It just so happens that this week’s Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by The Broke and the Bookish) is a freebie. And since Aarti’s Diversiverse challenge is coming up in October, I thought I’d combine the two and make a top ten recommendation list for diverse reads. Oh, the cleverness of me. Peter Pan quote out of the way, let me say that my list of favorites includes books that wouldn’t qualify for Aarti’s challenge (her challenge is: read one book written by a person of color). My list doesn’t focus on authors of color only, it also includes LGBTQI authors, stories about POC, disabled, or LGBTQI characters.
My top ten diverse reads
1 .N.K. Jemisin – The Inheritance Trilogy
It took me a few pages to warm to Jemisin’s style, her not-quite-reliable narrator, and her original world-building. But once I was in that world, I was in it to stay. Not only does she feature protagonists who aren’t white, she also writes beautifully about crazy imaginative worlds that truly redefine epic fantasy. I can’t wait to read her newest book, The Fifth Season.
So I’m cheating a little. Here are two titles, instead of one, but hear me out! One is a novel, the other a short story collection, so I am just being considerate of your readerly tastes. Hopkinson brings Carribbean mythology into her fiction and Midnight Robber has a particularly wonderful flavor of this. The book is written in patois, which takes a while to get used to but ends up flowing beautifully from the page. Her new collection Falling in Love With Hominids has a little bit of everything. A post apocalyptic story, a (re)imagining of some Shakespeare characters, and the story of a runaway chicken which is super adorable.
3. Karin Lowachee – Warchild
I finally read this military space opera after seeing rave reviews of it for years and years, and now I get why everybody loves it. Lowachee’s focus on character development is stunning, the way her protagonist Jos deals with trauma is as gripping as it is terrifying, and the alien culture she invented leans on Far Eastern traditions. There are also hints of a gay romance here, although it’s never quite clear and not at all central to the plot. Either way, I was hooked right from that amazing first chapter and didn’t want to let go of the characters I’ve come to love so much.
4. Alaya Dawn Johnson – The Summer Prince
Oh, The Summer Prince hit me right in the guts. I expected a fun YA futuristic romance and ended up with this multi-layered amazingness set in future Brazil. It explores the differences between generations, the danger of technology, and above all, the power of art. I adored Johnson’s voice and the setting actually added a lot to the story. It’s not just a gimmick or a ways to make it “exotic”. Finally, a story that’s not about a dystopian USA or a post-apocalyptic London/Paris/other Western metropolis.
5. Helen Oyeyemi – Boy, Snow, Bird
Not quite fantasy, but beautiful on every level, starting from the cover. I mean, look at it. This is a loose retelling of Snow White, with the protagonist Boy being the evil stepmother. But nothing in this tale is as it seems. I can’t even tell you what I loved best about this book. The characters really grew on me, the language is precise and poetic, but not overly flowery. The story offers a handful of nice twists, none of which were cheap. This book made me go out and buy everything else Oyeyemi has published – I didn’t even need to read the blurbs.
6. Nnedi Okorafor – Who Fears Death
Okorafor’s protagonist Onyesonwu has been haunting me ever since I read Who Fears Death. Set in post-apocalyptic Western Africa, Onyesonwu grows up as an outsider, a biracial child born of violence. Throughout the course of the novel, she not only grows into herself but becomes one of the strongest, most impressive characters I’ve ever read about. There’s powerful magic in here, there are beautiful connections between the characters, and a killer twist that broke my heart in two.
Okay, now I’m really cheating. The Remains of the Day is the story of a very devoted butler. That’s it. No, seriously! It’s also extremely gripping and emotional, despite (or maybe because) the protagonist doesn’t allow himself to show his emotions. It’s about a love lost and a life wasted and it tugs at the heartstrings like nothing else.
Never Let Me Go is science fiction, no matter what literary critics try to tell you. It follows a group of friends from childhood into adulthood, their loves, their fights, up to the eventual outcome, the purpose even, of their lives. The big twist isn’t all that surprising but that doesn’t mean it’s any less painful when it finally arrives.
8. Karen Lord – The Best of All Possible Worlds
Karen Lord is a bit hit-or-miss with me, but The Best of All Possible Worlds represents everything good. After the destruction of the Sadiri home planet, its people are stranded in the universe. And most of the people left are male. In search of appropriate partners to keep their culture (and DNA) alive, they visit tribes and villages, and get to know all sorts of cultures other than their own. This episodic story does what it sets out to do extremely well. It tells small vignettes wrapped up in a bigger story and paints an entire universe full of diverse creatures. I also have a particular soft spot for the romance that unfolds throughout.
9. Jaida Jones & Danielle Bennett – Havemercy
Havemercy is another one of those expectation-shattering stories. Steampunk dragons made of metal used as war machines, yes okay shut up and take my money! But it’s not about the dragons at all, not even so much about the war they are fighting. It’s about four characters whose lives are intertwined because of the war. Among them are two championship bickerers (buzz word anyone?) and a gay couple who live through a wonderful romantic sub-plot. I was equally impressed with the language and the way the authors slip into character with each POV shift so easily. This is a book that deserves a wider readership.
10. Caitlín R. Kiernan – The Drowning Girl
This is the kind of horror I love. Imp, the protagonist, is schizophrenic and doesn’t know which of her memories are true. She has two sets of memories of her first meeting with a mysterious woman, she is obsessed with Little Red Riding Hood and The Little Mermaid. She is also a wonderful unreliable narrator and turned me into a Caitlín R. Kiernan fan. The story is about her figuring out which of her two realities to believe, and whether it even makes a difference for her relationship with her girlfriend. Take a day off for this, you won’t be able to put it down.
So, after cheating my way through way more than ten favorites, tell me what your top diverse reads are? Also, if you want to join the Diversiverse challenge, head over to Aarti’s blog and sign up – there’s still time.