20 terrific titles from #ownvoices and #diversebooks authors

20 terrific titles from #ownvoices and #diversebooks authors

The ninth category for the 2017 Reading Challenge—for those of you who are stretching yourselves this year—is “a book by an #ownvoices or #diversebooks author.”

Many of you are already intentionally diverse in your reading selections, and you crossed this category off back in January. Others of you tell me you would like to read more diversely, but aren’t sure where to start. Some readers don’t factor in these questions when choosing what to read next; this category invites you to pay attention.

For this category, the definition is broad. I like the way We Need Diverse Books puts it (as well as their site, which is an excellent resource): “We recognize all diverse experiences, including (but not limited to) LGBTQIA, people of color, gender diversity, people with disabilities, and ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities.” (WNDB broadly defines disability to include physical, sensory, cognitive, intellectual, or developmental disabilities, chronic conditions, and mental illnesses, which may include addiction.)

To answer a Reading Challenge FAQ: in an #ownvoices book, the author comes from the same diverse group represented in her story, most frequently sharing the marginalized identity of a book’s protagonist. (That term comes from #ownvoices founder Corinne Duyvis.)

Need ideas for this category? There are a ridiculous number of titles to choose from, which is why I’ve made today’s list long, with twenty titles. (We could have featured 2000, but then our site would crash!) Most, but not all, are fiction. Most, but not all, are written for adults.

I can’t wait to hear your suggestions, and to see which titles YOU choose to read.

What are you reading for this category? What titles would you add to the list?

Series: a book by an #ownvoices or #diversebooks author
Everything I Never Told You

Everything I Never Told You

Author:
"Lydia is dead, but they don't know this yet." That’s not a spoiler, that's the opening line of Ng's stunning debut. When this unexpected loss is discovered, the family begins to fall apart, and as they struggle to understand why it happened, they realize they don't know their daughter at all. Ng's use of the omniscient narrator is brilliant: she reveals what's going on in her characters hearts and minds, allowing the reader to learn the truth of the tragedy, even if the family never does. An exploration of love and belonging, fraught with racial and gender issues. When I was in NYC I watched a woman miss her bus stop because she was utterly absorbed in this novel. It's that good. Powerful, believable, utterly absorbing. More info →
Out of My Mind

Out of My Mind

Melody has cerebral palsy, which means she can't talk—until she discovers something that gives her a voice for the first time. I read this book recently at the emphatic urging of my 10- and 12-year-old daughters, and I've since been recommending it to my friends and my friends' kids alike. It's sooo good, and highly recommended for fans of Wonder. More info →
Between the World and Me

Between the World and Me

Coates frames this series of essays as a letter to his son, exploring what it means to be black in America, and how issues involving race have shaped and continue to shape the country in which he lives. This is a profound, moving, timely book. The audio version, read by the author, is fantastic. More info →
The Sun Is Also a Star

The Sun Is Also a Star

Author:
Daniel and Natasha meet and fall in love over the course of one whirlwind day in NYC, the day before her family is set to be deported back to Jamaica; they lack the documentation to stay. In his own way, Daniel is also trapped: his Korean family has big plans for his future, plans that don't align with what he wants for himself. Yoon tackles serious issues here—identity, family, fate—but she does it with such a light touch, it almost reads as breezy. I read this in an afternoon, and have recommended it to loads of friends who've done the same. More info →
If I Was Your Girl

If I Was Your Girl

Author:
I'm sure some readers have managed to encounter this #ownvoices book without spoilers, but they are few and far between, so here's what really happens: trans girl Amanda Hardy moves from Atlanta to live with her estranged dad in rural Tennessee and takes the chance to start over. Her plan is to fly below the radar, endure Tennessee, and move herself out of the Deep South as soon as she graduates. But ... she falls in love, for the first time. And she doesn't want to keep secrets anymore. But how does she tell her new love that at her old school, she used to be Andrew? This reads like a cute teen romance, and the tone isn't dark, but sensitive content is present, if mostly in the past tense, and trigger warnings apply. More info →
Homegoing

Homegoing

Author:
By exploring the stories of two sisters, who met different fates in Ghana more than 200 years ago, Gyasi traces subtle lines of cause and effect through the centuries, illuminating how the deeds of ages past still haunt all of us today. Her debut follows the generations of one family over a period of 250 years, showing the devastating effects of racism from multiple perspectives, in multiple settings. For the first hundred pages I didn't quite grasp what the author was up to, but when it hit me it was powerful. A brilliant concept, beautifully executed. More info →
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Author:
This coming of age story centers on Arnold "Junior" Spirit, a 14-year-old growing up in Washington state, who decides to leave the Spokane Indian Reservation to attend an all-white high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot. Alexie relied heavily on his own childhood experiences to write this YA novel, which won the National Book Award. More info →
Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood

Author:
In this collection of coming-of-age essays about his South African childhood, The Daily Show star does a masterful job of alternating the deathly serious with the laugh-out-loud funny, sometimes even combining the two. His mischievous childhood and unconventional youth provide wonderful fodder for not-quite-polite but always entertaining stories. I highly recommend the audiobook, read by the author. More info →
The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl

The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl

Author:
In her debut collection of essays, Issa Rae discusses how difficult it is to be an awkward introvert—especially when people are constantly expecting her to be "cool" just because she's black. She's funny, and her tone is lighthearted—yet also speaks frankly about the stereotypes she faces as a black woman. More info →
The Mothers

The Mothers

Author:
In this coming-of-age story, debut author Bennett shows us how grief predictably consumes a 17-year old girl growing up in a tight-knit African-American community in Southern California, and how two friends get pulled into the tangled aftermath. Bennett tells the story through the eyes of the community's mothers—the community pillars who show up with casseroles when somebody's sick—but in this story, the mothers' vicious gossip causes nothing but trouble. More info →
Piecing Me Together

Piecing Me Together

Author:
In this engaging coming-of-age story, we meet Jade, a 16-year-old African American girl struggling to navigate two worlds—that of her wealthy mostly-white high school, and the poorer neighborhood where she lives with her family. This is a nuanced but easy read about feeling out of place, coming into your own, and the perils of good intentions. (Psst—my tween girls LOVED this one.) More info →
The Hate U Give

The Hate U Give

Author:
This has been called "the Black Lives Matter novel," for good reason, and I've loved seeing it climb the bestseller list. It deserves it At age 16, Starr Carter has lost two close friends to gun violence: one in a drive-by; one shot by a cop. The latter is the focus of this novel: Starr is in the passenger seat when her friend Khalil is fatally shot by a police officer. She is the sole witness. Thomas seamlessly blends current events with lower-stakes themes common to teens everywhere, with great success. Fun fact: the title comes from a Tupac lyric. More info →
Dreamland Burning

Dreamland Burning

Author:
This well-crafted YA release smoothly bridges the divide between present-day Tulsa, Oklahoma and the little-known race riots that occurred there during two terrifying days in 1921. During renovations of 17-year-old Rowan Chase's historic family home, a skeleton is unearthed in the backyard. The police don't care who the bones belong to, but Rowan sure does. Unbeknownst to her, this skeleton links Rowan with another teen, Will Tillman, who lived in Tulsa nearly a hundred years ago. Latham flips back and forth in time, between two teens facing their own kinds of crossroads, to give her readers a page-turning history/mystery mash-up, as her young protagonists wrestle through issues of family, friendship, identity, and belonging. I read this in an afternoon—I couldn't put it down. More info →
When Dimple Met Rishi

When Dimple Met Rishi

Author:
This YA novel is bubble-gum feel-good Bollywood—tons of fun and surprisingly insightful. Dimple and Rishi are destined to marry—their parents arranged it years ago. And when both teens decide they want to attend the same residential summer program, their parents think there's no harm in letting them get to know each other. Rishi can't wait to meet—and woo—his future wife over the summer. But, unbeknownst to Rishi, Dimple's parents haven't told her anything. Can you say awkward? When they meet, sparks fly—and not the good kind. At least not at first. More info →
George

