18 books that celebrate diversity

The theme for March summarises a big chunk of what my blog stands for, and that is books that are diverse, covering everything from authors and characters, to topics and cultures. There are so many more books out there/talked about these days that tackle diversity and it is something I’ve made a much more conscious effort to include in my reading repertoire in the last few years.

Here’s what to look for in a diverse book: unique individuals and/or a recognition of individual differences, including race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical abilities, religious beliefs, or other ideologies.

I’ve done something a little different for March and reached out to the lovely readers in The Radio 2 Book Club on Facebook for their recommendations, which will be sprinkled throughout the blog post. Big thanks to everyone who sent through the favourite recs 🥰

Spotlight recommendation

Every month, I share my top recommendation. For March it is:

Becoming by Michelle Obama

Genre: Nonfiction memoir

If you haven’t yet read Becoming, then I highly recommend doing so in March. I doubly recommend the audio version, narrated by Michelle, which adds a whole new dimension to her story. It’s 19 hours long, but I promise you it’s worth it.

Hearing Michelle speak her own words was so deeply impactful and a genuine joy to listen to. At times, it felt like I was chatting with an old friend (albeit in my head), at others, I felt a strange detachment, thinking surely this didn’t really happen? Some parts moved to tears, while others gave me an overwhelming sense of inner strength.

Quick overview
Becoming is the raw, transparent and powerful account of the USA’s first African American First Lady, Michelle Obama. Chronicling her life to date, Michelle describes what life was like growing up in the South Side of Chicago, her struggles to find fulfilment in her corporate career, her unwavering endeavour to be an advocate for women and girls, and the barrage of racism she felt throughout the different stages of her life. It’s impactful, bold, revolutionary, and witty. Guaranteed to stay with you for a very long time.

Hayley’s highlights

Here are some other books/authors that celebrate diversity:

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Genre: YA fantasy

Children of Blood and Bone is a story seeped in magic, segregation, power, and hope. Ruled by a monarchy determined to abolish magic, ZĂ©lie has the fate of the maji in her hands. But she struggles to control both her power and the growing feelings for the enemy set against her success.

This book is beautifully written and Adeyemi effortlessly brought the fantasy setting to life, describing the scene and characters vividly. The ending felt a bit dragged out, but in terms of diversity and writing style, I’d definitely recommend.

Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Genre: Cultural fiction set in Nigeria

Narrated by 15-year-old, Kambili, Purple Hibiscus tells the story of her wealthy but strict life in postcolonial Nigeria, where her devoutly Catholic father dominates the household. Threatened by a military coup, Kambili and her brother are sent to stay with their aunt, where they taste freedom for the first time, outside of their father’s violent tyranny.

The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta

Genre: Contemporary LGBT+ young adult

The Black Flamingo is written in verse and celebrates race, sexuality, and identity. It follows a boy as he navigates the world as a mixed-race gay teen and embraces his identity as a drag artist.

The Mothers by Brit Bennett

Genre: Contemporary fiction set within a black community in Southern California

Submerged in grief after her mother’s suicide 17-year-old Nadia finds herself in a casual romance with Luke, the pastor’s son. But the relationship turns suddenly serious when Nadine discovers she’s pregnant; something she quickly tries to hide. Years later, they question the decisions they made, wondering if their lives will forever be shaped by their younger self’s choices.

Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis

Genre: Middle grade historical fiction

Set in Michigan in 1936 during the Great Depression, Bud, Not Buddy follows 10-year-old Bud and his suitcase of treasured possessions as he escapes his current foster family. He decides to look for his father, led only by a flyer his mother left him as a clue, advertising the mighty Dusky Devastators of the Depression. What awaits is a journey filled with adventure, friendship, and life lessons (noted in Bud Caldwell’s Rules and Things for Having a Funner Life and Making a Better Liar Out of Yourself).

The Girl With The Louding Voice by Abi Daré

Genre: Contemporary fiction set in rural Nigeria

In The Girl with the Louding Voice, Adunni dreams of escaping poverty, getting an education, and building a future for herself. Despite numerous obstacles, she never loses sight of her goals and stays optimistic, even in the toughest circumstances, inspiring all of us to aim for our dreams, regardless of who or what stands in our way.

The Gender Games: The Problem with Men and Women, from Someone Who Has Been Both by Juno Dawson

Genre: Nonfiction memoir

The Gender Games is, according to the synopsis (which was too accurate to not include), “a frank, witty and powerful manifesto for a world where what’s in your head is more important than what’s between your legs.” Juno tells her story, as well as the story of every person who has been forced to conform to society’s beliefs about gender.

