I will admit that, as a reader, I tend not to care much about an author unless I find that I really enjoy their work. It’s the book covers and the synopses that I judge a book by to determine if I want to read it. Well, that, and the title. Yet I don’t need to look at my bookshelf to know that it is filled almost exclusively of women–which is not a surprise, as I understand women authors flood the YA market–and to know, also, that my bookshelf is also overrun with white authors.
It’s important to be a good ally to minority groups, even when the protests grow smaller or fade away entirely. It’s important to read and learn, especially if you come from a place of privilege like I do. Rather than write off or push back against the obvious discrepancies when it comes to minority vs majority authors, it’s also important to do what you can, when you can, to promote those whose voices are often suppressed and forgotten about because the publishers think it is harder to find a market for them.
I have always upheld to the idea that stories provide people some of the best avenues to cultivate understanding and empathy. On the other hand, I feel it is important to admit why I haven’t taken this initiative before. These sorts of topics are not easy, and they’re not comfortable. When it came to Black authors, I always hesitated to pick them up because the synopses of the ones that caught my eye often suggested that the book was going to be about racism. And why shouldn’t it? It does need to get talked about. But, looking back, I realize that I was basically doing that thing where you say prioritizing representation makes a thing too political. (E.g., the Ant-Man and the Wasp controversy spinning off from the fact that the Wasp’s actress was put on the forefront of the movie cover, or when so many people complained about Jodie Whittaker being cast as the Doctor because they said having a female Doctor would make the show feminist.)
My point is, I wasn’t sure I wanted to face whatever truths were going to be on that page. I cited the reasons as being, well, they aren’t fantasy novels, so I probably won’t like them anyway. But I was denying myself important learning experiences. That is why I have picked out several books by Black authors, and why I’m also reading outside my preferred genre. My current TBR list will be put on hold while I read them, with the possible exception of A Memory of Light (WoT #14).
Alright, now for the list! Below are a few books that I’ve already purchased from my local bookstore, Gramercy.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.
Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.
But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.
Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, this is a powerful and gripping YA novel about one girl’s struggle for justice.
I’ve seen so many things about this book since it first came out. Good things. I’m not surprised it has a 4.51 rating on Goodreads. But as a book that was clearly political, and obviously the opposite of fantasy, I never picked it up.
What’s so upsetting is that the plot of the story reads like it was inspired by the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO back in mid-2014. (The book was published in 2017.) Police brutality, I’m certain, didn’t slow even after those protests, but it reminds me of Ferguson, and makes me even more angry that we’re seeing the same thing again with George Floyd. It’s just absolutely infuriating.
I love high-stakes books, otherwise I probably wouldn’t love fantasy as much as I do, so I have really high hopes for The Hate U Give.
I’m Not Dying With You Tonight by Gilly Segal and Kimberly Jones
Lena has her killer style, her awesome boyfriend, and a plan. She knows she’s going to make it big. Campbell, on the other hand, is just trying to keep her head down and get through the year at her new school.
When both girls attend the Friday-night football game, what neither expects is for everything to descend into sudden mass chaos. Chaos born from violence and hate. Chaos that unexpectedly throws them together.
They aren’t friends. They hardly understand the other’s point of view. But none of that matters when the city is up in flames, and they only have each other to rely on if they’re going to survive the night.
I hadn’t heard of this book before I watched the clip of Kimberly Jones in a John Oliver video, and on Twitter. Comments mention that she was an author. If her penmanship is even half as compelling and powerful as her speech in that clip, I know this book is going to crush my heart and make me happy that it did. The synopsis alone tells me it’s going to be an intense read.
A Song of Wraiths and Ruin by Roseanne A. Brown
The first in an fantasy duology inspired by West African folklore in which a grieving crown princess and a desperate refugee find themselves on a collision course to murder each other despite their growing attraction.
For Malik, the Solstasia festival is a chance to escape his war-stricken home and start a new life with his sisters in the prosperous desert city of Ziran. But when a vengeful spirit abducts Malik’s younger sister, Nadia, as payment into the city, Malik strikes a fatal deal—kill Karina, Crown Princess of Ziran, for Nadia’s freedom.