George

Author:
George is a fourth-grader who knows she is a girl, despite appearances to the contrary. Every year, the fourth graders perform Charlotte's Web on-stage for their parents, and George becomes convinced that if she can only play Charlotte, her mom will see her for who she really is—and so she comes up with a plan. A sweet, touching story that works on multiple levels. More info →
A Thousand Splendid Suns

A Thousand Splendid Suns

Author:
Hosseini's followup to his bestselling debut The Kite Runner was inspired by his first visit to his homeland, Afghanistan, in nearly thirty years. Moved by the stories of the women he met there, he wrote his second novel about Laila and Mariam, two women from radically different backgrounds, oppressed for different reasons, struggling to survive while their country is in upheaval. Amazingly, this story never veers into "depressing" territory, buoyed by the spirit and courage of the women at its core. More info →
Behold the Dreamers: A Novel

Behold the Dreamers: A Novel

Author:
In 2007 Manhattan, two families' lives become intertwined. Family one is that of immigrants from Cameroon: a dishwasher, his wife, and their young son. Their lives are changed when the husband scores a job as a chauffeur for a wealthy family of the 1%. But in the wake of the 2008 Great Recession, there's plenty of trouble to go around for both families. Mbue, an immigrant herself, is from the same Cameroonian town that her characters come from. More info →
El Deafo

El Deafo

Author:
In her graphic memoir, Cece Bell tells the story of her own childhood, when a case of meningitis at age 4 left her unable to hear. She was promptly fitted with a hearing aid, the Phonic Ear, which allows her to hear her teacher even when her teacher is in another part of the school. The other kids think it's pretty cool. It's like a superpower, even (just call her El Deafo). But as Cece puts it, "Superheroes might be awesome, but they are also different. And being different feels a lot like being alone." A wonderful, touching story (that many readers assume to be a novel). Don't miss the afterword from the author. More info →
Head Off & Split: Poems

Head Off & Split: Poems

Author:
Finney is a contemporary American poet and a founding member of the Affrilachian Poets, a group of black Appalachian poets. Politics are no stranger to her poetry, but in this, her latest collection, her activism moves to the forefront: Rosa Parks, Strom Thurmond, Condoleeza Rice, George Bush, and Hurricane Katrina all appear in this collection. More info →
On the Edge of Gone

On the Edge of Gone

Author:
This is a fantastic pick for the #ownvoices category, because author Corinne Duyvis created and continues to champion the #ownvoices movement and hashtag. The comet is scheduled to hit earth on January 29, 2035, and Denise and her family are racing to secure passage on ships that will transport them off the planet, but Denise is worried they won't take her drug-addicted mother, or her autistic self, because the two won't be seen as "useful." Duyvis, autistic herself, writes Denise as an exceptionally nuanced, fleshed-out character. More info →

diverse books

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36 comments

  1. Mandy says:

    Okie here. I got Dreamland Burning because of your recommendation. Could not put it down! So good, and honestly there is so much about the race riots that we were never taught. Truly eye opening. I also loved The Hate U Give and every thing by Khaled Hosseini.

    Being from such a small place, I am truly sheltered. These books break my heart but grow my humanity. I appreciate these lists! Thank you Anne!

  2. Rachel says:

    I’m surprised and a little sad that This Is How It Always Is didn’t make this list. My favorite book of the year, hands down, and it opened my eyes to the life of a trans girl AND the people who love her.

  3. Guest says:

    My daughter recently read Out of My Mind (she’s in 5th grade) and couldn’t say enough positive things about it though she was upset initially at how the main character was being treated. I read Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian a few weeks ago in one sitting. Which is rare for me because I’m a doer – ha! I won’t let our daughter read it at this point because of the language and some situations but eventually I do want her to read it. It’s well written and made me laugh, cry, cringe, and rejoice in his everyday victories.

