The best novels about interracial friendship

Why am I passionate about this?

Having grown up in segregated Knoxville, TN, I've often wondered what having a black friend as a child would have been like. My MFA thesis, in the 1980s, was a novella about just such a friendship. A small group of my (white) MFA classmates insisted that I could not, should not write about black characters. Although I believed them to be mistaken, I put my thesis away and haven’t looked at it since. About ten years ago, I decided to try again. I took an early draft of a new novel to a workshop with John Dufresne, who encouraged me to continue. The result was Beginning with Cannonballs, which received positive reviews and won the 2021 IPPY Silver Medal for Multicultural Fiction. 

I wrote...

Beginning with Cannonballs

By Jill McCroskey Coupe,

Book cover of Beginning with Cannonballs

What is my book about?

In segregated Knoxville, Tennessee, Gail (white) and Hanna (black) share a crib in Gail’s parent's house, where Hanna’s mother, Sophie, is the live-in maid. When the girls are four, Sophie teaches them to swim, and soon they’re gleefully doing cannonballs off the diving board. By the time they’re both in college, however, the girls have lost touch with each other. A reunion in Washington, DC, sought by Gail but resented by Hanna, sets the tone for the relationship from then on. How much longer can the friendship last?

Winner of the 2021 Silver Medal for Multicultural Fiction, Independent Publisher (IPPY) Book Awards

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Calling Me Home

Jill McCroskey Coupe Why did I love this book?

I loved the way the mystery at the heart of this novel was so slowly and stunningly revealed. Why does Isabelle, an elderly white woman in Texas, want Dorrie, her much younger black hairdresser, to drive her all the way to Ohio for a funeral? It seems a lot to ask of a friend. The answer lies in a secret Isabelle has kept since she was a teenager in 1930s Kentucky. 

By Julie Kibler,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Calling Me Home as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A moving love story inspired by a true story and perfect for fans of The Help

In a time of hate, would you stand up for love?

Shalerville, Kentucky, 1939. A world where black maids and handymen are trusted to raise white children and tend to white houses, but from which they are banished after dark.

Sixteen-year-old Isabelle McAllister, born into wealth and privilege, finds her ordered life turned upside down when she becomes attracted to Robert, the ambitious black son of her family's housekeeper. Before long Isabelle and Robert are crossing extraordinary, dangerous boundaries and falling deeply in love.…

Book cover of Absalom's Daughters

Jill McCroskey Coupe Why did I love this book?

Given that this novel is set in Mississippi in the 1950s, I was intrigued by the teen-aged friendship at its center. When Cassie, who’s black, and Judith, who’s white, learn that they have the same father, they decide to join forces in claiming their share of the family inheritance. The result is a sometimes perilous and even other-worldly road trip from Mississippi to Virginia, during which the girls’ budding relationship is sorely tested. 

By Suzanne Feldman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Absalom's Daughters as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A spellbinding debut about half sisters, one black and one white, on a 1950s road trip through the American South

Self-educated and brown-skinned, Cassie works full time in her grandmother’s laundry in rural Mississippi. Illiterate and white, Judith falls for “colored music” and dreams of life as a big city radio star. These teenaged girls are half-sisters. And when they catch wind of their wayward father’s inheritance coming down in Virginia, they hitch their hopes to a road trip together to claim what’s rightly theirs.

In an old junk car, with a frying pan, a ham, and a few dollars…

Book cover of Melting the Blues

Jill McCroskey Coupe Why did I love this book?

I was struck by the beautiful writing in this novel and the way the author, a woman, convincingly depicts male friendship. Augustus Lee Rivers, a black farmer in Arkansas, is happiest when playing his guitar; he has dreams of making it big in Chicago. David Duncan, an enthusiastic fan of Hummin’ Gusty’s music, comes from a wealthy white family. What can happen to a black man’s dreams in rural Arkansas in the 1950s? Trust me, you’ll keep reading to find out. 

