A bunch of you have asked me for book recommendations recently, so I finally decided to put together an updated list of the most memorable things I’ve read recently. Two years ago, I made a pact with a friend to read more books written by POC, women and gender non-confirming individuals (plus, I find I naturally gravitate to and enjoy books by these kinds of authors anyways.) So, this list reflects that. Also, I’ve read a lot in the last year (54 books to be exact!), which means that this list is by no means exhaustive. I have lots of other recommendations, but for the sake of keeping things concise I’m going to include them separate posts.
In the meantime, if you’re looking for some female-centric books to devour this summer, look no further. From YA and suspense to non-fiction and lush novels, I’ve tried to include a little bit of everything.
1. I Will Find You by Joanna Connors.
Part memoir, part investigative journalism, this is one of my favourite non-fiction books I’ve read period. “This is it. My rape. I knew it was coming. Every woman knows. And now here it is. My turn.” When Joanna Connors was thirty years old on assignment for the Cleveland Plain Dealer to review a play at a college theater, she was held at knife point and raped by a stranger that grew up five miles away from her. After her assailant was caught, she didn’t speak of what happened to her until 21 years later when her daughter was preparing to go college. When she realizes that the man who raped her was one of the formative people in her life, she sets out to do the seemingly impossible: to find out who he was, where he came from, who his friends were and what his life was like. What she discovers is a story of race, class and cyclical violence, that’s intertwined with her own. Connors writes with incredible bravery and empathy – both for herself and her attacker. The book is stunning and unputdownable.
2. Kill the Boy Band by Goldy Moldavsky.
When asked to name a book that’s just pure fun to read, Kill the Boy Band comes to mind. When a group of teenage girls accidentally end up kidnapping a member of their favourite boy band, all hell breaks loose (in the best way possible.) This pitch black YA novel had me laughing out loud at multiple points. It’s smart, it’s witty and provides a hilarious take on fandom and the cult of celebrity. Whether you loved a boy band, still do or (like me) used to roll your eyes while your friends worshipped the Backstreet Boys, this is a must-read.
3. Problems by Jade Sharma.
A humorous novel about heroin addiction and mental health? Yes, that’s a thing. Dark, raw, and very funny, Problems introduces us to Maya, a young woman with a smart mouth, time to kill, and a heroin hobby that isn’t much fun anymore. This book follows the life of a functioning heroin addict as it begins to unravel. I wouldn’t say this book is laugh out loud funny (although I have a very dark sense of humour and LOL’ed a few times), but some of the situations and Maya’s fuck-ups are so painfully relatable that you can’t help but smile. Problems is about more than just drug addiction, it’s also about the struggle to be alone and a woman while trying to be a decent person in an imperfect world.
4. Sex Object by Jessica Valenti.
In this memoir, Valenti explores the toll sexism takes on women’s lives, from the everyday to the existential. From subway gropings and imposter syndrome to sexual awakenings and motherhood, Sex Object reveals the painful, embarrassing, and sometimes illegal moments that shaped Valenti’s adolescence and young adulthood in New York City. Disclaimer: I haven’t read any of Valenti’s other works, so I have nothing to compare this to. While this book isn’t perfect (some of the chapters felt abrupt to me), I thoroughly enjoyed it. I know men who read this and found it “shocking” which is funny, because to me it just seemed real. My experiences aren’t identical to Valenti’s but I can relate to so much of her story – from her experiences with self-medicating to feeling like she’s not good enough.
5. Barbara The Slut and Other People by Lauren Holmes.
I’ve read a lot of short story collections over the past two years and this is by far one of my favourites. I mean, the title alone. I won’t give you a run down of all of the stories because you can find that on Amazon or Goodreads. I will say this: the writing is amazing. It’s fearless, sassy, hilarious and insightful. Holmes has a way of saying a lot without using too many words. I can’t wait to read what she writes next.
6. The Veins of The Ocean by Patricia Engel.
I adore Engel’s writing – she’s the author of one of my other favourite books Vida. Set in the vibrant coastal communities of Miami, the Florida Keys, with forays to Havana, and Cartagena, The Veins of the Ocean follows Reina, a young woman, as she tries to re-start her life after her brother dies on death row. I love Reina as a character – she’s complex, funny, insightful and has a sassy, scrappiness to her. The book is an exploration of what happens when life tests the limits of compassion. In the wrong hands this story could be totally depressing, but Engel tells it in a way that’s gorgeous, lush and full of life.
