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?
"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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 seventeen-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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →