Toni Morrison. Octavia Butler. Angie Thomas. Susanna Clarke. The influence these women had in my life and journey as a writer is hard to define. Their legacy cannot be contained in pages and stories. In fact, I believe their real gifts are the myriad of feelings and ideas they have sown in my life.
Choosing only 7 books was incredibly challenging, but strangely rewarding. It was amazing to relive all these stories, years after they first entered into my life. Are you ready to discover my must-reads for this International Women’s Day?
1) The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
The Hate U Give is a Young Adult contemporary novel about 16 year old Starr Carter. Starr moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between them is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer.
Thomas’ writing is powerful. She’s one of the few authors who manages to make me laugh and cry with the same intensity. The dialogs and the relationships between the characters in this book felt extremely real and their words intertwined so perfectly with the theme of this story.
The Hate U Give is not only beautifully written, it also has a heart and its words are like weapons. Starr entered my life in a period of great change to remind me once again our most powerful weapons are our voice and our principles.
At the end of the day, what matters the most is what we can carry with us wherever we may go. We are not the things we accumulate nor our perceived popularity inside and outside of the digital world, we are so much more.
2) Kindred by Octavia E. Butler
When Dana first meets Rufus on a Maryland plantation, he’s drowning. She saves his life – and it will happen again and again. Neither of them understands his power to summon her whenever his life is threatened, nor the significance of the ties that bind them. And each time Dana saves him, the more aware she is that her own life might be over before it’s even begun. Kindred is a earth-shattering science fiction novel about toxic familial bonds.
Octavia’s writing is extremely immersive and it is easy to slip into the mind and misfortunes of Dana, a self-conscious writer that is plunged back to a time and place where slavery still exists.
Instead of exploring the usual and expected themes, Octavia surprised with the unexpected: the corrupting influence of power and the oppressing bondage of familial love.
Throughout the narrative, I kept wondering: how much abuse can strong-minded Dana tolerate from her ancestor?
This has led me to much more disturbing questions: how many excuses do we make for the people we love? How many times do we close our eyes to their wrongdoings?
And what consequences can those choices bring?
3) Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
Milkman Dead was born shortly after a neighborhood eccentric hurled himself off a rooftop in a vain attempt at flight. For the rest of his life he, too, will be trying to fly. As we follow Milkman from his rustbelt city to the place of his family’s origins, Morrison introduces an entire cast of strivers and seeresses, liars and assassins, the inhabitants of a fully realized black world. With this brilliant contemporary novel, Toni Morrison tells an audacious coming-of-age story.
I was never able to put into words how much this book meant to me. Perhaps it was because I read it while I was preparing my thesis defense. Perhaps it was because it was the first book I ever read by Toni Morrison. The fact is that the Song of Solomon is an eviscerating tale unlike anything I’ve ever read.
Although Milkman is the protagonist of the story, the true beauty of this novel is carried by the women of his life. Morrison is a real master of human emotion and she weaves it into the narrative in a powerful way.
My absolute favorite character of this novel is Pilate, an uncanny Black woman with no navel that subverts all norms of society in a visceral and powerful way.
4) The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
Three terrible things happen in a single day. Essun, a woman living an ordinary life in a small town, comes home to find that her husband has brutally murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter. Meanwhile, mighty Sanze — the world-spanning empire whose innovations have been civilization’s bedrock for a thousand years — collapses as most of its citizens are murdered to serve a madman’s vengeance. And worst of all, across the heart of the vast continent known as the Stillness, a great red rift has been torn into the heart of the earth, spewing ash enough to darken the sky for years. Or centuries.
The Fifth Season is the first book of the Broken Earth trilogy, one of my favorite series of all times. Jemisin breaks so many norms in this novel, bringing us a non-linear narrative that alternates between third and second person points-of-view.
The worldbuilding is brilliantly done and the different narrative lines collide at the end of the first book to create one of the most intense endings I have ever read. If I have anything to say about this book is that I wish I could read it again for the first time. The ending was surprising, powerful, and embedded with so many questions.
One of the most powerful themes of this story is the intersection between womanhood, motherhood, and legacy. This series also portrays polyamorous relationships and trans characters in a beautiful way.
5) Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
English magicians were once the wonder of the known world, with fairy servants at their beck and call; they could command winds, mountains, and woods. But by the early 1800s they have long since lost the ability to perform magic. They can only write long, dull papers about it, while fairy servants are nothing but a fading memory.
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrel was one of the first adult fantasy books I’ve ever read. It is very slow paced, filled with references, and written in a delicious prose. What I loved the most about this story was the characterization. Years after I’ve read this book, I still have the images of the avaricious Mr. Norrel and the dashing Jonathan Strange imprinted in my mind. And I still remember their slow descent from teacher and pupil to magical rivals.
The dark academia aesthetic is another powerful element of this story. And one I would definitely love revisiting one of these days.
6) The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she lived and made love with her husband, Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now . . .
Atwood’s way of telling this story was superb. Her writing was fragmented, disconnected, to a point that we really start understanding what Offred is feeling, living, remembering, mourning and how she is learning to cope with her new life.
Atwood breaks so many conventional rules of writing and, by doing so, she’s showing us that words should be made to fit a story and not the other way around.
7) Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
This heartwarming story has beckoned generations of readers into the special world of Green Gables, an old-fashioned farm outside a town called Avonlea. Anne Shirley, an eleven-year-old orphan, has arrived in this verdant corner of Prince Edward Island only to discover that the Cuthberts—elderly Matthew and his stern sister, Marilla—want to adopt a boy, not a feisty redheaded girl.
Anne and the world of Green Gables will forever have a special place in my heart. Anne Shirley is one of those characters that lights up any room. Her fierce optimism and dreamy nature made me fall in love and remain in love with this story.
There is only one quote that can truly show you how this book made me feel:
“Dear old world,” she murmured, “you are very lovely and I am glad to be alive in you.”
Anne is perhaps the reason why I always trying to add a bit of sunshine to all my stories.