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The more things seem to change, the more they stay the same. Walter Dean Myers first published Monster in 1999; over twenty years later, the profound themes centered around the criminality of Black boyhood and coping with trauma continue to plague young Black men across the country. The story follows Steve Harmon, a 16-year-old boy on trial for murder because of his supposed involvement in the murdering of a Harlem drugstore owner. In this narrative, Steve becomes a “pawn” in the system, forced to play by the cynical rules of those in power as he is “forced to think about who he is as he faces prison, where he may spend all the tomorrows of his life.”
However, Steve’s passion as an amateur filmmaker might be the only thing that saves him—transcribing his entire case and trial into a script, putting it all down and telling the story of how his life was flipped upside down in an instant. Despite his best efforts to stay afloat and true to himself, Steve’s perception of reality blurs until he not only misinterprets the truth but no longer recognizes himself.
This poignant, multi-award-winning Walter Dean Myers novel makes its cinematic Netflix debut this Friday, May 7. The film originally premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2018 and continues to follow Steve as readers get the perspective of “the monster” and who that really is. The film stars Jennifer Hudson, Jeffrey Wright, Jharrel Jerome, Jennifer Ehle, Rakim Mayers, Nasir ‘Nas’ Jones, Tim Blake Nelson and John David Washington.
The Root’s Tonja Reneé Stidhum of sat down with Harrison, Hudson and Wright to unpack who—or what—the real monster in America really is.
“Sometimes I feel like I have walked into the middle of a movie. Maybe I can make my own movie. The film will be the story of my life. No, not my life, but of this experience. I’ll call it what the lady who is the prosecutor called me. MONSTER.” — Walter Dean Myers, Monster
African Europeans: An Untold History — Olivette Otele (Nonfiction)
Renowned historian Olivette Otele exposes the real truths behind the presence of Africans in Europe, disproving the theory that Africans only recently resided on the continent. She uncovers the long history of Europeans of African descent dating all the way back to the third century. Spending an equal amount of time discussing figures such as Alessandro de Medici and those with untold stories of dual-heritage families living along Europe’s coastal trading towns, African Europeans is a “landmark celebration of this integral, vibrantly complex slice of European history, and will redefine the field for years to come,” according to Basic Books.
May 4, 2021, Basic Books
Excuse Me While I Ugly Cry — Joya Goffney (Young Adult)
Quinn is a list-maker; her lists keep her sane. She keeps track of absolutely everything—from things she would never admit out loud, to all of the boys she’d like to kiss, to all of the days she’s ever ugly-cried. Keeping track of these things holds her together—that is, until her journal disappears.
And then…then her worst fear is realized. An anonymous Instagram page posts one of Quinn’s lists for everyone to see and gives her an ultimatum: face her seven greatest fears or the entire journal will go public. Panicked and in a race against time, Quinn partners with Carter Bennet—the last known person to have her journal—and team up to find out who took her journal and why. Joya Goffney’s debut novel, Excuse Me While I Ugly Cry, follows Quinn and Carter as they work together to face every single one of her greatest fears. Along the way, Quinn finds the courage to be honest, live in the moment and possibly fall in love.
May 4, 2021, HarperTeen
Far Away from Close to Home: A Black Millennial Woman in Progress – Vanessa Baden Kelly (Essays)
What does it mean to be a Black millennial woman? How does that woman raise a family when plagued by the continuous threat and act of gentrification? How can one find their own voice when being pushed in on all sides by a lineage of writers and thinkers? In Vanessa Baden Kelly’s collection of essays, she examines what “home” means to a Black millennial woman and what community means to a generation of Black women searching for a sense of belonging. Far Away from Close to Home dives into complex themes such as relationships in majority-Black communities, grief, love, and the specific incident of the murder of Ahmaud Arbery.
The essays balance a myriad of Baden Kelly’s own experiences as she looks for a space for a Black millennial woman to call home while seeking ways to embrace her own fears, challenges and perceptions of love.
