Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith

Genre: YA historical
Rep: Ownvoices, Black
Format: audiobook

I’ve had this book on my TBR for ages, but didn’t realize it was about a POC main character until I was looking for books for my reading challenge and it came up on a Goodreads list. Flygirl follows a young, light skinned, female pilot who has to give up flying at the start of WWII, as resources like fuel are redirected to the military. When a program to recruit female transport pilots (to deliver supplies and planes for the military to free up their male pilots for combat), Ida is quick to sign up, even though they don’t take black pilots. Forging her license, she doesn’t tell the recruiter that she’s not white; simply allows the woman to draw her own conclusions. Impressed by Ida’s manner, she offers her a position in training.

If the military finds out about the ruse, however, a court martial could be the least of her worries. Though she loves flying, staying in the military means denying her family and her heritage, but going back home to the Jim Crow south means denying every part of herself as an individual.

I loved this book from beginning to end. Ida is beautifully human in her choices, both good and bad; her mistakes, and her efforts to help others and improve the lot of Blacks who can’t pass the way she does. She risks life and limb every day she wakes up on base.

If you’re a fan of WWII narratives or books about women breaking glass ceilings, this is definitely a good book to pick up.

Saving Savannah by Tonya Bolden

Genre: YA historical
Rep: Ownvoices, Black

This was the first book I checked out for my Authors of Color Reading Challenge. Yes, I am finally caught up enough on my reviews to start in on the challenge I set for myself in June. -_-

Saving Savannah follows a young black woman from an affluent family in the early 1920s. Savannah is bored and feeling caged in. She knows there is more to the world than the teas and social events her mother arranges, but she doesn’t know how to get involved in them. She reminded me of a lot of ’20s era main characters I’ve seen, including Bright Young Things, Vixen, A Beautiful Poison, Brimstone, and The Girls at the Kingfisher Club. The difference is that all of those main characters are white. Even the petty, spoiled, cowardly best friend could be pulled from those pages.

After about twenty pages or so, the story takes a sharp left. Savannah begins volunteering at a vocational school for young black women, and is slowly drawn into a world of political upheaval she was previously sheltered from. As 1919’s “Red Summer” consumes her entire Washington D.C. neighborhood and the surrounding area, Savannah has to come to terms with the hypocrisy in her own life. Fueled by guilt, she tries to use her privilege to help the new friends and allies she’s made, hoping to save at least one life. 

While I liked the overall story, this book wasn’t really to my taste. The writing was very choppy, broken up into one or two page sections that made it hard for me to really dive in and consume the story. However, I am glad I read it as it showed several different perspectives I was previously unfamiliar with, including prejudices that exist within the Black community.

It also serves once again as a reminder: Everything is Wilson’s fault.



On the Come Up by Angie Thomas

Genre: YA contemporary
Secondary genre: Current affairs, BLM
CW: language, mentions of drug use and gang violence
Rep: Black, poverty, LGBT

While Angie Thomas’s books are not classified as a series, they are all set in the same world. You do not need to have read The Hate You Give to enjoy this book, though there will be some familiar faces and background information that might enrich the reading.

I’m not a fan of rap music, but I knew that was a big part of this book (Angie Thomas was a rapper in a previous life) to the point that it included lyrics, so I made sure to get the audio version of this book, and I highly reccomend it.

The Garden–the fictional neighborhood where Thomas’s books are set–has seen better days. Now it is a poverty-stricken neighborhood where gang violence rules the day, cops shoot first and ask quesetions later, and there are more boarded up shops than open stores–that the ones that are open usually have a shotgun under the till.

Yet this is where Bri calls home. Her mother, a former drug addict, works hard to send Bri to an arts high school in another neighborhood. But when her mother gets laid off, things are more than dire for Bri and her family. With the heat and power shut off and little in the pantry, Bri longs to use her voice to bring her family finacial freedom. Sick of taking handouts, she enters the ring–a weekly rap battle run by a local DJ that has spawned world famous rappers. It even kicked off her dad’s career, before a gang shooting ended it and his life.

But Bri’s words go further than intended and take on meanings she never intended. Now the school is threatening to expel her, the cops thing she’s a danger, and the gang that killed her father has put it’s sights on her. Fame and fortune can’t come fast enough, but even if they do, will they be enough to get her out of the Garden?

