, teen selector/assistant juvenile selector, Houston Public Library

“Told with prison reform activist Yusef Salaam—a moving and deeply profound story about how one boy is unjustly accused, but is able to maintain his humanity and fight for the truth, in a system designed to strip him of both.”

All Boys Aren't Blue by George M. Johnson. 

All Boys Aren’t Blue, George M. Johnson 

Recommended by Erin Schuelke, teen services librarian, Brazoria County Library System

All Boys Aren’t Blue is a YA biography. I heard them [the author] speak at a virtual conference and they were incredibly inspiring. While I haven’t read the title myself, I definitely had to add it to my TBR list.”

The Sound of Stars, Alechia Dow

Recommended by Amy Girgnhuber, young adult librarian, Fort Bend County Libraries

“An alien race has begun colonizing Earth and deemed any and all forms of art and literature as forbidden. However, one young Black woman harbors a secret library while one of the aliens hides his own love of Earth’s music. It will take both of them working together in order to save what they love as well as the human race from enslavement.”

Opposite of Always, Justin Reynolds

Recommended by Sally Bates, teen selector/assistant juvenile selector, Houston Public Library

“Teens who like romance have great choices out there. This book features not only romance, but also humor and time travel!”

Find more YA recommendations from the Houston Public Library, Fort Bend County Library, and Brazoria County Library systems.

Share
Show Comments