I’ve had some challenges the last two or so weeks, including two typhoons in one week. I started writing about my pain, but it’s still too raw, too fresh right now. Instead, I thought I’d talk about how I’m trying to be more conscientious about book diversity and I’m recommending some books I’ve read this year to help you diversify your shelves.
It’s no secret that the book publishing world is dominated by caucasians. In 2019, 76% of people who work in publishing self-report as white. That doesn’t even cover authors and, maybe just as important, main characters and settings in books. (For more reading on this issue, check out this Forbes article, this one by NPR, and this one by the Atlantic.)
Along with working to be anti-racist, I’ve also tried conscientiously diversify my reading. And by diversity, I mean reading authors of different ethnic and racial backgrounds, other cultures and languages, as well as characters and settings that reflect that diversity. I generally refer to these authors as persons of color or POC. (Please note that is a very general term for ease of discussion and is not meant to marginalize or further disenfranchise any ethnic or racial group.)
I admit that my reading still skews toward white authors. Out of the 153 books I’ve read so far this year, only 14 were written by POCs. (I will note that a few of the white authors did write POC main characters, for example, Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone).
I do better on reading female authors versus male authors: 62 female authors to 36 male authors. (I realize this doesn’t add up to 153, but I read a lot of series.) I am also trying to read more LGBTQ+ stories or authors, but I don’t always know whether an author is LGBTQ+ unless they mention it in a bio or interview.
But the point is to be more conscientious and to be aware and seek out POC and other minority authors and stories.
In my selections below, I tried to include a variety of both fiction and non-fiction. This is to hopefully provide everyone reading this post at least one book that appeals to you. So now, without further ado, and in no particular order, 9 books by POC authors that I read in 2020:
1. Something In Between by Melissa de la Cruz
Something In Between is a young adult novel about Jasmine de los Santos, a Filipino immigrant, who has always done what’s expected of her and who thought her family lived in the U.S. as legal immigrants. When she wins a national scholar award, a full college scholarship, she learns her parents’ visas expired years ago and now the family is illegal. With the threat of deportation, Jasmine realizes her dreams of college and her scholarship may be gone.
I thought the author, who is Filipino herself, did an excellent job capturing the voice of a high-achieving, immigrant high school student. Although the storyline, particularly the ending, was a bit Disney-esque, it didn’t take away from the theme and message of what it means to be an immigrant without papers in the U.S.
2. Becoming by Michelle Obama
In her memoir Becoming, Michelle Obama chronicles the experiences that have shaped her—her childhood on the South Side of Chicago, her experience as one of a few minorities, and even fewer minority women, at an Ivy League school, her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, her time spent on the campaign trail and then as FLOTUS.
I have long admired Michelle Obama. While her husband may have propelled her into the spotlight, she held her own. With her intelligence and wit, her memoir is honest, humble, and inspiring. She tells her story as she lived it with open honesty and deep reflection. This is a book that everyone should read.
3. So You Want To Talk About Race by Ljeoma Olou
In So You Want To Talk About Race, Ijeoma Oluo offers an accessible take on America’s racial landscape, addressing such issues as privilege, police brutality, intersectionality, micro-agressions, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the “n” word. With a straightforward and passionate manner, Olou presents a complex and emotionally-charged topic with through-provoking clarity.
This is a book I will definitely go back to as there’s so much to unpack. She breaks down this complicated issue into manageable chunks and provides lots of tips and questions for white people to use to begin to challenge our preconceived ideas and preprogrammed behaviors. Even for people who believe they are anti-racist, this is a must-read.
4. Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi
Part of a collaboration between Rick Riordan (author of the Percy Jackson novels) and Disney-Hyperion Publishing to publish middle grade adventure stories from underrepresented cultures and backgrounds, Aru Shah is about Aru Shah, a twelve-year old of Indian descent, who has a tendency to stretch the truth in order to fit in with her private-school classmates.