While this isn’t the usual type of book for me, I love Angie Thomas’s writing and I found her first book to be incredibly moving. While Bri and I come from vastly different backgrounds, I still found her extremely relatable. She is an absolute Queen, though she learns a lot through the course of the book. I would actually love to see a follow up story about her and the colorful cast of characters from this book.

A Challenge

I know, things have been quiet around here lately. Don’t worry, I have a backlog of reviews I’ll be posting next week.

But first, I wanted to invite you to join me in a challenge I set for myself.

I want to do a readalong for white people.

Before you start screaming “racist!”, hear me out:

I am white. I am aware that I have a certain amount of privilege. I am also aware that I am not doing enough to broaden my horizons and learn about the experiences of others. Until I moved to Seattle, I didn’t live in a diverse area. Diversity was a theoretical thing I saw on the internet.

So I want to invite other white people to join me in educating myself about Black and POC experiences, rather than putting the onus on individuals to educate us.

This challenge is meant to introduce baby steps to make me (us) more aware of what and how I (we) read, and to introduce a broader range of voices.

If you would like to join (be you white or otherwise, all are welcome), then here is how:

  1. Start a reading journal. I say journal, because you’re going to need some space for this. It could be digital or on paper. If you already have a reading journal, great! Skip to step 3.
  2. In that journal, write down every book you read or listen to. All book formats count.
  3. Create a color coding system, or other signifiers to show the kinds of diverse books you read. There should at least be notations for #Ownvoices Black and #Ownvoices POC books, but other flavors of diversity you might like to track: positive or #Ownvoices mental health rep, first generation [insert your country of origin here], Native voices (American, 1st Nations, Aboriginal, Ainu, or other), positive or #Ownvoices disability rep, and LGBT+ rep.
  4. Highlight books according to these labels, using up to two colors for each one. A book only counts if the label applies to the author, main character, or the main supporting character (love interest, best friend, sibling, etc).
  5. Create a reading list for yourself through the end of the year. You can read other books, but the challenge here is to try to finish this list or as much of it as possible by the end of the year. It should be challenging, but doable. Don’t make a list so long it’s going to overwhelm you. I recommend between 25-50 books.
    1. At least half this list should be #Ownvoices Black experience. The other half can be any POC representation, but must be #Ownvoices. Try to find as many intersectional represenations as possible (i.e. a disabled Hispanic main character, a trans Asian main character, etc.) *
    2. Include at least three books that are not recent releases, like books from the Harlem Renaissance, older biographies, etc. Adding nonfiction is a definite bonus.**

6. Post pictures of the three lists on social media to help keep yourself accountable (Mine are up on Instagram–@Knotmagick–and I’ll be showing them here in my next post.

I don’t have a catchy hashtag or title for this reading challenge, but feel free to tag me in your posts (same username on Twitter, too).

If you have any questions, please drop them in the comments below and I will answer. My next few posts (after my lists) will be catching up on my backlog of reviews, but I am taking more detailed notes on the books I’ve earmarked for this challenge, and I’ve already started one of them.

I know this is a small effort, and that is intentional. I want us to be more aware of ourselves and the people around us, and that is not something that happens at the drop of a hat. It means re-training your brain and your senses. Just this morning I saw a Twitter thread (by a black woman) about preventing burnout, as most white people are not trained to think about race every second of every day the way people of color are. This of this as a Couch to 5K for increasing your racial awareness. I’m also sure there are or will be similar reading challenges in the near future. If this one doesn’t appeal to you, maybe take part in one of those?

I hope you’ll join me in making small steps for change.

*I have this split into two lists for a few reasons, but I thought I would mention the most practical one up front: a lot of books by Black authors are hard to get a hold of at the moment if you are a person who relies on libraries like me. So feel free to start with other marginalizations and circle back to the Black authors as they become available. I think I went through 15 books on my list before I found one my library had available, and the King County Library System is not small. Readers in more rural areas may have more difficulty and I want this to be as accessible and as educational as possible.

**Try to make these books that you actually want to read, not just stuff you’re forcing yourself to read for the sake of education. I relate most to YA, so I’ve put a lot of that on my list. Don’t know where to start? Here are some lists I pulled from to help me find my titles:
Goodreads: Books by Black Authors
Goodreads: Multicultural Children’s Lit
Goodreads: Black Speculative Fiction
Goodreads: Masterlist of Black YA Writers
Oprah: 43 Books by Black Authors to Read in Your Lifetime
Penguin Random House: 25 Books by Contemporary Black Authors