Titles in the years 10 and 11 lists are on themes including home and belonging, masculinity, love, feminism, politics, British history and more. The titles in the lists for years 12 and 13 including books on activism, British history, love, identity, family, politics and more. You can download the full 2021 list here, the full 2022 list here, and the full 2023 list here, and get a taster of the books in all the lists below.
One Small Voice by Santanu Bhattacharya
In Lucknow in India in 1992, 10-year-old Shubhankar witnesses a terrible act of mob violence that will alter the course of his life. It’s one to which his family turns a blind eye, and continues to haunt him as approaches adulthood.
Living in Mumbai in his 20s, he believes the only path that offers escape is one that involves a good school, good degree, good job and a good car. But soon he and his friends Syed and Shruti are questioning whether there is another way forward, and a route to writing their own stories.
As a rising tide of nationalism sweeps across the country, and their friendship becomes more crucial than ever, their exciting new lives seem fragile. To move on, Shubankar must reckon with the ghosts of his past.
Bhattarcharya was named by the Observer as one of the debut novelists to watch out for in 2023. Reviewing the book for the Observer, Rahul Raina said Bhattacharya’s writing was “unshowy, clinical, instinctively humane”, and added: “A portrait of both intolerance and forgiveness, growth and letting go, One Small Voice will be one of the best debuts this year.”
Themes/topics: Coming-of-age, Religion, Violence, Nationalism, Politics
Hidden Heritage by Fatima Manji
Channel 4 News presenter Fatima Manji’s Hidden Heritage is a look at the landmarks and artefacts – from paintings to statues and buildings – that illuminate Britain’s relationship with the East.
Looking at relics in Britain’s museums, civic buildings and stately homes, Manji investigates what they can tell society about the diversity of pretwentieth-century Britain, exposing the misconceptions around modern immigration narratives.
Manji is an award-winning broadcaster and journalist who anchors Channel 4 News.
Themes/topics: British empire, History, Colonialism, Migration
Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi
The Sais are a Nigerian-Ghanaian family living in America, prospering until father and surgeon Kweku Sai is the victim of a grave injustice.
Ashamed, he abandons his wife Fola and their children, causing the family to fracture and spread out across New York, London, West Africa and New England on uncertain, troubled journeys.
Many years later a tragedy unites them, and the broken family has a chance to heal.
Margaret Busby in the Independent said that Selasi “puts together a moving story of a fragmented family, salvaging resolution from the secrets and lies of the past”.
Selasi’s short story “The Sex Lives of African Girls” appeared in Best American Short Stories 2012.
Themes/topics: Family, Grief, Love
The 3rd (incomplete) Lit in Colour secondary book list, this year with focus pages highlighting the work of particularly prominent writers.
When We Were Birds by Ayanna Lloyd Banwo
Picked as a recommended read for 2022 by publications including the Observer, New Statesman, Buzzfeed and more, When We Were Birds is a story about destiny, faith and magic.
It follows Darwin, a down-on-his-luck gravedigger, newly arrived in the Trinidadian city of Port Angeles to seek his fortune, estranged from his mother and the Rastafari faith she taught him.
In an old house on a hill, Yejide’s mother is dying, passing on her power to talk to the dead to her daughter. The women of Yejide’s family are descended from corbeau, the black birds that fly east at sunset, taking with them the souls of the dead. Darwin and Yejide’s destinies are intertwined, and trouble is brewing.
Hepzibah Anderson described When We Were Birds as “radiant first novel” in the Guardian.
Themes/topics: Family, Death, Magic
All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson
All Boys Aren’t Blue is a memoir and manifesto following journalist and LGBTQ+ activist George M. Johnson as they explore the duality of being
Black and queer.
Johnson shares stories from throughout their life, including getting their teeth kicked out by bullies aged five, their loving relationship with their
grandmother, and their first sexual experience.
All Boys Aren’t Blue is a book about tragedy and triumph, and addresses topics including gender identity, toxic masculinity, and Black joy.
