Staff Picks: 15 Books We’re Raving about This Black History Month

February 4 2021
Share Staff Picks: 15 Books We’re Raving about This Black History Month

For Black History Month, we’re recommending impactful reads that celebrate Black lives and authentically explore the reverberations of history, from a biography of extraordinary figures of our past to a quiet memoir that intricately and poetically examines identity.

For more recommendations, check out Simon & Schuster’s Black History Month page!

Yellow Wife
by Sadeqa Johnson

In YELLOW WIFE, an exquisitely researched historical fiction read, an enslaved woman struggles to survive and protect those she loves. Born on a plantation in Charles City, Virginia, Pheby Delores Brown has lived a relatively sheltered life, due to her mother’s position as the estate’s medicine woman. Pheby is promised freedom on her eighteenth birthday; instead, she is unexpectedly thrust into slavery at Richmond’s infamous Devil’s Half Acre jail. There, Pheby must rely on her wits to survive the cruelty and contradictions of her Jailer.

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Yellow Wife
Sadeqa Johnson

“A fully immersive, intricately crafted story inspired by the pages of history. In Pheby, Sadeqa Johnson has created a woman whose struggle to survive and to protect the ones she loves will have readers turning the pages as fast as their fingers can fly. Simply enthralling.” —Lisa Wingate, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Before We Were Yours

Called "wholly engrossing" by New York Times bestselling author Kathleen Grissom, this harrowing story follows an enslaved woman forced to barter love and freedom while living in the most infamous slave jail in Virginia.

Born on a plantation in Charles City, Virginia, Pheby Delores Brown has lived a relatively sheltered life. Shielded by her mother’s position as the estate’s medicine woman and cherished by the Master’s sister, she is set apart from the others on the plantation, belonging to neither world.

She’d been promised freedom on her eighteenth birthday, but instead of the idyllic life she imagined with her true love, Essex Henry, Pheby is forced to leave the only home she has ever known. She unexpectedly finds herself thrust into the bowels of slavery at the infamous Devil’s Half Acre, a jail in Richmond, Virginia, where the enslaved are broken, tortured, and sold every day. There, Pheby is exposed not just to her Jailer’s cruelty but also to his contradictions. To survive, Pheby will have to outwit him, and she soon faces the ultimate sacrifice.

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The House of Eve
by Sadeqa Johnson

In Sadeqa Johnson's upcoming historical fiction release, it’s 1950s Philadelphia and Ruby Pearsall is on track to becoming the first in her family to attend college. But a taboo love affair threatens to pull her back down into the poverty and desperation. Eleanor Quarles arrives to Howard University with ambition and secrets, soon marrying into one of DC’s elite wealthy Black families that aren’t exactly welcoming. With Ruby and Eleanor's stories colliding in the most unexpected of ways, they will both make decisions that shape the trajectory of their lives.

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The House of Eve
Sadeqa Johnson

From the award-winning author of Yellow Wife, a daring and redemptive novel set in 1950s Philadelphia and Washington, DC, that explores what it means to be a woman and a mother, and how much one is willing to sacrifice to achieve her greatest goal.

1950s Philadelphia: fifteen-year-old Ruby Pearsall is on track to becoming the first in her family to attend college, in spite of having a mother more interested in keeping a man than raising a daughter. But a taboo love affair threatens to pull her back down into the poverty and desperation that has been passed on to her like a birthright.

Eleanor Quarles arrives in Washington, DC, with ambition and secrets. When she meets the handsome William Pride at Howard University, they fall madly in love. But William hails from one of DC’s elite wealthy Black families, and his par­ents don’t let just anyone into their fold. Eleanor hopes that a baby will make her finally feel at home in William’s family and grant her the life she’s been searching for. But having a baby—and fitting in—is easier said than done.

With their stories colliding in the most unexpected of ways, Ruby and Eleanor will both make decisions that shape the trajectory of their lives.

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Ida B. the Queen
by Michelle Duster

Written by Ida B. Wells’s great granddaughter, IDA B. THE QUEEN brilliantly showcases the life of the civil rights icon. From refusing to exit a train car meant for white passengers and participating in the woman’s suffrage movement to exposing the horrors of lynching through her journalism and co-founding the NAACP, Ida B. Wells’s achievements serve as an inspiration in the continuing fight to dismantle systemic racism.

