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.
Small Worlds by Caleb Azumah Nelson
Stephen loves to dance, whether it’s to let off steam, solve his problems, or just to experience joy with his friends and family. But music and dance aren’t where his father thinks the answers to success in life lie.
Told over the course of three summers in Stephen’s life, and set mostly in Peckham in London, Small Worlds explores the ups and downs in Stephen’s life, from lost love to dealing with grief.
Reviewing the book for The Arts Desk, India Lewis said Small Worlds was “a beautifully observed picture of the twists and turns of life and of love.”
Azumah’s debut novel Open Water was a bestseller.
Themes/topics: Love, Romance, Family, Music, Dance, Grief
Black Skin, White Masks by Frantz Fanon
In his seminal text, Frantz Fanon draws on his own life and his work as a psychoanalyst to explore how colonialism’s subjects internalise its prejudices, eventually emulating the ‘white masks’ of their oppressors. First published in 1952, this book established Fanon as a revolutionary anti-colonialist thinker.
Fanon was born in Martinique and studied medicine in France, specialising in psychiatry. Sent to a hospital in Algeria, he found his sympathies turning towards the Algerian Nationalist Movement, which he later joined. He is considered one of the most important theorists of the psychology of race.
Themes/topics: Colonialism, Racism, History, Psychology
Greek Lessons by Han Kang, trans by Deborah Smith and Emily Yae Won
In Greek Lessons, which is set in Seoul, two people connect over a deep pain. One is a young woman who has lost both her mother and the custody battle for her nine-year-old son in the span of just a few months, and finds she has lost her voice. The other is a Greek language teacher who has grown up between Korea and Germany, torn between two cultures and languages, and is losing his sight.
Reviewing Greek Lessons, translated by Deborah Smith and Emily Yae Won, Leland Cheuk in NPR said reading the book was like “watching a quiet indie film that tugs little by little at your heartstrings until you’re rendered speechless with both sadness and hope by the final pages”.
Themes/topics: Grief, Loss, Language
The 3rd (incomplete) Lit in Colour secondary book list, this year with focus pages highlighting the work of particularly prominent writers.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
“Excuse me, sir, but may I be of assistance? Ah, I see I have alarmed you. Do not be frightened by my beard. I am a lover of America…” The opening lines of Mohsin Hamid’s novel are uttered by a mysterious stranger at a cafe in Lahore.
That stranger is Changez, a young man from Pakistan, whose journey we follow as he leaves Lahore and becomes a successful businessman in New York City and then begins to be viewed as other after 9/11.
Assumed to be Muslim because of his place of birth and ethnicity, Changez is forced into taking a series of major, unexpected steps.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2007, and turned into a film starring Kate Hudson and Kiefer Sutherland.
Themes/topics: Racism, Terrorism, War
Keisha the Sket by Jade LB
Keisha the Sket began life as Keisha Da Sket in 2005, when then 13-year-old Jade LB wrote about a 17-year-old girl from inner London and uploaded the story on a blog site. It began an online sensation among pupils at London schools.
Keisha is from the ends and, after her childhood crush Ricardo wins her over, seems to have it all. But trauma comes knocking, and brings with it a host of choices that will define the kind of woman Keisha wants to be.
The coming-of-age story is now available in print for the first time, with exclusive new content from the author, as well as essays from Candice Carty Williams, Caleb Femi, Aniefiok Ekpoudom and Enny.
Writing in the Observer, Kadish Morris said: “While the revised version will mean the story will travel further than the “endz” that first spread the word, the original Keisha the Sket is a rare example of what it means to create for the Black gaze, to write without asterisks.”
Jade LB is a creative and academic writer whose writing explores Black women and relationships, Black British culture and the Black British working class experience. One half of The Echo Chamber podcast, she has written articles and essays for Black Ballad and other publications.
Themes/topics: Coming-of-age, School life, Friendship, Love
Growing Out by Barbara Blake Hannah
Barbara Blake Hannah was one of the first Black women reporting on TV, covering celebrity stories, travelling around the world and rubbing shoulders with well-known people including Germaine Greer and Michael Caine.
