The #ownvoices movement started a few years back on Instagram to encourage readers to seek out books by minority authors. #OwnVoices books are able to let the reader walk a mile in the shoes of someone with a different life experience from their own.
When we decided to pick read an #ownvoices book for the June prompt for the reading challenge because we wanted to get readers to think critically about cultural differences and our own biases.
Luckily, Alison from MindJoggle.com offered to be our guest blogger for us for this particular prompt, which is perfect because her mission at Mind Joggle is “to help you read the books you love and think deeply about why they resonate.”
Meet Alison from MindJoggle.com
I love books that challenge me to learn and become more empathetic toward others. One of the best things about being a reader is the increased empathy it brings.
I consider it a responsibility as a human (especially one with a relatively privileged background) to try to better understand the experiences of people from more marginalized groups.
Books have always been an excellent entry to understanding other communities, and we count on the imaginations and meticulous research of authors to take us there in ways that feel authentic.
But sometimes authenticity demands lived experience, and in recent years, both authors and readers have shown a preference for stories written by people who are part of those communities—particularly when their books are centered on identity and marginalization.
That is the crux of #OwnVoices literature. You’ve probably seen the hashtag or reference, and it simply means that the author is a member of the marginalized group they’re writing about.
Many of these books are heavy and dive deep into the issues that people in these communities face every day. Others, though, are lighter, and their authors want readers to realize that the people in these communities aren’t their struggle: they experience joy, romance, and laughter like anyone else.
I’ve tried to include some of both in this list of #OwnVoices books, and I’d love to hear your favorites as well.
Thanks to Kirsten and Jackie for having me as a guest this month!
Must-Read #OwnVoices Books
Grace Porter has finished her PhD in astronomy and is ready to move into her successful career. But her field doesn’t seem quite as ready to welcome her–a biracial lesbian–into the fold. When she wakes up in Vegas–married—she makes another uncharacteristically impulsive decision: to find the girl, the magic of that night, and maybe herself.
There is a lovely romance in this book, but the love stories that truly shine are between Grace and her friends. Rogers perfectly captures the uncertainty and confusion of the quarter-life crisis, friends as family, and the search for meaning and identity.
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Reese is a trans woman dealing with the fallout after her girlfriend, Amy, detransitions to Ames and her dreams of a peaceful family life are broken. Ames, too, is struggling. When he learns his new lover is pregnant, he wrestles with the idea of himself as a “father”–and wants to bring Reese into the mix to build their own version of family.
This book takes the reader deep into the world of trans women—often in explicit ways that may be uncomfortable for some readers. But it’s a world that many people don’t understand, and if you can handle the rawness, it’s an eye-opening read.
Camino (Cami) lives in the Dominican Republic and Yahaira (Yaya) lives in New York City. They are sisters, but they don’t know about each other until their father dies in a plane crash. As the teens grieve, they try to reconcile the father they loved with this new information about him—and decide if they will carry resentment or be family. This novel-in-verse is stunning; try the excellent audiobook if you (like me) don’t usually read poetry.
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As the Big Oakland Powwow approaches, twelve different characters each have their own reasons for attending– culture, family connections, and for some, a leg-up in a world that only pushes them down. None escape the plague of addiction and abuse that permeates their varied tribes, and that plague leads to desperate acts that will change the lives of all in attendance.
Orange provides no platitudes or excuses here; the view is stark and the indictments are harsh and sweeping. Not feel-good reading, but an eye-opening look at the complex history and inherited pain and trauma of Native Americans.
Desiree and Stella are twins, raised in a small town where light skin is valued and sought after when building families. The two run to New Orleans as teens, but then Stella disappears. Years later, their daughters bring them together and force them to reckon with their very different choices. Told over multiple decades, this fantastic multi-generational novel explores race, identity, and family. If you are looking for more great books to read with your book club, check out our list of more than 50 books!
In this lyrical novel, a son named Little Dog writes a letter to his mother who cannot read. She is exhausted by her lack of a homeland, work-worn and sometimes abusive, and frustrated by her inability to read or speak English fluently. Little Dog grapples with his identity as a son, an Asian American, and a gay man experiencing his first romance with a troubled farm worker.
Vuong is a poet and this is his debut novel—one of the most beautiful I’ve ever read. Vuong’s spare prose devastates with a few words, and I often reread passages to savor their beauty and brilliance.
