Inclusive Reading Recommendations — Literary Fiction

For this post, we’re focusing on inclusive reading recommendations in literary fiction. Granted, what constitutes literary fiction is up for some debate, so it can sort of end up being a catch-all term. For this post, I’m defining literary fiction as fictional stories that center the character journey rather than centering plot or genre tropes.

  1. Swing Time by Zadie Smith
    • “”An ambitious, exuberant new novel moving from North West London to West Africa, from the multi-award-winning author of White Teeth and On Beauty Two brown girls dream of being dancers–but only one, Tracey, has talent. The other has ideas: about rhythm and time, about black bodies and black music, what constitutes a tribe, or makes a person truly free.”
  2. Islay by Douglas Bullard
    • “Islay is the name of an imaginary island state coveted by Lyson Sulla, a Deaf man who is tired of feeling that ‘hearing think deaf means dumb, pat head.’ Sulla signs this to his wife Mary in explanation of his desire to tum Islay into a state solely for Deaf people, with himself as governor. From there, his peripatetic quest begins.”
  3. Sing, unburied, sing by Jesmyn Ward
    • “Jojo and his toddler sister, Kayla, live with their grandparents, Mam and Pop, and the occasional presence of their drug-addicted mother, Leonie, on a farm on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. Leonie is simultaneously tormented and comforted by visions of her dead brother, which only come to her when she’s high; Mam is dying of cancer; and quiet, steady Pop tries to run the household and teach Jojo how to be a man. When the white father of Leonie’s children is released from prison, she packs her kids and a friend into her car and sets out across the state for Parchman farm, the Mississippi State Penitentiary, on a journey rife with danger and promise. Sing, Unburied, Sing grapples with the ugly truths at the heart of the American story and the power, and limitations, of the bonds of family.”
  4. Nevada by Imogen Binnie
    • “Nevada is the darkly comedic story of Maria Griffiths a young trans woman living in New York City and trying to stay true to her punk values while working retail. When she finds out her girlfriend has lied to her, the world she thought she’d carefully built for herself begins to unravel, and Maria sets out on a journey that will most certainly change her forever.”
  5. Life of Pi by Yann Martel
    • “When his ship sinks. Pi finds himself alone in a lifeboat, his only companions a hyena, an orangutan, a wounded zebra, and Richard Parker, a 450-pound Bengal tiger. Soon the tiger has dispatched all but Pi, whose fear, knowledge, and cunning allow him to coexist with Richard Parker for 227 days lost at sea. When they finally reach the coast of Mexico, Richard Parker flees to the jungle, never to be seen again. The Japanese authorities who interrogate Pi refuse to believe his story and press him to tell them “the truth.” After hours of coercion, Pi tells a second story, a story much less fantastical, much more conventional-but is it more true?”
  6. The leavers by Lisa Ko
    • “One morning, Deming Guo’s mother, an undocumented Chinese immigrant named Polly, goes to her job at the nail salon and never comes home. With his mother gone, eleven-year-old Deming is left with no one to care for him. He is eventually adopted by two white college professors who move him from the Bronx to a small town upstate. Set in New York and China, the Leavers is the story of how one boy comes into his own when everything he’s loved has been taken away–and how a mother learns to live with the mistakes of her past.”
  7. The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith
    • “Based on a true story plucked from Highsmith’s own life, The Price of Salt tells the riveting drama of Therese Belivet, a stage designer trapped in a department-store day job, whose routine is forever shattered by a gorgeous epiphany–the appearance of Carol Aird, a customer who comes in to buy her daughter a Christmas toy. Therese begins to gravitate toward the alluring suburban housewife, who is trapped in a marriage as stultifying as Therese’s job. They fall in love and set out across the United States, ensnared by society’s confines and the imminent disapproval of others, yet propelled by their infatuation.”
  8. Exit west by Mohsin Hamid
    • “In a country teetering on the brink of civil war, two young people meet–sensual, fiercely independent Nadia and gentle, restrained Saeed. They embark on a furtive love affair, thrust into premature intimacy by the unrest roiling their city. When it explodes, turning familiar streets into a patchwork of checkpoints and bomb blasts, they begin to hear whispers about doors–doors that can whisk people far away, if perilously and for a price. As violence and the threat of violence escalate, Nadia and Saeed decide that they no longer have a choice. Leaving their homeland and their old lives behind, they find a door and step through.”
  9. The mothers by Brit Bennett
    • “It is the last season of high school life for Nadia Turner, a rebellious, grief-stricken beauty. Mourning her mother’s recent suicide, she takes up with the local pastor’s son. Luke Sheppard is twenty-one, a former football star whose injury has reduced him to waiting tables at a diner. It’s not serious– until the pregnancy. As years move by, Nadia, Luke, and her friend Aubrey are living in debt to the choices they made that one seaside summer, caught in a love triangle they must carefully maneuver, and dogged by the constant, nagging question: What if they had chosen differently?”
