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Cool. Awkward. Black.

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Member Reviews

COOL. AWKWARD. BLACK. is such a wonderful anthology of unique and creative stories! Each story felt so different from the last and quickly captured my attention. It was easy to get wrapped up in each story and the breadth of characters; I felt like I could have read full novels for each of these short stories.

I loved how the stories varied from fantasy to contemporary; the multi genre aspect was really interesting and made for a captivating reading experience! I loved how you could go from reading a story about frenemies doing a class project together to aliens touching down on Earth and recruiting a young girl to find three other classmates to bring along with her! I was so intrigued by what the next story would be about that this made for a really quick read.

This was a really fun YA anthology and I can see these stories resonating with a wide audience. I loved the representation throughout the book and I know this will be an amazing book to share with any young adults in your life! I also appreciated the chance to sample the writing of so many authors who have other works published and can’t wait to read those next. I highly recommend reading COOL. AWKWARD. BLACK. today!

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This is an absolute powerhouse of an anthology with a lot of big names behind it (including many I've read before like Kalynn Bayron, Tracy Deonn, Leah Johnson, Julian Winters, and Ibi Zoboi to name a few)! This is a great anthology of talented black YA writers with the theme of scifi, fandom, and nerdiness. I like that there are queer authors and stories included, too. Like with most anthologies, there are some I loved and some I didn't like quite as much, but all were enjoyable and good in their own way! My absolute favorites were "Nina Evans, in the Round" (musical theater), "Corner Booth" (scrabble and words), and "Betty's Best Craft" (knitting/sewing).

Thank you so much to penguin teen for sending me a copy as part of their penguin teen partners in exchange for an honest review! Cool, Awkward, Black is available on 10 JAN 2023

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Cool. Awkward. Black. is a short story collection edited by Karen Strong to be released January 10, 2023. It contains eighteen stories about nerdy Black teenage protagonists, most leaning into the sci-fi or fantasy genre. These stories are appropriate for ages 12 and up, with some light violence and non-sexual romance throughout.

Short story collections are often a grab bag, where some stories will really resonate with you and others may be easily forgotten, but all eighteen of these YA stories were engaging and memorable. While featuring Black protagonists, there were also some other non-white protagonists and a good amount of queer representation as well. If this is the future of YA speculative fiction, I am so excited.

Two of the stories felt more like the first chapter of a novel, Shari B. Pennant’s “The Book Club” and Tracy Deonn’s “Catalyst Rising.” It’s not ideal to have a short story that feels like a first chapter because it leaves the audience with a cliffhanger to a story that may or may not ever be continued, rather than a closed loop with a satisfying conclusion. Then again, the stories were so strong on their own that I would rather have a cliffhanger than not have read them at all.

Pennant’s “The Book Club” introduces four Black teenage girls who have unique supernatural abilities that they need to fight an evil magician who has been trapped for centuries inside a book. And Deonn’s “Catalyst Rising” features a twist on the mythological Philosopher’s Stone with two groups fighting over its power. Given that Deonn’s Legendborn series is some of the best YA writing that I’ve ever read, I’m not surprised that her short story here also packs a punch. Pennant doesn’t currently have any novels published, but I’ll be sure to keep an eye out for any future works.

K. Arsenault Rivera’s “Initiative Check” will be a hit for any D&D fans, Elise Bryant’s “Betty’s Best Craft” has some superb character growth that would be a good blueprint for young writers, and Isaac Fitzsimons’ “Cole’s Cruise Blues” is a sweet trans coming of age story. I was really impressed with Roseanne A. Brown’s treatment of gender in “Wolf Tracks.” The men in the protagonist’s family are werewolves, which includes the trans men. Most gender-based powers in existing literature either willfully ignore trans people or give them the power of the wrong gender in favor of what sex was assigned at birth, but Brown refreshingly chooses to respect people’s chosen gender- proof that this respect is easily accomplished.

I could wax poetic about every single story in this collection, but it’s best experienced first-hand. Run to your local store or library for a copy of this volume, as it’s not only a great read on its own, but a list of eighteen authors to seek out further for more great writing.

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It's really fun and gives readers a good introduction to a lot of good writers that they might not have known before. It could have been shorter and the order of the stories left a little bit to be desired. I feel there were other stories that could have gone first, but it's very cute.