Going into this book, I knew very little about Hindu culture or mythology, and so I enjoyed learning something about it. Chokshi has successfully plumbed a lesser-represented mythology and written an immersive world that seizes the imagination. This uplifting story is chock-full of witty banter and pop-culture references that everyone will enjoy.
5. Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
In 2014, Reni Eddo-Lodge posted an impassioned argument on her blog entitled Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race on her frustration with how discussions on race and racism in the UK were being shut down. The post went viral, and so she decided to dive deeper into the issue and further explore the themes she touched on in her blog post.
Upon reading the title, some may assume this book is an attack on white people. But that’s not at all correct. This book provides an eloquent discussion on race and institutional racism in the UK. While the book focuses on the UK, the broad discussions about racism, structural racism, feminism, and class are applicable anywhere.
6. Moloka’i by Alan Brennery
A historical fiction, Moloka’i, set in Hawai’i in the late 19th and early 20th century, centers on Rachel Kalama. Rachel, a spirited seven-year-old Hawaiian girl, dreams of traveling the world. But one day, a rose-colored mark appears on her skin and her life takes a drastic turn.
The rose-colored mark is a symptom of what we now call Hansen’s disease (leprosy). But during Rachel’s time, lepers were treated with fear and revulsion, separated from their families and forced to reside in leper colonies. This story, while heartbreaking, provides an insight into how Hawaiians (and others) with leprosy were treated at a time when Hawaii was still a colony of America and Hawaiians did not have the same rights as whites.
And okay, this one is written by a white man. But he writes about a group that is underrepresented in literature. And this time period in particular, where Hawaiians were forced to be American colonists as well as those with leprosy being forceably separated from their families, is another part of American history that Americans simply don’t learn about.
7. Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
Trevor Noah, host of The Daily Show, began his career as comedian in South Africa. Born in Johannesburg to a white Swiss father and black Xhosa mother, his birth was living proof of his parents’ indiscretion as their union was punishable at that time by five years in prison. Born A Crime follows Noah’s path growing up during the twilight of apartheid South Africa.
This book isn’t a traditional biography, but more stories and anecdotes from his childhood and young adulthood. With a non-linear format, each chapter is more of a story and therefore sometimes jumps in time. But that doesn’t detract from the impact of his life and the challenges he faced, not only as a black child in South Africa, but as one who’s birth was technically illegal. He provides insights into South African history and culture.
8. A Princess in Theory by Alyssa Cole
In A Princess in Theory, between grad school and multiple jobs, Naledi “Ledi” Smith doesn’t have time for fairy tales or patience for the constant e-mails claiming she’s betrothed to an African prince. As a former foster kid, she’s learned that the only things she can depend on are herself and the scientific method, and a silly e-mail won’t convince her otherwise.
I liked that Ledi not only was a woman of color (terribly underrepresented as main characters) but was also a woman of science. We need more smart, driven female leads. And while I did find this more of a light, fluffy read with a happy ending, a bit like a steamier Hallmark movie—predictable but fun, sometimes we just need some happy romance in our lives.
9. I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez
In I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, Julia is not the perfect Mexican daughter. That was her sister Olga’s role. But now Olga is dead and Julia is left behind to reassemble the shattered pieces of her family, but no one seems to acknowledge that Julia is broken, too. And then Julia discovers that Olga might not have been as perfect as everyone thought.
Another young adult book, this story features Julia, a first generation American-Mexican. This is a story about family, about culture, about expectations and dreams. And although I did roll my eyes at times at the angsty teen, I found this story on finding your identity when torn between two cultures to be a good read. I’d particularly recommend it for teens.
TBR POC Books
I also have a number of books on my to-be-read (TBR) shelf either written by a POC or features a POC main character. These books include:
- There There by Tommy Orange
- Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
- Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
- Hawai’i’s Story by Hawai’i’s Queen Lili’uokalani
- How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
- Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
- Akata Witch by Nnedi Okoafor
- The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
- Dread Nation by Justina Ireland
- My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor
- The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo
See the full list on my Bookshop.org* page.
How are you diversifying your reading? What POC books do you recommend?