  10. The World Unseen by Shamim Sarif
    • “Miriam is the traditional young Indian mother, hardworking and self-effacing. But then she meets the rebellious Amina who confounds the Indian community by driving a taxi and setting up a cafe with a black man, and her world is turned upside down.”
  11. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
    • “The lives of two sisters–Nettie, a missionary in Africa, and Celie, a southern woman married to a man she hates–are revealed in a series of letters exchanged over thirty years.”
  12. Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie
    • “A classic novel, in which the man who calls himself the ‘bomb of Bombay’ chronicles the story of a child and a nation that both came into existence in 1947–and examines a whole people’s capacity for carrying inherited myths and inventing new ones.”
  13. Fierce femmes and notorious liars : a dangerous trans girl’s confabulous memoir by Kai Cheng Thom
    • “Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars: A Dangerous Trans Girl’s Confabulous Memoir is a coming-of-age story about a young Asian trans girl, pathological liar, and kung-fu expert who runs away from her parents’ abusive home in a rainy city called Gloom. Striking off on her own, she finds her true family in a group of larger-than-life trans femmes who make their home in a mysterious pleasure district known only as the Street of Miracles.”
  14. The book of unknown Americans by Cristina Henríquez
    • “Moving from Mexico to America when their daughter suffers a near-fatal accident, the Riveras confront cultural barriers, their daughter’s difficult recovery and her developing relationship with a Panamanian boy.”
  15. Good kings bad kings by Susan Nussbaum.
    • “The residents at a facility for disabled young people in Chicago build trust and make friends in an effort to fight against their living conditions and mistreatment.”
  16. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
    • “Things Fall Apart tells two overlapping, intertwining stories, both of which center around Okonkwo, a ‘strong man’ of an Ibo village in Nigeria. The first of these stories traces Okonkwo’s fall from grace with the tribal world in which he lives, and in its classical purity of line and economical beauty it provides us with a powerful fable about the immemorial conflict between the individual and society. The second story, which is as modern as the first is ancient, and which elevates the book to a tragic plane, concerns the clash of cultures and the destruction of Okonkwo’s world through the arrival of aggressive, proselytizing European missionaries.”
  17. Everything I never told you by Celeste Ng
    • “Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet. So begins the story of this exquisite debut novel, about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee; their middle daughter, a girl who inherited her mother’s bright blue eyes and her father’s jet-black hair. Her parents are determined that Lydia will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue-in Marilyn’s case that her daughter become a doctor rather than a homemaker, in James’s case that Lydia be popular at school, a girl with a busy social life and the center of every party. When Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together tumbles into chaos, forcing them to confront the long-kept secrets that have been slowly pulling them apart.”
  18. And the mountains echoed by Khaled Hosseini
    • “Afghanistan, 1952. Abdullah and his sister Pari live with their father and step-mother in the small village of Shadbagh. Their father, Saboor, is constantly in search of work and they struggle together through poverty and brutal winters. To Adbullah, Pari, as beautiful and sweet-natured as the fairy for which she was named, is everything; there is an unparalleled bond between these two motherless siblings. What happens to them, and the large and small manners in which it echos through the lives of so many other people is example of the moral complexity of life. In this multigenerational novel revolving around parents and children, brothers and sisters, cousins and caretakers, the author explores the many ways in which family members love, wound, betray, honor, and sacrifice for one another.”
  19. Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg
    • “The tale of two women: the irrepressibly daredevilish tomboy Idgie and her friend Ruth, who ran a little place in Whistle Stop, Alabama, back in the thirties. Their southern-style cafe offered good barbecue, good coffee, and all kinds of love and laughter–not to mention an occasional murder.”
  20. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
    • “Pachinko follows one Korean family through the generations, beginning in early 1900s Korea with Sunja, the prized daughter of a poor yet proud family, whose unplanned pregnancy threatens to shame them all. Deserted by her lover, Sunja is saved when a young tubercular minister offers to marry and bring her to Japan. So begins a sweeping saga of an exceptional family in exile from its homeland and caught in the indifferent arc of history.”

As always, feel free to include your own recommendations in the comments below!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.