Juneteenth: YA Fiction

I didn’t expect to have much trouble gathering some historical fiction titles telling celebratory stories about emancipation. I found one promising book that turned out to be narrated by the daughter of a Texas plantation owner complicit in concealing the news of emancipation—not at all what I was looking for. I continued searching. I found books about slavery during the Revolutionary War, time travel mysteries, and one alternate history featuring Civil War zombies, but I had a hard time finding a perfect fit for Juneteenth.

I ended up reading Jefferson’s Sons by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. It’s told over the span of twenty-two years between 1805 and 1827, giving the reader plenty of time to get to know the characters—my favorite kind of book. The story is narrated by Beverly and Madison Hemings, sons of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, and their enslaved friend Peter Fossett. Freedom is the question at the heart of the book, each character reckoning with their own very different prospects for the future. Beverly and Madison grow up with the understanding that they will one day be free; both wrestle with the idea of passing into white society and arrive at different conclusions. Peter, on the other hand, has no choice. He and his family members are among the 130 enslaved people sold in 1827 to settle Thomas Jefferson’s massive—and irresponsibly accumulated—debts. This was another book that kept me reading past my bedtime, and after reading about the heartbreaking fate of Peter’s family, I couldn’t sleep. The book transforms abstract knowledge into emotional reality in an impactful way. While it’s not a celebratory tale, it’s an important read: empathy-building and meaningful.

Jefferson’s Sons by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Grades 6 and up
OverDrive: eBook

Other excellent books I found on my Juneteenth search:
Crossing Ebenezer Creek by Tonya Bolden
Grades 7 and up
OverDrive: eBook
“After Union soldiers show up to loot her Georgia plantation in November 1864, she, her younger brother Zeke, and many others join the 14th Army Corps of the left wing of General Sherman’s army as it marches through Georgia.” —Publisher’s Weekly

Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham
Grades 8 and up
OverDrive: eBook
“On Rowan’s first day of summer vacation, construction workers discover a skeleton in the servants’ quarters. Thus begins the summer that awakens biracial, sheltered Rowan to the inequality in present-day Tulsa, Oklahoma. The mystery of the human remains unfolds in alternating chapters between Rowan and seventeen-year-old Will in Jim Crow-era 1921, when Will triggers his own awakening by stupidly getting in a fight in a speakeasy.” —VOYA Reviews

Copper Sun by Sharon Draper
Grades 8 and up
OverDrive: eBook
“Poignant and harrowing, this narrative of early America alternates between the voices of enslaved Amari and indentured servant Polly, building a believable interracial friendship centered on the common goal of freedom.”—Kirkus Reviews

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland
Grades 9 and up
OverDrive: eBook
Hoopla: eBook and digital audiobook
“Slavery comes to a halt when the dead on Civil War battlefields begin to rise and eat their compatriots. The north and south put aside their philosophical differences and join forces against the undead…. This is a fictional exploration of the chattel slavery and American Indian boarding school systems. Ireland skillfully works in the different forms of enslavement, mental and physical, into a complex and engaging story.” —School Library Journal

Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee
Grades 7 and up
OverDrive: eBook and digital audiobook
Hoopla: digital audiobook
“In just one day, Samantha’s entire life changes. Her father is killed in a fire at their dry goods store, and hours later, Samantha kills a man in self-defense. She decides to leave Missouri and flee to California. It is 1849, and everyone is headed west. She does not have a plan but knows that her father wanted to travel to California. Annamae, a slave girl at the hotel where Samantha kills the man, decides to accompany her. They dress as young men, going by Sammy and Andy now, and after smuggling themselves across the Missouri River, they set off on their expedition.” —VOYA Reviews

Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson
Grades 6 and up
OverDrive: eBook
“Anderson brilliantly recreates New York City in the summer of 1776, viewed through the eyes of a remarkable heroine. Taught to read by her previous owner, Isabel knows the Bible and has memorized poetry, and her eloquent first-person voice portrays her life as a slave even as she spies for the rebels, covertly delivers food to Bridewell Prison and plots her own escape.” —Kirkus Reviews

Dream Country by Shannon Gibney
Grades 9 and up
OverDrive: eBook
“Kollie is the son of Liberian immigrants living in Minneapolis. He is at war with this new culture and with himself. Bullying at school, lack of support, and past trauma combine in a perfect storm, resulting in him being exiled back to Liberia to live with relatives. His story launches a saga stretching back many generations, trying to make sense of the chaos of his family’s history—escaped slaves, building the Congo, subjugation of the Bassa people, and the modern-day clash between African immigrants and Black Americans.” —VOYA Reviews

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation: The Pox Party by M. T. Anderson
Grades 9 and up
OverDrive: eBook and digital audiobook
Hoopla: eBook
“In this fascinating and eye-opening Revolution-era novel, Octavian, a black youth raised in a Boston household of radical philosophers, is given an excellent classical education. He and his mother, an African princess, are kept isolated on the estate, and only as he grows older does he realize that while he is well dressed and well fed, he is indeed a captive being used by his guardians as part of an experiment to determine the intellectual acuity of Africans.” —School Library Journal

Riot by Walter Dean Myers
Grades 7 and up
OverDrive: eBook
Hoopla: eBook
“The setting is New York City, July 1863. Lincoln has just called up more troops after the devastation at Gettysburg. Tensions rise and then boil over into riots as Irish immigrants rail against the draft and direct their wrath at the city's African-American population. Fifteen-year-old Claire, daughter of a black father and white mother, finds herself at the center of the vortex.” —School Library Journal

Inventing Victoria by Tonya Bolden
Grades 8 and up
OverDrive: eBook
“Bolden explores what happened to those who survived that journey, through the character of Essie, a young black woman in 1880s Savannah, Georgia. When presented with the chance to start over, Essie becomes Victoria and moves to Baltimore to learn how to become a society lady, eventually ending up living the good life in Washington, D.C. Though she vows to say goodbye to her past, Victoria finds it’s easier said than done.” —Booklist Reviews

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