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Ida B. the Queen
Michelle Duster

Journalist. Suffragist. Antilynching crusader. In 1862, Ida B. Wells was born enslaved in Holly Springs, Mississippi. In 2020, she won a Pulitzer Prize.

Ida B. Wells committed herself to the needs of those who did not have power. In the eyes of the FBI, this made her a “dangerous negro agitator.” In the annals of history, it makes her an icon.

Ida B. the Queen tells the awe-inspiring story of an pioneering woman who was often overlooked and underestimated—a woman who refused to exit a train car meant for white passengers; a woman brought to light the horrors of lynching in America; a woman who cofounded the NAACP. Written by Wells’s great-granddaughter Michelle Duster, this “warm remembrance of a civil rights icon” (Kirkus Reviews) is a unique visual celebration of Wells’s life, and of the Black experience.

A century after her death, Wells’s genius is being celebrated in popular culture by politicians, through song, public artwork, and landmarks. Like her contemporaries Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony, Wells left an indelible mark on history—one that can still be felt today. As America confronts the unfinished business of systemic racism, Ida B. the Queen pays tribute to a transformational leader and reminds us of the power we all hold to smash the status quo.

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Pomegranate
by Helen Elaine Lee

A novel of healing, redemption, and love, following a queer Black woman who works to stay clean, pull her life together, and heal after being released from prison. Ranita is regaining her freedom, but she’s leaving behind her lover Maxine, who has inspired her to imagine herself and the world differently. Now she must steer clear of the temptations that have pulled her down, while atoning for her missteps. With a fierce, smart, and sometimes funny voice, she takes us down a winding path to wellness.

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Pomegranate
Helen Elaine Lee

“A remarkable feat of literary conjuration.” —Jennifer Haigh, nationally bestselling author of Mercy Street

The acclaimed author of The Serpent’s Gift returns with this gripping and powerful novel of healing, redemption, and love, following a queer Black woman who works to stay clean, pull her life together, and heal after being released from prison.

Ranita Atwater is “getting short.”

She is almost done with her four-year sentence for opiate possession at Oak Hills Correctional Center. With three years of sobriety, she is determined to stay clean and regain custody of her two children.

My name is Ranita, and I’m an addict, she has said again and again at recovery meetings. But who else is she? Who might she choose to become? As she claims the story housed within her pomegranate-like heart, she is determined to confront the weight of the past and discover what might lie beyond mere survival.

Ranita is regaining her freedom, but she’s leaving behind her lover Maxine, who has inspired her to imagine herself and the world differently. Now she must steer clear of the temptations that have pulled her down, while atoning for her missteps and facing old wounds. With a fierce, smart, and sometimes funny voice, Ranita reveals how rocky and winding the path to wellness is for a Black woman, even as she draws on family, memory, faith, and love in order to choose life.

Perfect for fans of Jesmyn Ward and Yaa Gyasi, Pomegranate is a complex portrayal of queer Black womanhood and marginalization in America: a story of loss, healing, redemption, and strength. In lyrical and precise prose, Helen Elaine Lee paints a humane and unflinching portrait of the devastating effects of incarceration and addiction, and of one woman’s determination to tell her story.

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Four Hundred Souls
by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain

Ibram X. Kendi came to the forefront of the cultural landscape in the past year, with his book HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST topping bestseller lists for weeks. He returns, with author Keisha N. Blain, both as editors, in another extraordinary feat of publishing. FOUR HUNDRED SOULS, a “community” history of African Americans, begins in 1619 with the landing of the White Lion on the shores of what would become Virginia, and ends in the present day. Kendi and Blain have assembled ninety writers to detail this history, each taking on a five-year period, and collectively they detail a chronology through essays, short stories, vignettes, and polemics.

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Four Hundred Souls
Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain

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The Other Black Girl
by Zakiya Dalila Harris

Nella is an editorial assistant at the fictitious Wagner Books, and the only Black girl—that is, until the ambitious and lovable Hazel arrives. But Hazel’s not all that she appears, and when disturbing notes start showing up on Nella’s desk, she begins to question her colleague’s intent, as well as how well she really knows her white coworkers. This addictive thriller is saturated with social commentary, evoking themes about intersecting cultures in a corporate workplace and community.

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The Other Black Girl
Zakiya Dalila Harris

“Riveting, fearless, and vividly original. This is an exciting debut.” —Emily St. John Mandel, New York Times bestselling author of The Glass Hotel

Get Out meets The Devil Wears Prada in this electric debut about the tension that unfurls when two young Black women meet against the starkly white backdrop of New York City book publishing.

