During this gift-giving season, we wanted to shine light on powerful stories that our readers are sure to see themselves in. Our team takes special pride in championing authors and narratives that touch hearts, remind people that they are never alone, and allow for readers to resonate with one another and with diverse writers. We may need these narratives more than ever during this holiday season, and, so, we are very excited to share this list—books filled with laughter, heartbreak, and profound moments of joy—with you. Also, coming soon, on Dec. 7, we have a very special Facebook Live, featuring a conversation with author Denene Millner about several of these titles, as well as some of the best children’s books for the holidays!
This is a powerful, beautifully written memoir that deals with themes of identity, maternal abandonment, and depression. Nadia Owusu was raised by her Ghanaian father and her Tanzanian stepmother after her Armenian American mother abandoned Nadia and her sister when Nadia was only two years old. Her beloved father worked for the UN and the family lived all over Europe and Africa, leaving Nadia feeling adrift—the loving relationship she had with her father was the only thing that kept her anchored. He dies when she is thirteen and Nadia is left in the care of her stepmother. Nadia finally finds a home in New York, but navigating all the uncertainty in her life proves difficult to manage.
In the tradition of The Glass Castle, this “gorgeous” (The New York Times, Editors’ Choice) and deeply felt memoir from Whiting Award winner Nadia Owusu tells the “incredible story” (Malala Yousafzai) about the push and pull of belonging, the seismic emotional toll of family secrets, and the heart it takes to pull through.
“In Aftershocks, Nadia Owusu tells the incredible story of her young life. How does a girl—abandoned by her mother at age two and orphaned at thirteen when her beloved father dies—find her place in the world? This memoir is the story of Nadia creating her own solid ground across countries and continents. I know the struggle of rebuilding your life in an unfamiliar place. While some of you might be familiar with that and some might not, I hope you’ll take as much inspiration and hope from her story as I did.” —MALALA YOUSAFZAI
ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF 2021 SELECTED BY VULTURE AND TIME MAGAZINE!
Young Nadia Owusu followed her father, a United Nations official, from Europe to Africa and back again. Just as she and her family settled into a new home, her father would tell them it was time to say their goodbyes. The instability wrought by Nadia’s nomadic childhood was deepened by family secrets and fractures, both lived and inherited. Her Armenian American mother, who abandoned Nadia when she was two, would periodically reappear, only to vanish again. Her father, a Ghanaian, the great hero of her life, died when she was thirteen. After his passing, Nadia’s stepmother weighed her down with a revelation that was either a bombshell secret or a lie, rife with shaming innuendo.
With these and other ruptures, Nadia arrived in New York as a young woman feeling stateless, motherless, and uncertain about her future, yet eager to find her own identity. What followed, however, were periods of depression in which she struggled to hold herself and her siblings together.
“A magnificent, complex assessment of selfhood and why it matters” (Elle), Aftershocks depicts the way she hauled herself from the wreckage of her life’s perpetual quaking, the means by which she has finally come to understand that the only ground firm enough to count on is the one written into existence by her own hand.
“Full of narrative risk and untrammeled lyricism” (The Washington Post), Aftershocks joins the likes of Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight and William Styron’s Darkness Visible, and does for race identity what Maggie Nelson does for gender identity in The Argonauts.
From National Book Award nominated writer Andrea Lee, RED ISLAND HOUSE is a teleporting journey to the country of Madagascar, where we meet our heroine, Shay. A Black American professor, Shay is married to Senna, an assertive Italian businessman. While their lives together begin in Milan, Shay and Senna are quickly transported to an idyllic beachside vacation villa in Madagascar that Senna has built. Shay hesitantly becomes the mistress of their new sprawling estate, and struggles to keep her identity and marriage intact, caught as she is between her privileged American upbringing and reconciling it with her connection to the continent of her ancestors.
From National Book Award–nominated writer Andrea Lee comes a gorgeously evocative epic about love, clashing cultures, and identity, set in the tropical African island nation of Madagascar.
“People do mysterious things when they think they’ve found paradise,” reflects Shay, the heroine of Red Island House. When Shay, a Black American professor who’s always had an adventurous streak, marries Senna, an Italian businessman, she doesn’t imagine that her life’s greatest adventure will carry her far beyond their home in Milan to an idyllic stretch of beach in Madagascar, where Senna builds a flamboyant vacation villa. Before she knows it, Shay has become the somewhat reluctant mistress of a sprawling household, caught between her privileged American upbringing and her connection to the continent of her ancestors.
