Reading Race in America

Every Monday and Friday Urban Plains will be posting book reviews so viewers have a chance to read the rainbow. Every color has a theme and a book to fit that theme. For today’s post, we’ve chosen six books that look at race in America. 


Red: The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas

Sometimes books don’t bring you serenity, sometimes they make you see red. 

Some books take you out of your own world and introduce you to fantastic new ideas, take you back in time, or shoot you galaxies away. Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give instead gives a glimpse of a very real world for many. Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter grew up in a poor neighborhood but attends a prep school in an affluent suburb. Her two worlds collide when she witnesses a fatal police shooting and becomes the center of attention for national news coverage. Starr, used to falling into the background, lets her anger and grief turn into something positive as she ignites a movement defending her own upbringing. Thomas’s words create a relevant narrative for the reader as Starr makes the realization of “What’s the point of having a voice if you’re silent in moments you shouldn’t be?”


Orange: To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee

Orange you glad you slept on these books in high school? Catch up on your tenth-grade homework and appreciate these classics from the confinement of your home.

Here are five classic novels that look at race in America: 

  1. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  2. The First Next Time by James Baldwin
  3. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison 
  4. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
  5. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison 

Yellow: The Children of Jihad – Jared Cohen

Haven’t seen the sun since pre-COVID 19? Get out and go Around the World with these books.

It is too often that people’s perceptions of other cultures and nations are based almost entirely on stereotypes or brief clips from the news. Author Jared Cohen wanted instead to truly understand the youth of the Middle East, so he embarked on a months-long adventure to gain firsthand knowledge. Ignoring direct government orders, Cohen sneaks into Iran and experiences parts of the region he had never expected. From Iranian youth who express sincere love for America to Palestinian extremists who respect Cohen’s Jewish heritage, he meets people from all walks of life who defy stereotypes and prejudices of the region. 


Green: The Grace of Silence – Michele Norris

Give your neighbors some green, Read Local.

Minneapolis writer Michele Norris wrote the memoir The Grace of Silence by turning her work at NPR inwards, focusing on uncovering the stories that her family kept hidden to hold an honest conversation about race.  She takes the reader on a journey where she learned more about her parents’ experiences of racism in America, including traveling to Alabama to piece together details of how her father was shot in the leg after returning from military service in World War II.  As Norris collects these stories about her family’s lives she implores readers to do the same, saying “there is often grace in silence. But there is always power in understanding.”


Blue: American Sonnets For My Past and Future Assassin – Terrance Hayes

Feeling blue? So are poets, like all the time. While you’re stuck in quarantine, try reading poetry as an outlet for all those feelings. Poetry collections like Terrance Hayes’ American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin and Vickie Vertiz’s Palm Frond With Its Throat Cut take on issues like race, gender, and relationships through daring verse. 

In the collection, American Sonnet For My Past and Future Assassin, Terrance Hayes reflects on the black experience in America through poetry, specifically, sonnets. Instead of taking on the Shakespearian approach of using iambic pentameter, he chooses to do free verse. His poetry carries a very specific voice throughout the book, one that isn’t restricted to maintaining the beautiful, but showing the authentic through attitude and shock like, “You are the size / of a stuttering drop of liquid—milk, machine oil / semen, blood. Yes, you funky stud, you are the jewel / in the knob of an elegant butt plug, snug between / pleasure & disgust.” It seems like Hayes wants to shock us with his metaphors and line breaks so the reader understands his discomfort as a black man in America questioning his sexuality. Hayes pushes the reader to think further than the status quo.


Purple: The Help – Kathryn Stockett

Purple represents royalty and power. How do some novels question authority? 

The Help tells the story of young journalist Skeeter Phelan and two black housemaids, Minny Jackson and Aibileen Clark. Skeeter embarks on a mission to uncover how people of color are treated in her city of Jackson, Mississippi by writing a book that tells the stories of the help themselves. The Help brings tears, anger, and joy as it follows the lives of the three women on their journey to make a change.

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