Twenty-six-year-old editorial assistant Nella Rogers is tired of being the only Black employee at Wagner Books. Fed up with the isolation and microaggressions, she’s thrilled when Harlem-born and bred Hazel starts working in the cubicle beside hers. They’ve only just started comparing natural hair care regimens, though, when a string of uncomfortable events elevates Hazel to Office Darling, and Nella is left in the dust.

Then the notes begin to appear on Nella’s desk: LEAVE WAGNER. NOW.

It’s hard to believe Hazel is behind these hostile messages. But as Nella starts to spiral and obsess over the sinister forces at play, she soon realizes that there’s a lot more at stake than just her career.

A whip-smart and dynamic thriller and sly social commentary that is perfect for anyone who has ever felt manipulated, threatened, or overlooked in the workplace, The Other Black Girl will keep you on the edge of your seat until the very last twist.

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The Final Revival of Opal & Nev
by Dawnie Walton

Told as an oral history, in interviews with a wide cast of characters, THE FINAL REVIVAL OF OPAL & NEV unravels the stunning rise and fall of fictional rock duo Opal & Nev. In 2016, Sunny, a famed music journalist, details Opal and Nev’s fateful first meeting at a Detroit bar, their streak of success in 1970s New York and their ultimate demise, as Opal’s protestations against racism and injustice lead to violence, and other disturbing allegations emerge. Drawing powerful comparisons between racial relations of the 1970s to present-day, this is one relevant, engaging read.

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The Final Revival of Opal & Nev
Dawnie Walton

A kaleidoscopic fictional oral history of the beloved rock ’n’ roll duo who shot to fame in 1970s New York, and the dark, fraught secret that lies at the peak of their stardom.

Opal is a fiercely independent young woman pushing against the grain in her style and attitude, Afro-punk before that term existed. Coming of age in Detroit, she can’t imagine settling for a 9-to-5 job—despite her unusual looks, Opal believes she can be a star. So when the aspiring British singer/songwriter Neville Charles discovers her at a bar’s amateur night, she takes him up on his offer to make rock music together for the fledgling Rivington Records.

In early seventies New York City, just as she’s finding her niche as part of a flamboyant and funky creative scene, a rival band signed to her label brandishes a Confederate flag at a promotional concert. Opal’s bold protest and the violence that ensues set off a chain of events that will not only change the lives of those she loves, but also be a deadly reminder that repercussions are always harsher for women, especially black women, who dare to speak their truth.

Decades later, as Opal considers a 2016 reunion with Nev, music journalist S. Sunny Shelton seizes the chance to curate an oral history about her idols. Sunny thought she knew most of the stories leading up to the cult duo’s most politicized chapter. But as her interviews dig deeper, a nasty new allegation from an unexpected source threatens to blow up everything.

Provocative and chilling, The Final Revival of Opal & Nev features a backup chorus of unforgettable voices, a heroine the likes of which we’ve not seen in storytelling, and a daring structure, and introduces a bold new voice in contemporary fiction.

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Sing, Unburied, Sing
by Jesmyn Ward

A National Book Award winner and New York Times bestseller, this majestic, stirring, and widely praised novel from Jesmyn Ward, the story of a family on a journey through rural Mississippi, is a “tour de force” (O, The Oprah Magazine) and a timeless work of fiction that is destined to become a classic.

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Sing, Unburied, Sing
Jesmyn Ward

WINNER of the NATIONAL BOOK AWARD and A NEW YORK TIMES TOP 10 BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR

A finalist for the Kirkus Prize, Andrew Carnegie Medal, Aspen Words Literary Prize, and a New York Times bestseller, this majestic, stirring, and widely praised novel from two-time National Book Award winner Jesmyn Ward, the story of a family on a journey through rural Mississippi, is a “tour de force” (O, The Oprah Magazine) and a timeless work of fiction that is destined to become a classic.

Jesmyn Ward’s historic second National Book Award–winner is “perfectly poised for the moment” (The New York Times), an intimate portrait of three generations of a family and an epic tale of hope and struggle. “Ward’s writing throbs with life, grief, and love… this book is the kind that makes you ache to return to it” (Buzzfeed).