At first, she’s content to be an observer of the passionate affairs and fierce rivalries around her, but over twenty tumultuous years of marriage, as she and Senna raise children and establish their own rituals at the house, Shay finds herself drawn ever deeper into a place where a blend of magic, sexual intrigue, and transgression forms a modern-day parable of colonial conquest. Soon the collision of cultures comes right to Shay’s door, forcing her to make a life-altering decision that will change her and Senna’s lives forever.
A captivating, powerful, and profoundly moving novel about marriage and loyalty, identity and freedom, Red Island House showcases an extraordinary literary voice and an extravagantly lush, enchanted world.
In this refreshingly candid memoir, Kal Penn, former White House staff member and star of the Harold and Kumar franchise, writes about heartbreak, success, and how to keep your head up. This is a series of stories that are somehow both ridiculous and heartfelt at the same time, and Kal’s shocking honesty gets you through it all—how he rejected the advice of aunties, met his future husband, worked in the Obama administration, and so much more. Most of all, Kal shows that everyone can have more than one life story, no matter how awkward or funny you may have to be to get there.
In this refreshingly candid memoir, Kal Penn recounts why he rejected the advice of his aunties and guidance counselors and, instead of becoming a doctor or “something practical,” embarked on a surprising journey that has included acting, writing, working as a farmhand, teaching Ivy League University courses, and smoking fake weed with a fake President of the United States, before serving the country and advising a real one.
You Can’t Be Serious is a series of funny, consequential, awkward, and ridiculous stories from Kal’s idiosyncratic life. It’s about being the grandson of Gandhian freedom fighters, and the son of immigrant parents: people who came to this country with very little and went very far—and whose vision of the American dream probably never included their son sliding off an oiled-up naked woman in a raunchy Ryan Reynolds movie…or getting a phone call from Air Force One as Kal flew with the country’s first Black president.
With intelligence, humor, and charm on every page, Kal reflects on the most exasperating and rewarding moments from his journey so far. He pulls back the curtain on the nuances of opportunity and racism in the entertainment industry and recounts how he built allies, found encouragement, and dealt with early reminders that he might never fit in. And of course, he reveals how, after a decade and a half of fighting for and enjoying successes in Hollywood, he made the terrifying but rewarding decision to take a sabbatical from a fulfilling acting career for an opportunity to serve his country as a White House aide.
Above all, You Can’t Be Serious shows that everyone can have more than one life story. Kal demonstrates by example that no matter who you are and where you come from, you have many more choices than those presented to you. It’s a story about struggle, triumph, and learning how to keep your head up. And okay, yes, it’s also about how he accidentally (and very stupidly) accepted an invitation to take the entire White House Office of Public Engagement to a strip club—because, let’s be honest, that’s the kind of stuff you really want to hear about.
A fictional oral history of a cult rock duo whose rise to popularity peaked in 1970s New York, with a soon to be revealed secret about their past threatening to unravel a comeback tour. Opal is Afro-punk before Afro-punk existed, and with her unusual looks and raw talent, she is destined to be a star. When an aspiring British singer, Neville, discovers Opal at a bar’s amateur night in Detroit, she takes him up on his offer to make music together at up-and-coming record label Rivington Records. Opal and Nev’s career comes to an explosive halt after a shockingly violent event that has a long-lasting impact on all involved. Fast-forward to 2016, Opal is mulling over a reunion with Nev, and music journalist Sunny (and daughter of Opal’s sometime lover and fellow musician) decides to publish an oral history about the duo. As Sunny interviews her sources for the piece, she uncovers a disturbing allegation that will change everything.
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.
Ly Tran’s memoir recounts her coming-of-age experience after she and her family immigrated from a small town along the Mekong river in Vietnam to Ridgewood, Queens. In this new landscape, Tran struggles to uphold the expectations of her parents, devout Buddhists, and contribute to the family’s livelihood, all while navigating the crushing pressure of blending in at school. When she runs into a conflict with her father over a needed pair of corrective eyeglasses for herself, Tran questions who she is outside of familial expectations. Written intimately, with a sprinkle of humor, this story is about a young girl’s courage in forging her own path from a small two-bedroom railroad apartment for a family of six, and all the hardships and small joys that come with it.
An intimate, beautifully written coming-of-age memoir recounting a young girl’s journey from war-torn Vietnam to Ridgewood, Queens, and her struggle to find her voice amid clashing cultural expectations.
