This week we continue to celebrate Black History Month with these historical fiction books covering the dark history of Black Americans, and all that they have endured over the centuries. Historical fiction is a great way to increase our understanding of the past, especially for those of us who have a hard time focusing on nonfiction. Each of the books this week seeks to shed light on different aspects of slavery, and how they led to the way things are in America today.
The Water Dancer, by Ta-Nehisi Coates – Hiram Walker – an enslaved man and the son of his white master – remembers nothing of his mother who was sold off when he was just a kid, despite his uncanny ability to remember everything he encounters. When he almost drowns, he discovers that he has the power of “conduction,” a power that allows him to transport himself and others through water to other places. Hiram’s newfound power changes his life, and the lives of those around him. Narrated by Hiram himself, in a powerful and unique voice, this book gives us insight to the lives of the enslaved separated from their families, and those that, despite being the children of white men, were forced to suffer the same atrocities. Through magical realism, it conveys the urgency of the Underground Railroad, and getting enslaved men, women, and children to the North, and freedom.
The Prophets, by Robert Jones, Jr. – Samuel and Isaiah live their days tending to the animals on a plantation that they and their fellow enslaved men and women call the “Empty.” The two have found love with each other, a relationship that isolates them from the others. Despite this, they are able to create a sanctuary for themselves in the barn they share with the animals. When another enslaved man, Amos, starts preaching Christianity to the enslaved, they all begin to turn on one another, and Samuel and Isaiah’s love is newly seen as a sin, and threatens to tear them apart. Told from many different perspectives, including the two men, Maggie, one of the only women who treats them with respect, and a chorus of their ancestors, this is a powerful read. It gives voice to the Queer enslaved men and women who must have existed, but have been overlooked, their stories unspoken. It’s about the power of love, and how it is a great source of hope, even in the darkest of times.
Yellow Wife, by Sadeqa Johnson – Pheby Dolores Brown is an enslaved woman, the daughter of the plantation herbalist, and her white master. She is loved by both her father and his sister, and so is treated much better than the rest of the enslaved people on the plantation. Pheby has been promised freedom when she turns 18, and wants nothing more than to go North with the man she loves, Essex Henry. Things don’t go as planned, however, and she ends up being sent to Devil’s Half Acre, the worst slave jail in Virginia. There she is subjected to the whims and contradictions of the cruel man who runs the jail. Based on the true story of the real Devil’s Half Acre, Robert Lumpkin, the man who ran it, and Mary Lumpkin, the enslaved woman who he married and had several children with, this one is not to be missed. It explores the largely untold stories of the enslaved women forced into relationships with white men, and the choices they made in order to survive, and protect their children at all costs.
You can find a list with these three books and more Black historical fiction here.