A note from the curators:
Being avid readers, we have always looked for book recommendations or reviews. As readers from minority communities, it became clear during high school we were not hearing about authors or reading about characters who represented what we saw in the mirror. Voice to Books hopes to shed light on diverse voices through literature from all marginalized communities, including BIPOC and LGBTQ+, by focusing on authors of varying backgrounds. We will select a topic for each month, reach out to reviewers from different walks of life, and compile the reviews together for a smooth-flowing, entertaining, and educational post.
In this inaugural post of Voice to Books, we hope to honor and celebrate how Black Americans made their voices heard throughout 2020 and during this recent election. Black communities have long suffered oppression due to systematic and outright racism but have also contributed more to the arts than many may realize or acknowledge. Below are five books by Black authors reviewed by five women of color. Readers can find copies of each of the reviewed books at Books and Crannies, a Black-owned independent bookstore.
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Reviewed by Sarah Sheppeck (author)
Americanah tells the story of Ifemelu, a Nigerian woman who moves to the United States to escape the political climate of her home country. Ifemelu is forced, quickly, to assimilate to American culture, which includes, by and large, the erasure of her Nigerian heritage, as in America all Black people are just that—Black.
Unfolding largely in flashback, the relationship between race and cultural identity is a strong theme throughout. The critiques are scathing, but the truth behind them is undeniable. In 2020, with discussions of race, culture, class, and immigration frequently at the forefront of societal analysis, Adichie’s text remains just as relevant, if not more so, as it was upon publication in 2013.
Americanah is long—hovering at around 500 pages—but the narrative is clean and succinct. Chimamanda Adichie reflects the beliefs and behaviors of American society back to us, illuminating all of our well-intentioned but misguided actions, our ignorance, and our failed attempts to understand what is, for many, impossible to understand: what it’s like to be something other than white in American society.
The Hundred Thousand Kingdom by N.K. Jemisin
Reviewed by Grayce Butler (student, tour guide)
In N.K. Jemisin’s novel The Hundred Thousand Kingdom, there are many checked boxes for what readers are looking for in a fantasy novel. Matriarchal tribe of badass warriors? Check. High-fantasy setting with political intrigue? Check. POC protagonist navigating said intrigue? Check! Yet, many readers may have no idea these boxes exist for them until they begin reading The Hundred Thousand Kingdom. The first in a trilogy, this installment revolves around Yeine Darr, daughter of the leader of a barbarian tribe in the north. A series of events bring Darr to the city of Sky where she is introduced to the Arameri family. She learns that she is a possible heir to the kingdom that the Arameri have ruled over for thousands of years. She then uncovers family secrets that have far-reaching consequences.
At times, the story did seem convoluted, but it feels intentional. With a complicated storyline in the vein of Alice in Wonderland, Darr has fallen into a world that is completely different than the one she is used to. Jemisin captures the feeling of being an outsider wonderfully, while creating realistic scenarios even in a high-fantasy setting. Fantasy novels can be hit or miss, but Jemisin’s novel is a definite hit. This book is a breath of fresh air to the genre.
Futureland by Walter Mosley
Reviewed by Darienne K. E. Jordan (director, writer, small business owner)
Are you a fan of dystopian, science fiction, Afro-futuristic literature? Then you need this book. Futureland by Walter Mosley is a collection of nine loosely connected short stories set in a dystopian universe where wealthy technocrats rule. Through each of these stories, Mosley highlights issues around drugs, capitalism, mental health, racism, and the prison industrial complex in a riveting way. There are strong elements of technology and Afro-futurism woven throughout the book, carving out space for Black people in a genre that often minimizes or excludes them.
This book has the vibes of Fahrenheit 451 meets 1984 with its own diverse twist. Although it was published in 2001, many of the themes explored within the collection of stories are relevant in today’s society. The stories are well-written and stand on their own but also tie together in an artful way that gives a clear picture of the larger universe. Mosley does an excellent job of hooking the reader and keeping them captivated with a detailed and distinct view of the world and its happenings. Be ready to re-read often.