Ly Tran is just a toddler in 1993 when she and her family immigrate from a small town along the Mekong river in Vietnam to a two-bedroom railroad apartment in Queens. Ly’s father, a former lieutenant in the South Vietnamese army, spent nearly a decade as a POW, and their resettlement is made possible through a humanitarian program run by the US government. Soon after they arrive, Ly joins her parents and three older brothers sewing ties and cummerbunds piece-meal on their living room floor to make ends meet.
As they navigate this new landscape, Ly finds herself torn between two worlds. She knows she must honor her parents’ Buddhist faith and contribute to the family livelihood, working long hours at home and eventually as a manicurist alongside her mother at a nail salon in Brownsville, Brooklyn, that her parents take over. But at school, Ly feels the mounting pressure to blend in.
A growing inability to see the blackboard presents new challenges, especially when her father forbids her from getting glasses, calling her diagnosis of poor vision a government conspiracy. His frightening temper and paranoia leave an indelible mark on Ly’s sense of self. Who is she outside of everything her family expects of her?
Told in a spare, evocative voice that, with flashes of humor, weaves together her family’s immigration experience with her own fraught and courageous coming of age, House of Sticks is a timely and powerful portrait of one girl’s struggle to reckon with her heritage and forge her own path.
In his personal narrative, HEAVY, Kiese Laymon writes with an incredible vulnerability, sweetened with a tinge of comedy, that helps readers explore his story—the confusions, haunting realizations, and successes—alongside him. He explores past traumas—obesity, sex, gambling, and much more—through his experiences with sexual violence, his relationship with his mother and grandmother, and other complex parts of his life. An eloquent and fearless writer with a unique genre-bending style, Laymon’s memoir explores the innocence of childhood, the heartbreaks of being an adult, and everything that comes in-between.
An instant NYT bestseller, Harris’s debut novel features a puzzling mystery, a serious look into toxic workplaces, and whip-smart social commentary. This story follows 26-year-old editorial assistant Nella Rogers, who is the only Black employee at a book publishing company when Harlem born and bred Hazel enters the picture. It’s hard not to get along with Hazel—sure, she’s better at everything, but she is kind, and Nella finally has a friend at work. That is, until she starts receiving ominous messages at her desk and can’t help but think that Hazel is the culprit. As Nella spirals under all the pressure, a sinister story unfurls right before our eyes, and Harris’s commentary on diversity in the workplace shines bright.
“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.
From New York Times bestselling author Stephen Graham Jones, THE ONLY GOOD INDIANS is a supernatural thriller that deftly incorporates social commentary on the Indian American experience. Labeled “one of 2020’s buzziest horror novels” by Entertainment Weekly, Jones weaves a tale following the lives of four men and their families haunted by a deadly event that took place in their youth. Unable to shake the trauma of their experiences, each man is left with an unrelenting desire for revenge as they navigate the culture and traditions they chose to forgo years prior.
A USA TODAY BESTSELLER
A Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year
In this latest novel from Stephen Graham Jones comes a “heartbreakingly beautiful story” (Library Journal, starred review) of revenge, cultural identity, and the cost of breaking from tradition.
Seamlessly blending classic horror and a dramatic narrative with sharp social commentary, The Only Good Indians is “a masterpiece. Intimate, devastating, brutal, terrifying, warm, and heartbreaking in the best way” (Paul Tremblay, author of A Head Full of Ghosts). This novel follows four American Indian men after a disturbing event from their youth puts them in a desperate struggle for their lives. Tracked by an entity bent on revenge, these childhood friends are helpless as the culture and traditions they left behind catch up to them in violent, vengeful ways. Labeled “one of 2020’s buzziest horror novels” (Entertainment Weekly), this is a remarkable horror story “will give you nightmares—the good kind of course” (BuzzFeed).
Pheby Delores Brown is a survivor. Every step of the way while reading YELLOW WIFE you will be rooting for Pheby—a mixed slave who has lived a relatively sheltered life on a plantation in Virginia. She has been promised to be freed on her 18th birthday, in 1850, and is looking forward to her emancipation and to being able to marry her true love, Essex Henry. When her promise of freedom is stolen from her, Pheby is forced to leave the plantation and finds herself at an infamous slave prison called the Devil’s Half Acre, where she is slated to be sold to a new owner. There she attracts the eye of the sadistic Jailer, who wants Pheby for himself. She will have to figure out how to survive in this new environment, outwit the Jailer, and protect the ones she loves.
