One thing I actively try to do is read more books by women of color. First of all, reading a book by someone with a different background to you widen your frame of reference (I think about With The Fire on High here a lot). I’ve always considered myself to be pretty sensitive and thoughtful but frankly, until reading more books by women of color, I didn’t realize the extent of the obstacles facing black women (and I’ve really just scratched the surface with the books I’m featuring below).
The second reason is that women, particularly women of color are generally underrepresented across the board. Think about all of the media you consume across the board (TV, art, film, books, etc.) The gender balance is real and it’s particularly worse for women of color (and gay women too; I’d like to read more books by queer women bas well but one thing at a time). It’s important to me as both a consumer and a “person of influence” in this space to highlight an inclusive range of authors here. As it is, I almost exclusively read books written by women.
I started making an effort to read more books by women of color (in making this reading list I realized how few books I’ve read by Asian and Indian authors – I will do better!). Last year, An American Marriage was one of the best books I’ve read all year. And The Hate U Give stuck with me months after reading it. This year, I feel that way about American Spy. Here are some of my favs. This list is (like my taste in books) a little all over the board. It’s a mix of smart + light, with some YA (but meaningful YA!) mixed in.
Note that this is titled “ten OF,” not “THE ten…” I’d really love your recommendations!
Four more books that I want to read this year are When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrice Kahn Cullors, This Will Be My Undoing by Morgan Jerkins, Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams, and Patsy by Nicole Dennis Benn. I’m the first to admit: I read a lot of trash (I love my thrillers and my rom coms!) But I’m trying to be better about featuring a diverse range of authors AND reading at least one or two more smart and meaningful books every month.
Ten of the Best Books by Women of Color!
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
This book. Oh wow. I read it back in 2017 and it was really, really hard to read. I cried reading it. And now it’s a movie. not going to make you feel comfortable or happy and it may make you ugly cry, but it was probably the most important book I’ve read that year. Starr Carter is a black teen straddling two worlds: the poor neighborhood she grew up in, and the fancy (mostly white) prep school she attends. When her best friend is shot and killed by a white police officer, her entire world explodes.
The story chronicles the thirteen weeks that follow his death – from all sides… how her friends react, the black lives matter movement, how she has to hide the fact that she was the witness, to the grand jury’s decision. It’s technically a YA novel, but it’s so much more than that. It’s a fresh, beautifully written, and a very real look at both racism and police violence in the United States.
The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See
This book was one of those books that I read ages ago, see on my shelf, and still think about because it was so powerful! It was recommended to me by two of the people I respect most when it comes to taste in books. My mom (who saw it on my counter when she visited and immediately remarked how sad she was that she was done reading it), and Victoria. It’s one of those books that just gives you chills.
It follows the story of Li-yan, a young girl living in the remote Chinese mountains. Her family is is tea farmers and we watch her grow up (enduring some of the most incredible difficulties but ultimately persevering – leaving her village to seek an education). Anything I write honestly isn’t going to do it justice (and that description actually sounds kind of boring?), so I will just say that what I loved most about it is how much I learned (about Chinese culture and tea farming) but also the way that everything works out in the end.
Hunger by Roxane Gay (Bad Feminist is Next)
I will start with a confession: I have not read this book in full. This is first because I am terrible with non-fiction. I regular start memoirs and pick them up for something juicier and more fun and forget all about them. In the case of Hunger it’s also because frankly, it’s incredibly upsetting to read. The sexual violence (and aftermath that follows) is really intense. That being said, I am going to pick it back up this month and make myself read it in full. (I’m about 60% through.) It was a National Book Award finalist and Roxane Gay is one of the most talented writers I’ve encountered. I want to read all of her books (Bad Feminist, a collection of essays is in my TBR pile and next up but need to get through this one first)!
Everything Jasmine Guillory (start w/The Wedding Date!)
I am such a massive, massive Jasmine Guillory fan. I have read everything she’s written and whenever a new book she writes comes out, I put down whatever else I may be reading and start her book. Right now there are three (after The Wedding Date comes The Proposal and The Wedding Party. One of the things I really love about all of her books is that they are connected (characters overlap) but they aren’t sequels, so they all stand alone perfectly well on their own. Her books always involve a meet-cute, sometimes the characters don’t get along, but they are always sexy, steamy, feminist, and fun. I love that the women in all of her books are always strong women!