The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi

Genre: Contemporary fiction set in south-eastern Nigeria

The Death of Vivek Oji is a powerful and captivating novel that explores identity and community, family and friendship.

We know from the cover that Vivek is dead; what we don’t know is why or how. Switching perspectives and timelines, we hear from Vivek’s parents, his cousin, his friends and Vivek himself. We glimpse Vivek’s childhood, his teen years, his physical transformation, his unexplainable blackouts that make people think he has the devil in him. We learn from those that love him what made Vivek special, how he risked everything to be himself. This book epitomises the power of love, acceptance, and identity in a country overshadowed by religious and cultural constraints.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Genre: Historical fiction set in Africa

Spanning three hundred years, two continents, and multiple generations, Homegoing tells the fate of two half-sisters, one who lives a live of comfort in Ghana, and the other who is shipped to America during the slave trade. The interwoven stories follow the descendants of both sisters, through the warfare in Ghana to the plantations in the deep South, through to present day.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

Genre: Contemporary fiction

Early into their marriage, Celestial’s husband, Roy, is arrested and sentenced to 12 years for a crime he didn’t commit. Though strong and independent, Celestial is rocked by the injustice and suddenly thrown into a life of solitude, seeking solace in her childhood friend, Andre. What follows is a character-driven, multi-perspective insight into what happens when life doesn’t turn the way you expected. When a marriage is tested beyond its means. And when an innocent man is finally released back into a world he no longer recognises.

Read my full review of An American Marriage.

A Burning by Megha Majumdar

Genre: Contemporary fiction set in India

Three unique characters with contrasting desires feature in A Burning; Jivan seeks a middle-class life, PT Sir wants political power, and Lovely dreams of movie fame. Their lives collide following a terrorist attack, at which Jivan is at the centre after making a throwaway comment on social media that results in her arrest.

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

Genre: Contemporary fiction

When Ruth, an African American midwife, is banned from touching the newborn of white supremacist parents, she hesitates when the baby goes into cardiac distress in the nursery. She performs CPR but the action comes with serious consequences.

Small Great Things remains one of my favourite JP novels to date. It explores a number of diverse themes, including race, privilege, and prejudice while still maintaining a interweaving plot that will keep you invested until the end.

My Name is Why by Lemn Sissay

Genre: Nonfiction memoir

My Name is Why is Lemn Sissay’s powerful account of finding his true identity, after living a lie throughout his whole childhood. Raised in the UK care system as Norman, he finds out at 17 that his name is actually Lemn, he is British and Ethiopian, and his mother has been willing his return since birth. In his memoir, he explores everything from race and family to adoption and neglect of the institutional British care system.

Dear Martin by Nic Stone

Genre: Contemporary young adult tackling American race relations

Dear Martin tells the poignant, relevant, and uncensored story of growing up as a black teen in America; the racial profiling, the police brutality, the flawed systems. Caught in the crosshairs of prejudice and racism, Justyce turns to Martin Luther King Jr for answers, in an attempt to battle the social injustices he continues to face.

My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal

Genre: Contemporary fiction

Britain, 1981: Nine-year-old Leon is confused when he and his baby brother, Jake, find themselves staying with a fuzzy-haired foster carer. When a family adopt Jake but not Leon, he can’t comprehend why they’d leave him behind, and is determined to get his brother back, where he belongs.

My Name is Leon is one of the most compelling stories I’ve ever read, with just the right amount of heartache and happiness.

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

Genre: Historical fiction

Based on a Florida reform school that operated for over 100 years, The Nickel Boys tells the shocking story of a boy sent to The Nickel Academy for a crime he didn’t commit. He strikes up a friendship with a fellow “inmate”, despite the two having polarised views of the world. Appalled by the treatment in Nickel, the two make a decision that ultimately changes both their lives forever.

I wasn’t a big fan of the writing in this book, however, the story is too real to ignore. Whitehead brought true and harrowing events to light and tackled them in a raw and authentic way.

Annabel by Kathleen Winter

Genre: Contemporary fiction

Set in rural Canada in 1968, Annabel tells the story of a mixed-gendered child brought up a boy but who is always drawn back to his shadow-self; a girl called Annabel. As an adult, he finally escapes the restricted environment of his home town, and feels comfortable to confront his dual identity, which brings into question the ethics and allegiance of those he trusted most.

I plan to update this post with other diverse books as I read/are recommended them. There are so many out there that I haven’t yet included, but it’s definitely my mission this year to share as many as possible. I’d love to hear your favourite diverse reads; drop them in the comments or send me a message via @BackpackingBookworm.


2 thoughts on “18 books that celebrate diversity

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