8 Classic Coming Of Age Stories For Young Black Boys
These powerful reads are perfect for adults too.
I was the kid who always wanted to hang with my older brother and his friends. Looking back, I wanted to grow up fast, not realizing all that came along with getting older. The insecurities, immense responsibilities and overall awkwardness that aging brings developed over time. Still, in my eyes, my brother had it harder. He had to navigate through an often relentless society as a Black boy, trying to find his identity and a safe space to just be.
Coming of age books reveal just how complex getting older really is, but thankfully they also show how to overcome those challenges. In this selection of books for young Black boys, the authors discuss everything from sexuality and making tough decisions to romance and being a Black American youth. Though this list could include many more titles, I selected these eight to uplift, inspire and encourage Black boys to keep pressing on, despite what obstacles come their way.
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1. Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
Long Way Down highlights youth gun violence as well as making tough and often life-changing decisions. 15-year-old Will must come to terms with his brother Shawn's death, but grief and anger steadily blind his judgment. With a gun tucked in his back pants, Will heads out to take matters into his own hands. On his way to retaliate, an associate of Will’s brother, named Buck, joins him on the elevator. From there the plot takes an eerie turn. Will discovers that he's the only person who can see Buck. Every floor the elevator stops on, brings about other crucial players in Shawn's death. Is revenge what's going to make Will a man or is it forgiveness?
2. Dear Martin by Nic Stone
Dear Martin asks what justice can be done and how can the lead character make it happen. Overachiever Justyce McAlister is on the path to prestigious universities, but aspects of his old neighborhood along with his new peers creates unexpected obstacles. Justyce and his friend Manny have a run-in with an off-duty police officer while cruising through their neighborhood. Their music is a few decimals too loud, which ignites an unwarranted confrontation between the cop and the young Black boys. Bullets pop off, none of which come from the boys' direction. When Justyce is later mischaracterized in media coverage as "a troubled youth," he reacts by creating a journal and channeling his inner Martin Luther King Jr.
3. Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
Sing, Unburied, Sing brings Black history to life and follows Jojo’s journey to understanding what it really means to grow up. A mixed Black boy, he maneuvers adolescence figuring out how to be a man while growing up in Mississippi. His white father is in prison, his Black mother is on drugs and his grandfather doesn't even acknowledge his existence. After his father is released from prison, his mom uproots him to a new town, where a 13-year-old boy suddenly enters Jojo's life. What Jojo doesn't realize is that who he is seeing actually the ghost of a kid, who has lessons from the past to reveal.
4. March by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, Illustrated by Nate Powell
March is the first book in a three-part captivating series that retraces the childhood roots of Congressman John Lewis. Readers are taken back to his adolescence in Jim Crow-ridden Alabama, where he faced segregation during the civil rights movement. In the graphic novel, Lewis reflects on marching with Martin Luther King Jr. as well as his various encounters with police brutality. It demonstrates the bravery of the future congressman and his peers while leading the fight to dismantle systems of oppression.
5. Rebound (The Crossover Series) by Kwame Alexander
Rebound is a bright graphic novel following Chuck Bell, a young basketball star destined for glory. Set in the early '80s, the story brings readers into Chuck's childhood, exploring his rise to stardom, despite the death of a loved one. Bell's dilemmas help young readers understand loss and grief, while enchanting parents and young readers from cover to cover.
6. Little Man, Little Man: A Story Of Childhood by James Baldwin
Little Man, Little Man is based in 1970s Harlem, New York and is renowned author James Baldwin’s first children's book. It takes readers around four-year-old TJ's neighborhood, where he is loved and supported by various members of his community. Little Man, Little Man highlights the joys of a young boy despite racial tension. Young TJ has the love from his family who instill self-worth and unity among their Black community.
7. Born A Crime by Trevor Noah
Comedian and TV host of The Daily Show, Trevor Noah wrote a memoir of self-discovery and triumph. Growing up in South Africa during apartheid, Noah gives readers a glimpse into his childhood, during an era in which being of mixed race was considered a punishable offense. What makes Born a Crime an especially captivating read is Noah's use comedy to lightheartedly discuss tough topics, such as race, politics and religion.
8. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
Invisible Man follows a nameless narrator, as he recounts the many obstacles of growing up Black in the South. He receives a scholarship to a Black university, but only after he meets the terms of numerous white men, including boxing while blindfolded against his peers and a scuffle for fake coins over an electrified rug. He later relocates to New York, where he eventually retreats to an underground basement and lives invisible to the world. The novel follows the ‘invisible man’ from college to adulthood, as he maneuvers through systematic oppressions and a racially divided community.
For Black boys, coming of age books can be powerful tools to prepare them for the unique situations they will face in life. The stories in this list help readers come to grips with the fact that growing up is multifaceted. However, despite its challenges, there are still ways to rise above and succeed.