Jojo is thirteen years old and trying to understand what it means to be a man. He doesn’t lack in fathers to study, chief among them his Black grandfather, Pop. But there are other men who complicate his understanding: his absent White father, Michael, who is being released from prison; his absent White grandfather, Big Joseph, who won’t acknowledge his existence; and the memories of his dead uncle, Given, who died as a teenager.

His mother, Leonie, is an inconsistent presence in his and his toddler sister’s lives. She is an imperfect mother in constant conflict with herself and those around her. She is Black and her children’s father is White. She wants to be a better mother but can’t put her children above her own needs, especially her drug use. Simultaneously tormented and comforted by visions of her dead brother, which only come to her when she’s high, Leonie is embattled in ways that reflect the brutal reality of her circumstances.

When the children’s father is released from prison, Leonie packs her kids and a friend into her car and drives north to the heart of Mississippi and Parchman Farm, the State Penitentiary. At Parchman, there is another thirteen-year-old boy, the ghost of a dead inmate who carries all of the ugly history of the South with him in his wandering. He too has something to teach Jojo about fathers and sons, about legacies, about violence, about love.

Rich with Ward’s distinctive, lyrical language, Sing, Unburied, Sing is a majestic and unforgettable family story and “an odyssey through rural Mississippi’s past and present” (The Philadelphia Inquirer).

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People Person
by Candice Carty-Williams

Dimple Pennington knows of her half siblings, but she doesn’t really know them. Five people who don’t have anything in common except for faint memories of their father. An aspiring lifestyle influencer with a wayward boyfriend, Dimple’s life has shrunk to the size of a phone screen. She’s never felt more alone in her life. That is, until a dramatic event brings her half siblings crashing back into her life. And when they’re all forced to reconnect with their absent father they never really knew, things get even more complicated.

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People Person
Candice Carty-Williams

The author of the “brazenly hilarious, tell-it-like-it-is first novel” (Oprah Daily) Queenie returns with another witty and insightful novel about the power of family—even when they seem like strangers.

If you could choose your family...you wouldn’t choose the Penningtons.

Dimple Pennington knows of her half siblings, but she doesn’t really know them. Five people who don’t have anything in common except for faint memories of being driven through Brixton in their dad’s gold jeep, and some pretty complex abandonment issues. Dimple has bigger things to think about.

She’s thirty, and her life isn’t really going anywhere. An aspiring lifestyle influencer with a terrible and wayward boyfriend, Dimple’s life has shrunk to the size of a phone screen. And despite a small but loyal following, she’s never felt more alone in her life. That is, until a dramatic event brings her half siblings Nikisha, Danny, Lizzie, and Prynce crashing back into her life. And when they’re all forced to reconnect with Cyril Pennington, the absent father they never really knew, things get even more complicated.

From an author with “a flair for storytelling that appears effortlessly authentic” (Time), People Person is a vibrant and charming celebration of discovering family as an adult.

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These Ghosts Are Family
by Maisy Card

Spanning multiple generations of one Jamaican family, Maisy Card’s debut novel starts its sweeping narrative at the moment that Abel Paisley decides to steal the identity of another man, leaving behind his family, Jamaican home, and his dark traumatic past. Years later, just when he’s about to reveal his true identity, the novel launches into branching family story lines, from colonial Jamaica to present-day Harlem. The plights of those who came before him, and those who come after, reveal hard truths and observations of how people wrestle with their own secrets, sense of belonging, and self-doubt, especially under the painful legacy of slavery.

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These Ghosts Are Family
Maisy Card

Longlisted for the 2020 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize

A “rich, ambitious debut novel” (The New York Times Book Review) that reveals the ways in which a Jamaican family forms and fractures over generations, in the tradition of Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi.

*An Entertainment Weekly, Millions, and LitHub Most Anticipated Book of 2020 Pick and Buzz Magazine’s Top New Book of the New Decade*

Stanford Solomon’s shocking, thirty-year-old secret is about to change the lives of everyone around him. Stanford has done something no one could ever imagine. He is a man who faked his own death and stole the identity of his best friend. Stanford Solomon is actually Abel Paisley.

And now, nearing the end of his life, Stanford is about to meet his firstborn daughter, Irene Paisley, a home health aide who has unwittingly shown up for her first day of work to tend to the father she thought was dead.

These Ghosts Are Family revolves around the consequences of Abel’s decision and tells the story of the Paisley family from colonial Jamaica to present-day Harlem. There is Vera, whose widowhood forced her into the role of a single mother. There are two daughters and a granddaughter who have never known they are related. And there are others, like the houseboy who loved Vera, whose lives might have taken different courses if not for Abel Paisley’s actions.