But Karina has deadly aspirations of her own. Her mother, the Sultana, has been assassinated; her court threatens mutiny; and Solstasia looms like a knife over her neck. Grief-stricken, Karina decides to resurrect her mother through ancient magic . . . requiring the beating heart of a king. And she knows just how to obtain one: by offering her hand in marriage to the victor of the Solstasia competition.
When Malik rigs his way into the contest, they are set on a course to destroy each other. But as attraction flares between them and ancient evils stir, will they be able to see their tasks to the death?
Here we are, back to fantasy. I’ve even heard of this one, the title floating around on the Internet. And, I know, I know, the name. The blank of blank and blank. The synopsis reads very much like a YA romantic fantasy novel, similar to that of Sarah J. Maas, though I’m hoping the romantic components are better executed here.
What’s exciting is that it’s based off of West African folklore. It’ll be refreshing to have a culture and mythos that is not the traditional Euro-based culture and mythos. I always want to see more of that, a divergence from the norm, exploring the true extent that fantasy can reach by drawing from more than just one source.
A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow
Tavia is already at odds with the world, forced to keep her siren identity under wraps in a society that wants to keep her kind under lock and key. Never mind she’s also stuck in Portland, Oregon, a city with only a handful of black folk and even fewer of those with magical powers. At least she has her bestie Effie by her side as they tackle high school drama, family secrets, and unrequited crushes.
But everything changes in the aftermath of a siren murder trial that rocks the nation; the girls’ favorite Internet fashion icon reveals she’s also a siren, and the news rips through their community. Tensions escalate when Effie starts being haunted by demons from her past, and Tavia accidentally lets out her magical voice during a police stop. No secret seems safe anymore—soon Portland won’t be either.
So of course this is not epic fantasy. I’m guessing it’s going to read more like urban fantasy. But, hey, that’s okay! Maggie Stiefvater and even some of Cassandra Clare’s works have ensnared me. A book doesn’t have to have dragons to be great (though dragons often make books better just on principal ^.^). I’m really looking forward to exploring the magic system here. Are there just sirens? What can a siren do with their voice? And I’m intrigued that they aren’t just hiding in small towns; no, there’s a famous person who is a siren.
Also, might I mention, that cover. I love it. Absolutely stunning.
So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
In this breakout book, Ijeoma Oluo explores the complex reality of today’s racial landscape–from white privilege and police brutality to systemic discrimination and the Black Lives Matter movement–offering straightforward clarity that readers need to contribute to the dismantling of the racial divide
In So You Want to Talk About Race, Editor at Large of The Establishment Ijeoma Oluo offers a contemporary, accessible take on the racial landscape in America, addressing head-on such issues as privilege, police brutality, intersectionality, micro-aggressions, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the “N” word. Perfectly positioned to bridge the gap between people of color and white Americans struggling with race complexities, Oluo answers the questions readers don’t dare ask, and explains the concepts that continue to elude everyday Americans.
Oluo is an exceptional writer with a rare ability to be straightforward, funny, and effective in her coverage of sensitive, hyper-charged issues in America. Her messages are passionate but finely tuned, and crystalize ideas that would otherwise be vague by empowering them with aha-moment clarity. Her writing brings to mind voices like Ta-Nehisi Coates and Roxane Gay, and Jessica Valenti in Full Frontal Feminism, and a young Gloria Naylor, particularly in Naylor’s seminal essay “The Meaning of a Word.”
This list would not be complete without this novel. I’ve heard that the first few chapters alone of this book are incredibly informative, and I’ve contemplated reading it in the past. I’m glad the synopsis says there is humor in it. I could read it without the humor, but knowing that these harsh realities are going to be sweetened even a little by some light-heartedness makes me feel a little less hesitant to pick the book up.
Although it is the biggest divergence from the books I usually read, it’s just as important–probably even more so–than the other four books on this list. Sometimes it’s not enough to skirt the realities of life behind fictionalized narratives. You have to actually take a look at how the real world is, because this is the one you actually have to live in and interact with. I’m eager to read it, and to learn.