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Truly one of the cutest and coolest (of course) books I have read. Can see so many teens loving this special one.

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I received a free digital ARC of Cool. Awkward. Black. from PenguinTeen in exchange for a review.

Cool. Awkward. Black. is a YA anthology featuring a variety of bestselling Black authors who challenge the concept of being a nerd. Black people experience criticism for enjoying "white" hobbies, and the author's of Cool. Awkward. Black. wrote a diverse network of stories that showcase a variety of hobbies. The stories are all well-written, independent of each other, and span various genres.

Some of my favorite stories include a young trans man on a cruise with his father and stepfamily, an uptight young woman who loves crafting, and a young man going to his favorite con. Many stories talk about racism, transphobia, sexism, and homophobia but also feature themes of love and character growth.

While I did not love every story in the anthology, there is a story for everyone. Perfect for fans of Blackout and Whiteout, this book makes me proud to be cool, awkward, and black.

Thank you to PenguinTeen for sending me a free digital copy. I really appreciate it and love the book.

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Already pre-ordered! This anthology is excellent. The collection of short stories BLACK ENOUGH edited by Ibi Zoboi is one of my all-time favorites; I've taught several short stories from that book. COOL.AWKWARD.BLACK edited by Karen Strong is a showcase of excellent Black writers, this time celebrating "the geek" with fantastic, engaging, and high quality short stories. There are so many stories to choose from and I'm especially excited to put these in front of my students. The stories by Leah Johnson and Julian Winters will be the first two I use in my teaching.

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Karen Strong brings us a new anthology with 17 incredible Black stories. There’s magic, there’s love, there’s character growth, within ever short story. This book is truly beautiful and deserves a place on every single shelf.

Rather than go through and tell you my thoughts on each individual short story, I’ll share my top three below.

Nina Evans, In the Round by Kalynn Bayron
This one actually had me tearing up! Nina Evans is a passionate theater kid in the mid 70’s when so few parts are given to black people. She’s desperate to try out for the lead at her school musical but it’s a very real possibility that the mediocre popular will get the role. Her mom tries to steer Nina away from the stage because of how she struggle in her own acting career. But they come to understand each other and take the stage by storm.

Corner Booth by Leah Johnson
We saw bits of the world outside but the story focuses on the biggest thing in Fergie’s world. The Diner. Where she plays Dictionary Dynamo and feels a few hours of freedom from her life. Until she gets thrown off her game by some obnoxious boy, causing her to lose to her rival. Johnson puts so much into just a few pages, you can really feel how Fergie suppresses her emotions. And the moment everything comes out! Perfection!!

Betty’s Best Craft by Elise Bryant
Serious what is with these short stories having me all choked up? Betty is a crafter extraordinaire, she knows more than anyone. When she’s pair to work with Jhamir Watson, her ex best friend and archenemy, on a creative school project, she is livid. But could this project warm her heart to him like a glue stick in a hot glue gun and knit them back together like strings of yarn? (I’m not sorry about those puns)

Overall, I’m giving Cool. Awkward. Black. 4.5 stars because there were so many incredible short stories. The purpose and message of this anthology is so important and well executed. There were just a couple stories that I didn’t feel were up to par with the others, hence the .5 star dock.

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Cool. Awkward. Black. is a YA anthology of stories by Black authors about Black teenagers who are awkward or nerdy or just into something really specific. This is an anthology celebrating difference and the unique things that make people who they are- specifically celebrating Black teens who don't fit into a stereotypical mold.

The included genres range from contemporary fiction to fantasy, paranormal, and sci-fi. Several of them center queer characters (including a great story about a trans boy on a cruise with his step-family), some deal with complex family dynamics, friendships, or romance. There's even a fun one where a D&D game takes on a life of it's own!

There's a wide range and not every story was a hit, but most of them were. There are some amazing authors in this collection and it's definitely worth a read. It's a very strong anthology. I received a copy of this book for review via Netgalley, all opinions are my own.