Johnson is a writer and activist who has written on race, gender, sex, and culture for Essence, the Advocate, BuzzFeed News, Teen Vogue, and
All Boys Aren’t Blue is their debut, and was an Amazon Best Book of the Year, an Indie Bestseller, a People Magazine Best Book of the Year, and has
been optioned for television by actor Gabrielle Union.
Themes/topics: Sexuality, Masculinity, Coming-of-age, Family
Fragile Monsters by Catherine Menon
Fragile Monsters is set largely in rural Malaysia, where Mary is visiting her grandmother Durga, and unwittingly digging up the past.
Durga is sharp-tongued and ferocious, and she and Mary have a fractious relationship, made more so by the mystery surrounding Mary’s mother, and
what happened to her after Mary’s birth.
Stuck together in the rising heat, the women must untangle truth from myth, forcing Mary to confront a childhood tragedy, and for both women to
consider why so many of their family members disappeared during the war.
Named as one of the best novels of 2021 by the Telegraph, Catherine Menon’s debut book is the story of one family from 1920 to the present.
The Evening Standard said of Fragile Monsters: “Leavened with a brisk, dry humour, the novel is as propulsive as any mystery, with a bewitching sense
Themes/topics: Family, Grief, Trauma, Colonialism, War
Run, Rebel by Manjeet Mann
Told in verse, Run, Rebel is about Amber, a teenager who is trapped by her father’s rules and expectations and her own fears. All she really wants to do is run, and to figure out how to fight for her mother, her sister and herself.
Mann’s debut novel was shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal 2021, the Brandford Boase Award 2021 and the UKLA Book Awards 2021, and shortlisted for the Sheffield Children’s Book Award 2021.
The Guardian called it a "tightly crafted series of punchy, often heartbreaking narrative poems… Mann's brilliant, coruscating verse novel lays out the anatomy of Amber's revolution, and the tentative first flowerings of hope and change.”
This novel is perfect for fans of Sarah Crossan, Elizabeth Acevedo, Nikita Gill and Rupi Kaur.
Topics/themes: Feminism, domestic violence, family
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Homegoing begins with half-sisters Effia and Esi, who don’t know they’re related. While one is sold into slavery, the other becomes the wife of a slave trader.
Gyasi’s debut novel takes readers from the Gold Coast of Africa and the cotton-picking plantations of Mississippi to the missionary schools of Ghana and the dive bars of Harlem, as it follows Effia and Esi’s descendants and the very different paths they take to the present day.
Homegoing won awards including the PEN/Hemingway Award, which honours a distinguished first book of fiction, and the Audie Award for Literary Fiction & Classics.
Topics/themes: Slavery, immigration, family, love
Poor by Caleb Femi
Poet Femi’s debut book combines poetry and original photography to explore the trials, tribulations, dreams and joys of young Black boys in 21st century Peckham. Femi looks at experiences including being stopped and searched at 13, walking through estates of almost 1,500 homes without touching the ground, and how a built environment of concrete and gentrification writes a history of South London youth.
Poor is also the story of Femi’s own youth, a tribute to the rappers and artists he loves, and to the world that shaped him.
Actor and writer Michaela Coel said of Femi: “Oh my God, he's just stirring me. Destroying me.” Poor was shortlisted for the Rathbones Folio Prize and chosen as a book of 2020 by The New Statesman, The Times, The Guardian and more.
Topics/themes: Coming-of-age, masculinity
Selected Poems by Rabindranath Tagore
Tagore is one of Kolkata’s most famous artists; he was a painter, novelist, musician and, most famously of all, a poet. He was also a fierce critic of colonial rule in India, although he died in 1941, just six years before the British left the country.
This collection of his poetry show his range and depth, touching on subjects including the interplay between God and the world, the changing universe, and family.
Topics/themes: Colonialism, politics, family, religion
Don't Call Us Dead by Danez Smith
Smith’s Don’t Call Us Dead won the Forward Prize for Best Collection and was a finalist for the National Book Award for Poetry.
