I’ve seen a lot of media posts about great non-fiction books (mostly from POC authors) regarding racism; you can even just take a look at the recent New York Times bestsellers list:
This is unquestionably important, and I myself have been trying to learn to be a better ally. However, I typically focus on fiction here, so I’d like to highlight some ways I’m diversifying my reading list with novels featuring black authors and/or main characters, which use fiction to address racial topics either directly or in more indirect ways.
The Water Dancer
I was introduced to Coates through his nonfiction (essays for The Atlantic and memoirs), and his beautiful writing quickly made him a must-read author for me. I was so excited to pick up his first fiction novel, The Water Dancer, a historical fantasy story about a young Virginian slave who seeks to use his curious power to free himself and others. I have only just started it, but the beginning is very interesting, starting in medias res and then giving some more of Hiram’s backstory. I think Coates’ lyrical prose works well with the magical realism content.
Though it is in a historical context, this book addresses racial issues pretty directly. Hiram is in an interesting position in that his mother is enslaved but his father is the white plantation owner; he himself becomes a house slave and so has some insight into both worlds and therefore possibly feels the injustice of his position between them even more keenly. I am interested to see where this one goes.
I was introduced to Jason Reynolds when his middle grade novel Ghost made the Great American Read’s top 100 list of best-loved books. I’ve since heard him speak on TV several times and have really been impressed by him. Ghost is a really charming book that should be standard curriculum for middle schools.
It follows Castle Cranshaw, aka Ghost, a naturally talented runner whose main goals in life are to be a basketball player and avoid trouble. Well, Ghost doesn’t really manage either of those, but he does manage to join a competitive track team, which starts to bring some changes to his life. I loved reading Ghost’s perspective; the strength of his personality really pulled me in and kept me rooting for him. I’m looking forward to reading the stories of the other diverse members of the track team in this series, as well as Reynolds’ other books, including a young reader remix of Stamped in collaboration with Ibram X. Kendi.
I seldom turn down a Pride and Prejudice retelling, considering that Austen’s original is one of my favorite books of all time. I was pleasantly surprised with this one, which works well both as modern slice-of-life story in NYC and as a P&P remix. Pride follows Zuri Benitez, a Bushwick native who has a lot on her mind: her neighborhood is changing, her sisters are a little crazy, and she really, really wants to get into Howard. She does not have time for the cute rich boy that just moved in across the street.
I loved how I could really feel Zuri’s Haitian-Dominican culture coming through the pages. This story echoes P&P by focusing on class differences between the main characters. It kind of highlights the concept that there isn’t really just one black experience; different black people can experience their race and culture differently. And although P&P was the hook that got me interested in the story, I actually think it was stronger when it moved away from the P&P plot points.
Are you guys making any efforts to consciously diversify your reading lists? I’ve only mentioned black authors here, but I’m generally trying to read more POC authors and characters across all genres. It’s helping to broaden my horizons and I’m finding some really great stories, too.