Black TikTokers Say These 6 Books Are Incredibly Worthy Of Your Attention

Black Book Tokers are reading the powerful works of Colson Whitehead, Yaa Gyasi and many more.
"The Nickel Boys" by Colson Whitehead, "When No One Is Watching" by Alyssa Cole and Yaa Gyasi's "Homecoming."
"The Nickel Boys" by Colson Whitehead, "When No One Is Watching" by Alyssa Cole and Yaa Gyasi's "Homecoming."

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TikTok and its influence on reading culture and book popularity is inextricable. And while the social media platform has succeeded in bolstering the works of white authors such as Sarah J. Maas and Rebecca Yarros, #blackbooktok is here to remind us all that Black-authored books are incredibly worthy of our attention.

I had the opportunity to correspond with six Black book lovers and content creators who have been carving out a corner of the literary world for themselves and others like them. They revealed some of their latest favorite reads by Black writers, powerful books that span genres and writing styles, but converge on one crucial plane — that they are essential reading.

Read on to learn more about books like Alyssa Cole’s thriller, which homes in on the terror of gentrification, and A.E. Valdez’s romance, which celebrates the joy of Black love.

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Dawnshaeé Reid
"The Nickel Boys" by Colson Whitehead
From the talented Pulitzer Prize-winning author Colson Whitehead comes this historical novel full of high drama and deep political and social meaning, set in the 1960s, toward the end of the Jim Crow era in Florida. A teenage Elwood Curtis is sent to the Nickel Academy, a juvenile detention program, for a crime he did not commit. The only lifeline Elwood has in this new hell is his friendship with Turner, a fellow boy in the reformatory. Turner in many ways has lost the sense of righteousness and hope that Elwood still clings to. Whitehead’s book is sadly also a reminder that the injustices within the story are not far-fetched in reality but are based on a very real school. Through Whitehead's compelling prose, readers will learn about our flawed juvenile justice
system and its ongoing ties to racism and the destabilization of Black and brown men.

“I recommend [this book] due to the historical context wedged into the storyline, leading readers to discover the devastating atrocities that have taken place in America through the education and prison industry. ‘The Nickel Boys’ will certainly make you cry for the characters and strive for change.” — Dawnshaeé Reid, essayist TikTok: @introtoeclecticism
Photo by Carlos A. Avila
"Homegoing" by Yaa Gyasi
Yaa Gyasi is an international bestselling author whose historical fiction debut, “Homecoming,” was highly praised by critics, listed as one of Oprah’s best books of 2017 and won the prestigious Pen/Hemingway Award for debut fiction that same year. This family saga begins with half-sisters Effia and Esi, born in the West African country of Ghana, villages apart and completely unaware of each other’s existence. Effia becomes known in her village as the most beautiful girl there, and her stepmother capitalizes on the girl’s beauty by selling her to the British. She is then married to an Englishman and has a life of luxury in the upper part of Ghana's Cape Coast Castle. The only link Effia has to her former life is a polished black stone removed from a fire. It’s in another village that Esi’s fate plays out in a much different way. Esi is captured during a tribal war and is then forced into slavery, taken to the very palatial residence Effia now resides in as a wealthy man’s wife. But Esi also has a matching single black stone. Moving between interconnected plots and storylines from the sister’s children and descendants, Gyasi’s beautiful prose plays out like snippets of truths, rumored curses and the links of family throughout time and places. According to the book’s publisher, readers are taken everywhere from “the Gold Coast to the plantations of Mississippi, from the American Civil War to Jazz Age Harlem” while passionately illuminating the lasting effects of slavery and colonialism.

“It’s a story about two half sisters in Africa and every chapter is about one of their descendants. I recommend that book because it’s just a great book that shows you how much black people’s history, money and resources was lost through the years. Now some may say that sounds depressing, but it just showed me how resilient we are as a people and it gave me more motivation to make sure our stories and history don't get lost.” Anthony “Da Kidd P.G.” Bagley, show developer and founder of Black Kidds Read Too, a book platform that advocates for people to read from a diverse range of book genres and authors. TikTok: @blackkiddsreadtoo
Talia Cadet
"When No One Is Watching" by Alyssa Cole
From international bestselling author Alyssa Cole comes this psychological thriller that critics have called a mashup between the films “Get Out” and “Rear Window.” Cole turns gentrification into a new level of horror. Sydney Green is a Black woman in her 30s, born and raised in Brooklyn, and she’s watching her neighborhood of Gifford Place quickly turn into something else. Once a place of community, it’s now in flux with shiny unaffordable condos effectively pricing out everyone she knows — and Sydney might be next. Determined to hold on to her home, she fights back by offering “walking tours” of her neighborhood as a way to remember the Black history of Brooklyn before the insufferable and crudely unaware newcomers ruin it. The thriller also reads like an unsuspecting rom-com, which makes the encroaching twists all that more deliciously bewitching.

“Romance is my genre of choice, but ‘When No One is Watching’ makes a strong case for a thriller! This story is fiction, but there will be many moments when you try to convince yourself what happened to this Brooklyn community isn't happening in real life all over the country.” — Talia Cadet, TikTok:@taliacadet
Ayanna Marshay
"Colliding With Fate" by A.E. Valdez
“Colliding With Fate” is a witty and sexy romance from indie author A.E. Valdez. The story gives fans of Valdez’s earlier book, “All I Ever Wanted, All I Ever Needed,” more of the characters Kyrell and Quinn. Kyrell is a successful business owner and handsome playboy living in L.A., and despite his seemingly charmed life, he lacks any emotional connection with the women he runs through — which is likely due to his relationship with his family. But one of his closest friends is Harlow, who also happens to be close with Quinn. Quinn is a nurse who also lives in L.A., and she’s not in the mood for anything other than a “no-strings” relationship. Over the years, Kyrell and Quinn keep running into each other, and eventually a very strong mutual attraction convinces them to try out a “friends with benefits,” dalliance. But despite the pair’s insistence on nothing more than physical, it becomes pretty clear that behind the sarcastic banter the two have more to lose than just amazing sex. They have a chance at a real connection.

“This book is so much more than just a love story. It’s about loss, friendship, navigating grief and so much more! I love Black romance because there’s something so special about seeing yourself and your experience in stories where the characters get that happily ever after that everyone dreams of. Quinn and Kyrell in this book are everything and more, and I’ve never related to two characters more.” Ayanna Marshay, TikTok: @ayannamarshay
"Under the Udala Trees" by Chinelo Okparanta
Nigerian American novelist Chinelo Okparanta’s coming-of-age love story tells the tale of Ijeoma, an 11-year-old girl who has been displaced from her home in the very new republic of Nigeria to live with family friends after a civil war. In the midst of grieving the loss of her home and the recent death of her father, Ijeoma meets Amina, another young girl who has also been displaced. Amina and Ijeoma are from different ethnic tribes, but despite their differences the two fall in love. Their romance is fraught with the potential of danger as they live in a place where homosexuality is harshly punished, and their love could be a death sentence. Inspired by Nigerian folktales, Okparanta’s captivating tale, written with deeply felt prose, promises to leave an impression long after it’s finished.

“Chinelo Okparanta delivers in these pages a stunning portrayal of love, friendship, family and the trials and tribulations of womanhood - all set against the backdrop of a Nigeria struggling to recover from a divisive civil war that had left scars on the nation. Under The Udala Trees is both a beautifully crafted coming of age story and a book about the healing power of love. It’s one of those books that will break your heart - then give you hope in humanity.” Nokukhanya Ntsaluba, TikTok: @prettyxbookishreads
Racquel Smith
"The Neighbor Favor" by Kristina Forest
Shy bookworm Lily Greene has always preferred fictional relationships to the real thing. She works in the publishing industry, dreams of becoming a children's book editor and even has a pen-pal relationship with her favorite fantasy author, a mysterious British writer who goes by the name N.R. Strickland — except one day he ghosts her. A few months have passed since their last correspondence, and Kritsina decides she needs to engage with the real world. She needs a date for her sister’s wedding and boldly asks her good-looking new neighbor, Nick Brown, to help her find one. Nick is someone she’s oddly drawn to and can’t seem to pinpoint why. Their attraction is undeniable, but with plenty of hang-ups for both of them, will the bookish pair bind up?

“It’s a sweet romcom with two black main characters whose main problems are romance and work-related issues. I always think it’s nice to have an escape from racial trauma and just be able to envelop myself in that world. Black people deserve more romantic comedies and sweet romances, so I make sure to get as many readers as I can into the genre of ‘black fluffy romances’.” Racquel Smith, TikTok: @rockyreads

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