Hundreds of thousands of books were published this year. After curating and selling books by black authors all over the world, we have analysed the most popular and celebrated books to bring you the most popular books of the year. Here are our top books of 2019.
My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
My Sister, the Serial Killer, Oyinkan Braithwaite’s debut novella, is a black comedy that tells of murder and suspense as experienced by two Nigerian sisters trying to live their best lives in Lagos. Korede, the elder, is a trained nurse who despite her best intentions cannot get over the jealousy triggered by the seemingly happy-go-lucky life of her more beautiful younger sister Ayoola. However, there’s also a deep bond that exists between the two, and this is perhaps best demonstrated in the way Korede keeps helping Ayoola get away with murdering her boyfriends. When a new love interest comes into the mix and old childhood memories are stirred up, Korede’s bitterness threatens to overflow. It then becomes a matter of time as to when the sisters will ever get caught, if indeed they will get caught.
My Sister, the Serial Killer was first published in 2017 as Thicker than Water. It was later revised for international re-release in 2018 and has picked up steam since then. Praised for its use of droll, dry wit even as it tackles dark subject matter, Braithwaite’s work has earned her rave reviews from numerous publications such as the New York Times, Huffington Post and Marie Claire. It also landed her in the longlist of the 2019 Man Booker Prize and shortlist of the 2019 Women’s Prize, and won her the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for mystery/thriller as well as the Anthony Award for best first novel.
On the Come Up by Angie Thomas
On the Come Up is Angie Thomas’s highly-anticipated second novel following 2017’s massively successful The Hate U Give.
Set in the same fictional neighbourhood of Garden Heights but told from a very different point of view, this time the story is about teen girl Bri, an aspiring hip-hop artist who’s feeling the pressure to make it in rap. Her late father was an underground hip-hop legend who died before hitting it big, and Bri wants nothing more than to fill the very large shoes that he left behind. However, life without him, and more pertinently, without the money that would have come had he made the mainstream, is hard. Yet Bri persists with the struggle to become a rapper. Given the poverty that she and her family are fighting so hard against, and given the fact that society insists on putting both her and her music in a box labelled ‘menace,’ Bri knows that success in rap is the only path she must pursue in order to truly prove herself to the world.
On the Come Up has landed on the young adult bestseller lists of numerous publications, most notably debuting at the top of the New York Time’s young adult list. It has also inspired praise for Thomas’s ability to realistically explore neglected, marginalized and minority characters in young adult literature. As one reviewer put it, “We are lucky to have her, and we are lucky to know a girl like Bri.” -New York Times Book Review.
Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo
Bernadine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other surprised a lot of people this year, not least because it afforded her a joint win of the top-tier Man Booker Prize, an honour she shared with The Testaments’s Margaret Atwood. Following this historic win – she is the first black woman to have ever won this prize – her lifetime book sales doubled in a matter of days, she got to travel all around the world in a publicity/prize tour, and there are even murmurings of a TV or film adaptation in the future. This raises the question: What is it about Girl, Woman, Other that makes it so special?
A section of it’s blurb describes it as a “magnificent portrayal of the intersections of identity and a moving and hopeful story of an interconnected group of Black British women that paints a vivid portrait of the state of contemporary Britain…” In short, it is a feat that explores numerous female identities by cutting across gender, sexuality, social and economic circumstances to get to the universal crux of human nature.
A love song to women living in modern Great Britain, Girl, Woman, Other will no doubt fuel many a discussion around feminist thought within society as a whole.
The Path Made Clear: Discovering Your Life’s Purpose by Oprah Winfrey
The Path Made Clear is Oprah Winfrey’s latest addition to the self-help genre. In it, she offers a helping hand to those unclear as to what to passions to base their life around, and over the course of 10 chapters, with the help of inspiring photographs and motivational quotes, she leads them on a journey to discovering what that purpose is for themselves.
Despite the minimal fanfare upon its release, The Path Made Clear was still named as one of the New York Times and Barnes & Nobles bestsellers of 2019. Just as inspiring, spiritual and self-affirming as her other works, it’s a perfect choice for those on a journey of self-discovery as well as those who are unashamed, unapologetic, lifelong fans of Oprah.
The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
The Nickel Boys is Colson Whitehead’s follow-up to 2016’s Pulitzer prize-winning The Underground Railroad. This time, the story is set in the 60s Jim Crow era and follows the heartbreaking tale of Elwood Curtis, an idealistic participant of the fledgling Civil Rights Movement who is sentenced to a juvenile reformatory school called the Nickel Academy following an incident of bad fate. There, he witnesses and experiences nightmarish actions of racism, sexual defilement and neglect at the hands of the corrupt school heads as well as members of the surrounding community. Still, Elwood insists on holding on to Martin Luther King’s honourable sentiments whereas Turner, a friend he meets at Nickel, takes the opposite view. Turner chooses to believe in the worst of humanity and cannot be convinced otherwise. This battle of ideals forms the fulcrum upon which The Nickel Boys precariously balances as the story slowly reveals itself to its devastating climax.
