Black Enough, Stories of Being Young & Black in America edited by Ibi Zoboi; Balzer + Bray, 416 pages ($17.99) Ages 13 and up.
Ibi Zoboi, author of National Book Award finalist "American Street" and Jane Austen update "Pride," dazzles yet again with this stunning, marvelously diverse collection of 17 stories of the teen experience by black authors who were invited to write "about teens examining, rebelling against, embracing, or simply existing within their own idea of blackness." The teens in these stories are rich and poor; they live in cities, suburbs and rural backwaters; they are a mix of immigrants, children of immigrants and American-born.
A sister connects with her half-sister during a summer camp in Renee Watson's lovely opening story, "Half a Moon." "Whoa!" by the gifted Rita Williams-Garcia features a white enamel sink – a gift from great-granny – and a conversation across time with a slave ancestor. In "Black Enough" by Varian Johnson, a teenage boy trying to impress a girl is shocked into confronting a painful reality. Jay Coles' "Wild Horses, Wild Hearts" and Justina Ireland's "Kissing Sarah Smart" find teens grappling with both sexual and racial identity. A nerd in a Chewbacca shirt competes with the obnoxious manager of the cologne kiosk for the attentions of a Nordstrom employee in Lamar Giles' "Black. Nerd. Problems," an entertaining tale of self-discovery during an after-hours party for workers at a mall. The weight of expectations for a "good girl" are explored in depth in the moments a girl tries to escape a sexual assault on a crowded dance floor in Tracey Baptiste's stunning "Gravity." A star debater defies parental expectations to find his own voice in Tochi Onyebuchi's "Samson and the Delilahs." Friends heading home from the swimming pool on a sweltering day in Brooklyn swap tales of the delicious food they plan to eat in Jason Reynolds' charming and funny "The Ingredients." Cousins connect in Brandy Colbert's "Oreo," a moving story of family.
In the foreword, Zoboi writes: "Like my evolutionary ancestors who wanted Haiti to be a safe space for Africans all over the globe, my hope is that 'Black Enough' will encourage all black teens to be their free uninhibited selves without the constraints of being black, too black, or not black enough. They will simply be enough just as they are."
This marvelous fantasy, from the author of the award-winning Books of Elsewhere series, features an unlikely hero, a fascinating premise and thrilling suspense.
The unforgettable protagonist is Van Markson, a boy who is small for his age and is considered odd because he wears hearing aids. He has a collection of odd treasures he has found in random places and amuses himself creating dramas on a small stage in his bedroom with himself as "SuperVan." His father is gone; his mother is an opera singer who travels the world. This means Van is always the new kid at school, and West offers a realistic and compelling portrayal of a lonely boy who has trouble hearing, facing the misery of attending a birthday party for a boy he doesn't like. As he arrives at the party the nanny greets him: "Because she was behind him and because the door soaked through her words, Van couldn't quite decipher them. At first he thought she'd said, 'The poison's on the eater's spoon,' but that didn't seem likely. The nanny pointed toward the staircase. 'Go on up and join them.' Oh, thought Van. The boys are up in Peter's room. A little better than poison. Maybe."
But Van notices things other people don't, and as it turns out, hears some things other people can't. The day he notices a girl and a squirrel retrieving a coin from a fountain he is launched on a thrilling and terrifying adventure.
Wilson is a marvelous writer. At one point, Van is using a flashlight to see: "Its beam was small and narrow. Aiming it straight ahead showed him nothing at all. It was like trying to reach the bottom of a well with a chopstick." There are so many wonderful touches in West's novel: a fearsome villain cloaked behind a sinister veneer of kindness, a midnight ride in a carriage pulled by men on bicycles. And it's often very funny. Van is trying to explain to his mother why he fled the birthday party. "Van's mother looked as though he'd just tried to force-feed her a dog biscuit." At a frightening moment, facing intruders in his bedroom, "Van didn't even have time to wish that these two hadn't seen him in his model train pajamas." A sequel is planned.