But the flood of hateful letters, abuse and complaints she got from viewers eventually cost her her job, and in the aftermath of the fallout she went through a period of self-discovery.
Carving out a new space for herself first in the UK and then back home in Jamaica, where she now lives, Blake Hannah came to embrace and celebrate her Black identity, rather than feeling stifled by attempts to conform to the white culture around her.
Growing Out is her memoir of race and womanhood in the 1960s, and is part of the Black Britain: Writing Back series, selected by Bernardine Evaristo, which celebrates and rediscovers books depicting Black Britain.
Themes/topics: Racism, Media, Identity
The Fortune Men by Nadifa Mohamed
The Fortune Men is inspired by the true story of Mahmood Mattan, who was wrongly convicted of murder and became one of the last people executed in Wales. His conviction was eventually overturned in 1998.
In Nadifa Mohamed’s novel the narrative travels between Mattan, a fixture among Cardiff’s Somali and West Indian communities in 1952, and the Volpert sisters, who run a shop in the area.
When Lily Volpert is brutally murdered, Mattan is accused of the crime on the flimsiest of evidence and realises the justice system may not be able or
willing to save an innocent man.
The Fortune Men was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and the Costa Novel Award.
Mohamed was born in Hargeisa, Somaliland, in 1981 and moved to Britain aged four. Her first novel, Black Mamba Boy, won the Betty Trask Prize. Her second novel, Orchard of Lost Souls, won a Somerset Maugham Award and the Prix Albert Bernard. Mohamed was selected for the Granta Best of Young British Novelists in 2013, and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.
Themes/topics: Racism, Crime, Justice, History
Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
Evaristo’s eighth novel follows 12 different people – mostly women and mostly Black. Sweeping between the past and the present, from England to the US, it’s a portrait of Black woman told in a distinctive prose verse style.
Girl, Woman, Other won the Booker Prize in 2019, making Evaristo the first Black woman to ever win the prestigious award.
Topics/themes: Feminism, racism, class, arts and culture
Who Are We? by Gary Younge
Who Are We? explores the issues that bring the powerful elite and the poor immigrant together, and combine Younge’s personal story with a wider national, and international, look at politics.
From Stevenage to America, the borders of Europe to South Africa, Who Are We? asks readers to search for a common and higher ground. Younge’s other books include No Place Like Home: A Black Briton’s Journey Through the American South, which won the Guardian First Book Award.
Topics/themes: Politics, British history
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
In Hamid’s novel, Nadia and Saeed meet and fall rapidly in love, but their future is threatened by war. In the world they live in, doors are opening that lead to other cities and countries, and Nadia and Saeed make the decision to find a door and step through.
Exit West, which is Hamid’s fourth novel after The Reluctant Fundamentalist, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, and Discontent and its Civilisations, combines a love story with commentary on the refugee crisis, told via a novel that blurs genres.
Reviewing the book in The New Yorker, writer and critic Jia Tolentino said: “Hamid draws enchantment from abstraction, in the style of a fairy tale, and his narrative vantage point shifts through time and space with a godlike equanimity.”
Topics/themes: Refugees, war, immigration, love
We Are All Birds of Uganda by Hafsa Zayyan
This debut novel tells the story of the displacement of Asian people from Uganda in the 1970s, via the stories of two men decades apart. In the present day timeline, Sameer is a successful lawyer about to embark on a job in Singapore when a tragedy calls him home to Leicester. There, he figures out that the key to his future lies in his family’s past. In that past is Hasan, who writes letters to his late wife as the country he lives in, Uganda, decides that he and his family are no longer welcome.
Zayyan won the inaugural #Merky Books New Writers' Prize with a partial draft of this novel.
Topics/themes: African history, immigration, colourism, British history
Empireland by Sathnam Sanghera
Journalist Sanghera looks at the legacy of imperialism and the British Empire on UK society today in his first history book.
Combining memoir and history, Empireland is split into sections examining topics including politics, British exceptionalism, racism and more. Through the book, Sanghera makes the argument that the UK needs to talk about its history – mainly via education – if it is to truly combat some of the worst aspects of present-day society.
