Fiction of Color: Book Recommendations
If you’re anything like me, college or (simply) life has probably managed to put a pause on reading for fun, but I still sometimes want to soak in a good novel or two when I find the time. However, it took until about a year ago for me to come to the realization that I didn’t really read many books written by people of color growing up, and in my head every depiction of a character was white. Which led me to ask myself why that was, why I never questioned this and why I wasn’t seeing myself in any of the heroic or heartfelt characters I fell in love with every time I picked up a book? And then there are people, like some of my friends, who grew up choosing to visualize the characters in resemblance to themselves; knowing that the words on the page would describe otherwise. I feel that most discussions addressing the lack of proper representation for people of color in media typically focus solely on film or television, but forget to include where a lot of today’s new hit series or film franchises are coming from: books! We’re at a time where book adaptations are widely being optioned and made to fit the big or small screen, and it’s not difficult to see just how often a character will be cast as white unless specifically stated otherwise in the text. Even characters that are racially ambiguous default as white when their race or ethnicity is not made heavily explicit. We saw just how heated this issue can get back in 2015 when the casting of Noma Dumezweni as Hermione in the theatre adaptation of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child sent the internet into a frenzy about whether Hermione could even be black. But this also gave the floor to more conversations about the lack of diversity in young adult fantasy and fiction to begin with, especially when dystopian and fantasy narratives often appropriate the oppression of marginalized groups as plot points for a body of characters depicted almost always as white. I think that is something more authors and readers need to think about. And in young adult fiction and romance or LGBTQ+ genres, the call for more authors of color heard amongst the plethora of white authors is something we should continue to insist on. Like the growing number of creatives of color in TV and film, these authors are slowly starting to find themselves in more mainstream spaces and we at Geeks of Color are all for it. So, with that in mind, here are a few of suggestions to get you started with some good reading, followed by a list of more recommendations from yours truly and from other members of the GoC team:
Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older is part one of his The Shadowshaper Cyper series, and one of my personal favorites on this list. The protagonist, Sierra Santiago, is a young Afro-Boricua teen from Brooklyn who finds herself uncovering a family secret and “shadowshaping” powers she had no idea she possessed. The story is told in Sierra’s perspective and we see just how she navigates her newfound powers, but the book also touches on topics like body image issues, the anti-blackness she faces from her light-skinned Latinx relatives, and the gentrification her community faces. Book #2, Shadowhouse Fall, was also just released this past fall so you don’t have to wait to pick up the next installment.
The Fifth Season, The Obelisk Gate, and The Stone Sky aka the Broken Earth Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin is a fantasy series that takes place in the Stillness—a super-continent that is ravaged by natural disaster due to constant climate change. Jemisin has received praise for the incredible world-building in this series, from orogenens to guardians to geomests to stone eaters, and all the major and minor characters that make up the story. The books are told in several different characters perspectives as their trials and tribulations unfold, but all with stories that eventually connect. The series of course also contains non-fictional thematic elements like colonialism, racism, and sex & gender. The first book is currently being developed by TNT for a television adaptation, so keep a lookout for that!
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas is soon to be a major motion picture starring Amandla Stenberg. Thomas gives us a glimpse into the impact every single innocent black life taken by police brutality has on the people they are forced to leave behind. Inspired by the 2009 incident with Oscar Grant and the Black Lives Matter movement, the life of 16-year-old Starr Carter is forever changed when her best friend, Khalil, is unarmed and shot by a white police officer. Starr is challenged by the two worlds she belongs to but chooses to follow what she feels in her heart is right.
Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz will have you bawling if you’re touched by the immense power of friendship and love. Told in Aristotle ’s point of view, he finds himself falling for his new friend Dante Quintana, but having trouble deciphering these feelings, after all, how could he love a boy? A Printz Honor Book, winner of the Stonewall Book Award, the Pura Belpre Award, the Lambda Literary Award, and chosen as Best Book of the Year by A School Library Journal’s & Best Teen Book of the Year by A Kirkus Reviews, Aristotle and Dante will have your little queer heart aching and smiling. A sequel by the name of There Will Be Other Summers is currently in the works.
Note: If you all have a hard time keeping track of all the books you look forward to reading like I do, I suggest you make an account on https://www.goodreads.com/ if you haven’t already!
Here’s a list of other fictional work from authors of color: https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/67147260?shelf=geeks-of-color-reading-list
Share and leave a suggestion from some of your reading lists!