Happy Friday, friends! I wanted to think of a weekly list that would be fun and easy to pull together, while also being a great starting point for conversations and potentially add some great new recs to my readers’ TBRs! So this is the first installment of my “Friday Five” — this week will focus on books I’d choose for a book club. My friend, Maggie, recently started this challenge on her bookstagram, and I thought it was such a fun idea. The biggest struggle was narrowing it down to only five! But here are my top choices that I think would satisfy any group and why.
The Night Swim by Megan Goldin. I would choose this book for the thriller-obsessed group that not only wants an awesome whodunnit with a fearless lead, but also a deep dive into the portrayal of sexual assault victims in this Me Too era. Full review is here.
Here For It; Or, How to Save Your Soul in America by R. Eric Thomas. This nonfiction essay collection would be my choice for the book club that wants to drink wine and laugh out loud while also talking about politics, social ideals, love, race, and hope in modern America.
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. This short, critically acclaimed novel would be a great pick for a group looking for a historical fiction that centers on race, class, gender issues, and more in a cross continental setting. Full review here.
The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson. This debut sci-fi would be the perfect fit for any sci-fi or fantasy book club. It’s a fresh take on the popular multiverse concept, features a diverse cast, and explores topics including race, women’s rights, religion, and social/economic status in an unforgiving landscape.
Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano. This choice would be for a group who is ready to feel ALL the feels by exploring loss, life, and hope through the eyes of a child who experiences an unbelievable tragedy and must figure out how to not only survive but truly live.
What book would you choose for your book club? Would any of my picks catch your attention? Let me know in the comments below or reach out on Instagram!
Just like in January, I am so excited for the eight books I got to read this month. I tried to include books by Black writers to honor Black History Month, along with one eARC and even a Western — a totally new genre to me! I also picked up a childhood classic, which was an awesome reminder that children’s books can be as thought-provoking, if not more so, than many adult books.
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. What a great way to start off February, and as a buddy read with one of my favorite bookstagrammer friends. This story was incredibly told and so unique in its format, as it told the diverging stories of two half sisters unknown to each other on the Ghanaian Gold Coast. This short read still read like an epic and was full of incredible character development. You can check out my full review here.
Outlawed by Anna North. This one was probably the most fun read of February and so different than anything I had ever read. I’m not too familiar with the Western genre, but I typically think ultra-masculine and white, so it was awesome to see that totally flipped on its head in terms of female, racial, and LGBTQ+ representation. It wasn’t my favorite read of the month (a solid three stars), but it was still a fun traipse into the Wild West. You can read my full review here.
The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey. This is my first sci-fi of 2021, I believe, and I’m so glad I got a chance to check this one out early by receiving an eARC from NetGalley and TOR. The Echo Wife was my quickest read of the month — I read it in only two sittings! I loved the domestic thriller vibes, and it really forced me to think about the ethical dilemma regarding the technology of cloning. My full review can be viewed here.
The Mothers by Brit Bennett. After reading The Vanishing Half (Bennett’s second novel) last year, I knew that I’d need to add her debut to my TBR. This book is so different than The Vanishing Half, but told with the same level of tenderness. The three main characters — Aubrey, Nadia, and Luke — really hold this story together. While each is imperfect and certainly makes mistakes, this story was full of compassion. I’ll be posting my full review on my blog soon.
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. How did I go my entire childhood and adult life without reading this wonderful gem of a story?! Well, luckily my mother-in-law gifted me a beautiful pop-up version for my birthday. This is proof that children’s stories can be just as, if not more, full of meaning as any adult book out there. I highly recommend if you haven’t read it already!
Infinite Country by Patricia Engel. Similarly to Homegoing, this amazing, lyrical, evocative story reads like a true, full-length epic, but manages to pack all that meaning and character development into less than 200 pages. This Own Voices story tells the tale of a family separated by their mixed-immigration status and the lengths they go to reunite. My full review can be read here.
Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man by Emmanuel Acho. If I could recommend a single book to someone looking to learn more about race in America, this would be it. Acho’s book reads as if you’re sitting down with him having a cup of coffee, while addressing all of the many questions regarding race and the Black experience you’ve probably had. It felt so intimate and compassionate, which is so valuable when it comes to these tough conversations. Check out my review here.
The Removed by Brandon Hobson. In my goal to expand my reading experiences to include marginalized and underrepresented voices, I decided to pick up The Removed, a genre-bending novel about a Cherokee family reeling in the aftermath of Ray-Ray’s death by the hands of police. This was a touching and emotional story. While it wasn’t my favorite book of the month, I certainly enjoyed this new perspective and a different take on police brutality. I’ll be posting a review for this one soon.
What did you read this month, and which book was your favorite? Let me know in the comments below or reach out to me on Instagram!
Last year, I read Transcendent Kingdom, and it instantly became a favorite of 2020 due to its incredible character development and exploration of tough topics such as religion, racism, addiction, and mental health. So of course I went into Homegoing with HIGH expectations. Through powerful storytelling that discusses the collective power of memory and the meaning of home, I fell in love with this book even more than Transcendent Kingdom and think this one needs to be read by everyone ASAP! It was just that incredible, thought-provoking, heartbreaking, and so much more.
Quick synopsis: Two half sisters in 18th century Ghana — unknown to each other — find themselves on two very different paths: one, the wife of a wealthy Englishman who lives in the Cape Coast Castle, the other imprisoned in the castle’s basement and destined for slavery in the U.S. The book proceeds to tell the parallel storylines of these two half sisters through multiple generations, across continents.
