In a short introduction to Black Boy Joy, anthology editor Kwame Mbalia (Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky) reveals three secrets: He doesn’t like watching the news, he cries when he is happy, and he wants readers to be happy. He describes Black Boy Joy as what happened when he combined those three secrets with the contributions of 16 fellow Black authors.
In addition to his role as editor, Mbalia also contributes the book’s framing story, “The Griot of Grover Street,” in which 11-year-old Fortitude Jones is called away from his aunt’s funeral to help a strange older man travel through the mysterious space between worlds to collect moments of joy. A mix of well-known and up-and-coming authors, including Jason Reynolds, Varian Johnson, Tochi Onyebuchi and Jerry Craft, create the moments themselves in 16 stories that highlight the sweetness of the extraordinary and the ordinary.
Fantastical tales burst with the energy of intergalactic battles and magical games, and one story written in verse includes instructions for writing your own poem. In Lamar Giles’ incomparably titled “There’s Going to Be a Fight in the Cafeteria on Friday and You Better Not Bring Batman,” a boy named Cornell gets advice on a superpowered showdown from three generations of family members. In B.B. Alston’s “The McCoy Game,” two cousins reconnect after having grown apart. The young chef in Julian Winters’ “The Legendary Lawrence Cobbler” learns that his father’s love for him isn’t changed by the revelation that he likes boys. And a tween uses their 13th birthday as the occasion to come out as nonbinary in George M. Johnson’s “The Gender Reveal.”
Every story’s protagonist is instantly endearing as they offer humor and hope and share their fears and dreams. The stories are honest and fresh, and the affection each contributor must have felt for both their characters and the reader while writing comes through clearly on every page. Black Boy Joy is a treasure to share and return to again and again.