Black History Book List 2022 Edition: 17 Powerful Novels
February is Black History Month in the United States. Every year, we go through the books that we have read to get ready for Black History Month. The Black History Book List 2022 Edition features National Book Award Winners, Pulitzer Prize Winners as well as a recipient of the Commonwealth Writers Prize. These are eye-opening, profound, and wonderful books that I feel should be compulsory reading in every high school across the country. The events depicted in these books are so pertinent to today’s society and are a reminder of the brutal history of this country.
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Black History Book List 2022 Edition
Some of the books on this list address events of the past like slavery and the Civil Rights Movement, but others address the Black Lives Matter movement, voter repression, and injustices that Black people still experience today. Our hope in creating the Black History Book List for 2022 is that you will find a book that resonates with you and that in reading it, you will look at the role you can play in fighting systemic racism.
The 1619 Project by Nikole Hannah-Jones
I read the 1619 project during the banned book month of our 2022 reading challenge. Created at first for The New York Times Magazine, this collection of essays was expanded upon for the book.
I enjoyed listing to this full-cast audiobook featuring many of the writers themselves doing the reading! With essays on sugar, capitalism, music, healthcare, and even traffic, I learned so much about how much of American society is built around racist ideals.
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
begins with Cora, an orphaned slave from a Georgia Plantation decides to follow in her mother’s footsteps and escape the bonds of slavery. The book follows Cora on her journey through the Underground Railroad that has been imagined into a rickety connection of tracks running beneath the ground. At each stop along the journey, the stations bring the feeling of a different time in history (like Germany during the second world war). I found myself completely immersed in the story and it was shocking each time I re-entered reality. Every posting for a runaway slave, with the exception of the final one, is a real “advertisement” placed in a paper. These are vivid reminders that despite the surreal twist, this book is based on a very real, very violent history. I read this book and cheered for Cora and cried along with her.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skoot
As I read this book, I was absolutely stunned. With each page I kept thinking to myself “this can’t be true” and yet, somehow, in the 1950’s an African-American woman named Henrietta Lacks unknowingly had her cells taken. These cells, known as HeLa, were the first human cells that lived outside the human body and could reproduce indefinitely. HeLa cells became the basis for medical breakthroughs from creation of the Polio vaccine to cancer and aids research. To this day, nobody in the Lacks family has ever received compensation for her contribution to medicine and they cannot afford health insurance.
Roots: The Saga of an American Family by Alex Haley
Although I read this book decades ago, it has stayed with me for all that time. It is the story of Kunta Kinte who is captured from his home, put on a boat, and sold into slavery. The story follows generation of family. This Pulitzer Prize winning book is a powerful and unforgettable saga based on the author’s family.
Someone Knows My Name: A Novel/ Book of Negroes (non-American Editions) by Lawrence Hill
This book was published in Canada and is the winner of the Commonwealth Writers Prize. Aminata Diallo is abducted as a child in Africa and enslaved in South Carolina. She escapes during the Revolutionary was and goes to Manhattan when she becomes a scribe- recording the names of the black slaves . This book captures a lesser known aspect of history and is beautifully written which is such a contrast to the poignant story within.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
We read this in our book club this month and I am so happy that we did. I thought it was so well written so relevant to the world today. Starr is in a car with her best friend Khalil when they are stopped by the police. Khalil is then shot and killed in front of her. It kept me thinking throughout the entire book. My life isn’t at all similar to Starr’s life but, the book is so well written that I could understand the characters and their choices. This is a powerful and poignant book.
Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Woman Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly
This true and amazing story of the black mathematicians and their role in the space race, reads like a fiction novel. So many people know this story because of the movie but, the book gives so many more details- as is usually the case with adaptations.
Beloved by Toni Morrison
The first book in a trilogy, Beloved tell the story of Sethe who was born a slave. While she was able to escape to Ohio, she can never be free of her past. When a mysterious teenager comes to Sethe calling herself Beloved, her whole world is torn apart. After all, Beloved is the name of Sethe’s daughter who died as a baby. Morrison words carve out the unforgettable story.