This “rich and layered story” (Kirkus Reviews) explores the ways each character wrestles with their ghosts and struggles to forge independent identities outside of the family and their trauma. The result is a “beguiling…vividly drawn, and compelling” (BookPage, starred review) portrait of a family and individuals caught in the sweep of history, slavery, migration, and the more personal dramas of infidelity, lost love, and regret.

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The Abduction of Smith and Smith
by Rashad Harrison

Jupiter Smith, a former slave and Union soldier returns to the plantation he worked on before the war in search of his lover, but instead finds that his old master has gone mad. Out of pity for the colonel, Jupiter kills him and heads west to seek a new life. When the colonel’s son, Confederate soldier Archer Smith, arrives home and finds his father murdered, he vows revenge—following his former slave to the far reaches of the continent. That is until, in a twist, both end up aboard a ship headed by a merciless captain. The two Smiths will have to work together to stay alive and return home, or will they become victims of the sea.

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The Abduction of Smith and Smith
Rashad Harrison

In this “splendid tale of high-seas adventure” (Marcus J. Guillory, author of Red Now and Laters), two enemies become the unlikeliest of allies as they fight to save their own lives aboard a hell ship headed into the dangerous unknown.

The Civil War is over, though for Jupiter Smith, a former slave and Union soldier, many battles still lie ahead. He returns to the plantation he worked on before the war in search of his woman, but instead finds his old master gone mad, haunting the ruins like a ghost. Out of pity for the now mentally ill colonel, Jupiter strangles him and heads west to seek a new life in San Francisco.

When the colonel’s son, Confederate soldier Archer Smith, arrives home and finds his father murdered, he vows revenge upon Jupiter for all he has lost—following his former slave to the far reaches of the continent.

But things take a new turn as Archer’s desire for retribution is overwhelmed by his dependency on opium, and he ends up the target of a gang of “crimpers”…the very gang that Jupiter works for in San Francisco. When Jupiter fails in an attempt to save Archer, they both end up shanghaied aboard a ship headed on a dangerous mission and ruled by a merciless captain. Will the two Smiths work together to stay alive and return home, or will they become victims of the sea, the crew, and their mad captain?

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How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America
by Kiese Laymon

Revised with six new essays, HOW TO SLOWLY KILL YOURSELF AND OTHERS IN AMERICA is a timely essay collection from Kiese Laymon, author of the award-winning collection HEAVY. His essays are a mix of racial politics, history, identity, and cultural analysis, which range from discussing the COVID-19 pandemic and its effect on the Black population to his move back to his home state of Mississippi, and the rap group N.W.A.

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How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America
Kiese Laymon

A revised collection with thirteen essays, including six new to this edition and seven from the original edition, by the “star in the American literary firmament, with a voice that is courageous, honest, loving, and singularly beautiful” (NPR).

Brilliant and uncompromising, piercing and funny, How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America is essential reading. This new edition of award-winning author Kiese Laymon’s first work of nonfiction looks inward, drawing heavily on the author and his family’s experiences, while simultaneously examining the world—Mississippi, the South, the United States—that has shaped their lives. With subjects that range from an interview with his mother to reflections on Ole Miss football, Outkast, and the labor of Black women, these thirteen insightful essays highlight Laymon’s profound love of language and his artful rendering of experience, trumpeting why he is “simply one of the most talented writers in America” (New York magazine).

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Citizens Creek
by Lalita Tademy

Written in two parts portraying parallel lives, the novel takes readers deep into a little known chapter of American history when Black slaves became members of the Creek Indians. Born into slavery in Alabama in 1810 and sold to a Creek Indian chief before his tenth birthday, Cow Tom possessed an extraordinary gift: the ability to master languages. A key translator for his Creek master, he’s hired out to US military generals, earning him money and a pathway to freedom. His legacy lives on in his granddaughter Rose, who rises to leadership of the family as they struggle against political and societal hostility.

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Citizens Creek
Lalita Tademy

The New York Times bestselling author of the Oprah Book Club Pick Cane River brings us the evocative story of a once-enslaved man who buys his freedom after serving as a translator during the American Indian Wars, and his granddaughter, who sustains his legacy of courage.

