The first time I saw Black Panther in the theater, I felt like I could take over the world. The first time I read a heroine in a romance novel who looked like me, my heart swelled with hope. My experiences aren’t unique because it’s still rare to see mainstream media feature stories about Black people that aren’t only about pain, trauma, and oppression. While racism exists around us, it isn’t the core of all Black stories—even those that contain heavy topics like some books below. Many are stories of power, bravery, friendship, and love. I write romance—a genre that unapologetically celebrates happily-ever-afters—but Black joy isn’t limited to one genre. I am excited to share this list of books about Black joy that showcase the Black experience through wonder and adversity. I hope you’ll enjoy them.
Rocket Says Look Up!
Rocket has dreams of being an astronaut and spreads the word to everyone she meets to look up from their phones, so they don’t miss the meteor shower. As the mother to a toddler, I want him to see Black kids looking toward the stars and reaching for them. We love this book.
It’s Not All Downhill From Here
Ms. McMillan’s trademarks are in this book: Strong Black heroines, indelible friendships, and relatable characters. It’s Not All Downhill From Here contains heavy topics such as grief, depression, mental and physical health, and cancer; however, we see the main character, Loretha, finding a new route to happiness after an unexpected loss. Her triumph and connection to friends through the sometimes rocky and often wrought terrain of life in her late sixties will leave you smiling, reflective, hopeful, and maybe like you can chart your own course, too.
Real Men Knit
After his adoptive mother dies unexpectedly, Jesse and his brothers have to navigate what to do with their mother’s Harlem knitting shop and part-time employee and long-time family friend, Kerry, is the woman to help. The cast of multiracial and multiethnic characters brings you a love story about romance, family, and community. Real Men Knit will leave you feeling warm and fuzzy.
A Deadly Inside Scoop
Admittedly, ‘deadly’ isn’t a term that sparks images of joy, but this cozy mystery about Bronwyn and her goal to restore her family’s ice cream shop to its former glory is about family, friendship, and solving the crime. This novel is funny, full of quirky characters, and draws you in from the first page.
Beverly Jenkins is a pioneer in Black Romance with over fifty titles under her belt. Destiny’s Embrace was the first I read, and I was in awe. I found myself lost in the old west love story between Mariah, a jilted seamstress seeking escape from her mother’s thumb and Logan, a cocky ranch owner. You will learn history you likely weren’t taught in school. Pick up Destiny’s Embrace or any other book by Beverly Jenkins.
You Should See Me in a Crown
In this young adult novel, Liz Lighty finds herself doing the unthinkable in order to win a scholarship: competing for the title of prom queen. This book is not without emotional and realistic conflict, but the tone is hopeful and when Liz falls for her prom queen competitor, readers will swoon along with her. On a normal day, you couldn’t pay me to return to high school, but I fell in love with Liz’s journey and cheered her on.
How to Fail at Flirting