By Tracy Chiles McGhee,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Melting the Blues as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Independent Publisher Book Awards Bronze Medal for Regional Fiction  (2017)    Set in Arkansas in 1957,  the complexities of identity, yearnings for love and acceptance, and racial tension are all unmasked in the riveting literary drama, Melting the Blues, by debut author Tracy Chiles McGhee. Augustus Lee Rivers, a farmer and bluesman, has two obsessions:  his relationship with the Duncan family and his desire to leave small town Chinaberry to become a musician in Chicago. When his plans are prevented by a devastating betrayal, Augustus is driven into the belly of the blues where he must reckon with his past if…

Book cover of Stranger Here Below

Jill McCroskey Coupe Why did I love this book?

Remembering its excellent character portrayals, I re-read this book when I began writing my own novel about an interracial friendship. Set in Kentucky, Stranger Here Below depicts the friendship that develops when outgoing Maze (short for Amazing Grace) and staid Mary Elizabeth room together at Berea College in the 1960s. Mary Elizabeth, who’s quiet and musically talented, is the daughter of a black preacher, while Maze is a chatty Appalachian girl. Although the friendship is interrupted when Mary Elizabeth abruptly leaves school, the two women try, years later, to revive it.  

By Joyce Hinnefeld,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Stranger Here Below as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In 1961, when Amazing Grace Jansen, a firecracker from Appalachia, meets Mary Elizabeth Cox, the daughter of a Black southern preacher, at Kentucky's Berea College, they already carry the scars and traces of their mothers' troubles. Poor and single, Maze's mother has had to raise her daughter alone and fight to keep a roof over their heads. Mary Elizabeth's mother has carried a shattering grief throughout her life, a loss so great that it has disabled her and isolated her stern husband and her brilliant, talented daughter. The caution this has scored into Mary Elizabeth has made her defensive and…

Book cover of East of Troost

Jill McCroskey Coupe Why did I love this book?

I’d never read a novel like this. The chapters are similar to diary entries, telling the fictional story of a middle-aged white woman who moves into her childhood home. Over the years, due to “city planning,” East of Troost (an actual neighborhood in Kansas City, Missouri) has become nearly all-black. Readers will wonder: Why the heck did the narrator decide to move back there? How will she be treated? Will she have any friends? You’ll enjoy finding out. 

By Ellen Barker,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked East of Troost as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Under the guise of a starting-over story, this novel deals with subtle racism today, overt racism in the past, and soul-searching about what to do about it in everyday living.

East of Troost's fictional narrator has moved back to her childhood home in a neighborhood that is now mostly Black and vastly changed by an expressway that displaced hundreds of families. It is the area located east of Troost Avenue, an invisible barrier created in the early 1900s to keep the west side of Kansas City white, "safely" cordoned off from the Black families on the east side.

When the…

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By Betty Bolte,

Book cover of Snow on Magnolias

Betty Bolte Author Of Notes of Love and War

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Why am I passionate about this?

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What is my book about?

Magnolia Merryweather, a horse breeder, is eager to celebrate Christmas for the first time after the Civil War ended even as she grows her business. She envisions a calm, prosperous life ahead after the terror of the past four years. Only, all of her plans are thrown into disarray when her secret lover returns and starts asking questions she can’t answer without disaster following.

Bryce Day comes home to Alabama after he’s discharged from the First Alabama Cavalry USA with guilt weighing on his heart. His neighbors won’t cotton to his Unionist bent, and the woman of his heart likely…

Snow on Magnolias

By Betty Bolte,

What is this book about?

One terrible lie, a desperate measure to save her past, just might destroy her future…

Award-winning author of historical fiction presents a new novel of love and lies, secrets and sensuality, and the hands of fate weaving it all together.

The American Civil War is finally over and Christmas beckons. Magnolia Merryweather, backyard horse breeder, is eager to celebrate for the first time since the war began even as she continues to grow her business. She envisions a calm, prosperous life ahead after all the terror of the past four years. She’s preparing to follow in her mother’s matriarchal footsteps,…

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