Want to engage in artistic self-care? Looking for some literary masterpieces? Maybe a list of fictional novels about diverse identities, from diverse identities? Look no further.

In this book list, we are focusing solely on books about diverse characters that are written by diverse authors. We recognize the importance of not only having a wide array of characters mentioned in works of fiction, but having them dominate the narrative – having their own the story. Diverse authors’ right to artistic and creative spaces must be acknowledged. With this list, we are giving space for authors and artists to reclaim their narratives, heritage, and experiences – and we are celebrating their desire to do so.

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White Teeth  by Zadie Smith

Year: 2001

Intended Audience: Young Adult/Adult

Summary: The story centers around an unusual pair of friends, Archie Jones and Samad Iqbal, and the convoluted nature of their familial relationships. We watch Samad, a Bangladeshi who currently works at a Indian restaurant, grapple with his hot-headed wife, Alsana. She rules with an iron fist. He struggles to raise their twin sons, Magid and Millat, who could not be any more different. We watch Archie’s life unfold alongside that of his second wife, Clara Bowden, a Jamaican woman half his age who struggled with the life of Jehovah. Their daughter, Irie, finds herself lost in a journey to discover her sexual and racial identity. The novel uses dark humor to discuss the dilemmas of immigrants as they struggle to integrate into a society that is strikingly different culturally, ethnically, linguistically, and religiously. The characters are incredibly vibrant and so humanly flawed that you cannot help but want to witness their lives unfold.

If you end up liking this book, you should definitely check out Smith’s newest novel, Swing Time, which I am extremely excited to read.

 

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Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Year: 2014

Intended Audience: Young Adult/Adult

Summary: Americanah tells the story of a young Nigerian woman, Ifemelu, who emigrates to the United States to attend university. The novel looks at Ifemelu’s life and history and the way it intertwines with that of her high school love, Obizne. Obizne had hoped to join her in the United States but instead finds himself living undocumented in London due to the turmoil of 9/11. Ifemelu struggles with the cultural shock, financial hardships, and racial tensions that accompany her immigration. While Ifemelu tries to find herself in this neverending sea of racial hierarchy and injustice, Obizne is busy grappling with being an undocumented African whose visa has expired with an overwhelming onus of deportation. When the two reunite in Nigeria fifteen years after their separation, they must consider the viability of their relationship after living such divergent lives for so long. The tale looks at the different ways we must deal with both love and loss, exile and belonging, and economic stability and emotional turmoil.

Fun fact, Americanah spent 78 weeks on NPR‘s Paperback Best-Seller list and the book was selected as one of the 10 Best Books of 2013 by the editors of the New York Times Book Review

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Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Year: 2015

Intended Audience: Young Adult/Adult

Summary: This story centers around Lydia, the beloved daughter of a Chinese-American family living in small-town Ohio in the 1970s. Her father is a college professor, whose status as the son of Chinese immigrants brings about stares of distrust and dislike. Her mother is a stay-at-home wife; a white woman who gave up medical school for motherhood. Lydia appears to be the epitome of the perfect child and sibling, the holder of all her parents’ dreams and aspirations. When Lydia’s body is found in a nearby lake, the strings holding Lydia’s family together tear, and the family is thrust into chaos. The novel looks at the way that human beings often struggle to truly understand one another, and the way in which the desires we may have for our children and our families can blind us from the truth of our relationships with them. It focuses on the intricate and often painful relationships between desire and obligation, family and society, past and present.


If you love this book, you should check out the author’s brand new novel, Little Fireflies Everywhere. The novel tackles racial divides, motherhood, and the tensions that arise when socioeconomic affluency crosses paths with socioeconomic instability.

 

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Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Year: 2016

Intended Audience: Young Adult/Adult

Summary: Homegoing is a multi-generational novel split in two, as each chapter follows a different decenedent of an Asante woman named Maame. The story unfolds right where it begins – with the lives of her two daughters, Effia and Esi. Effia is married to James Collins, the British governor in charge of Cape Coast Castle. Her half-sister Esi is held captive in the dungeons beneath her sisters feet, soon to be sold into slavery in the United States. The chapters follow the children and future generations of the two women, watching them grapple with the effects of the slave trade and the divergent histories of their ancestors. Effia and her descendants face the warfare and violence that tear apart Ghana as the Fante and Asante nations fight against one another and British colonization. Esi and her descendants face the brutal and unmerciful consequences of enslavement – from plantation to plantation, slave owner to slave owner. The stories delve into the power of memory and the tremendous way in which historical forces can irrevocably alter the soul of a nation and its people.

The novel works to offer an honest and open look at the continuing impact of slavery – both in an emotional and physical manner. So, we must note that there numerous mentions of violent topics, including sexual assault, physical abuse, and verbal abuse.