May 4, 2021, Three Rooms Press
Hurricane Summer — Asha Bromfield (Young Adult)
The relationship one has with their parents can be tumultuous, and Tilla can attest to that. Her father spends his time going back and forth from where Tilla and her mother live to his home in Jamaica, and Tilla has worked tirelessly her entire life to make him love her. When offered the opportunity to spend the summer with him on the island, she is faced with the conflicting feelings of dread and curiosity about what ties him there.
A s a hurricane tears through the island, Tilla is forced to look at the metaphorical storm tearing apart her own life as she “learns about the dark secrets that lie beyond the veil of paradise” amidst the destruction. Asha Bromfield’s debut coming-of-age novel draws on the truths behind self-discovery and the role of colorism, classism and father-daughter dynamics in Tilla’s story.
May 4, 2021, Wednesday Books
Nothing Personal – James Baldwin, (Foreword by) Imani Perry, (Afterword by) Eddie S. Glaude Jr. (Nonfiction)
James Baldwin’s deep dive into the American condition couldn’t have come at a better time. Now available as a standalone edition, Nothing Personal looks at Baldwin’s own time as an activist in the 1960s before “America’s fixation on eternal youth” and refusal to acknowledge its past and present actions.
This new edition includes a foreword by Imani Perry and an afterword by Eddie S. Glaude, Jr. that contextualize Baldwin’s experiences to matters of today. It also draws comparisons between the summer 2020 Black Lives Matter protests and the subsequent insurrection and attack on the capital on January 6, 2021, where the former was met with tear gas and blatant violence and the latter was met with little to no resistance.
In reintroducing this work with clear connections to the most recent events. Nothing Personal is both “a eulogy and a declaration of will…both a call to action, and an appeal to love and to life.”
May 4, 2021, Beacon Press
On Juneteenth — Annette Gordon-Reed (Nonfiction)
A combination of historical analysis and personal experience, Annette Gordon-Reed goes back to Galveston, TX on June 19, 1865, and explores the vast hardships Black communities and individuals have endured from Reconstruction to Jim Crow and beyond. Gordon-Reed, a Texas native, is all too aware of the truths behind those who’ve crafted Texas mythology and “forges a new profoundly truthful narrative of her home state.” Her perspectives as a Black woman directly descended from enslaved people brought to Texas in the early 1800s, along with searing familial anecdotes give a new perspective on the truth behind the Juneteenth narrative.
May 4, 2021, Liveright
Pregnant Girl: A Story of Teen Motherhood, College and Creating a Better Future for Young Families — Nicole Lynn Lewis (Biography)
Faced with the seemingly impossible path of raising a child while enrolling in college, Nicole Lynn Lewis managed to overcome numerous obstacles in her path. After becoming pregnant in high school, she left home, only to be met with periods of homelessness, hunger and poverty. Her new book, Pregnant Girl, offers a narrative of a different path for young mothers despite the statistics intent on projecting their trajectory towards failure.
Fighting for resources and opportunities, Lewis was able to put herself through college and now works to provide resources and aid to teen mothers. Lewis integrates the stories of the young Black men and women she’s worked with through her organization, Generation Hope, as well as the story of her own teen pregnancy to show how effective the right amount of support and resources can be in changing a young mother’s life.
May 4, 2021, Beacon Press
Sorrowland — Rivers Solomon (Fiction)
In Rivers Solomon’s Sorrowland, monsters are entire nations, not just individuals. Vern, desperate to separate from her life in a religious compound, is seven months pregnant when she escapes to the forest. There, she gives birth to twins and vows to raise them away from the horror and influence of the world outside the forest.
However, Vern remains a woman on the run in the forest, forced to fight against the community that will never let her escape. But a change takes place when she unleashes a horror far greater than a person should be able to. In an attempt to understand, Vern must uncover the secrets of the compound while still protecting her children from the violent actions taking place.
