During my senior year of high school and freshman year of college, I decided to read some books outside of my comfort zone. This is a list of the ones that have changed my perspective and inspired me.
I find that the books that make people uncomfortable are the best books to learn from. Often those books regard racism, sexuality and mental illness.
The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
The New Jim Crow covers racial caste systems from slavery, Jim Crow laws, and mass incarceration to modern day colorblindness. This book is highly inquisitive and thought provoking. It reflects and comments on history in a new way. It focuses specifically on Black men and how the label of “felon” continues to affect so many after being released from prison. It feels like the grown-up version of a history book that’s actually correct. This book lays things out in a way that just makes sense.
The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo
The Poet X is one of my favorite young adult novels. It’s full of powerful slam poetry by a young girl named Xiomara Baptisa from Harlem as she tries to understand oppressive religion, sexuality, and society. Elizabeth Acevedo is an Afro-Dominican author. This book won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, the Michael L. Printz Award, the Pura Belpré Award, the Carnegie Medal, the Boston Globe–Horn Book Award, and the Walter Award.
Black Skin, White Masks by Frantz Fanon
Published in 1952 by French psychiatrist Frantz Fanon, this book is written in the style of autoethnography: a research method that analyzes personal experiences to find broader cultural and social insight. Black Skin, White Masks is intimate, honest, and uncomfortable at times. It is full of eye-opening one-liners, personal experience, and interesting commentary on Freudian theory. Like Freud, Fanon discusses psychoanalysis and its role in understanding the experiences of Black men. The idea of the individual and how white society dictates it is extremely powerful.
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
I originally read this book in my high school AP literature class and instantly fell in love. Homegoing is a historical fiction novel by Yaa Gyasi, a Ghanaian-American author. It follows the familial line of two sisters who were separated at birth. The chapters follow the eight generations that come after this separation, and comments on colonialism and segregation, as well as family. It made me consider the many possibilities of life depending on where one comes from. This book contains strong but ambiguous symbolism and an ongoing theme of heritage and family.
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is a young adult fiction novel. It is a beautiful book about the friendship of two very different individuals–Aristotle is closed off and stubborn whereas Dante is unusual and sharp-witted. It takes place over the course of two years and highlights each of the boys coming to terms with family situations, sexuality, and themselves. The main conflict is character vs self, and it eventually comes to an acceptance that brought tears to my eyes. Sometimes, we are too blind to see the love right in front of us and this book conveys this perfectly.
Words on Bathroom Walls by Julia Walton
A fictitious twist on the overdone meet-cute that we all love, but with the reality of mental illness. The main character, Adam, has treatment-resistant schizophrenia and falls in love with his classmate, Maya. She’s intelligent, beautiful, and has no experience with the challenges Adam is facing. She gets him to eventually open up and realize that he isn’t defined by his mental illness. This is a book everyone needs to read, especially those who can relate to Adam’s diagnosis. It serves as a reminder that everyone deserves love and that it’s never too late to go back and apologize for mistakes. This book was also made into a movie in 2020 starring Charlie Plummer and Taylor Russell, but of course the book is always better!