Justin A. Reynolds Shares the Black Teen Stories That Give Him 'All the Feels'

Posted by Sharon on September 8, 2020
 
Justin A. Reynolds burst onto the YA scene last year with his debut book Opposite of Always, a heartfelt novel about love and friendship (with a time loop thrown in!) that was nominated for the 2019 Goodreads Choice Awards in the Contemporary Young Adult Fiction category.

This month, Reynolds is back with another tale that blends a tinge of science fiction with themes of friendships and second chances. Early Departures lands in U.S. stores on September 22. Ahead of the book's release, we asked Reynolds to share with us his favorite YA books that celebrate Black teen love and joy.

If you know me, you know I HEART a good love story. Okay, okay, I even love bad love stories. Just let me live, haha. The point is, while society—and therefore publishing—still has a long way to go, I’m happy to see an uptick in books featuring Black teens hopelessly falling for each other in all the best, heart-wrenching ways.

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There’s an expression: You are what you think. I subscribe to that idea. Which stresses just how important it is to present stories, especially to our youth, that extend beyond the sum of Black pain. Stories of tragedy, cautionary tales, remain necessary and urgent—but it’s also vital that we create stories that normalize happiness, joy, and magic. Stories that highlight the beauty and nuance of Black teen friendship.
 
We need stories that remind Black teens that we are laughter, and light, and love. That we are witty banter and big dreamers. That we’re sometimes hella corny and infinitely nerdy. That we’re gamers and cosplayers and athletes and artists. That some of us couldn’t find the beat if it wore a nametag; that more than a few of us are two-left-feet. That we are cool and super hype. That we are smiles-for-days happy. That at times, we are so excruciatingly awkward.
 
Yes, we want stories that give us all the feels, in all of their awesome complexity—both romantic and platonic. Another expression that I believe in is: You are what you read. Indeed, books are mirrors, reflecting who we are, and portals—showing us who we might become, and where we might go. I hope you enjoy these 11 special mirrors.

 
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Out this October, Ben Philippe’s second novel is witty and incisive—if you follow Philippe on social media, you’re not surprised. Charming is on its surface a fun love story—when Corrine discovers Henri’s dog-walking service isn’t on the up and up, she blackmails him into helping her improve her high school image. Yep, are you getting the vibe of all your favorite teen movies? Good. Except Charming isn’t just worried about romantic love; no, it reminds us to love ourselves, first, just as we are. Philippe’s debut The Field Guide to the North American Teenager could have easily made this list, too. Read both if you enjoy laughing.


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Yes, that Lamar Giles, the Edgar Award-nominated author who writes awesome thrillers. This time he’s leaping heart-first into the rom-com pool. The premise of this book alone is worth picking it up: A teen named Del pledges celibacy just to get close to the girl of his dreams. Naturally, hilarity and awkwardness ensue. But, happily, along the way Del learns the best way to win someone’s heart is with honesty, as he strives to become the best version of himself. Pick this one up. Thank me later.


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After giving us I Wanna Be Where You Are, Forest is back with more love and laughs. Eighteen-year-old Evie Jones is destined for Hollywood greatness, until she isn’t. After being blackmailed by a friend and subsequently blacklisted from her dreams, Evie knows she needs to rebound in a major way. Luckily, her grandma, Evelyn Conaway, is one of Hollywood’s biggest stars, and can help salvage Evie’s reputation. Except there’s one problem—Evelyn’s disappeared. Enter Milo, a cute musician, who joins Evie in her hunt for her famous, missing grandma. And maybe they’ll even find love along the way. If you enjoy big-hearted, racing-through-big-city tales filled with romance, comedy, and heart, your search is over.


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If there’s one thing we can expect from Colbert, it’s charm and intelligence. The Voting Booth is no exception. When Duke is turned away from the voting booth, teen Marva immediately launches into action. After dedicating so many months to ringing doorbells and registering new voters, Marva is determined that the country have a fair election and that everyone be allowed to exercise their right to vote. And so, Marva and Duke’s epic day begins, dashing across the city from precinct to precinct. And eventually what starts as a journey for justice leads to love and understanding. The votes are in—readers of this book win in a landslide.


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Johnson had me from the word go. A town where Prom is taken as seriously as Texans take football? Umm, sign me all the way up. Teen Liz Lighty has her eyes set on being prom queen—but not for the reason you’d expect. Nope, she’s after the scholarship that comes with it, even if it means having to endure a host of super awkward tasks to win it. But then the unthinkable happens when new girl Mack, who makes Liz’s big heart sing, throws her crown into the prom queen race, too. Johnson treats all of us like royalty in this endlessly funny, utterly charming tale.