Called “wholly engrossing” by New York Times bestselling author Kathleen Grissom, this “fully immersive” (Lisa Wingate, #1 bestselling author of Before We Were Yours) 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.
In alternating story lines, INFINITE COUNTRY delivers an intense drama of migrant life from Bogotá to Houston. In one perspective, we follow fifteen-year-old Talia as she breaks out of a correctional facility in Colombia and races to Bogotá in order to board her flight to the United States. And in the other perspective, in the past, we watch Talia’s parents, Mauro and Elena, fall in love at a market in the midst of Colombia’s civil war. When they flee to the US in search of a better life, new struggles emerge. A Reese’s Book Club pick, INFINITE COUNTRY is written in breathtaking prose, and highlights the tense reality of undocumented immigrants living in the United States, and the unbreakable bonds of family.
A REESE’S BOOK CLUB PICK and INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
“A profound, beautiful novel.” — People * “Poignant.” —BuzzFeed * “A breathtaking story of the unimaginable prices paid for a better life.” —Esquire
This “heartbreaking portrait of a family dealing with the realities of migration and separation” (Time) is “a sweeping love story and tragic drama [and] an authentic vision of what the American Dream looks like in a nationalistic country” (Elle).
I often wonder if we are living the wrong life in the wrong country.
Talia is being held at a correctional facility for adolescent girls in the forested mountains of Colombia after committing an impulsive act of violence that may or may not have been warranted. She urgently needs to get out and get back home to Bogotá, where her father and a plane ticket to the United States are waiting for her. If she misses her flight, she might also miss her chance to finally be reunited with her family.
How this family came to occupy two different countries, two different worlds, comes into focus like twists of a kaleidoscope. We see Talia’s parents, Mauro and Elena, fall in love in a market stall as teenagers against a backdrop of civil war and social unrest. We see them leave Bogotá with their firstborn, Karina, in pursuit of safety and opportunity in the United States on a temporary visa, and we see the births of two more children, Nando and Talia, on American soil. We witness the decisions and indecisions that lead to Mauro’s deportation and the family’s splintering—the costs they’ve all been living with ever since.
Award-winning, internationally acclaimed author Patricia Engel, herself a dual citizen and the daughter of Colombian immigrants, gives voice to all five family members as they navigate the particulars of their respective circumstances. Rich with Bogotá urban life, steeped in Andean myth, and tense with the daily reality of the undocumented in America, Infinite Country “is as much an all-American story as it is a global one” (Booklist, starred review).
William Evans and Omar Holmon are founders of Black Nerd Problems, a site that covers pop culture through the lens of owned voices. They cover all the things that Blerds crave information on, from comic books to video games to topics about social justice. In this essay collection, they address a wide range of topics with the perfect blend of humor and intellect—an unabashed celebration of all things nerdy.
The creators of the popular website Black Nerd Problems bring their witty and unflinching insight to this engaging collection of pop culture essays on everything from Mario Kart and The Wire to issues of representation and police brutality across media.
When William Evans and Omar Holmon founded Black Nerd Problems, they had no idea whether anyone beyond their small circle of friends would be interested in their little corner of the internet. But soon after launching, they were surprised to find out that there was a wide community of people who hungered for fresh perspectives on all things nerdy, from the perspective of owned voices.
In the years since, Evans and Holmon have built a large, dedicated fanbase eager for their brand of cultural critique, whether in the form of a laugh-out-loud, raucous Game of Thrones episode recap or an eloquent essay on dealing with grief through stand-up comedy. Now, they are ready to take the next step with this vibrant and hilarious essay collection, which covers everything from X-Men to Breonna Taylor with insight and intelligence.
A much needed and fresh pop culture critique from the perspective of people of color, Black Nerd Problems is the ultimate celebration for anyone who loves a blend of nerd and social commentary, and unafraid to admit that they love all things nerdy.
Get ready to laugh out loud and then maybe shed a few tears with this heartwarming memoir in essays. Author John Paul Brammer, a popular queer advice columnist, brings his best wisdom to the table in this collection. With his straightforward, profound words, he dives into issues we all face, such as regret, confrontation, and heartbreak, while chronicling his experiences of growing up as a queer Mexican American kid in Oklahoma.
