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Diversifying Your Shelf: Five of My Favorite Books by That Center Diverse Narratives

It’s no secret that the book publishing world is overwhelmingly white and has been for a long time. In the past few years, there has been a push for diversity within book publishing to share diverse stories. In 2017, I had the opportunity to attend the Texas Teen Book Festival through a partnership with We Need Diverse Books (WNDB), an organization dedicated to promoting diversity in literature, so children see themselves reflected in the pages they read as they grow up. I entered the WNDB’s essay contest on a whim and was invited to attend panels about diversity within book publishing and the importance of telling our stories. 

For a long time, I didn’t see myself reflected in the books I read. In recent years, there has been an increase in books centering stories that have historically been left out of the mainstream. More specifically, stories that include and are written by women of color and members of the LGBTQ+ community are no longer missing from bookshelves. There’s still a long way to go before one could call the book publishing industry genuinely diverse, but I’ll share some of my favorite recent reads written by women of color or authors who identify as LGBTQ+. 

'Honey Girl' by Morgan Rogers

I finished this book just a few months ago, and it’s easily one of my favorite books of all time. In her debut novel, Morgan Rogers tells the story of Grace Porter, a young woman just shy of 30 years old who is searching for her place in the world after receiving her doctorate in astronomy. While its description makes it seem like a love story, it’s more than that: it’s a story of self-love, independence and hope. Grace Porter is a young Black lesbian finding her way after years of focusing on her educational aspirations, and her story found me at just the right time. Morgan Rogers’ book is full of wit, friendship, found family, love and hope. You need to read this book ASAP. 

'The Girl with the Louding Voice' by Abi Daré

Adunni is a young Nigerian girl who is still coming to terms with the loss of her mother, who taught her that education is her greatest form of power. Determined to attend school and learn as much as she can while facing difficult circumstances, Adunni’s story is one of resilience and hope. The Girl with the Louding Voice is Abi Daré’s debut novel, and I’m looking forward to reading her future work. 

'This Close to Okay' by Lessa Cross-Smith

A breathtaking novel alternating between two perspectives, This Close to Okay is about therapist Tallie Clark, who stops driving on her way home from work to talk to a man standing precariously on a bridge. After coaxing him away from the edge of the bridge and providing him with a safe space, Tallie decides not to disclose that she is a licensed therapist for fear of the man, Emmett, losing her trust. This book deals heavily with mental health, deep secrets and loss, but it also fosters a strong sense of hope and the importance of human connections. 

'The Black Flamingo' by Dean Atta

Written in breathtaking prose, Dean Atta’s The Black Flamingo tells the story of a young mixed-race boy named Michael as he comes to terms with his sexuality. When he is in college, he finds community within the drag club to live his truth on and offstage. Although it’s a young adult novel, I would recommend this to anyone interested in the story. With themes of love, found families, community, and finding your wings in a world that was built to tear you down, this book is sure to leave a lasting impression. 

'Dominicana' by Angie Cruz

Following the story of a 15-year-old girl named Ana from the Dominican Republic, she is asked to marry a man over twice her age and start a new life in New York City. She agrees as it will benefit her low-income family back home and provide them with some financial security, but she pays the price as she tries to find her way in a new country with a man she does not love. A story of resilience, love, familial bonds and hope in unexpected places, Dominicana is a novel that has stayed with me since I read it nearly a year ago.

This list is merely a starting point, and I encourage you to seek diverse stories in whatever books you enjoy reading. While claiming to support and promote diversity is one thing, it’s another thing to act on and seek out stories that may not necessarily be centered in mainstream media. 

Reading and sharing stories that have historically been silenced or shut down is crucial to creating space for those telling them. Each one of these books wasn't explicitly chosen because it’s by a diverse author, but because I resonated with them and believed everyone should read their stories. 

If you’re planning on purchasing any of these titles, check out Bookshop.org to search for local bookstores! You can also choose a bookstore to support and place an online order, in which all the proceeds go to the store of your choosing.

Jessica Hernandez is a University of Florida Senior doublte-majoring in Economics and Sustainability Studies. She has a heart for activism, is an avid reader, a lover of vegan food, and a member of the rock climbing team at UF. She can often be found reading books in her hammock or trying vegan food at restaurants in Gainesville.
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