The best novels about Black family dynamics

Why am I passionate about this?

Reading and writing about family dynamics, particularly Black families, has always appealed to me. Particularly when it comes to the generation gap between parents and their children that causes them to see the same world through different lenses. Who we choose to see as our true family, the ones who define the place we call home, may or may not be defined by blood. I am fortunate not to have personally experienced most of the drama and trauma found in novels that I am drawn to, and in stories I have felt compelled to write. Otherwise, I would have turned to memoir writing rather than fiction.


I wrote...

Patches of Grey

By Roy L. Pickering Jr.,

Book cover of Patches of Grey

What is my book about?

Tony Johnson’s sights are set far beyond the trappings of a humble upbringing. Collegiate dreams combined with falling in love with a white classmate put him at odds with his father. Seeing unrealized goals reincarnated in the eyes of his eldest son remind Lionel of what once could have been, and of what went wrong. When his job and role as primary breadwinner are lost, Lionel's authority erodes, and he drowns disappointment one drink at a time. Throughout the course of a tumultuous year as Tony tries to assert independence and strives to become a man far different than his father, he learns that the world is not as black and white as their opposing mindsets suggest.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Mothers

Roy L. Pickering Jr. Why did I love this book?

Brit Bennett writes with a steady hand as she immerses us into the minds and lives of three people. Nadia and Aubrey are haunted to womanhood by maternal abandonment. They are friends as well as rivals for the affection of the same man. Luke would have made a mother out of Nadia had they chosen to parent, and he eventually makes a wife and mother of Aubrey. His mother is the first lady of the church that plays a prominent role in their lives. The mothers in Bennett's exceptional novel are hurt and betrayed by callous men and by each other. I rooted for each of them to persevere, but like many of my favorite novels, this is not a happily ever after for everyone type of story.

By Brit Bennett,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Mothers as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the Sunday Times bestselling author of The Vanishing Half.

The Mothers is a dazzling debut about young love, a big secret in a small community and the moments that haunt us most.

All good secrets have a taste before you tell them, and if we'd taken a moment to swish this one around our mouths, we might have noticed the sourness of an unripe secret, plucked too soon, stolen and passed around before its season.

It's the last season of high school life for Nadia Turner, a rebellious, grief-stricken, seventeen-year-old beauty. Mourning her own mother's recent suicide, she takes…


Book cover of The Star Side of Bird Hill

Roy L. Pickering Jr. Why did I love this book?

The Star Side of Bird Hill is about two sisters, one a preteen and the other on the verge of womanhood, sent from Brooklyn to Barbados to spend a summer with their grandmother. This temporary arrangement becomes permanent when their severely depressed mother kills herself. The children of Bird Hill are still friends in the making. Their grandmother is an unbending woman with strange ways, not the adored woman who raised them. Adapting to a new home takes time and reluctant willingness. I spent my earliest years with my grandparents on my mother’s side on the island of Anegada while my parents set up roots in NY before bringing me to a new home. This gave me an immediate connection to Naomi Jackson’s wonderful novel. Her skillful writing did the rest.

By Naomi Jackson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Star Side of Bird Hill as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Two sisters are suddenly sent from their home in Brooklyn to Barbados to live with their grandmother, in this stunning debut novel
 
This lyrical novel of community, betrayal, and love centers on an unforgettable matriarchal family in Barbados. Two sisters, ages ten and sixteen, are exiled from Brooklyn to Bird Hill in Barbados after their mother can no longer care for them. The young Phaedra and her older sister, Dionne, live for the summer of 1989 with their grandmother Hyacinth, a midwife and practitioner of the local spiritual practice of obeah.

Dionne spends the summer in search of love, testing…


Book cover of Silver Sparrow

Roy L. Pickering Jr. Why did I love this book?

Silver Sparrow features a bigamist, a man living one life out in the open and another in its shadow. His actions, informed by responsibility in one case and love he cannot walk away from in the other, are the catalyst. But this story focuses on the women in his life—his wives of unequal billing and two daughters who had no say in how their scandalously connected families came about. The half-sisters learn that family is not so much a matter of blood, but choice of loyalty. Silver Sparrow is an excellent novel written in a sure-handed manner by a very talented author. It addresses issues of family dynamics that I've examined in my own writing.

