Cool. Awkward. Black

Viking. Jan. 2023. 336p. ed. by Strong, Karen, ed. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780593525098.
Gr 7-10–With the lineup of popular Black authors that Strong assembled to write Black characters in the geekdom for teens—among them Roseanne A. Brown, Julian Winters, and Ibi Zoboi—it wasn’t going to be hard to see the personally geeky sides of the authors themselves revealed in their fictionalized characters. Each story uses a corner of the nerdy world for characters to interact, be it outside a comic convention, playing word games online, invited into an inner circle as a protector of a book to keep a magical being at bay, or as a theater kid. This collection set out to bring all types together. But it also provides a range of genres for readers to enjoy. The success of being multi-genre while appealing to the awkward kids is evident in the adventures within each story, moving seamlessly from magic to reality whether the character is trans or into the solar system. Reading it feels like a mystery box where every story is the most coveted prize. Each story had room to expand because the short stories were not just several pages but a dozen pages or more. To cut them shorter would have been a disservice. The energy that each story brought matched the others. The evenness of each wasn’t about being duplicative but instead complementary. Three standouts that showcase the variety offered in the collection are “The Book Club” by Shari B. Pennant, “Corner Booth” by Leah Johnson, and “Honor Code” by Kwame Mbalia. All main characters are Black.
VERDICT All told, the collection is strong for several reasons and a necessary purchase for teen anthologies in the library.

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