Book review · contemporary · Short fiction

Review: Black Enough – Stories of Being Young & Black in America, edited by Ibi Zoboi

Black Enough is an anthology of short stories written by Black authors about young Black characters living in the Unites States. It follows characters from many different backgrounds – there are stories about rich Black people, Black immigrants, biracial Black people, queer Black people – with very different living experiences, because as Ibi Zoboi says right from the introduction, there isn’t just one way to be Black.

First, I want to say that this review is from a perspective who is neither Black nor American. Some things may be lost on me, or I may be missing the context, and English isn’t even my first language. I often did not understand the American pop culture references here, but as this is a book specifically about American experiences, it won’t affect my rating significantly.

Half a Moon by Renée Watson – ★★★★
A heartwarming story about family and healing from the point of view of a seventeen-year-old girl working as a teen counselor at Oak Creek Campgrounds. Trigger warning for fat shaming, challenged by the narrative.

Black Enough by Varian Johnson – ★★★★
A Black boy feels out of place around his friends and the girl he likes because he doesn’t feel like he’s “Black enough” since he doesn’t fit certain stereotypes. It’s a story about community and what it means to be Black that touches also on themes like feminism and police brutality. Really liked it.

Warning: Color May Fade by Leah Henderson – ★★★
A story about appropriation set at a boarding school; specifically, it involves a white girl trying to profit from a black girl’s artwork by claiming it as her own. It was a bit confusing at the beginning, but I ended up liking it.

Black. Nerd. Problems. by Lamar Giles – ★★
This was really confusing. Not only because I was probably supposed to at least vaguely know what the characters were talking about – there were so many names of brands, it kind of relied on the pop culture references – but also because I didn’t really get the plot.

Out of the Silence by Kekla Magoon – ★★★★
This was really well-written and also a difficult read. It’s about a girl who discovers that the girl who made her question her sexuality has died. I liked that we don’t actually know whether the dead girl was queer, because I didn’t need a bury your gays, but it was heartbreaking to read anyway. Really short, beautiful writing, gave me a lot of feelings.

The Ingredients by Jason Reynolds – ★★★
A summer-y short story following Black boys just… being happy and being friends and talking about food. Fun, if plotless and too short to get invested in the (many) characters.

Oreo by Brandy Colbert – ★★★
A story about a girl meeting the cousins she hasn’t seen in years – and she doesn’t know how she feels about them because the last time she saw them, one of them called her an Oreo. It’s a story about family that also talks about gatekeeping and internalized hate for one’s culture.

Samson and the Delilahs by Tochi Onyebuchi – ★★★
The son of a couple of Nigerian immigrants practices for his debates, discovers metal music, meets a girl and tries to reconnect with his family’s past. While this story was contemporary, it reminded me that I really want to read Beasts Made of Night.

Stop Playing by Liara Tamani – ★★★★
I really liked this one! Which surprised me because I didn’t love the beginning, but the character development and the girl friendships were so great. Anyway, this is set at a church beach retreat and it involves untrustworthy boys asking for inappropriate selfies.

Wild Horses, Wild Hearts by Jay Coles – ★★★½
The m/m romance in this one was adorable, but I didn’t love the writing and the ending wasn’t as strong as I hoped it would be. It involves horse racing and a Black boy getting together with his neighbors’ son, whose parents are racist and homophobic.

Whoa! by Rita Williams-Garcia – ★★★★½
This was… surprising. It’s the only story with a maybe magical element, and it follows a gay Black model as he unexpectedly manages to talk with one of his ancestors, a slave living before the Civil War. It felt so sad and hopeful at the same time, and I loved the writing.

Gravity by Tracey Baptiste – ★★★★
This was one of the most original stories in the collection, as it takes place in the span of a few seconds. It talks about sexual assault, victim blaming and immigration (the main character is Trinidadian).

The Trouble With Drowning by Dhonielle Clayton – ★★★★½
A story about light-skinned Black sisters and mental health awareness – or, rather, the lack of it. It was a beautiful story I can’t talk about in-depth without spoilers, but trigger warnings for suicide.

Kissing Sarah Smart by Justina Ireland – ★★★★★
I am predictable. Yes, this was my favorite story, and it involved an f/f romance between a biracial Black girl and a white fat girl. It was cute and funny and it also dealt with microaggressions, mental health and homophobia.
So, I really need to read Dread Nation.

Hackathon Summers by Coe Booth – ★★
This one didn’t work for me. It’s about Garry, who is falling in love with a muslim girl, Inaaya, at a hackathon. I couldn’t connect with them in so little space with so many time jumps, I guess.

Into the Starlight by Nic Stone – ★★★
A story about a girl learning to confront her internalized prejudices and the idea of being “not like [those] other Black people” while falling in love with a boy who also really likes Percy Jackson.

The (R)evolution of Nigeria Jones by Ibi Zoboi – ★★★
This one follows a girl who was raised in an almost cult-like environment by activists. It had some really powerful parts – about activism failing people because nuance is often forgotten, about the way some people are more interested in advocating for the rights of animals before people (that part about asking for the liberation of “tree people and animal people” while their movement treats women as if their main role is to make babies and acts like gay people don’t exist was… something) – but I didn’t feel strongly about most of this.

Overall, I liked this anthology and its messages, even though – as it always happens – not every story worked for me as much as I hoped. I definitely want to read more from some of these authors now.

Average rating: ★★★½

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