From popular LGBTQ advice columnist and writer John Paul Brammer comes a hilarious, heartwarming memoir-in-essays chronicling his journey growing up as a queer, mixed-race kid in America’s heartland to becoming the “Chicano Carrie Bradshaw” of his generation.
“I loved ¡Hola Papi!” —Shea Serrano * “An invigorating and vital read.” —R. Eric Thomas * “We are lucky to live in the era of JP Brammer.” —Alexander Chee * “JP Brammer is the best storyteller. ” —Heather Havrilesky * “[Brammer is] a beautiful writer.” —Rainbow Rowell * “Essential and necessary.” —Jonny Sun
The first time someone called John Paul (JP) Brammer “Papi” was on the popular gay hookup app Grindr. At first, it was flattering; JP took this as white-guy speak for “hey, handsome.” Who doesn’t want to be called handsome? But then it happened again and again…and again, leaving JP wondering: Who the hell is Papi?
What started as a racialized moniker given to him on a hookup app soon became the inspiration for his now wildly popular advice column “¡Hola Papi!,” launching his career as the Cheryl Strayed for young queer people everywhere—and some straight people too. JP had his doubts at first—what advice could he really offer while he himself stumbled through his early 20s? Sometimes the best advice to dole outcomes from looking within, which is what JP has done in his column and book—and readers have flocked to him for honest, heartfelt wisdom, and of course, a few laughs.
In ¡Hola Papi!, JP shares his story of growing up biracial and in the closet in America’s heartland, while attempting to answer some of life’s toughest questions: How do I let go of the past? How do I become the person I want to be? Is there such a thing as being too gay? Should I hook up with my grade school bully now that he’s out of the closet? Questions we’ve all asked ourselves, surely.
With wit and wisdom in equal measure, ¡Hola Papi! is for anyone—gay, straight, and everything in between—who has ever taken stock of their unique place in the world, offering considered advice, intelligent discourse, and fits of laughter along the way. “Readers are likely to become addicted to these stories; they’re that good…Brammer comes to know himself very well, and readers will be delighted to make his acquaintance, too,” says Booklist in a starred review.
THE AFROMINIMALIST’S GUIDE TO LIVING WITH LESS takes the concept of minimalism and approaches it with intentionality. Author Christine Platt didn’t start out with the goal of becoming the Afrominimalist, but in a space heavily saturated with white perspectives, Platt decided to make minimalism, a concept so often regarded as unattainable, accessible. And she did this by creating her own definition of minimalism—curating a life of less influenced by the African diaspora.
Forget the aesthetics of mainstream minimalism and discover a life of authenticity and intention with this practical guide to living with less…your way.
When Christine Platt set out on her journey to live with less, she never intended to become The Afrominimalist. She just wanted to tame the chaos in her closet! But after struggling with the austerity and whiteness of mainstream minimalism, Christine realized why minimalism often seems unattainable for so many: the emphasis on all-white, barren aesthetics distracts from the practice of living with intention. And so, she decided to do things her way by curating a life of less influenced by the African diaspora.
In The Afrominimalist’s Guide to Living With Less, Christine gets right to the heart of how childhood experiences and expectations manifest in adulthood, the delicate dance between needs and wants, and the complicated weight of familial and societal pressures. A far cry from Konmaried closets, capsule wardrobes, and conspicuous consumption, Christine’s brand of “living with less” is more than a decluttering regimen. Inspired by her personal journey, Christine presents a radical revisioning of minimalism, one that celebrates the importance of history and heritage, and gives you permission to make space for what really matters…your way.
Beautifully illustrated with original black-and-white prints and line drawings, The Afrominimalist’s Guide to Living With Less is a testament to the idea that anyone can be a minimalist and a warm invitation to a life curated with intention, perfect for readers of Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus (The Minimalists), Marie Kondo, Joshua Becker, and Courtney Carver.
During the 1970s in the historic Chicago neighborhood of Bronzeville, we follow the story of three girls navigating heartbreak, loss, and the little joys in life. As sisters Dawn and Kim and their best friend, Debra, encountered the harrowing twists and turns of growing up during the aftermath of the civil rights movement in their beloved South Side community. In this memoir, Dawn attempts to answer questions we all have about our own lives. The most important question being why—why had they all chosen their current paths and how exactly did their past and present environments, namely Bronzeville, come to shape their futures? THREE GIRLS FROM BRONZEVILLE is a piercing memoir, one that celebrates sisterhood and friendship, and explores how race, class, and opportunity shape our lives, most pointedly in the places we call home.
