Our Friend is Here: Black History Month Edition is a month-long event at The Quiet Pond during the month of February, where Black authors are invited to celebrate being Black and Black books! Find the introduction post for Black History Month here.
In case you’re new to the Pond’s book recommendation posts, the recommendation posts are brought to you by Varian, the Pond’s very own Toadshifter who is knowledgeable in all kinds of magic! One of Varian’s ambitions is to get better at sewing, hence why whenever Varian has come up with their latest costume, they will always recommend a few books that inspired them!
I love books that explore the relationships that we have in our lives. Friendship and family relationships can be so enriching and wonderful, but can also be deeply complicated too, particularly when others – or we – go through change. And then I also love the stories about community, where we discover that we can connect and find belonging, home, and understanding with others.
In the last few years, I’ve read some truly incredible stories by Black authors centered on themes of friendship, family, and community. Because I love these themes, and because I want readers to read books by Black authors, for my year-long readathon, Pondathon II, the current side quest asks readers to read books by Black authors with these themes for Black History Month.
So, whether you’re a friend looking for a book about friendship, family, and community or if you are a Pondathon II gardener looking for your next read, I hope you will find a book to add to your to-read list today!
Books about Friendship
The Only Black Girls in Town by Brandy Colbert
Beach-loving surfer Alberta has been the only black girl in town for years. Alberta’s best friend, Laramie, is the closest thing she has to a sister, but there are some things even Laramie can’t understand. When the bed and breakfast across the street finds new owners, Alberta is ecstatic to learn the family is black-and they have a 12-year-old daughter just like her.
Alberta is positive she and the new girl, Edie, will be fast friends. But while Alberta loves being a California girl, Edie misses her native Brooklyn and finds it hard to adapt to small-town living.
When the girls discover a box of old journals in Edie’s attic, they team up to figure out exactly who’s behind them and why they got left behind. Soon they discover shocking and painful secrets of the past and learn that nothing is quite what it seems.
As well as an awesome story about two Black girls who find a collection of journals and delve into the history and mystery in their own hometown, The Only Girls in Town is also a wonderful story about friendship – about new friendships, toxic friendships and misunderstandings. Add to the mix a thoughtful exploration of how people place expectations on Black girls – particularly when there are so few Black girls in town – and you have a wonderful ‘slice of life’ middle-grade story that is hard to fault.
When You Were Everything by Ashley Woodfolk
It’s been twenty-seven days since Cleo and Layla’s friendship imploded.
Nearly a month since Cleo realized they’ll never be besties again.
Now, Cleo wants to erase every memory, good or bad, that tethers her to her ex–best friend. But pretending Layla doesn’t exist isn’t as easy as Cleo hoped, especially after she’s assigned to be Layla’s tutor. Despite budding new friendships with other classmates—and a raging crush on a gorgeous boy named Dom—Cleo’s turbulent past with Layla comes back to haunt them both.
Alternating between time lines of Then and Now, When You Were Everything blends past and present into an emotional story about the beauty of self-forgiveness, the promise of new beginnings, and the courage it takes to remain open to love.
Probably one of my favourite stories about friendship, When You Were Everything is about a friendship breakup, in all its painful moments, its sharp and jagged grief, but also the quiet yearning for days past. As the book is aptly named, the story depicts how friendships are so important to young people and how friendships can be everything. Friendship breakups are never pretty, and Woodfolk depicts this with so much vulnerability and sensitivity. A must-read for readers who have felt the pain of friendship breakups.
Simone Breaks All the Rules by Debbie Rigaud
Her strict Haitian immigrant parents enforce no-dating rules and curfews, and send Simone to an all-girls school. As for prom? Simone is allowed to go on one condition: her parents will select her date (a boy from a nice Haitian immigrant family, obviously).
Simone is desperate to avoid the humiliation of the set up — especially since she’s crushing on a boy she knows her parents wouldn’t approve of. With senior year coming to a close, Simone makes a decision. She and her fellow late-bloomer friends will create a Senior Year Bucket List of all the things they haven’t had a chance to do. On the list: kissing a boy, sneaking out of the house, skipping class (gasp!), and, oh yeah — choosing your own prom date.
But as the list takes on a life of its own, things get more complicated than Simone expected. She’ll have to discover which rules are worth breaking, and which will save her from heartbreak.
