1. Homegoing by Yaa Agassi
Two half-sisters, Effia and Esi, are born into different villages in eighteenth-century Ghana. Effia is married off to an Englishman and lives in comfort in the palatial rooms of Cape Coast Castle. Unbeknownst to Effia, her sister, Esi, is imprisoned beneath her in the castle’s dungeons, sold with thousands of others into the Gold Coast’s booming slave trade, and shipped off to America, where her children and grandchildren will be raised in slavery. One thread of Homegoing follows Effia’s descendants through centuries of warfare in Ghana, as the Fante and Asante nations wrestle with the slave trade and British colonization. The other thread follows Esi and her children into America. From the plantations of the South to the Civil War and the Great Migration, from the coal mines of Pratt City, Alabama, to the jazz clubs and dope houses of twentieth-century Harlem, right up through the present day, Homegoing makes history visceral, and captures, with singular and stunning immediacy, how the memory of captivity came to be inscribed in the soul of a nation.
Generation after generation, Yaa Gyasi’s magisterial first novel sets the fate of the individual against the obliterating movements of time, delivering unforgettable characters whose lives were shaped by historical forces beyond their control. Homegoing is a tremendous reading experience, not to be missed, by an astonishingly gifted young writer.
“The best book I have read. I laughed, gasped and cried within a matter of a few pages. Starting on Ghana’s Gold Coast and ending at Stanford University, Gyasi takes you on an emotional rollercoaster through one family story. This novel was a stark reminder of how much family history I didn’t know – and worse, how much was lost and destroyed.”
2. The Secret Lives of The Four Wives by Lola Shoneyin
African-born poet Lola Shoneyin makes her fiction debut with The Secret Lives of Babi Segi’s Wives, a perceptive, entertaining, and eye-opening novel of polygamy in modern-day Nigeria. The struggles, rivalries, intricate family politics, and the interplay of personalities and relationships within the complex private world of a polygamous union come to life in The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives—BigLove and The 19th Wife set against a contemporary African background.
3. Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower by Brittney Cooper
Far too often, Black women’s anger has been caricatured into an ugly and destructive force that threatens the civility and social fabric of American democracy. But Cooper shows us that there is more to the story than that. Black women’s eloquent rage is what makes Serena Williams such a powerful tennis player. It’s what makes Beyoncé’s girl power anthems resonate so hard. It’s what makes Michelle Obama an icon.
Eloquent rage keeps us all honest and accountable. It reminds women that they don’t have to settle for less. When Cooper learned of her grandmother’s eloquent rage about love, sex, and marriage in an epic and hilarious front-porch confrontation, her life was changed. And it took another intervention, this time staged by one of her homegirls, to turn Brittney into the fierce feminist she is today. In Brittney Cooper’s world, neither mean girls nor fuckboys ever win. But homegirls emerge as heroes. This book argues that ultimately feminism, friendship, and faith in one’s own superpowers are all we really need to turn things right side up again.
“The “angry black woman” trope is tired and boring, but as black girls we have to prepare ourselves for a world that is going to think of us this way. Cooper gives us permission to not only be angry but to use our anger. She invites other black women to share in her experiences, including desiring men while often feeling let down by them; finding a balance between her faith and her feminism; and learning the art of self-love in a society plagued with misogynoir.
4. Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o
Sulwe, Lupita Nyong’o’s first picture book, subtly celebrates her Kenyan heritage. The main character’s name means star in Luo (Lupita’s mother tongue) and there is an illustration of young girls playing a classic Kenyan jumping game called kati. Sulwe, the story of a young black girl dealing with issues of colorism and self-esteem, is based on Lupita’s Ngong’o’s own life growing up as a dark-skinned girl. Being darker-skinned than many members of her family, Nyong’o learned at a young age that lighter skin is privileged.
For example, her lighter-skinned sister received compliments for her beauty while she was often teased about her darker complexion. Nyong’o’s exposure to colorism throughout her life led her to pen a narrative that honors the pain that dark-skinned black girls endure in a society steeped in eurocentric beauty standards.
“Lupita Nyongo’o’s children’s book Sulwetells the story of a young girl who was born “the color of midnight,” and directly addresses the topics of colorism and self-esteem for darker-skinned Black girls. The book’s inspiration is pulled from the Black Panther actress’ experience growing up as a dark-skinned girl and learning the nuances of lighter skinned privilege.”
5. Grown: The Black Girls’ Guide to Glowing Up by Melissa Cummings-Quarry and Natalie A. Carter
This book is a first official foray into the world of literature. Written in response to a need for more books that centre the growing experiences of young Black women, Grown is not only the book we needed when we were younger but our love letter to Black British girlhood. It’s an an ode to friendship and sisterhood, a step-by-step guide to growing up and living your best life.
From fashion to featurism, Grown was created with one thing in mind: to help young girls glow up as they attempt to navigate a world where they are seen as too old to make mistakes but too young to be listened to and taken seriously.
We break down all the things you need to know, from the big things such as understanding your identity, the politics of hair, exploring your spirituality, breaking down stereotypes and giving you the tools you need to recognise red flags and microaggressions (it’s not you sis, it’s definitely them) to the small things that no one really talks about, like what’s really going on between your legs and explaining what the ‘bag’ is and how you go about securing it.
Illustrated by Dorcas Magbadelo with words of wisdom and advice from inspiring Black women such as Diane Abbott MP, Sharmadean Reid, Kelechi Okafor, Candice Carty-Williams, Dorothy Koomson and everyone’s favourite Spice Girl, Melanie B, Grown is not only the ultimate read of the summer, it’s the book you need to gift to all your friends.