The Sound of Stars by Alechia Dow
Reviewed by Daniela Z. Montes (author, teacher, library technician)
The Sound of Stars is a science fiction novel by Alechia Dow. Two years before the start of the novel, Earth was invaded by an alien race called the Ilori. Humans met the Ilori with force, which resulted in the death of one-third of the human population. In the present, we meet seventeen-year-old Janelle “Ellie” Baker, a human girl who lives in an Ilori-controlled center in New York. The Ilori banned books, music, and art believing the arts lead to resistance. Ellie puts herself at risk by lending out her books to the other people in the center. One day, her signed copy of The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas goes missing, and she’s terrified because the Ilori could find her based on the dedication. Her punishment would be death. Much to Ellie’s surprise, the person who took her book is an Ilori named M0Rr1S who has one request: for her to bring him music. Ellie is confused by the request because Ilori aren’t supposed to express feelings, let alone enjoy human things like music. Chaos ensues, and Ellie and M0Rr1S travel across the United States to save humanity.
Readers will not stop gushing about this book. Alechia Dow does a wonderful job writing characters. None of them feel static, even those who are only briefly on the page. Ellie is a black, demisexual, chubby girl with wild curls that she tucks under a purple beanie. She loves books and is brave but riddled with anxiety at the same time. Readers will connect with Ellie’s personality, struggles, and triumphs. Then there is M0Rr1S, a lab-made alien boy who is kind and understanding. He loves to sing and enjoys music. Throughout the novel, Dow will put reader’s emotions through the wringer. They will cry, laugh, and have their hearts soar with joy. They will cherish reading the pockets of happiness Ellie and M0Rr1s are able to find on their way to saving humanity.
My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
Reviewed by A.E. Santana (author, editor)
Set in Lagos, Nigeria, this witty, quick-paced thriller follows level-headed older sister Korede, a hard-working nurse who is seemingly passed over in life by her beautiful, charismatic, yet childish sister Ayoola. But it soon becomes clear that no amount of sibling rivalry or personal resentment will keep Korede from protecting her family.
Braithwaite does an amazing job of showing her characters to the readers. There is no slow, detailed explanation for why they are doing what they do. They just do it. All the clues are there, and it’s up to the reader to look deep into their own shadow selves to understand and identify with the characters. For fans of thrillers and criminal psychology enthusiasts, My Sister the Serial Killer features how family secrets and past trauma can haunt children into adulthood.
Voice to Books is a monthly short list of reviews from a variety of voices curated by Daniela Z. Montes and A.E. Santana. Interested in contributing a review to Voice to Books? Please send inquiries to email@example.com.
Daniela Z. Montes received her Master of Fine Arts from the University of California at Riverside‘s Palm Desert Low Residency Program. Her nonfiction horror story, Hellhounds, was published by Kelp Journal. She is a contributor and former social media manager for The Coachella Review. Daniela received her Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of California at Santa Barbara, where she received an honorable mention in the Kieth E. Vineyard Honorary Scholarship Short Story Contest. You can find Daniela at danielazmontes.com and on social media @danizmontes.
A.E. Santana is a Southern California native who grew up in a farming community surrounded by the Sonoran Desert. A lover of horror and fantasy, her works can be found in Demonic Carnival III, Weird Ales Vol. II, and other horror anthologies. She is the paranormal/true horror editor for Kelp Journal and a former drama editor for The Coachella Review. A.E. Santana is a member of the Horror Writers Association and is a founding playwright of East Valley Repertory Theatre in Indio, California. She received her MFA in fiction from the University of California at Riverside’s Palm Desert Low Residency Program. Her perfect day consists of a cup of black tea and her cat Flynn Kermit. You can find A.E. at aesantana.com and on social media @foxflur.