Topics/themes: Colonialism, British history, racism
Books by other publishers
A Passage North by Anuk Arudpragasam
Published by Grants Books
Set after the Sri Lankan civil war, A Passage North follows Krishan as he receives a call telling him that his grandmother’s former care-giver, Rani, has died in unexpected circumstances, at the bottom of a well in her village in the north, her neck broken by the fall.
The news comes shortly after an email from Anjum, an activist Krishan fell in love with four years before in Delhi, stirs memories and desires.
As Krishan makes his way by train from Colombo into the war-torn Northern Province for Rani’s funeral, he encounters an island devastated by violence.
NPR called the novel a “tender elegy” and said A Passage North is a “wholehearted and necessary act of preservation by its author”.
A Passage North was shortlisted for the Booker Prize.
Themes/topics: Death, Grief, War, Love
Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams
Published by Trapeze
Candice Carty-Williams’ debut novel Queenie is about the titular character, who has just broken up with her boyfriend and is forced to move in with
her strict Caribbean grandmother and grandfather.
With fans including writers Jojo Moyes, Dolly Alderton and Kit de Waal, Queenie is a novel about a woman feeling lost, and will resonate with
young people trying to figure out their paths in life.
Kirkus Reviews described the book, which is being adapted for a Channel 4 series, as “perfectly of the moment”.
Carty-Williams’ second novel, People Person, was published in 2022.
Themes/topics: Coming-of-age, Love, Sexuality, Family, Faith, Friendship
Woman at Point Zero by Nawal El Saadawi
Published by Zed Books
Egyptian writer El Saadawi founded the Arab Women's Solidarity Association and co-founded of the Arab Association for Human Rights, and was one of the most famous feminists the Western world hasn’t heard of. She authored more than 50 novels, short stories and non-fiction works, centring on the status of women, and was jailed for her activism in 1981, before being forced to flee Egypt in 1988. She eventually returned to Cairo in 1996, and lived there until her death in 2021.
Her seminal feminist novel Woman at Point Zero is the story of Firdaus, an Egyptian peasant girl who is currently in jail. Firdaus shares her memories of violence at the hands of men including her abusive father, her much older husband and her deceitful boyfriend-turned-pimp, violence that leads her to take radical action. First published in 1975 in Arabic, the book is still as relevant and sharp today.
Topics/themes: Violence against women, feminism
The Buddha of Suburbia by Hanif Kurieshi
Published by Faber & Faber
Kureishi’s debut novel is about dreamy teenager Karim, desperate to escape suburbia and experience the forbidden fruits of the 1970s. When he gets an unlikely opportunity to work in theatre, he starts to get the attention he craves, although the results are unexpectedly rude and raucous.
The Buddha of Suburbia was made into a BBC television series with a soundtrack by David Bowie, and in an essay Zadie Smith described the book as a “lovely, funny, honest” novel. It won the Whitbread Award for best first novel (now the Costa First Novel Prize).
Topics/themes: Coming of age, humour
Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
Published by Bloomsbury
Eddo-Lodge’s book was inspired by a blog post of the same name that went viral.
In Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, which sparked a national conversation and a genre of similar books, Eddo-Lodge explores the link between class and race, the eradication of Black history and more. Other books to read on similar topics included Afua Hirsch’s Brit(ish) and Akala’s Natives.
The paperback of Eddo-Lodge’s book saw her become the first Black British author ever to take the number one spot on the non-fiction paperback charts in the UK.
Topics/themes: British history, racism, class
Dance of the Jakaranda by Peter Kimani
Published by Telegram Books
Set in Kenya in 1963, when the country is on the verge of independence from British colonial rule, people from all backgrounds come together at the previously white-only establish, the Jakaranda Hotel. There, the resident pianist is Rajan Salim, who one evening is kissed by a mysterious woman in a shadowy corridor. Unable to forget her, he sets out on to find her, stumbling on the journey on the murky, shared history three men: his grandfather, British preacher Richard Turnbull, and Ian McDonald, owner of the Jakaranda and former colonial administrator. What Rajan learns will open his eyes.
Kimani is a Kenyan journalist and author, and Dance of the Jakaranda was named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year.
Topics/themes: Colonialism, Kenyan history