American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson
This was one of the best books I have read all year. We ended up choosing it as our book club pick for the podcast AND we were lucky enough to have Lauren join us to talk about the book! Becca and I both gravitated toward this one because it looked like a fun spy thriller. There’s nothing wrong with that BUT this book is so much more than that.
First of all, most spy thrillers are about a white, male, James Bond. We loved that the main character was a black woman (a strong, stubborn one at that). It chronicles FBI agent Marie Mitchell in the 80s during the Cold War pursuing Thomas Sankara (a real person; often referred to as Africa’s Che Guevara). Things get complicated. First her mission is to sleep with him. Then it gets even more dramatic. And somewhere in there they fall in love. But I don’t want to give any more spoilers – go read it!!!
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
Did you see that this book is going to be a Hulu TV series starring Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington!? So excited about that. Celeste Ng is an Asian American author and one of my favorites – I love everything she writes. This the story of the Richardson family – a well to do family in Shaker Heights (a quaint little town outside of Cleveland), living in their perfectly planned out bubble. One day, bohemian, artist. single mother Mia and her teenage daughter Pearl show up and everything changes. There’s so much in here. Family dynamics, coming of age stories, a custody battle, secrets… so much. Celeste Ng is a master story teller. I love how fluidly she alternates between the perspectives of the different characters… and how relatable and likable she manages to make each character – despite their flaws. I couldn’t put it down and you won’t be able to either!
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
As I mentioned above, this was one of the absolute BEST books I read last year. It was so powerful and moving and a real look at both race and marriage. Like many books on this list, after finishing it, I thought about it for weeks. It gutted me. I’m going to try to do my best to describe it (and the emotions it brings out) without giving away too much. Celestial and Roy are a year and a half into their new marriage when Roy is wrongfully convicted of a terrible crime. Roy is sentenced to twelve years in prison, but gets out after five.
A lot happens while he’s gone. And when he gets out early, what is Celestial to do? Let go, or rebuild her marriage? The characters were all so raw and real, each struggling with their own family problems + heartaches. One of those situations where you don’t really know what to do, or who to root for. All is (sort of?) resolved in the end but man… this is an emotional rollercoaster (and, a beautifully written rollercoaster at that). WOW.
With The Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo
Elizabeth Acevedo is such a gifted writer. (Her other book, The Poet X is a National Book Award winner – still need to read that!) I couldn’t put this book down. When I realized it was YA I was a little bit dismissive but quickly changed my tune, raving about it to anyone who would listen! Eboni is a young black woman growing up in Philadelphia. She’s raised by her grandmother (her mother died and her father abandoned them) AND a single mom.
Cooking has always been something that comes easily to her and when a cooking class comes up at her school, she jumps at the chance to enroll. The only downside? The course includes a trip to Spain; something she’d never be able to afford. The book is her story of perseverance and strength, and the greater realization that she can do something meaningful with her life while raising a child.
The Idea of You by Robinne Lee
I’m sorry to put this book on every list but OH WELL I love it so there! I have talked about it 1,001 times and it’s my favorite light read from this past year. If you haven’t read it yet, please drop whatever you’re doing and read it!!! Solene is a 39 year old (chic as hell) French divorcee who through a series of events meets Hayes (aka Harry Styles). They embark on what starts as a torrid love affair and turns into so much more! Like I said, it’s a lighter read and you’ll read it in a day or two but oh it’s just so much fun. (I also included this in my list of the best beach reads!) We actually have two episodes of the podcast dedicated to this book. First, our standard book club about the book and second, an interview with Robinne herself!
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
This is YA fantasy (and very popular – it was the #1 New York Times bestseller last March!) and such a fun one to read. (There’s a sequel coming out soon too, which I can’t wait to read!) It’s set in a fantasy version of Africa (Orisha) where magic exists. Or existed, but was stamped out by the king. The main character Zélie comes from a magical family with a tragic history (her mother was killed and the king has taken everything they have). Then, an artifact (that could bring magic back to Orisha) is discovered and it changes everything. Zélie suddenly has the chance to restore magic to the community and strike back against the king, and she takes the chance (with the help of a rogue princess – the king’s daughter!) This was also a podcast book club pick – read it and then listen to our discussion!
photography by Carter Fish.