Don’t Call Us Dead opens with a sequence that imagines an afterlife for Black men shot by police, a place where suspicion, violence, and grief are forgotten and replaced with the safety, love and longevity they deserved here on earth. Smith’s poems also touch on desire, mortality, and an HIV-positive diagnosis.
Topics/themes: Race, grief, police violence, health
Books by other publishers
The Roles We Play by Sabba Khan
Published by Myraid Editions
Two-thirds of today’s British Pakistani diaspora trace their origins back to Mirpur in Azad Kashmir, which saw mass displacement and migration when
it was submerged by the waters of a dam built after Partition.
In her debut graphic memoir, Sabba Khan explores what identity, belonging and memory mean for her and her family against the backdrop of this history.
Growing up as a second-generation Azad Kashmiri migrant in East London, Khan takes a look at issues of race, gender and class in this personal narrative.
The Roles We Play was shortlisted for the Myriad First Graphic Novel Competition 2018 and won the 2022 Jhalak Prize for Best Book by a Writer of Colour.
Themes/topics: Family, Class, Gender, Migration, Colonialism, Partition
The Book of Harlan by Bernice L. McFadden
Published by Jacaranda
The Book of Harlan is named for its main character, a professional jazz musician who grew up in Harlem. When he and his best friend, trumpeter
Lizard Robbins, are invited to perform at a popular cabaret in the Parisian enclave of Montmartre, they jump at the chance.
But while they’re there, the city falls under Nazi occupation, and the men are thrown into the German concentration camp Buchenwald, changing the course of Harlan’s life.
Bernice L. McFadden’s book is based on exhaustive research, and blends the stories of her own ancestors with those of real and imagined characters.
The Book of Harlan won the American National Book Award and an NAACP Image award, and has been optioned for a movie deal by Mark Tonderai of Shona Films.
Themes/topics: War, Racism, History
Fruit of the Lemon by Andrea Levy
Published by Tinder Press
Faith Jackson seems to have the perfect flatshare and a great job in television, but those, plus her relationship with her loving yet overbearing family are far from it. When her parents announce that they’re going to retire back home in Jamaica, Faith makes her own journey there and is welcomed by her Aunt Coral.
Through her aunt’s stories, a case of characters unfolds, stretching back to Cuba and Panama, Harlem and Scotland, a story that passes through London and sweeps through continents.
Levy was an English author best known for the novels Small Island and The Long Song.
Topics/themes: Home and belonging, family
The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds
Published by Faber & Faber
Seventeen-year-old Matt wears a black suit everyday, for his job at the local funeral home. Since his mother died, his father can’t handle the bills on his own. As his father is drawn to alcohol, Matt meets Lovey and is drawn to her. Lovey is tough in a way Matt wishes he could be, and seems to understand his loneliness.
The Boy in the Black Suit is Reynolds’ second young adult book, and was named a 2016 Coretta Scott King Author Honor Book.
Reynolds is a Newbery Award honouree, a two-time Walter Dean Myers Award winner, an NAACP Image Award Winner, and the recipient of multiple Coretta Scott King honors.
Topics/themes: Death, grief, love, loneliness
Bantam by Jackie Kay
Published by Picador
Poet Kay has been Scots Makar – the national poet laureate of Scotland – since 2016, and Bantam is the first collection she published after taking on that role.
Bantam is about the fighting spirit and brings three generations into sharp focus: Kay’s own, her father’s, and his own father’s.
Kay’s collection examines how old injuries can emerge years later, how we bear and absorb the loss of friends, how we celebrate and welcome new life, and how we how we embody our times.
Topics/themes: Family, grief, love
Manchester Happened by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi
Published by Oneworld
Shorlisted for magazine publisher Hearst’s Big Book Awards, Manchester Happened is a collection of short stories about the Ugandans who choose to make England their home. Weaving between Manchester and Kampala, the collection reimagines the journeys of it characters, and examines the nature of belonging.
Nansubuga Makumbi is also the author of Kintu, a reimagining of the history of Uganda through the cursed bloodline of the Kintu clan.
Topics/themes: Home and belonging, immigration