Book recs for Pride Month and Juneteenth

Books on library shelves stretch around a curve
One day I will be able to live in a bookstore. I bide my time waiting for that day. (Photo by Susan Q Yin on Unsplash)

I read a lot of books and over the past several years I have tried to be more mindful of the authors I read and the stories I seek out. This first started with a concerted effort to read more women authors and has grown into reading more authors of color and LGBTQ authors.

Despite strides made in recent years to publish a more diverse range of books, publishing as a whole remains predominately white. This can cause a lot blind spots and weirdness and I’m glad those are being addressed and called out. At the same time, the progress can be frustratingly slow.

I’m thrilled that the book landscape is changing. And I love nothing more than a critical look at the so-called “literary canon” students have been taught forever. Do we really all need to be reading Charles Dickens still?

In 2020, a lot of anti-racist reading lists were going around, and people started pointing out that you can’t just read your way out of a problem. That’s definitely true. But I think it’s worth celebrating different kinds of stories and taking the time to look for typically marginalized voices. That’s why I’m throwing together a little reading list in honor of Pride Month and Juneteenth. I myself am a straight white lady living in the suburbs, so if you want to gets your recs elsewhere, I get it. But you might find something you want to check out below!

The Broken Earth Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin

Genre: Fantasy

I basically force everyone I know to read these books. I am an unending hype person for the trilogy, which I typically try not to do with books because then it makes people feel awkward if they don’t love them too. But I can’t help it. Basically from the moment I started reading The Fifth Season, these books set my hair on fire.

This story takes place on a planet that is not our Earth. It is undergoing an apocalypse (more or less an extinction event that the people on the planet call a fifth season). A huge rift has opened up on the planet and things are not looking great. We follow a woman named Essun, who has the ability to control tectonic forces and is trying to find her daughter. She’s part of a small class of people who can effect the earth and are marginalized and hated for it. (If you get mad and cause an earthquake that kills people, that’s not great.)

On top of that, there are all sorts of fantastical elements at play. Creepy Guardians who seek to control this underclass, rock eaters, mysterious floating obelisks in the sky. And at some point you realize there’s no moon and is it a myth or is it real and it wandered off???

The action in these books is great, but the characters are so fantastic and the world is so complete. Plus, a bunch of mysteries get raised and then addressed in super satisfying ways down the road. Read these books!

Warning that there is a lot of death and violence and oppression so reading these books does not always feel good. And if you can’t handle that right now, it’s okay.

The Changeling by Victor LaValle

Genre: Horror/Fantasy

I had a few small gripes with this book (like how quickly the birth scene happened, but that’s sort of a personal bugaboo of mine), but overall it’s very compelling. Just take the basic premise that your wife becomes convinced that your infant son has been replaced by a changeling. She becomes so insistent that finally she acts on this belief, killing your son (who she thinks is really not your son) to get the real version back.

And then stuff gets weirder from there!

The actions that surround the changeling baby are really traumatic to read, but the book is making all sorts of observations about the horror and trauma of parenting and relationships and being believed. It is a ride worth taking.

Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

Genre: Romance

The first time I read this book, I was sick, and spent the entire day lying on the couch and absolutely devouring this book. It is super charming! Sometime in the last year or so, I picked it up again and took maybe 24-48 hours longer to read it, but still crammed it down as fast I could.

It’s not perfect, but you know what, I love it for that. The characters are super earnest and the love story is very sweet and ultimately everyone is trying to come to terms with who they are and how they present themselves to the world. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say this book has a happy ending and sometimes you just need a happy ending, dang it.

The set up is catnip for me. The son of the first woman president has a sort of pseudo-feud going on with an English prince. They’re forced to pretend to be friends for PR reasons and then, you know, feelings happen.

Fake dating is absolutely one of my favorite tropes that exists on this earth. I am a sucker for it every time. And the fake friendship bit really falls close enough that I can’t resist it.

I will say that all the characters are very quippy! At times it feels a little like the author watched too much of The West Wing (no judgement). I personally like this, but just a head’s up if you don’t like constant quippy cleverness.

This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

Genre: Science fiction

I believe that this one is short enough to be classified as a novella. So not only is it wonderful, but it won’t take up too much of your time!

I love this book. It is exactly my jam. Two agents on opposite ends of a time war leave each other missives in all sorts of weird places across space and time. And I am talking like, you chew on a seed and get the letter that way kind of weird places.

The creativity of the different settings is so fantastic and the way these characters start realizing that their dedicated antagonism has started giving them deeper connections than they intended is quite delightful. It helps if you like books largely composed of letters.

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson

Genre: Non-fiction

I can’t tell if everyone in the world knows about this book or if it just seems like everyone in the world knows about this book. So its inclusion on this list might not be that creative, but it’s still well worth the read. It’s super important to be aware of the biases and deep flaws in the American justice system and this book really highlights them.

You have a through story about a man who was wrongfully convicted of murder and spent many years on death row, which in and of itself is worth the read, but then Stevenson gives us more. In addition to the main story, you will read about other people and other cases that highlight other types of injustice in the system. Just last week I read about a man in a Missouri prison who was originally convicted to life without parole at sixteen until the Supreme Court ruled that convicting minors to life without parole was unconstitutional. Bryan Stevenson worked on this issue!

I try to stay informed about this kind of stuff and my jaw still hit the floor multiple times throughout the book. I highly recommend it.

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

Genre: Literary fiction

I loved this book. It’s a fascinating character study, and I drank in every word. If you are a person who loves plot, this is probably not the read for you. But if you like the idea of following the lives of two women who grew up as twins in the same small town before parting ways for good and then also exploring the lives of their daughters, you might want to check it out. I should also mention that these characters are light-skinned black women and one of them manages to change her life by leaving behind everyone she knows to pass as white.

The issues of race, gender, and sexuality in this book are all explored in interesting ways, but ultimately, it came down to the characters for me. I loved following them, getting to know them, learning about what went on in their heads. And that’s really what the book is about. People being people.

Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall

Genre: Romance

The summary of this book mentioned fake dating and I was immediately in (see above).

Two men decide to fake date because they think it will help them both out somehow. Does their weird logic make a whole lot of sense? Not really! Is that one of the reasons fake dating plots are so great? Pretty much!

I will never tire of two people pretending to date and then actually falling for each other. I just won’t.

Not to mention the lead characters are fun and their chemistry is good and you really just root for them and want that happy ending to happen. I have been seriously considering rereading this one just because it gave me so many feel goods the first time around.

Also one of the main characters is a vegetarian and I appreciate that.

There you have it! I tried to pick books of different stripes to give everyone something. There are so many more, of course, but I’ve already rambled long enough. Drop your own recs in the comments if you like. My to read list gets worried if it drops too far below 100 or so.

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