Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams

Genre: Middle Grade / Young Adult

Summary: Genesis knows that she’s unlikable, she even has a list of 96 reasons not to like her (and counting). Her skin is too dark, she’s always smiling, she gets evicted from her house too often… the list goes on. But it’s during one of the post-eviction moves that lands Genesis in a place where she finally begins to see that part of being accepted by others is accepting yourself.

Sensitivities: Alcoholism, colorism, racism, poverty

Classroom Library: Please. Multiple Copies.

Most Appropriate For: 5th grade and up. Genesis is in middle school, which is apparent in the book, but the way the book is written it does not feel grounded in Middle School, it feels like a kid trying to find her way.

Enjoyability: ★★★★ ★ (5/5)
“I’ll tell you what beauty ain’t. It ain’t some organ hidden on the inside – no one cares about how good your heart is. And another thing, being black like me ain’t nothing to be proud about.”

I haven’t been floored by a book in awhile. The story is full of such raw, and powerful moments that Williams artfully navigates. Ultimately, Genesis Begins Again is a story of acceptance: of wanting to be accepted by others, of learning how to accept yourself, of learning that you can refuse to accept the behavior of others and love them anyway. It is also about a young black girl learning how to feel comfortable in her own skin in a world that tells her she shouldn’t. Genesis’ journey is heartbreaking, and honest. But it’s also funny, and developed, and full of references to Doctor Who. This is the story that every kid, but especially girl, and especially especially black girl, deserves to read.

Teachability: ★★★★ ★ (5/5)
I am already trying to figure out how I’m going to get enough copies of this to use with my students next year. There is so much in Genesis’ story to unpack, there is so much to discuss. I can especially see this story being used in units about change or self-acceptance, but it could also be used to discuss race, or self-advocacy. Most of all, it could be a read aloud book that can be shared with students for the joy of it. The options with this one are limitless.


Black Enough: Stories of Being Young and Black in America

Genre: Young Adult (mostly contemporary)

Summary: This is a collection of short stories about young black teenagers navigating their existences.

Sensitivities: death/grief, discussion of sex, discussion of abortion

Classroom Library: Necessary.

Most Appropriate for: There are some stories that would be more appropriate for older readers, but I would put this in my middle school classroom library without questioning it.

Enjoyability: ★★★★ (4/5)

This is a powerful anthology, with a wide variety of characters and stories and situations, that explores the complexities of being black. It firmly shows that there is no one way to be. Every black child can find themselves reflected somewhere in these pages (for that matter, every child). There are stories about first love, and time travel, and trying to figure out who you are outside of your parents, and grief. These stories comment on the aspect of being black in all of these situations, whether it be overtly or indirectly. In the Introduction, Ibi Zoboi writes “my hope is that Black Enough will encourage all black teens to be their free, uninhibited selves without the constraints of being black, too black, or not black enough.” I have no question that is what the book will do.

Teachability: ★★★ (3/5)

I have no doubt that there are stories in this anthology that could easily find their way into classrooms. “Half a Moon” questions what it truly means to be family, “Samson and the Delilahs” discussion the idea of meeting expectations, “Whoa!” could be incredibly interested thrown into on historical fiction, or literature from the 1800s. But I don’t think that is truly the point of this collection. I think the point of this collection is for black children to see themselves, and all of their complexities, reflected back at them from stories in the same way that white children have been able to do for so long.