By Mrs. McHugh
I don’t read a lot of romance, but I was intrigued by Blackout, a series of interconnected stories written by six Black female writers. The book imagines romance in many shapes and sizes among contemporary teens when a power outage rocks New York City. The project was the brainchild of Dhonielle Clayton, an author and leader of We Need Diverse Books, a nonprofit that works to increase representation of marginalized voices in publishing. While binge-watching TV and movies early in the pandemic, Clayton’s niece asked her “why Black girls didn’t get big love stories.” Clayton contacted her friends to see what they could create. The result is a sweet, short, engaging book that I believe many teens will relate to and enjoy.
Tiffany Jackson, author of Monday’s Not Coming and other thrillers, writes about a couple who is angry over their recent breakup when they are forced to rely on each other to get home in the dark. Nic Stone, author of Dear Martin and other fiction for children and teens, focuses her chapter on two boys admitting their feelings for one another amidst fears of what their friends and teammates might think. Ashley Woodfolk, who wrote The Beauty That Remains, among others, tells the story of two queer teens brought together while helping at a retirement home. (The depiction of the wise-cracking older characters was one of my favorite parts of the book). Clayton, whose work includes fantasy and realistic fiction, writes about whether two long-time friends can take their relationship from “like” to “love.” (This section has an after-hours adventure in the grand New York Public Library which calls to mind From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg, one of my favorite children’s books). Famous for The Hate You Give, Angie Thomas writes about a school trip of teens from Georgia caught in the city — and in assorted love triangles (The stressed-out chaperone is funny). Nicola Yoon, author of The Sun is Also a Star, closes the book with a chapter about a girl intent on getting back her boyfriend before she meets a rideshare driver who reminds her of what she’s really looking for. The final section brings all of the characters – who we learn are siblings, cousins, neighbors and classmaters – together at a block party in Brooklyn.
In addition to celebrating love and friendship in all its forms, and elevating the stories of Black teens in a genre that often overlooks them, the book is a tribute to New York City. The city that never sleeps stays wide awake even during the blackout, providing an exciting setting for the stories. The highs and lows of the relationships are very true to life, and many of the teens are facing decisions about college and their futures, something most high school students can relate to.
If you like any of the contributing authors, you’ll probably enjoy this book. If you haven’t yet read their work, these stories may have you rushing to the library or bookstore to give them a try.
For more books like this, check out the Black History Month display in the HHS library