Fifty years after its initial publication in 1970, Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye continues to haunt readers with its powerful explorations of racial identity, self-esteem, Black girlhood and trauma. Pecola Breedlove, an 11-year-old dark-skinned girl made to feel ugly all her life, prays for her eyes to turn blue, to become "beautiful." Toni Morrison's writing often centers the experiences of Black girls, and she never shied away from hard topics. The Bluest Eye has never been an easy read, but it's a novel that leaves an indelible mark. If you enjoyed this complex and lyrical book, you may also like some of these more recent titles.
The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi Durrow similarly focuses on the experiences of a young girl who suffers through grief and trauma while also navigating her own identity as a light-skinned girl of mixed race. This novel adds a bit of psychological mystery as readers must wait to find out the truth about her family's tragedy.
Another tale that combines an outsider's coming-of-age with elements of mystery is History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund. Linda has been raised by her parents on a nearly abandoned commune, but a school scandal and interesting new neighbors across the lake have a dramatic effect on Linda's isolated world. Like Morrison's work, Fridlund's novel is both moving and disturbing.
If you appreciate a bleak tale as seen from a child's eyes, try Jesmyn Ward's Salvage the Bones. Fourteen-year-old secretly pregnant Esch and her three brothers fend for themselves in the Louisiana Bayou during the days leading up to Hurricane Katrina. Ward's lyrical writing is as timeless as Morrison's, and she gives Esch's painful story a glimmer of hope.
Tanya Tagaq's Split Tooth combines poetry, storytelling and mysticism into one unique novel. Harsh realities of life in the Nunavut territory are detailed through the words of the teen narrator, a young Indigenous woman who is dealing with both her emerging role as shaman and the daily indignities of teen girlhood in Canada's far north.
Disgruntled by Asali Solomon is the perfect read for someone who loves Morrison, but needs something a bit lighter and more uplifting in their life. The story follows Kenya through her radical Afrocentric upbringing in 1980s Philadelphia. After a family tragedy, she's moved out to an elite all-white school in the suburbs. Kenya faces racial, sexual and family pressures that are met not with haunting dread, but wit and grace.