May 4, 2021, MCD
Summer on the Bluffs — Sunny Hostin (Fiction)
Oak Bluffs: a historically prominent town on the small island of Martha’s Vineyard, and host to many significant Black politicians, celebrities, families and President Obama himself. Amelia “Ama” Vaux Tanner and her husband built a house high on the Bluffs named Chateau Laveau thirty years ago and played host to numerous high-rolling Black families and individuals. However, her favorite people to host were her three goddaughters, Esperanza “Perry” Soto, Olivia Jones and Billie Hayden. These three girls grew up together, coming to Chateau Laveau each summer as an escape from their crazy lives. But this summer will be different, as Ama announces her move away from Chateau Laveau and invites the girls to spend one last summer with her the way they did as children with plans to gift the house to one of them.
Each woman wants the house more than anything. Each has a secret that puts their chances at risk and by the end of the summer ties will break and edges will fray, yet new bonds will be created. As Ama prepares to admit a few secrets of her own, she grapples with the notion that admitting them might change the way they viewed their lives and worse, change the way they view her.
May 4, 2021, HarperCollins
Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America — Michael Eric Dyson (Nonfiction)
The country is in a state of racial divide that can only be rivaled by the division that existed in the 1960s. In his 2016 New York Times op-ed, Death in Black and White, Michael Eric Dyson opened the nation’s eyes in a way that hadn’t been seen before. In 2017, he continued to make his voice heard in Tears We Cannot Stop—a deeply personal call to action and change. Newly out as a paperback edition, Dyson argued that it’s impossible to effect change and make a difference if there is no acknowledgment of Black grief and the ways it is constantly ignored, dismissed and discounted.
“The time is at hand for reckoning with the past, recognizing the truth of the present, and moving together to redeem the nation for our future. If we don’t act now, if you don’t address race immediately, there very well may be no future.” — Michael Eric Dyson
May 4, 2021, St. Martin’s Griffin
The Essential June Jordan – June Jordan, Edited by Jan Heller Levi, Cristoph Keller (Nonfiction)
The Essential June Jordan honors the works, trials, tribulations and joy that renowned poet June Jordan brought to all of her work. Her poems are both significant to the era and harrowingly relevant to the struggles Black Americans face today. The collection, introduced by 2020 Pulitzer Prizer winner Jericho Brown, is curated to represent the very best of her work. This collection of poems embodies kindness, humor and radical candor. Readers will discover and rediscover the poet who inspired a generation of radical poets to speak their truths.
May 4, 2021, Copper Canyon Press
The Renunciations: Poems — Donika Kelly (Poetry)
Donika Kelly’s collection of poetry examines the way trauma manifests in the body and how a pattern of resilience and survival can change perspective of one’s sense of self in the face of said trauma. Her poems move across a timeline of a childhood marked by love and abuse to the crumbling of that adult child’s eventual marriage. The pages are marked with the “most devastating confrontations with what a person can bear [and] how families harm themselves.” The Renunciations constructs a narrative of how one can build a home within themselves even while “reckoning with a legacy of trauma.”
May 4, 2021, Graywolf Press
We Should All Be Millionaires: A Woman’s Guide to Earning More, Building Wealth and Gaining Economic Power — Rachel Rodgers (Nonfiction)
Rachel Rodgers believes in a reality in which every woman has at least seven zeros in her bank account.
Statistically, women make up only ten percent of the world’s millionaires, making it much more difficult to create real economic change and equality. Mother of four, business owner, attorney and self-made Black millionaire Rodgers works to empower women to face their fears and doubts, overcome feelings of not belonging or simply not knowing where to start their economic journey, both through her company Hello Seven and now, this book. She shares the lessons she learned and the things that worked—and didn’t—on her journey to financial success. She’s right—it’s high time women were able to take economic control and make real change for themselves and those around them—and We Should All Be Millionaires teaches readers how to do exactly that.
May 4, 2021, HaperCollins