1. The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill
The Book of Negroes is a real historical document containing the names of Black Loyalists who were granted freedom in return for their loyalty to the British crown during the American Revolutionary War. They journeyed to Nova Scotia in search of true freedom. This inspired Lawrence Hill’s 2007 award-winning novel. The narrative follows the life of Aminata Diallo from her abduction from West Africa to her imminent death in London England. Taken from her village at 11 years old, Aminata is shipped to America and sold as a slave on an indigo plantation in South Carolina. Aminata endures countless unimaginable hardships and dedicates her final years to supporting the Abolitionist movement. Lawrence Hill skillfully illustrates her sorrow, beauty, will and hope while guiding the reader through history and the horrors of slavery.
This book is incredibly powerful. I thought about it for months after I finished it. However, this book is not for the faint of heart. Lawrence Hill takes readers on an emotional roller coaster through Aminata’s unstable life. My hopes rose with hers each time the light of optimism touched her. My heart broke with hers as she suffered abandonment and betrayal within arm’s reach of freedom. She always answered with an unbreakable spirit. Aminata’s resilience is truly inspiring and demonstrates the immense strength of women.
2. A Thousand Splendid Suns by K. Hosseini
This book also features a strong, female lead, but in a very different setting. The story is set in Afghanistan and progresses through the Soviet invasion and the Taliban rule. Mariam and Laila lived strikingly dissimilar lives before the war converged their paths. The two women grew close as they both endured violence and abuse from their husband, Rasheed. The book highlights the sharp contrast between the lives of women in Afghanistan while demonstrating the devastating impact of the country’s unstable regimes and religious extremists on women across the land.
This book is a relatively quick, but gripping read. I remember that I stayed up on a weeknight until 4 AM because I just couldn’t put it down. I read it under a dim lamp and tried my best to cry silently in order to prevent my sleeping roommate from waking up, who had recommended this book to me. Every tear I cried was for Mariam, who lived a life full of injustices but still found the strength to forgive and finally find peace. Her narrative is one I will surely not forget.
3. The Help by Kathryn Stockett
The Help is the story of three brave women determined to start a movement against racism and discrimination in their town of Jackson, Mississippi during the height of the civil rights movement. Skeeter, a 22-year old college graduate returns to her hometown with opinions too progressive for the town’s liking. She dreams of becoming a writer. Skeeter develops an idea to publish a book about the life black maids, “The Help.” She convinces two maids, Aibileen Clark and Minny Jackson to share their stories at great risk. As more and more maids step up to share their stories of struggle, discrimination, fear and hope, the three women all make their voices heard in their published book.
Stockett captures the beautiful connection shared by the maids with the white children they raise, whom they teach love and equality. Yet, they must face the harsh reality in that the children will mirror the same racist views of their parents as they age. Stockett offers a unique, humorous, hopeful, rebellious and nuanced narrative to shed light on the unheard stories of the help.
4. The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff
Hoff employs the beloved Winnie-the-Pooh characters as metaphors to introduce the basic principles of Taoism. For example, Pooh himself personifies the Taoist concept of being unburdened by experience and letting things happen. Pooh engages in witty but incredibly insightful chats with his companions that will make the reader stop and reflect for a second.
For me, this book illustrates the beauty of simplicity. Enjoy the simple things. Just be. As life throws all kinds of obstacles at us, we must learn from and work with whatever happens. I learned that happiness is something we create for ourselves. This simple book brings immense wisdom that will change your approach to life.
5. Little Women by Lousia May Alcott
Four sisters, Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy March, endure poverty and loss while navigating through womanhood together during the American Civil War. Lousia May Alcott illustrates how each sister, with her colourful and diverse character, copes with the role of women during their time. Each sister has drastically different ambitions, philosophies and personalities. The eldest sister, Meg, becomes a wife and mother. Amy holds the conventional dream of marrying a rich and handsome husband to lift her out of poverty. In sharp contrast, Jo seeks independence and strives to become a writer. The youngest sister, Beth, is a gentle and caring girl who is passionate about music. The girls walk into womanhood under the care of their wise and loving mother, Marmee. Although the plot is a little slow, this classic still has its charm.
This book reminds the reader of the fundamental values of empathy, love, forgiveness and family. The unconditional love and support shared by each of the sisters is exceptionally touching. Alcott cleverly develops characters that each reader can relate to. I identified with the wild, proud, hardworking Jo. I was also humbled by Beth’s quiet kindness that shone through during the family’s darkest hours. I hope the strength of these little women will inspire you to be kind, brave and true.