By Tayari Jones,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Silver Sparrow as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the New York Times Bestselling Author of An American Marriage

“A love story . . . Full of perverse wisdom and proud joy . . . Jones’s skill for wry understatement never wavers.”
—O: The Oprah Magazine

“Silver Sparrow will break your heart before you even know it. Tayari Jones has written a novel filled with characters I’ll never forget. This is a book I’ll read more than once.”
—Judy Blume

With the opening line of Silver Sparrow, "My father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist," author Tayari Jones unveils a breathtaking story about a man's deception, a family's complicity,…


Book cover of The Girl Who Fell from the Sky

Roy L. Pickering Jr. Why did I love this book?

A girl is haunted by events that shaped her destiny early on. A father who vanished without a trace. A mother who took her own life along with those of her other children by leaping from the roof of a building. There is a witness and a survivor, and this beautiful novel is the latter's story, as well as an examination of race. She is her father's Black and her mother's White daughter. Her racial identity therefore is both and neither, dependent on how one sees her, or how she chooses to see herself on any given day. Exploration of racial as well as family dynamics are themes that I am strongly drawn to read as well as write about. Durrow blends the two masterfully.

By Heidi W. Durrow,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Girl Who Fell from the Sky as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 14, 15, 16, and 17.

What is this book about?

"The Girl Who Fell from the Sky can actually fly." —The New York Times Book Review
 
Rachel, the daughter of a Danish mother and a black G.I., becomes the sole survivor of a family tragedy after a fateful morning on their Chicago rooftop.

Forced to move to a new city, with her strict African American grandmother as her guardian, Rachel is thrust for the first time into a mostly black community, where her light brown skin, blue eyes, and beauty bring a constant stream of attention her way. It’s there, as she grows up and tries to swallow her grief,…


Book cover of Breath, Eyes, Memory

Roy L. Pickering Jr. Why did I love this book?

As a teenager, Sophie leaves behind all that she knows in Haiti to be reunited with her mother. In New York, she falls for a man closer in age to her mother than herself. Her mother rages against him, or any man deemed unsuitable. Desire to guard Sophie's purity drives a wedge between them. The patriarchy of Haiti has lingering effects, resulting in maternal protection that resembles cruelty. Sophie tries to make a marriage work out in different ways and for different reasons than the women (mother, aunt, grandmother) who raised her and formed her ideas of womanhood. Stories of family often center on the differing priorities and expectations of different generations. This aspect of the gracefully written Breath, Eyes, Memory is what drew me in and kept me hooked.

By Edwidge Danticat,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Breath, Eyes, Memory as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

At the age of twelve, Sophie Caco is sent from her impoverished village of Croix-des-Rosets to New York, to be reunited with a mother she barely remembers. There she discovers secrets that no child should ever know, and a legacy of shame that can be healed only when she returns to Haiti--to the women who first reared her. What ensues is a passionate journey through a landscape charged with the supernatural and scarred by political violence, in a novel that bears witness to the traditions, suffering, and wisdom of an entire people.


You might also like...

Weird Foods of Portugal: Adventures of an Expat

By Wendy Lee Hermance,

Book cover of Weird Foods of Portugal: Adventures of an Expat

Wendy Lee Hermance Author Of Weird Foods of Portugal: Adventures of an Expat

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Wendy Lee Hermance was heard on National Public Radio (NPR) stations with her Missouri Folklore series in the 1980s. She earned a journalism degree from Stephens College, served as Editor and Features Writer for Midwestern and Southern university and regional publications, then settled into writing real estate contracts. In 2012 she attended University of Sydney, earning a master’s degree by research thesis. Her books include Where I’m Going with this Poem, a memoir in poetry and prose. Weird Foods of Portugal: Adventures of an Expat marks her return to feature writing as collections of narrative non-fiction stories.

Wendy's book list on why Portugal is weird

What is my book about?

Weird Foods of Portugal describes the author's first years trying to make sense of a strange new place and a home there for herself.

Witty, dreamlike, and at times jarring, the book sizzles with social commentary looking back at America and beautiful, finely drawn descriptions of Portugal and its people. Part dark-humor cautionary tale, part travel adventure, ultimately, Hermance's book of narrative non-fiction serves as affirmation for any who wish to make a similar move themselves.

Weird Foods of Portugal: Adventures of an Expat

By Wendy Lee Hermance,

What is this book about?

"Wendy Lee Hermance describes Portugal´s colorful people and places - including taxi drivers and animals - with a poet´s empathy and dark humor. Part travel adventure, part cautionary tale, Weird Foods of Portugal is at it´s heart, affirmation for all who consider making such a move themselves."


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in New York State, teenagers, and polygamy?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about New York State, teenagers, and polygamy.

New York State Explore 739 books about New York State
Teenagers Explore 120 books about teenagers
Polygamy Explore 17 books about polygamy