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Diversity YA Life: Urban Fiction

If you work in a diverse library district, you probably have adult patrons asking for books by Zane or Sistar Souljah.  Chances are you begin blushing or lowing your already hushed voice as you read some of the urban fiction titles out loud to patrons.

We know that it’s great for adults to read in front of their teens but when a parent is reading about hustling, their teens might be reading the same books and we aren’t always comfortable while we are directing teens to the adult urban fiction section/books.

A great alternative is urban fiction for teens or books that feature teens of color.  Below you’ll find a list of urban fiction and books with teens of color.

DIVERSIFY YA LIFE_ urban fiction

First things first, the technical definition of urban fiction is:

Urban fiction, also known as street lit or street fiction is a literary genre set, as the name implies, in a city landscape; however, the genre is as much defined by the socio-economic realities and culture of its characters as the urban setting.-Wikipedia

Urban Fiction Series

Kimani Tru Series by Various Authors
Kimani Tru books from Harlequin follow African American teens as they deal with school, dating, and friendships.

Hollywood High Series by Ni-Ni Simone and Amir Abrams

The Hollywood High Series follow teens of celebrities as they deal with money, fame, and relationships.

Charly’s Epic Fiasco Series by Kelli London

The Epic Fiasco Series follows Charly a teen who grew up on the streets but has dreams of becoming an actress.

Urban Fiction Authors

If you are trying to bulk up your urban fiction collection, one of the easiest ways to do so is to search by author.  Below is a list of urban fiction authors.

Earl Sewell

Angela Johnson

Sharon G. Flake

Dream Johnson

Amir Abrams

Ni-Ni Simone

Monica McKayhan

Cassandra Carter

L. Divine

Denene Miller

Hi Lo Books

Saddleback Education Publishing publishes Hi-Lo urban fiction. Hi-Lo simply means high interest, low readability.  This books are about 150-200 pages and have easier vocabulary than a traditional YA book.  The great thing about these books is that the covers look like traditional YA so the teen reading them won’t feel bad.

Books Featuring a Person of Color

Because teens like to judge books by their cover, it’s important to purchase and display books with a person of color on the cover.  Below is a list of books that not only feature Black protagonists but a person of color is on the cover.  Please note that the following books are not necessarily urban fiction.

Panda (Lauren) is a photographer whose mission is to expose the secrets of the assholes at her school. It’s initially fun until a mysterious classmate exposes Panda’s secrets.

After a serious accident left singer Elyse mute, she decides to live a life of solitude.  During a party Elyse meets Christian, a playboy who doesn’t treat her like glass.  Will Elyse give her heart to a boy who steals many hearts?

Etta isn’t gay enough for The Dykes, her old clique, and she’s not skinny or white enough to be a ballerina.  Etta begins to feel alone when she meets Bianca, a straight white Christian.

Latoya Williams is a black girl in an all white school and makes a wish to make her life easier and to be white.  Find out what happens when Latoya’s wish comes true.

Set in 1920’s Oregon, this Hamlet reimagining features Hanalee the daughter of a white woman and black man.  When her father’s accidental death is rumored to be a murder, Hanalee seeks answers even though the main suspect is her step father.

Ryan loves the rush of sky diving but after a near death experience, Ryan changes.  Will she regain her passion for adventure and loose herself in her own head?

Following the death of his mother, Matt takes a job at a funeral home to help take care of the bills and his alcoholic father.  Lost in loneliness, Matt meets Lovey, a confident girl who drives Matt to be tougher person.

Identical twins Nikki and Maya are inseparable and agreeable. When their tough neighborhood becomes trendy, Nikki is excited while Maya is opposes to the change.  Will this difference of opinions about their home and culture cause a rift in their sisterhood?

Scarlett is a kick butt detective who’s vowed to tackle the crime in her city.  When a new crime ring comes to town, Scarlett discovers her family might be involved.

Holly’s mother works at a retirement home for wealthy people and when the grandson of a wealthy resident mistakes Holly for a relative of a resident, Holly decides to continue the ruse. Will Malik end the relationship when he finds out Holly is the daughter of the help?

Here’s a PDF of the books and authors listed above. Urban YA Fiction

— Dawn Abron, currently reading Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

10 Comments

  1. Emily Emily

    This is a great list, but I have serious qualms about the opening paragraph – if a teen asks for Zane or Sister Soulja, you should show them Zane or Sister Soulja if you have it on your collection. Directing them toward YA urban fiction because you’re uncomfortable or think it’s more appropriate is a form of censorship. That doesn’t mean you can also show them YA materials, but if you teach them that when they ask for you for something, you’ll show them something else, they’ll just stop coming to you for help.

    • Dawn Abron Dawn Abron

      As a reference library worker, I do not censor anyone. I’ve have had fifteen year olds ask me for “The G Spot” book and “Fifty Shades of Grey.” I take them to their request but that doesn’t mean I’m comfortable doing it. I believe a lot of people cringe with these requests but we fulfill them but it’s not our job to censor but to inform. This list is for library workers who would like to provide more options.

      As library workers, we make recommendations. After I give them their book, I will show them our YA urban fiction collection.

      Perhaps my initial post was lost in translation so I added “we aren’t always comfortable while we are directing teens to the adult urban fiction collection.”

      Thank you for your comment.

      • Emily Emily

        Sounds like we’re on the same page – apologies if I misread your post, and thanks for your thoughtful response.

        • Dawn Abron Dawn Abron

          No apologies needed. I think adding a couple of words cleared up my narrative.
          Thanks,
          Dawn

  2. Can I also suggest Paula Chase Hyman’s SO NOT THE DRAMA (Del Rio Bay series, followed by DON’T GET IT TWISTED, THAT’S WHAT’S UP, WHO YOU WIT’ & FLIPPING THE SCRIPT) and sequels, the first of which was published in 2007? These often get missed from lists like these.

  3. Let’s not confuse street-lit with fiction that features African-American teens. Urban is not the euphamistic term for Black. Diverse is not synonymous with Black either. It’s okay to say that these titles primarily deal with “Black” characters, but they don’t all deal with street themes like drugs, gangs, or city life. The Kimani Tru series, in particular has a lot of books that are just contemporary fiction or romance. “Indigo Summer” for example would appeal to anyone who reads Sarah Dessen.

    It can be easy to put these titles in a box, so don’t shy away from them if your population isn’t in the city or primarily African American. You can pick these up for any kid who likes to read a good story. Avoiding the book ghetto is hard, but possible.

  4. Teens like How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon, Coe Booth books, Dana Davidson books, The Crossover by Kwame Alexander, The Bluford Series, Sharon Draper books, Nikki Grimes books, Varian Johnson books, Dream Jordan books, G Neri books, Ashley Hope Perez books. and ShadowShaper by Dan Jose Older

    • Dawn Abron Dawn Abron

      Thanks for the titles. The longer the list, the better.
      Dawn

  5. JD JD

    I wish books with black characters were not referred to as Urban fiction. It implies that all black people reside in urban communities and obviously this is not the case. Every black person does not hail from the “inner city”, many grew up in and reside in suburbs, small towns, etc. A lot of ethnic groups reside in urban areas and yet the word “urban” strictly refers to African-Americans and I would LOVE to see that changed.

    • Dawn Abron Dawn Abron

      I totally agree.

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