This book’s format is unlike any other I have read before. The first two chapters tell the stories of half sisters Effia and Esi, while chapter three focuses on Effia’s son Quey, and chapter four discusses Esi’s daughter Ness, chapter five is Quey’s son James, chapter six is Ness’s son Kojo, etc., etc. While each chapter reads like a standalone story, it is clear that they both build off of the previous generation’s experience, while paralleling with that of their generational counterpart over the course of eight total generations. This may be a tad confusing to explain and is a bit complicated to read at first, but Gyasi provides readers with a family tree at the start of the book — I had this page dog-eared and flipped back pretty much every chapter to make sure I had my characters straight! It was a huge help. But this complicated, multigenerational story was so worth every word.
What was most incredible about each chapter was how invested I became in the individual character. Each chapter was perhaps 20 or 25 pages in length, yet by the end of each one, it felt like I had known these characters as deeply as if I had read a full-length novel about them. Each chapter often takes place over a number of years and dives deeply into not only the character’s experiences but also their emotions, livelihoods, and innermost thoughts. Each character was so well-developed in such a short amount of space, that I wished I could have had an entire book on each of them! And over the course of these eight generations, I got to the end of this novel feeling as if I had read an entire epic — yet over the course of only 300 pages. The character development and generational storylines felt as expansive as if had a bird’s eye view of this family tree, yet as intimate as if I knew each family member personally.
Most importantly, I loved how the book addresses the role of shared, generational memory. As each half sister’s family line parallels the other’s, it is clear the role of generational memory. Each character carries the weight of the love, trauma, pain, hope, livelihood, and much more of the generation(s) before them. It is a heavy weight, sometimes a burden, other times a blessing. But it is a powerful idea, nonetheless, and an important one.
Additionally, I loved the exploration of what home means. As each generation either builds upon the parents’ or grandparents’ choices or decides to forge a new path for him or herself, home took on many meanings. It made me ponder — is home a place? An idea? The people we call family? Or something greater or far more intangible?
As we begin this wonderful month of celebrating Black History Month, this book reminded me of the importance of reading own voices stories. I am so thankful for own voices writers like Gyasi who are willing to share stories like this one that can help us as readers continue to learn from and empathize with characters whose experiences are different then our own. Just another of the countless reasons I love fiction!
If you haven’t checked Homegoing out, I highly recommend it, as it is short, sure to get you thinking, and full of incredible character development and writing quality from Gyasi. If you have, I’d love to hear your thoughts! Comment below or reach out to me via Instagram.
Happy Black History Month! While I think we as readers have a real responsibility to read stories by diverse voices all year long, I do think cultural celebratory months such as this are a wonderful opportunity to take a step back, reflect, educate ourselves, amplify diverse voices, and most importantly celebrate! To start off this incredible month of recognizing and celebrating Black history, I wanted to share a stack of some of my favorite books by Black writers that I have read or have on my TBR.
For me, I hope that this month is one where I not only reflect on all I’ve learned and where I have room to grow when it comes to being a voice for racial inequality, but also to use my love of reading to joyfully celebrate and highlight Black voices, especially this month!
So here are some mini synopses of the books featured here that I have read, ranging from romance to fantasy, and memoir to coming of age.
The City We Became by N. K. Jemisin — What if cities really did have a soul? This fantasy explores the individuals who make up New York City in a creative, fantastical ode to NYC.
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett — This story follows twin sisters whose lives diverge when one embraces her Blackness and one chooses to pass as White.
The Beauty in Breaking by Michele Harper — Dr. Harper, an ER doc, discusses brokenness, in her own experiences, in the patients she encounters, and within a medical system that isn’t always fair.
Here For It; Or How to Save Your Soul in America: Essays by R. Eric Thomas — A hilarious, laugh-out-loud collection of essays that explores how to move forward and keep going in modern America. Hint: the answer involves hope.
The Boyfriend Project by Farrah Rochon — After Samiah and two other girls go viral when it is discovered they have all been cat-fished by the same guy, the three new best friends make a pact to put themselves first. But that promise is put to the test when Samiah meets sexy, thoughtful Daniel Collins at work.
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi — A stunning, expansive story that spans several generations beginning with two Ghanian half-sisters unknown to each other, one who marries into the comfortable life of a White man and the other who is sold into slavery.
The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans — This collection of short stories explores race and history in the U.S. You can check out my full review of the novella here.
Memorial by Bryan Washington — Benson and Mike’s relationship is at a crossroads when Mike’s mom finds herself staying with Benson while Mike flies to Japan to reconnect with his dying father. This story explores both their relationship with each other and their families.
This Close to Okay by Leesa Cross-Smith — Tallie comes across Emmett, who is about to jump off a bridge. After convincing him to come back with her, they discover the power of healing and truth over the course of one short weekend.
Black Buck by Mateo Askaripour — A laugh-out-loud funny satire about ambition, race, and identity in the American workforce. You can read my full review here.
The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi — This story opens with Vivek’s death. What follows is an exploration of the events that lead up to its crisis and the people involved.
Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi — Gyasi’s newest novel explores themes of loss, faith, science, and addiction through the voice of Gifty, a PhD student studying the role of addiction on the brain, whose depressed mother has come to stay with her. Both continue to reel from Gifty’s brother’s death, the result of addiction.
Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? by Beverly Tatum — Highly researched and informative, this nonfiction book discusses the role psychology plays when it comes to racial, ethnic, and cultural identities.
The Girl With the Louding Voice by Abi Daré — Told from the perspective of 14-year-old Adunni, this story explores Adunni’s journey to finding her voice on the path to her dream of gaining an education, escaping poverty, and one day helping other girls do so as well. You can check out my full review of the book here.
Books on my to be read list include The Mothers (Brit Bennett), Queenie (Candice Carty-Williams), and Stamped from the Beginning (Ibram X. Kendi).
What books by Black authors do you love? Which ones do you want to check out? Comment below or message me on Instagram!