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Being the new kid at school is never easy, but it’s particularly difficult when you’re a Muslim who wears hijab in the year following 9/11. All Shirin wants to do is blend in—and breakdance. She is proud of who she is and the choices she makes, but also tired of being a target. When Ocean James tries to befriend her, she can’t imagine why he would want to be her friend–or more.
While this YA novel did contain somewhat typical YA romance storylines, the story of Shirin’s struggles as a Muslim teen post-9/11 was insightful and sympathetic.
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One evening, Moroccan immigrant Driss Guerraoui is crossing the street near his small business in California when he is killed in a hit-and run. As his family grieves and learns secrets about his life, the police investigate what happened. Told from multiple points of view–Driss’ family, the investigators, neighboring business owners, and Driss himself–Lalami covers a lot of ground. From family tensions and expectations, to the deeply held prejudices and hypocrisies of the town, her story is subtle and nuanced.
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In this #ownvoices novel by Akwaeke Emezi, a non-binary trans writer, a mother in a Nigerian town opens the door and finds the body of her son. As she grieves and investigates his death, she tries to understand the gentle soul who struggled with identity, only to finally achieve a sense of self and have it end in tragedy. Told from multiple perspectives, the story reconstructs the events leading to Vivek’s death and the heartbreaking struggle for self-acceptance in a world that is determined to deny it.
August is 23 and ready to escape her past. Her mother spent years investigating the disappearance of August’s uncle, and August is now an ace detective—with little to show for it. She’s not sure if her quirky new roommates and job at a diner in New York City will help, but the intriguing girl on the subway definitely piques her interest. As she and Jane grow closer, August discovers a new mystery to solve: Jane is from the 1970s and forever stuck on the subway. Why, and how can they fix it?
McQuiston—best known for the wildly popular Red, White & Royal Blue—brings us a new LGBTQ romantic comedy, set in a slightly alternate universe and filled with their signature banter and diverse characters.
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On the south side of Chicago, Ruby King’s mother is found murdered, and teen Ruby is left to live with her violent father. Ruby’s best friend, Layla, is determined to save her, but her pastor father wants her to stay away. Secrets from his own past, and from generations before, bind their families together—and he would rather they stay buried. This is a fantastic debut novel that explores race, generational trauma, and the importance of communities. Try this one on audio; the multiple narrators were excellent and brought these characters to life.
Bri is an aspiring hip hop artist, supremely talented and the daughter of a late underground legend. But for her, musical success isn’t just a dream, it’s a must; her family is on the verge of eviction, the power is off, and the fridge is empty.
But the path to success is fraught with compromise, particularly when you’re young, black, and poor. Bri is pulled between her own ideals and the demands of the industry: to make
It’s a world I was unfamiliar with, and this book increased my respect for it 100-fold. Also don’t miss Thomas’s The Hate U Give and her latest, Concrete Rose. All are great #ownvoices stories.
In Ghana, 300 years ago, two half-sisters are born: one is married off to an English slave trader while the other is sold into slavery. In each chapter, we meet a new descendant of the women, their stories illustrating how generational trauma can persist for centuries. An astonishing, emotional epic that deftly shows how the descendants of slaves continue to be oppressed by the institution of slavery, Jim Crow, and systemic racism, even 150 years after abolition.
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In an unnamed African country, five children live together in an abandoned airplane. They survive on their wits and street smarts beyond their years, and find comfort and family only in the shell they’ve made a home. As they struggle, they learn that every leg-up has trade-offs for these children on the fringes.
Ishmael Beah’s first fiction effort after his heartbreaking A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier is lovely; it manages to be uplifting and heartbreaking at the same time.
After years of isolation due to her chronic pain, Chloe Brown has made a list of things to do to get a life. She’s ready for some risks and some fun–but befriending the burly superintendent at her new apartment is NOT on her list. Red is not so fond of Chloe either, but he’s also intrigued. This steamy rom-com follows the typical path from dislike to banter to romance, but it’s also sweet, funny, and uplifting. Both Chloe and Red are wonderfully supportive of one another and their efforts to work through past hurts.
Talia Hibbert’s bio on her website says that she “writes steamy, diverse romance because she believes that people of marginalized identities need honest and positive representation.” Many of the #ownvoices books on my list are serious, but this is a great one to pick up when you’re in the mood for a lighthearted, feel-good romance.