Nothing’s better than getting cozy with a hot drink and a good read. But we’re finding that all too often, book stores are filled with white, male authors. Many of us find encounter difficulties when trying to find books written by women of color, which is another frustrating instance of marginalized communities being pushed to the side.
At TWW, we want to honor those valuable and diverse writers – these books are some of the most profound and joy-bringing literature we’ve read. Pick one for some self-care R&R or your next book club read.
1. The House On Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
Most of the picks on this list are from the past couple of years, but we had to start with this 1991 classic that paved the road ahead for feminist POC in literature. Told in gorgeous language, “The House on Mango Street” is the poetic story of the young Esperanza Cordero, who grew up in a poverty-stricken Latina neighborhood. There are heavy themes like sexual assault and domestic abuse that result from a dominant male culture. Esperanza’s story unfolds in a series of vignettes, explores the difficulties of self-definition, identity, and, ultimately, self-acceptance.
2. The Other Americans by Laila Lalami
This soul-stirring novel topped tons of 2019 “Best Book” lists, and it’s no surprise why. The story chronicles mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of a Moroccan immigrant living in California. We dive into his relationships with a jazz composer daughter and her father, a tragedy-stricken widow who yearns for Morocco. The characters all have strong connections, even through their religious and racial divides. It’s at once a love story, a family drama, and a crime mystery, dotted with the seedy underbelly of American culture.
3. Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo
A bittersweet thriller written in free verse poems, Clap When You Land explores the heart-wrenching themes of loss, forgivingness and complicated bonds. Acevedo wrote the book from two different perspectives – a girl who lives in New York and her half-sister, who lives in the Dominican Republic. Neither of them knows they’re related until their father passes away. The sister in NYC experiences more opportunities, while her sister yearns to go to medical school in the states to become a doctor. The story is masterfully told, as is the exploration of toxic masculinity and socio-economic differences.
4. Conjure Women: A Novel by Afia Atakora
This tale is told from the perspective of two vibrant and powerful Black women during the Civil War, and is a majestic blend of magic, history, and fiction. It explores pre-war years in the South, along with the post-war reality, through multiple generations and eras. We meet a wise healer and midwife named Miss May Belle, her gifted daughter Rue (who isn’t as keen on being a midwife herself), and finally, their master’s privileged daughter, a woman named Varina. When the war starts, a dangerous preacher comes to their plantation, setting off a chain of terrifying effects that will alter the fate of all three women. It’s a thunderous debut, with luscious narration and meticulous research.
5. Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
This story is of a young Black babysitter and the white woman (a feminist blogger) that employs her. One day, the nanny is accused of kidnapping the child she’s babysitting by a racist bystander. To make it worse, the whole ordeal is filmed. Exploring how millennials navigate classism, race, and micro-aggressions, Reid tackles all the raw, loaded truths behind systemic racism (and misinterpreted understandings of it) that many white Americans tend to avoid. It’s unflinchingly bold and infused with just the right amount of dark humor. It’s a reminder that that often, having goodwill alone is not enough, and transactional relationships are way more complicated than we think.
6. Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson
This breathtaking work by Jacqueline Woodson tells the story of two Black families from different socio-economic backgrounds who become connected through an unexpected pregnancy of two high school students. Although the story is mostly about Melody, the daughter of that pregnant high school student, it’s a multi-generational depiction of her parents’ challenging journey as young teens grappling with having their own child. The reader gets peeks of every character’s story and becomes deeply invested in each of them along the way. This book speaks on themes like steel resilience, survival through that hurt, and the love that perseveres through all the family pain.
7. Love in Colour: Mythical Tales From Around The World, Retold by Bolu Babalola
If you’re a fan of short stories, it would be a crime not to pick up Love In Colour. Babalola chooses each word carefully and artfully, but what we love most about Babalola’s collection is the concept. It’s an alternate reality where ancient myths from cultures of all kinds get a makeover for the 21st Century. One without creepy misogyny, racism, and wildly misguided morality that many historical tales are guilty of. In all 18 stories, we get a rich range of cultural flavors and a new kind of romantic literature that feels like uncharted territory.
8. Home Remedies by Xuan Juliana Wang
Another series of short stories, this work instead focuses on young Chinese millennials who live all over American and Europe. First, second, and third-generation readers of all cultures will find themselves nodding along to the words, which dive into the nitty-gritty of immigration, familial love and duty, and how both of those things interweave to make for an often conflicted sense of identity. Highlights include “Vaulting the Sea”, a gay coming of age story about one half of a synchronized diving team competing at the Beijing Olympics, and “Fuerdai to the Max” a searing commentary on second-generation, wealthy Chinese youth who carry a harrowing secret.
9. The Family Tree by Sairish Hussain
It seems all too often that books with Muslim characters are usually only about being Muslim. Instead, this debut on a British-Pakistani Muslim family is a unique take on how world events ultimately impact local communities. After a tragedy occurs for this working-class family, its father must become a single father to two kids. We see the characters move through the decades as Muslims in the west and take their own paths, each of which has its own struggles. Through it all, this family has to fall apart before it comes back together, stronger than ever. But the real beauty is in the mundane moments and the realistic portrayal of a South Asian family.
10. Sex and Lies by Leila Slimani
This book by bestselling author, journalist and women’s rights activist Leila Slimani is in a category all of its own. In the Middle East, sex and desire are taboo. This novel discusses this forbidden sensuality in a range of Muslim societies. It dives into the influences of colonialism, which has shaped many of the Middle East’s repressed and unrealistic attitudes towards female sexuality. Each chapter is a vivid picture of the many brave and courageous women who spoke these stories to fruition.
These beautiful books inspired me simply because of the perspective they’re written from. As a mixed race woman, I’ve often struggled with finding people that share my perspective in literature. I’m sure that millions of BIPOC women feel the the same.
Not only is this writing better than the stuffy old white men you find lining the shelves of classic lit, but it’s leading the world towards inclusivity. It’s creating characters that truly represent us and empower us to flourish, rather than keeping us back in the shadows.
And while we can write about the plight of marginalization and oppression, as some of these books do, I find it more important to normalize everyday characters, like BIPOC ballerinas and superheroes. Because at the end of the day, this lets our little girls know they can be whoever they want, and reach for whatever they want, without limitations based on appearance.