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
This book tells the story of Ifemelu and Obinze who are young and in love when they leave war-torn Nigeria. Ifemelu comes to the United States and despite plans to follow her, Obinze cannot come to post 9/11 America. This is a saga that takes place over a 15 year period when Ifemelu and Obinze are reunited in Nigeria. It is intense and deeply emotional. In truth, it was too much for me to handle this month. I read this book with a very heavy heart as it seemed like tragedy after tragedy befell these two individuals. However, with that said, this book is amazingly written and a true work of art.
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
Stevenson’s memoir about his early career is truly eye-opening. I had no idea about the scope of injustice towards black men in the criminal justice system. The stories of the inmates on death row who were falsely accused broke my heart. I can’t believe our country doesn’t have more reform in this area. Stevenson’s career is truly incredible and one that should be commended. I’m very interested in seeing the movie now.
The Prophets by Robert Jones, Jr.
Thank you so much to Putman books and libro.fm for my copies of this book. The writing is so beautiful and powerful book that the imagery often left me haunted. Writing in both the voices of the slave and the slave owner, Jones is able to capture both points of view with startling clarity. It is often the indifference that was the most startling Isaiah and Samuel belonged to each other. In the barn where they tended the animals, they were able to carve out a life together. When a fellow slave wants to gain favor with the master, he begins to preach the master’s gospel and life changes forever.
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Impactful is the first word that comes to mind as I think about Coates’s memoir. Written as a story for his son, the lessons he tries to instill from one black man to another, highlight the important issues our country is facing. It’s hard to grapple with the truths laid bare in this book as a white woman, to understand that I will never understand. But it left me energized and thinking about the work I need to do and the messages I want to send to my own boys.
The Voting Booth by Brandy Colbert
Thanks to Libro.FM and Disney for my review copy. All opinions are my own. I LOVE that Brandy Colbert wrote a book for YA readers about the importance of voting WITHOUT BEING POLITICAL. It was so impressive. Never did the characters bring up political affiliations, but instead they focused on the importance of the act of voting, as well as how prevalent voter suppression actually is. This would be a great gift to any new 18-year-old to convince them to register!
Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
The 213 pages of this book will haunt me for a long time. Mr. Whitehead brings characters to life and holy crap can this man write. There is a reason he has won the Pulitzer Prize two times. I have had this book since the day it was released and needed to find the courage to read it. I’m so glad I did.
The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein
All I can say is wow. This book is absolutely illuminating. I cannot believe the laws in this country that were created to systematically segregate America. More than just redlining, banks and the government created a system in which there were completely different sets of rules depending on the color of your skin. I did not know anything about these laws prior to reading the book and it left me flabbergasted. This is a must read book on the history of our country.
Stamped from the beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X Kendi.
I am so happy that this National Book Award Winner is part of the curriculum in my school district for 8th grade social studies. Some American’s think that America is no longer a racist society but they do not realize that the country and its laws are founded on racist beliefs. This book uncovers the truth of our history in a way that is so clear, easy to read and understand. This is a must read.
The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Hiram is born into slavery and when his mother is sold, he is left with a mysterious power that he uses the escape the plantation. The prose of this book is lyrical and poetic but I wasn’t sure where the story was going. As the story progressed, I became invested in Hiram and wanted to see where the story went but, then the story went flat for me. I wanted to see the other characters developed more. I wanted to feel more emotionally at the end of the book. Instead, it felt like the momentum fizzled out. The element of magic reminded me a little bit of the Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead but that book was off the charts for me in the writing, story and characters. There were some parts that I absolutely loved but in the end, this book was good.
Becoming by Michelle Obama
I am so happy that I finally read this book. Michelle Obama is a brilliant woman who is eloquent with such a wonderful story to tell. I listened to this and was so happy to hear the story read by Obama herself. This former First Lady made history and it is wonderful to hear history from this woman who opened the doors.