  4. Susan V says:

    I was glad to see that Dreamland Burning “counts” for this part of the challenge! Also Piecing Me Together! The War that Saved Me Life is about the girl with the club foot – and y’know what? The sequel is coming out in October! It’s called The War I Finally Won and I’m first on the list when it comes into the library! 🙂

  5. Susan says:

    Glad to say I have already read several of these. I enjoyed Underground Railroad better than Homegoing. I probably would use The Animators for this category.

  6. Erinn says:

    I’m excited to check these out! I just finished The Hate U Give and it was amazing. Any recommendations for books by Latinx authors or about Latinx characters?

  7. Jennifer N. says:

    I’ve read The Hate U Give and On the Edge of Gone. I recommend THUG for everyone and On the Edge of Gone is a great read for science fiction/apocalypse nerds like myself. If you want to branch out from contemporary or literary fiction, it can be harder to find diverse or #ownvoices reads, so if this is you, I recommend Octavia Butler for additional sci-fi reads and NK Jemisin is great if you love fantasy.

    • Marcy says:

      I’m going to be lazy and not copy and paste my comments, but if you do a quick search on my name or for Mishell Baker or Daniel Jose Older, I commented on a couple more urban fantasy ownvoices authors.

  8. Jacqueline Jauregui McFeely says:

    Ants Among Elephants. Memoir of an Untouchable woman in India. Really the story of her mother and uncle. The whole concept of caste was essentially unknown to me. I knew there was such a thing as an untouchable, but had no idea what it meant. That, plus the staggering sexism is mind boggling. It is not well written, but still highly recommended. Also, The Warmth of Other Suns, a history of the great black migration north. A look at the Jim Crow south which you will not soon forget.

  9. Thanks so much for this list, Anne: very helpful. I have read Ng’s and Hosseini’s novels and Coates’book, but that’s it. My daughter, who is 19, has autism, so I asked her if she had heard of Duyvis’ book; in fact she owns it!

    I would also recommend Letters to a Young Muslim by Omar Saif Ghobash. I learned so much about Islam from it. The author counsels his young son on how to be a responsible Muslim in our racially and religiously fractured world.

  10. I just got through about 2/3 of the Kama Sutra, so I guess that counts 🙂 (Spoiler: it’s mostly a lifestyle manual, not what you’re thinking!). Last week, I picked up Wide Sargasso Sea from the freebie table at the library – it’s the story of Mr. Rochester’s mad Creole wife, and has been on my to-read list for ever. The author is Welsh-Creole and grew up in the Caribbean, so I’ll count that, too.

  11. Sherrey says:

    Excellent post, Anne. I’ve not read many of these but plan to get busy and do so. Thanks for opening my eyes and ears to what is considered #ownvoices and #diversebooksauthors.

  12. Angela says:

    What a great list! My kids love El Deafo both just because it is a great story and because my son now has hearing aids. Although it was read in our family for the first time a year prior to him getting his aids.

  13. Allison says:

    I would love to read El Deafo. As a middle school teacher, I’ve had my kids read Out of my Mind and The Hate U Give. Along the lines of When Dimple met Rishi, Boys Without Names, Homeless Bird and I Am Malala are great reads.

  14. Donna says:

    Great post, Anne! From this list I’ve read Everything I Never Told You, The Mothers, and The Hate U Guve. I absolutely loved them all!

    For this category, I’m reading The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida. It’s a book I’ve been meaning to read for years.

    I also plan on reading his new book, Fall Down 7 Times, Get Up 8 at some point this year.

    I would definitely recommend Fig by Sarah Elizabeth Schantz. It’s a YA novel about mental illness.

  15. Katie says:

    How have I only read two of these? The Mothers and The Sun is Also a Star. Both were beautiful and wonderful. I keep seeing Out of My Mind and The Hate U Give recommended…going on my TBR pile!

  16. Marcy says:

    Thank you for this list, this is great! I also recommend Borderline by Mishell Baker. The protagonist and author both have Borderline Personality Disorder, and the protagonist is also an amputee. Many of the other main characters have mental health issues as well. It’s urban fantasy, and so very good! But warning, there is some disturbing violence in it. It’s the beginning of a series, and the next one is out now, Phantom Pains. I’m looking forward to reading it soon!

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