Similar to The Underground Railroad, The Nickel Boys is a tough read as it goes into the black, racist rot at the root of American society. Another bestseller by Whitehead, it also won the Kirkus Prize, was longlisted for the 2019 National Book Award, and was named one of TIME magazine’s 10 best fiction books of the decade.
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An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
Roy and Celestial are young, newlywed Atlantians looking forward to a promising future. However, their plans are drastically overturned when Roy is sentenced to 12 years in prison after being wrongfully accused of rape. Distraught, Celestial struggles to hold on to her marriage promise, but she eventually turns to Andre, her childhood best friend and best man at their wedding, for comfort. Roy is then granted early release from jail five years into his sentence. He steps back into the real world gearing up to face the devastating reality of a wife who has moved on from loving him – mind, body and soul.
Tayari Jones’s An American Marriage is told from the point of view of its three principal characters, Roy, Celestial and Andre.
Dramatic, frustrating and tragic all at once, An American Marriage revolves around one overarching theme. That is, what makes a marriage, and what does marriage even mean if love no longer exists in it?
The book was released in February 2018 and steadily gained traction after it was selected as one of the picks for Oprah’s Book Club 2.0. Although portraying divisive characters, it has nevertheless been praised for its ability to portray “…how commitment looks across time – and generations.” BBC.com
With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo
With the Fire on High is Elizabeth Acevedo’s first full-prose novel following 2018’s Poet X. The protagonist is Emoni Santiago, a high school teen mum who juggles all of the responsibilities of having a young daughter with trying to graduate and get into a good college while all the while working. Her one escape is food, and she cherishes trying out new recipes that fuse her two cultural identities as an Afro-Latinx young lady. Her dream is to be a chef, but she is afraid that this might be veering into the realm of ludicrous overreaching. However, when a possible trip to Spain for just this purpose presents itself, Emoni thinks that perhaps it is time for her to let her culinary passions break free, even if it means dreaming – and working – a little bit harder than usual.
With the Fire on High is a lovely second novel that encourages young adult readers to not only embrace their ambitions no matter their circumstances, but also embrace the journey.
Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams
Queenie follows the exploits of Queenie Jenkins, a 25-year old Jamaican-British Londoner who is constantly questioning where to slot herself into when it comes to her vaguely-defined cultural identity. On top of this, she has trouble relating as a black woman working in a national newspaper, to her mostly white, middle-class peers. As for her messy romantic relationships with men “who do a good job of occupying brain space and a bad job of affirming self worth,” well, that too is a work in progress.
Named one of The Sunday Times Best Summer Reads of 2019, Candice Carty Williams’s debut has been likened to a modern Bridget Jones’s Diary, but so much more. Queenie has been lauded for its inclusive yet still humorous take on some of the dilemmas faced by today’s cosmopolitan-dwelling female millennials. As one reader reviewed it, “It addresses feminism, racism code-switching…AND IT STILL MANAGES TO MAKE YOU LAUGH!”
Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James
Black Leopard, Red Wolf is the first novel in Marlon James’s Dark Star Trilogy. The historical fantasy follows Tracker, a skilled hunter who joins a band of misfits in locating a mysterious boy who disappeared three years prior. Also included within this unlikely gang is a shapeshifting man-animal called Leopard. All together, they embark upon a task that leads them throughout the universe conjured in James’s mind, across cities and various landscapes even as they endure being chased by creatures intent on killing them. The more they search, the more Tracker starts to wonder about the identity of the boy. Why is he so important, and who, exactly, is telling the truth in all of this?
Black Leopard, Red Wolf was shortlisted for the 2019 National Book Award in the fiction category. Described as dark, violent, crass, fantastical, and ascribing to styles of African folklore and mythology, it has been severally recommended for fans of the Game of Thrones series, albeit mixed in with a little bit of J.R.R. Tolkien, and of course some Black Panther.
An Orchestra of Minorities by Chigozie Obioma
An Orchestra of Minorities is Chigozie Obioma’s sophomore novel following his critically-applauded debut, The Fishermen. Like The Fishermen in 2015, An Orchestra was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, this time in 2019.
The story is narrated by a spirit guardian as he overlooks his ward Chinonso. Chinonso is a poultry farmer living in Umuahia, Nigeria. One day, he happens upon Ndali, a lady intent on committing suicide, and saves her life. This occasion leads into the two of them falling in love, only Ndali is reluctant to commit since she comes from a wealthy family and cannot fathom being married to a poor chicken herder. Frustrated by the courting process presented to him, Chinonso decides to pursue a higher education in Cyprus only to arrive on the island and find that the young Nigerian who made his arrangements has duped him. After that, the fates continually seem set against Chinonso. As time and distance grow, he finds that his dreams of marriage to Ndali are getting further away from him.
An Orchestra of Minorities has by multiple reviewers been referred to as a modern twist on Homer’s Odyssey. By combining fable with magical realism, it transcends the strings of a sad tragedy set in a particular time and aspires to move way beyond that. As such, it is sure to live on as an African epic for the ages.
Like the look of these amazing books? We have collected all ten books into a gift set that would make the perfect Christmas gift for any book lover. Buy it for a friend, family member or treat yourself!