Cow Tom, born into slavery in Alabama in 1810 and sold to a Creek Indian chief before his tenth birthday, possessed an extraordinary gift: the ability to master languages. As the new country developed westward, and Indians, settlers, and blacks came into constant contact, Cow Tom became a key translator for his Creek master and was hired out to US military generals. His talent earned him money—but would it also grant him freedom? And what would become of him and his family in the aftermath of the Civil War and the Indian Removal westward?

Cow Tom’s legacy lives on—especially in the courageous spirit of his granddaughter Rose. She rises to leadership of the family as they struggle against political and societal hostility intent on keeping blacks and Indians oppressed. But through it all, her grandfather’s indelible mark of courage inspires her—in mind, in spirit, and in a family legacy that never dies.

Written in two parts portraying the parallel lives of Cow Tom and Rose, Citizens Creek is a beautifully rendered novel that takes the reader deep into a little known chapter of American history. It is a breathtaking tale of identity, community, family—and above all, the power of an individual’s will to make a difference.

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Stash
by Laura Cathcart Robbins

After years of hiding her addiction from everyone, Laura Cathcart Robbins settles into a complicated purgatory. Facing divorce, the possibility of a grueling custody battle, and internalized racism, Robbins wonders just how much more she can take. Now, with courage and candid openness in her memoir, she reveals how she managed to begin the long journey towards sobriety. Robbins harrowingly illustrates taking down the wall she built around herself brick by brick and what it means to be Black in a startlingly white world. 

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Stash
Laura Cathcart Robbins

“An irresistibly delicious story.” —Holly Whitaker, New York Times bestselling author

A propulsive and vivid memoir—in the vein of Drinking: A Love Story and Somebody’s Daughter—about the journey to sobriety and self-love amidst addiction, privilege, racism, and self-sabotage from the host of the popular podcast The Only One in the Room.

After years of hiding her addiction from everyone—from stockpiling pills in her Louboutins to elaborately scheduling withdrawals between PTA meetings, baby showers, and tennis matches—Laura Cathcart Robbins settles into a complicated purgatory.

She learns the hard way that privilege doesn’t protect you from pain. Facing divorce, the possibility of a grueling custody battle, and internalized racism, Robbins wonders just how much more she can take.

Now, with courage and candid openness, she reveals how she managed to begin the long journey towards sobriety and unexpectedly finding new love. Robbins harrowingly illustrates taking down the wall she built around herself brick by brick and what it means to be Black in a startingly white world. With its raw, finely crafted, and engaging prose, Stash is the story of just how badly the facade she created had to shatter before Laura could reconnect to her true self.

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Staff Picks: 15 Books We’re Raving about This Black History Month

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Surviving the White Gaze
by Rebecca Carroll

Rebecca Carroll is one of the country’s preeminent cultural critics, working with WNYC and hosting her own popular podcast Come Through. After writing several books about race, SURVIVING THE WHITE GAZE, her memoir, is a personal account of forging her identity as a Black woman in America. Adopted at birth by artistic parents, Carroll grew up the only Black person in her rural New Hampshire town. Her life changed when she met her white birth mother, who constantly undermined her sense of Blackness. SURVIVING THE WHITE GAZE is a powerful examination of Carroll’s desire for her mother’s acceptance, her loyalty to her adoptive parents, and the search for her racial identity.

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Surviving the White Gaze
Rebecca Carroll

A stirring and powerful memoir from black cultural critic Rebecca Carroll recounting her painful struggle to overcome a completely white childhood in order to forge her identity as a black woman in America.

Rebecca Carroll grew up the only black person in her rural New Hampshire town. Adopted at birth by artistic parents who believed in peace, love, and zero population growth, her early childhood was loving and idyllic—and yet she couldn’t articulate the deep sense of isolation she increasingly felt as she grew older.

Everything changed when she met her birth mother, a young white woman, who consistently undermined Carroll’s sense of her blackness and self-esteem. Carroll’s childhood became harrowing, and her memoir explores the tension between the aching desire for her birth mother’s acceptance, the loyalty she feels toward her adoptive parents, and the search for her racial identity. As an adult, Carroll forged a path from city to city, struggling along the way with difficult boyfriends, depression, eating disorders, and excessive drinking. Ultimately, through the support of her chosen black family, she was able to heal.

Intimate and illuminating, Surviving the White Gaze is a timely examination of racism and racial identity in America today, and an extraordinarily moving portrait of resilience.

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Staff Picks: 15 Books We’re Raving about This Black History Month

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