Where are the Girls? : 5 Novels That Focus on Black Girls

[By Goyland Williams]

In my last post, I mentioned Toni Morrison’s motivation and sense of urgency for writing The Bluest Eye as stemming from her concern that far too many novels failed to acknowledge and fully develop young black girls as central characters. An exploration of African American novels that place attention on young black girls, such as Pecola Breedlove, present readers with both similar and dissimilar literary representations of the pressures that mold and shape black girls. Moreover, readers have the opportunity to consider how childhood representations and coming of age tales of young black girls coincide with the literary images of black women. It is at this critical site where African American children and young adults can find themselves in their reading, as they engage in that essential goal of adolescence –formulation of self, an identity.

Below, I have compiled a list of five novels that focus on black girls and their development.

Louise Meriwether’s Daddy Was a Number Runner (1970) chronicles the lives and hardships of an African American family living in Harlem during the Great Depression. Francie, the 12 year old heroine, strives to maintain her integrity even amidst a cold, mean white racist world with humor and empathy as she comes to understand the dreams and despairs of Harlem without letting despair have the last word.
Toni Cade Bambara’s Gorilla My Love (1971) is the story of Hazel, a young girl living in New York City, with her two loving parents who feel that adults do not treat children with respect and honesty. Hazel comes from a family who values respect, education, and keeping one’s word.
Walter Dean Myer’s Motown and Didi: A Love Story (1984) takes us on a journey with Didi. Didi has dreams of moving, as far away from Harlem as her grades and scholarship offerings will take her. Motown, who has been shuffled from foster home, likes the security that Harlem has to offer, even if that security only means living in abandoned buildings. Set in Harlem during the 1980s, Myers has created a heart-wrenching love story that mixes family loyalty and peer pressure, along with a sprinkle of drugs and violence to tell this compelling love story.

Mildred Taylor’s Roll Of Thunder, Hear My Cry (1976) explores life in Mississippi through the lens of an African-American girl-Cassie Logan. The Logans own land in a time when many—black and white—are living as sharecroppers on various plantations. The novel is a “coming of age” story that focuses on Cassie Logan as she learns and witnesses the way things are in her society.

Virginia Hamilton’s novel Sweet Whispers, Brother Rush (1982) directly confronts issues of child abuse, single-parent families, and the death of a young person as told through 14 year old Teresa, who is the sole caretaker of her mentally disabled older brother, Dabney, while her mother works full time.