A “beautiful, tragic, and inspiring” (Publishers Weekly, starred review) memoir about three Black girls from the storied Bronzeville section of Chicago that offers a penetrating exploration of race, opportunity, friendship, sisterhood, and the powerful forces at work that allow some to flourish…and others to falter.
They were three Black girls. Dawn, tall and studious; her sister, Kim, younger by three years and headstrong as they come; and her best friend, Debra, already prom-queen pretty by third grade. They bonded—fervently and intensely in that unique way of little girls—as they roamed the concrete landscape of Bronzeville, a historic neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side, the destination of hundreds of thousands of Black folks who fled the ravages of the Jim Crow South.
These third-generation daughters of the Great Migration come of age in the 1970s, in the warm glow of the recent civil rights movement. It has offered them a promise, albeit nascent and fragile, that they will have more opportunities, rights, and freedoms than any generation of Black Americans in history. Their working-class, striving parents are eager for them to realize this hard-fought potential. But the girls have much more immediate concerns: hiding under the dining room table and eavesdropping on grown folks’ business; collecting secret treasures; and daydreaming about their futures—Dawn and Debra, doctors, Kim a teacher. For a brief, wondrous moment the girls are all giggles and dreams and promises of “friends forever.” And then fate intervenes, first slowly and then dramatically, sending them careening in wildly different directions. There’s heartbreak, loss, displacement, and even murder. Dawn struggles to make sense of the shocking turns that consume her sister and her best friend, all the while asking herself a simple but profound question: Why?
In the vein of The Other Wes Moore and The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace, Three Girls from Bronzeville is a piercing memoir that chronicles Dawn’s attempt to find answers. It’s at once a celebration of sisterhood and friendship, a testimony to the unique struggles of Black women, and a tour-de-force about the complex interplay of race, class, and opportunity, and how those forces shape our lives and our capacity for resilience and redemption.
Living in poverty along the coast of Mississippi, thirteen-year-old Jojo serves as the caretaker to his toddler sister, Kayla. His absent white father has been in jail and his Black mother, Leonie, has a history with drugs. The only father figure Jojo can rely on is his grandfather, Pop, who teaches his grandson the importance of love, compassion, and survival. When Jojo's father is released from prison, Leonie packs the kids up to pick him up, and they make their road-trip way across the state as danger, destruction, and the truth about Leonie’s family unfolds.
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).
When the family’s mysterious matriarch, Orquídea, is close to dying, she gathers her descendants together for what they hope is a revealing reunion. But they’re in for a shock, as she dies before answers about their inheritance are presented. Seven years later her dark legacy—at play behind her odd behaviors and supernatural talents—leaks out, as magical objects and hidden creatures begin to appear. The story lines in this enchanting novel alternate between Orquídea’s haunted past, as she travels from Ecuador to her tiny Midwest home of Four Rivers, and the strange occurrences surrounding her descendants’ present, ultimately exploring how our actions reverberate through generations.
Perfect for fans of Alice Hoffman, Isabel Allende, and Sarah Addison Allen, this is a gorgeously written novel about a family searching for the truth hidden in their past and the power they’ve inherited, from the author of the acclaimed and “giddily exciting” (The New York Times Book Review) Brooklyn Brujas series.
The Montoyas are used to a life without explanations. They know better than to ask why the pantry never seems to run low or empty, or why their matriarch won’t ever leave their home in Four Rivers—even for graduations, weddings, or baptisms. But when Orquídea Divina invites them to her funeral and to collect their inheritance, they hope to learn the secrets that she has held onto so tightly their whole lives. Instead, Orquídea is transformed, leaving them with more questions than answers.
Seven years later, her gifts have manifested in different ways for Marimar, Rey, and Tatinelly’s daughter, Rhiannon, granting them unexpected blessings. But soon, a hidden figure begins to tear through their family tree, picking them off one by one as it seeks to destroy Orquídea’s line. Determined to save what’s left of their family and uncover the truth behind their inheritance, the four descendants travel to Ecuador—to the place where Orquídea buried her secrets and broken promises and never looked back.
Alternating between Orquídea’s past and her descendants’ present, The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina is an enchanting novel about what we knowingly and unknowingly inherit from our ancestors, the ties that bind, and reclaiming your power.