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Woodfolk writes the kind of stories that linger in your heart long after the final page. When You Were Everything only adds to her legacy. It was all good just a month ago—but now Cleo and Layla’s best-friendship, once destined to exist forever, has completely imploded, with little hope of reconciliation. To make matters worse, Cleo has been assigned to serve as Layla’s tutor. Alternating between the past and present, Woodfolk carefully examines the anatomy of friendship, loyalty, and love. This story’s everything.


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Callender gives us a love story that haunts in all the best ways. Felix Love is proud of his identity: queer, Black, and transgender. But when Felix learns that not only has someone posted of him pre-transition, along with his deadname, he is beyond devastated and wants nothing more than to exact retribution. Except the more Felix grapples with these complex feelings, the more he understands that the best love comes from within. Callender delivers a beautiful and expertly nuanced exploration of self. Felix Forever!


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Morrow’s latest novel is a deluge of intelligence and mythology. Tavia, a Black siren, must hide her powers from a deeply misogynist society. But she’s not alone. Best friend, and sister-at-heart, Effie is fighting to ward off demons from her past. And as if that wasn’t enough, together the two must navigate the perils and pitfalls of their junior year in high school. With a deft hand and crackling prose, Morrow delivers a beautiful tale of friendship between two Black teen girls, while also pushing us to stare into the watery deep and face our truest reflection. This is a song you won’t be able to get out of your head, and you won’t want to.


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Stone writes incredible books, and with Jackpot she offers a refreshing take on the clash between the haves and the have-nots. When Rico sells a jackpot-winning lotto ticket, she hopes it means the end of her bad luck. Except here’s the thing, if she’s to have any shot at tracking down the ticket holder who hasn’t claimed the prize, she’ll need the help of her super wealthy classmate Zan. You’ll absolutely fall in love with Rico’s wit, resilience, and big heart. We all hit the lottery with this book.


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Winters gives us all the best feels in his latest young adult novel—but things don’t start out that way for our comic-book-loving protagonist Wesley. Nope. Between navigating his growing crush on his best friend, trying to save his local indie bookstore from becoming a corporate coffeeshop, and helping his bothersome brother plan a wedding, Wesley has a lot on his mind—and more importantly, on his heart. With the depth of emotion and endless fun we’ve come to expect from Winters, we’re reminded that sometimes you can have everything. Start with having this book.


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Tamani once again comes for our hearts in All the Things We Never Knew. This time it starts on the basketball court. The moment Carli and Rex meet eyes, it’s clear they’re meant to be. Plus, they have a lot in common—namely, they’re both rising stars on their high school basketball team. Love and Basketball vibes, anyone? Yep, in all the best ways. Except both Carli and Rex, along with their families, are keeping secrets that could destroy everything. What we do know: Tamani deftly weaves a poignant tale of love, pain, and redemption that’ll have you cheering from the sideline. Get in the game, get this book.



Be sure to let us know which of these books pique your interest in the comments! (And don't forget to add them to your Want to Read shelf.)

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Comments Showing 1-11 of 11 (11 new)

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message 1: by Buongiorno (new)

Buongiorno Nice list!!


message 2: by Triz (new)

Triz already adding them on my list


message 3: by Destiny (new)

Destiny Oh, I really recommend All the Things We Never Knew! It has an interesting spin on insta-love.


message 4: by Maryam (new)

Maryam This is so the list I've been waiting for! Thank you goodreads! I'm dying to read Now That I've Found You, You Should See Me In a Crown, and All the Things We Never Know.


message 5: by Ekene (new)

Ekene THAK YOU. He basically said it all there. I get sadly hardships and pain are too entangled with black life, but for God's sake, we also need books and shows and content that shows us enjoying and dreaming


message 6: by Nesha (new)

Nesha This sums up what I have been trying to say! I love everything said here!
I started reading again to get away from the pain I see everyday. Give me all the black joy books!!


မ်ိဳး ေဌး I started reading again to get away from the pain i see everyday.


message 8: by strategian (new)

strategian lame


message 9: by Shona (new)

Shona Great ideas for a Valentine’s book club


message 10: by Shona (new)

Shona Great ideas for a Valentine’s book club


message 11: by Jia ♥ (new)

 Jia ♥ Got all those already on my want to read XD.


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