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Cool. Awkward. Black is such a fun anthology collection that ranges across all genres, truly allowing something for everyone. While I didn't love all of these stories, I did completely love some of them. Honestly, how could you not when it features authors like Kalynn Bayron and Tracy Deonn? I just wish some of the stories will evolve into full stories because they would be amazing! This is an obvious choice for any and all libraries - the diversity and representation alone is vital for those who don't get to see themselves in every story.

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What a beautiful, fun, heartwarming collection of stories featuring Black MCs! Along with LGBTQ+ rep, realistic looks of life today, magic, nerd culture, and everything in between, this warmed my heart right up this holiday season. My favorite stories were of COURSE Julian Winters and Kalynn Bayron, but I really enjoyed Tracy Deonn's, Amanda Joy's, and Jordan Ifueko's as well. I hadn't heard of some of the other authors, and now I have new books waiting for me in my TBR! I'm so glad this book exists.

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This short story anthology that challenges the concept of “geek” touches on what it means to be Black and to be a geek. The stories range from sci-fi to fantasy to contemporary. Some have romance plot lines, others are about friendship, and still others about the importance of family. Although there were a few stories that stood out to me in particular, I did find this anthology to be a little bit disappointing. Some of the short stories would be better suited as full length novels, and I struggled to get in them due the limited length. However, there were a few stories that I loved including the stories written by Tracy Deonn, Julian Winters, Elise Bryant, Kalynn Bayron and Leah Johnson. This would be a great addition to classroom libraries; a lot of young Black people will see themselves and their interests represented in these pages.

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I absolutely loved this! Novels like these are hard to rate just because of how contrasting the ratings between stories can be. I did overall think this was well done though. I started giving short reviews to each short story but promptly gave us around halfway when I realized how many there were. Here were the half that I did do though! The others were (mostly) great as well.

— "Our joy, Our Power" by Julian Winters


I was super excited for this short story because of my love for Julian Winters! This was super sweet, especially the overarching message. The setting was adorable, and I liked the main couple even if we didn't get time to see them develop.

— "The Book Club" by Shari B. Pennant


I'm a sucker for a good bookstore setting and fantasy, so I knew I'd like this from the start. Secret magical societies are going to hit every time, so I wish I could've gotten more of this.

— "Nina Evans, in the Round" by Kalynn Bayron


I'm like really not a fan of this author, so this was a bit a change. I quite liked the wholesomeness with the family dynamics and hopefulness of this one. I enjoyed the inclusion of theater in this historical setting.

— "Earth is Ghetto" by Ibi Zoboi


I'm not going to lie. I was confused for most of the start, but... ailens! I did like the relatability of the main character in ways but not much else. It's definitely an interesting idea, though? I ended up skimming this one.

— "Initiative Check" by K. Arsenault Rivera


This was so fun! Second chances in this magical setting. I wish I could spend more time with these characters and get more explanation on the fantasy, but it works as a short story.

— "Corner Booth" by Leah Johnson


Another author, I'm not a huge fan of who surprised me! I'm finding that I just love most of these settings. This was nerdy and cute and just a good time. It was predictable, but I doubt it was really trying to throw you for a turn with the twist.

— "Betty's Best Craft" by Elise Bryant


I can't really bring myself to like these second chance stories that much just because I feel like I need more attachment to the characters. But also, this relationship wasn't my favorite of the bunch. I did like the inclusion of crafts and such in this, though.

— "The Panel Shows the Girl" by Amanda Joy


I loved Anaya and her magical little sketchbook. I can't really say much without spoiling this one, but I thought the plot was creative and executed nicely as well!

— "Spirt-filled" by Jordan Ifueko


I just wasn't really interested in this one. I also ended up skimming it. I'm also just not a fan of most works with religious themes.

— "Cole's Cruise Blues" by Issac Fitzsimons


Adored the trans rep in this one! Queer middle school stories are always just pleasant as a whole. There's always a tenderness to them. This was probably my favorite! I also adored the authors other novel so I expected to enjoy this one and was correct.

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From contemporary to historical, fantasy to sci-fi, magical to realistic, this book is an anthology that celebrates and redefines the many Blackness and geekiness. As a black person and someone who's a little nerdy and a little geeky I absolutely loved this book from the first page to the last I was enthralled. I love seeing people like me being written about and seeing people like me being portrayed in everyday writing! If I could give this book 10 stars I would!!

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