 

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Mornings in Jenin by Susan Abulhawa

Year: 2010

Intended Audience: Young Adult/Adult

Summary: Mornings in Jenin is a multi-generational story about a Palestinian family, the Abulhejas, which is forcibly removed from their village of Ein God during the 1948 Nakba. As the young mother, Dalia Abulheja, carries her son through the chaos, hands reach forward and snatch the baby from her arms. The young Ismael is gone, and the Abulheja family is left drowning in anguish. The family finds itself living in tents in a town known as Jenin, which soon becomes a refugee camp. The refugees spend their time reminiscing about the past while dreaming of a brighter future. Amal – the granddaughter of the village patriarch, younger sister of Ismael, and the light of her father – is the holder of one of those futures. She leaves behind the camp to pursue an education and escape the escalating violence around her. Years later, when Amal returns to the refugee camps with her own daughter, she finds herself caught between the lives of two opposing political sides – and brothers. Her story, of aching love and loss, of homeland and exile, and the intimacy of family and motherhood, is simply breathtaking.

The story is in fact inspired by the Ghassan Kanafani novel Returning to Haifa, which tells the story of Said and Safiyya, a Palestinian couple who flee their home in Haifa during the 1948 Nakba and in the chaos lose their 5-month old son, Khaldun.

 

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Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok

Year: 2011

Intended Audience: Teenage/Young Adult/Adult

Summary: This wonderful coming-of-age novel focuses on the intricate relationship between Kimberly Chang and her mother, who emigrate to Brooklyn from Hong Kong after her father’s death. Kimberly finds herself leading two separate lives. During the day, she is a bright school girl. Throughout the night, she is working long hours in a Chinatown clothing factory. Kimberly struggles to manage the difficult obstacles that surround her, from unimaginable poverty and living in a roach-infested apartment, to carrying the weight of an immigrant’s dream on her young shoulders. In this novel, Jean Kwok works to center the lives of new immigrants whose stories often go unmentioned or unrecognized. She brings to life the struggle that young immigrants face when dealing with the pressure of social integration, family duty, and the pursuit of personal aspirations.

Much of this book is in fact based on Jean’s personal history. Jean immigrated from Hong Kong to Brooklyn when she was five and worked in a Chinatown clothing factory for much of her childhood. The books is a very powerful read due to its authenticity and the kindness that Jean has in letting us take a look at some of her own personal experiences.

 

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The Round House by Louise Erdrich

Year: 2012

Intended Audience: Young Adult/Adult

Summary: The story takes place in 1988 on a reservation in North Dakota. What appears to be a simple Sunday is, in fact, anything but. Nightfall arrives and Geraldine Coutts, an indigenous woman, is attacked. Traumatized by the violence, she refuses to reveal what happened. The police are unable to push the case forward. She falls into a deep depression, unwilling to eat and get out of bed. Geraldine’s son, 13-year-old Joe, finds himself transformed by the events as he is thrust into the world of adulthood – one that is often unjust, traumatizing, and emotionally devastating. Joe demands answers; he and his friends take it upon themselves to search for whatever they can find. The boys’ quest takes them to the Round House, a sacred place of worship for the indigenous community. Their journey brings to light the true injustices that indigenous communities must deal with, especially indigenous women – who are brutally beaten, go missing, or are killed. The novel looks at the way such communities must battle with with a legal system that, more often than not, simply fails to protect them.

This book in particular was a recommendation. It has received a raving reviews. This book works to explore the violence enacted against Native women, and so I have been informed that there are some mentions of violence, particularly sexual violence.

 

inkDrown by Junot Diaz

Year: 1996

Intended Audience: Teenage/Young Adult/Adult

Summary: This collection of short stories from Junot Diaz addresses the many trials and tribulations of immigrants arriving in America from the Dominican Republic in the 1980s. The narrator is often a young Ramon de las Casa, also known as Yunior. His father, who left his family behind in the Dominican Republic, returns to bring them to New Jersey. The stories trace the life of the narrator as he looks back at his childhood and the memories he has of friends and family. The tales are related to one another, yet each one can exist as a stand-alone piece. There are fathers grappling with the harsh realities of the American Dream, families that are split apart by drug abuse and economic instability, tales of heartache and infidelity, even homelands and harsh circumstances. Diaz’s work blends wild humor, endless irritation, apprehension, and affection in a way that creates a wonderfully unique coming-of-age story.

Drown is in fact one of Diaz’s oldest works, published in 1996, over 10 years prior to his most popular novel ( The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao ); it is now considered a major contribution to contemporary literature.


The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Chicago Monitor’s editorial policy.


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