Powerful and mesmerizing, Linda Rui Feng’s debut novel depicts the challenging history of China’s Cultural Revolution and Chinese immigration to America through four unforgettable characters. In the summer of 1986 in a small Chinese village, ten-year-old Junie receives a letter from her parents, Momo and Cassia, who promise that by her twelfth birthday she will be reunited with them in the United States. What she does know is that she has no plans to leave the village, wanting to remain with her paternal grandparents. What she doesn’t know is that Momo and Cassia are newly estranged, wrestling with their tumultuous pasts brought upon by the Cultural Revolution and the heartbreaking circumstances of Junie’s own birth. Will Momo, Cassia, and their daughter reunite by Junie’s twelfth birthday?
A lyrical novel set against the backdrop of China’s Cultural Revolution that follows a father’s quest to reunite his family before his precocious daughter’s momentous birthday, which Garth Greenwell calls “one of the most beautiful debuts I’ve read in years.”
How many times in life can we start over without losing ourselves?
In the summer of 1986 in a small Chinese village, ten-year-old Junie receives a momentous letter from her parents, who had left for America years ago: her father promises to return home and collect her by her twelfth birthday. But Junie’s growing determination to stay put in the idyllic countryside with her beloved grandparents threatens to derail her family’s shared future.
What Junie doesn’t know is that her parents, Momo and Cassia, are newly estranged from one another in their adopted country, each holding close private tragedies and histories from the tumultuous years of their youth during China’s Cultural Revolution. While Momo grapples anew with his deferred musical ambitions and dreams for Junie’s future in America, Cassia finally begins to wrestle with a shocking act of brutality from years ago. In order for Momo to fulfill his promise, he must make one last desperate attempt to reunite all three members of the family before Junie’s birthday—even if it means bringing painful family secrets to light.
“A beautifully written, poignant exploration of family, art, culture, immigration, and most of all, love,” (Jean Kwok, New York Times bestselling author of Searching for Sylvie Lee) Swimming Back to Trout River weaves together the stories of Junie, Momo, Cassia, and Dawn—a talented violinist from Momo’s past—while depicting their heartbreak and resilience, tenderly revealing the hope, compromises, and abiding ingenuity that make up the lives of immigrants.
Black Panther meets House of Cards is one way to describe this speculative fiction powerhouse. It’s the first book in the Between Earth and Sky trilogy and draws upon history from the civilizations of the Pre-Columbian Americas. The story is a fascinating mix of foreboding celestial prophecies, political intrigue and scandal, and the dark magical arts. BLACK SUN is set in the holy city of Tova during the time of the winter solstice, typically an occasion for celebration. However, residents are on edge because this is one of the rare occasions that the solstice coincides with a solar eclipse, which the Sun Priest warns signifies the unbalancing of the world. BLACK SUN also tells the story of Xiala, a captain of a ship from a distant city that is bound for Tova. Her ship is set to arrive just in time for the solstice and carries only one passenger, a mysterious man who is blind, scarred, and supposed to be harmless. But Xiala has a strong sense that his intentions are anything but.
From the New York Times bestselling author of Star Wars: Resistance Reborn comes the “engrossing and vibrant” (Tochi Onyebuchi, author of Riot Baby) first book in the Between Earth and Sky trilogy inspired by the civilizations of the Pre-Columbian Americas and woven into a tale of celestial prophecies, political intrigue, and forbidden magic.
A god will return
When the earth and sky converge
Under the black sun
In the holy city of Tova, the winter solstice is usually a time for celebration and renewal, but this year it coincides with a solar eclipse, a rare celestial even proscribed by the Sun Priest as an unbalancing of the world.
Meanwhile, a ship launches from a distant city bound for Tova and set to arrive on the solstice. The captain of the ship, Xiala, is a disgraced Teek whose song can calm the waters around her as easily as it can warp a man’s mind. Her ship carries one passenger. Described as harmless, the passenger, Serapio is a young man, blind, scarred, and cloaked in destiny. As Xiala well knows, when a man is described as harmless, he usually ends up being a villain.
Crafted with unforgettable characters, Rebecca Roanhorse has created a “brilliant world that shows the full panoply of human grace and depravity” (Ken Liu, award-winning author of The Grace of Kings). This epic adventure explores the decadence of power amidst the weight of history and the struggle of individuals swimming against the confines of society and their broken pasts in this “absolutely tremendous” (S.A. Chakraborty, nationally bestselling author of The City of Brass) and most original series debut of the decade.
Photo credit: iStock / Julia Manga