If you are or were a sheltered teenager, then Simone Breaks All the Rules will make you feel so seen. A fun and feel-good coming-of-age contemporary about a Haitian teen who makes a ‘Bucket List’ to break free from her parents’ expectations. The friendships in this story are gorgeous and wholesome; Simone bonds and forms a friendship group with fellow ‘late-bloomers’, where they bond over their own experiences of strict parents and go on a journey to find freedom and themselves.
A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramée
Twelve-year-old Shayla is allergic to trouble. All she wants to do is to follow the rules. (Oh, and she’d also like to make it through seventh grade with her best friendships intact, learn to run track, and have a cute boy see past her giant forehead.)
But in junior high, it’s like all the rules have changed. Now she’s suddenly questioning who her best friends are and some people at school are saying she’s not black enough. Wait, what?
Shay’s sister, Hana, is involved in Black Lives Matter, but Shay doesn’t think that’s for her. After experiencing a powerful protest, though, Shay decides some rules are worth breaking. She starts wearing an armband to school in support of the Black Lives movement. Soon everyone is taking sides. And she is given an ultimatum.
Shay is scared to do the wrong thing (and even more scared to do the right thing), but if she doesn’t face her fear, she’ll be forever tripping over the next hurdle. Now that’s trouble, for real.
A Good Kind of Trouble may indeed be middle-grade but it has such stunning nuance about the complexities of navigating the world around you as your Raybeperspective changes. Trouble-averse Shayla is a joy of a protagonist, and even though she makes mistakes along the way (as we all do), her journey through realising that the trouble she’s always avoided is sometimes necessary. This book has themes of friendship, family, and community, but I particularly loved how this story explored friendship – how sometimes friendships change because you and the way that you see the world change.
Books about Family
Blood Like Magic by Liselle Sambury
After years of waiting for her Calling—a trial every witch must pass in order to come into their powers—the one thing Voya Thomas didn’t expect was to fail. When Voya’s ancestor gives her an unprecedented second chance to complete her Calling, she agrees—and then is horrified when her task is to kill her first love. And this time, failure means every Thomas witch will be stripped of their magic.
Voya is determined to save her family’s magic no matter the cost. The problem is, Voya has never been in love, so for her to succeed, she’ll first have to find the perfect guy—and fast. Fortunately, a genetic matchmaking program has just hit the market. Her plan is to join the program, fall in love, and complete her task before the deadline. What she doesn’t count on is being paired with the infuriating Luc—how can she fall in love with a guy who seemingly wants nothing to do with her?
With mounting pressure from her family, Voya is caught between her morality and her duty to her bloodline. If she wants to save their heritage and Luc, she’ll have to find something her ancestor wants more than blood. And in witchcraft, blood is everything.
If you love witchy stories that’s centered entirely on family and how far you will go for the people you love, then I cannot think of a better book than Blood Like Magic. Set in the future, the story follows Voya, a Black witch who is given a task by her ancestor: kill her first love or her family’s magic will be lost forever. The problem? Voya has never been in love – and thus sets her search to find someone to fall in love with. Blood Like Magic is the perfect blend of science-fiction and urban fantasy, and has one of the most unique stories I’ve ever read.
Josephine Against the Sea by Shakirah Bourne
Eleven-year-old Josephine knows that no one is good enough for her daddy. That’s why she makes a habit of scaring his new girlfriends away. She’s desperate to make it onto her school’s cricket team because she’ll get to play her favorite sport AND use the cricket matches to distract Daddy from dating.
But when Coach Broomes announces that girls can’t try out for the team, the frustrated Josephine cuts into a powerful silk cotton tree and accidentally summons a bigger problem into her life . . .
The next day, Daddy brings home a new catch, a beautiful woman named Mariss. And unlike the other girlfriends, this one doesn’t scare easily. Josephine knows there’s something fishy about Mariss but she never expected her to be a vengeful sea creature eager to take her place as her father’s first love! Can Josephine convince her friends to help her and use her cricket skills to save Daddy from Mariss’s clutches before it’s too late?
For readers who love a bit of whimsy and a thrill, Josephine Against the Sea, inspired by Carribean mythology, is about a Barbadian girl whose father brings home a beautiful woman, who may not be actually human, but a vengeful sea creature. Josephine Against the Sea is a great mix of fun, humour, and the lingering sadness of losing a parent with some really exciting and heart-pounding moments.
Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko
Tarisai has always longed for the warmth of a family. She was raised in isolation by a mysterious, often absent mother known only as The Lady. The Lady sends her to the capital of the global empire of Aritsar to compete with other children to be chosen as one of the Crown Prince’s Council of 11. If she’s picked, she’ll be joined with the other Council members through the Ray, a bond deeper than blood. That closeness is irresistible to Tarisai, who has always wanted to belong somewhere. But The Lady has other ideas, including a magical wish that Tarisai is compelled to obey: Kill the Crown Prince once she gains his trust. Tarisai won’t stand by and become someone’s pawn—but is she strong enough to choose a different path for herself?
Raybearer has the benefit of having complicated family relationships and the found family trope – and, well, it’s also the first book of one of my favourite YA fantasy duology of all time. A sweeping fantasy rich with detail, Raybearer is an incredible story about who craves love and warmth, who is sent on a mission to make the Crown Prince fall in love with her so she can be part of his Council – so she can kill him. Awesome, right? It definitely is and you absolutely must read it if you haven’t already.
Books about Community
White Smoke by Tiffany D. Jackson
Marigold is running from ghosts. The phantoms of her old life keep haunting her, but a move with her newly blended family from their small California beach town to the embattled Midwestern city of Cedarville might be the fresh start she needs. Her mom has accepted a new job with the Sterling Foundation that comes with a free house, one that Mari now has to share with her bratty ten-year-old stepsister, Piper.
The renovated picture-perfect home on Maple Street, sitting between dilapidated houses, surrounded by wary neighbors has its . . . secrets. That’s only half the problem: household items vanish, doors open on their own, lights turn off, shadows walk past rooms, voices can be heard in the walls, and there’s a foul smell seeping through the vents only Mari seems to notice. Worse: Piper keeps talking about a friend who wants Mari gone.
But “running from ghosts” is just a metaphor, right?
As the house closes in, Mari learns that the danger isn’t limited to Maple Street. Cedarville has its secrets, too. And secrets always find their way through the cracks
Looking for a horror story that’s also about a community with a dark history and secrets, White Smoke is terrifying and utterly engrossing. I had to read this during daylight hours. When Marigold and her blended family move to a new town for a fresh start, she discovers that everything is not at all what it seems… including her house, which she believes may be haunted. A twist on the haunted house story with an anti-gentrification and anti-racist lens. Loved this.
You Truly Assumed by Laila Sabreen
Sabriya has her whole summer planned out in color-coded glory, but those plans go out the window after a terrorist attack near her home. When the terrorist is assumed to be Muslim and Islamophobia grows, Sabriya turns to her online journal for comfort. You Truly Assumed was never meant to be anything more than an outlet, but the blog goes viral as fellow Muslim teens around the country flock to it and find solace and a sense of community.
Soon two more teens, Zakat and Farah, join Bri to run You Truly Assumed and the three quickly form a strong friendship. But as the blog’s popularity grows, so do the pushback and hateful comments. When one of them is threatened, the search to find out who is behind it all begins, and their friendship is put to the test when all three must decide whether to shut down the blog and lose what they’ve worked for…or take a stand and risk everything to make their voices heard.
You Truly Assumed is a thoughtful and empowering story about the power we hold when we can come together as a community in solidarity and hope. Following the perspectives of three Black Muslim teens who come together to run a blog called You Truly Assumed, a space for Muslim teens and their writing. Centering the experiences of these three girls, the story is about how activism can be creating and holding space for others, enabling people to build meaningful connections in this big and confusing world.
Take Back the Block by Chrystal D. Giles
Wes Henderson has the best style in sixth grade. That–and hanging out with his crew (his best friends since little-kid days) and playing video games–is what he wants to be thinking about at the start of the school year, not the protests his parents are always dragging him to.
But when a real estate developer makes an offer to buy Kensington Oaks, the neighborhood Wes has lived his whole life, everything changes. The grownups are suppposed to have all the answers, but all they’re doing is arguing. Even Wes’s best friends are fighting. And some of them may be moving. Wes isn’t about to give up the only home he’s ever known. Wes has always been good at puzzles, and he knows there has to be a missing piece that will solve this puzzle and save the Oaks. But can he find it . . . before it’s too late?
Probably one of my favourite middle-grade stories of all time, Take Back the Block tackles gentrification and fighting for what its right amid navigating change, friendships, and school. Through Wes, whos is genuinely such a cool kid, readers of all ages will definitely be thoughtful about the negative impacts of gentrification and institutional racism, and how activism isn’t just going to protests, but it’s behind-the-scenes work, research, learning, and working with others.