7. Ghettoside: a True Story of Murder in America by Jill Leovy.
On a warm spring evening in South Los Angeles, a young man is shot and killed on a sidewalk minutes away from his home, one of the thousands of black Americans murdered that year – crimes that more often than not won’t be solved. This riveting piece of non-fiction follows Detective John Skaggs & his colleagues -a brilliant and driven group of detectives whose creed is to pursue justice for forgotten victims at all costs – as they set out and solve this crime. This is crime reporting at it’s best and should be required reading for humans.
8. Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur.
It’s not often that I pick up a book of poetry and read it cover to cover in one sitting, but these poems are beautiful, relatable, life affirming and dare I even say, healing? That’s really all you need to know. Oh, and Rupi Kaur is Canadian, which makes me like her even more.
9. The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez.
Henriquez is another writer that I absolutely adore. I read this book when it came out two years ago and have recommended it to dozens of people since. When fifteen-year-old Maribel Rivera sustains a terrible injury, the Riveras leave behind a comfortable life in Mexico and risk everything to come to the United States so that Maribel can have the care she needs. Once there, Maribel becomes involved with Mayor, a neighbourhood boy, setting off a chain of events in the process. A story about immigration, guilt, family and star crossed love; like Diane Guerrero’s story, this book feels more essential than ever given the current political climate.
10. Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More by Janet Mock.
I’m so, so, glad I read this memoir. This is actually the first book I’ve read by a trans author and it gave me insight into an experience that’s foreign to me as a cis-gender woman. Mock relays her experiences of growing up young, multiracial, poor, and trans in Hawaii, while imparting vital insight about the unique challenges and vulnerabilities of a marginalized and misunderstood population. Read the book & then greedily consume every interview, piece of writing and podcast featuring Mock (like I did) because she’s just the coolest.
11. An Untamed State by Roxanne Gay.
Mireille is the strong-willed youngest daughter of one of Haiti’s richest sons, she has an adoring American husband, a precocious infant son and by all appearances a perfect life. But her fairy tale comes to a terrifying halt when she is kidnapped in broad daylight by a gang of heavily armed men, in front of her father’s Port au Prince estate. This novel explores Mireille’s horrific captivity, her release and what happens when she tries to rebuild her life in the face of trauma. This book is fast paced read that’s as brutal as it’s compulsively readable.
12. The Girls by Emma Cline.
This novel left me breathless. It takes place in California in the 1960’s and follows Evie, a thoughtful and lonely teenager as she slowly becomes enmeshed with Suzanne, a charismatic girl that belongs to a cult that bears striking resemblance to the Charles Manson “family.” It’s a coming age story about girlhood, sexual awakening and how even in the free love 60’s, women weren’t really that “free.” It’s also how as a girl, you’re always essentially a target and dangerously close to having one bad choice turn into the worst thing ever. Some reviewers found this book slow, but for me it was more hypnotic. Since my Mom was a young adult during this era, I gave her The Girls to read. Everything about the book rang true to her – from the confusing sexual politics of the free love 60’s to the violence at the end. Consider this one officially “Mom approved.”
(My mom also loved Veins of the Ocean and The Book of Unknown Americans.)
13. Soldier Girls: The Battles of Three Women at Home and At War by Helen Thorpe.
This is another awesome non-fiction read. Helen Thorpe follows the lives of three women over twelve years on their paths to the military, overseas to combat, and back home…and then overseas again for two of them. These women, who are quite different in every way, become friends, and we watch their friendship evolve and also what happens when they are separated. This book explores PTSD, brain injuries, sexual harassment and the socio-economic challenges that drive people to enlist in the first place. But the real draw of this book are the women. Like Random Family, I couldn’t stop thinking of these women and spent a good chunk of time googling them to see where they are now.
14. Dare Me by Megan Abbott.
Is this Megan Abbott’s best novel? I’m not sure, but it was the first one I read and after finishing it, I went on to read four more of her novels – all of which I thoroughly enjoyed. It’s been said that no one writes teenage girls and women like Abbott – and it’s true. A masterful mystery writer, she totally nails the darker side of teenage girlhood, while creating suspense that makes your skin crawl. I listened to the audiobook of Dare Me, which I highly recommend.
15. It Ended Badly: 13 of the Worst Breakups in History by Jennifer Wright.
Spanning eras and cultures from ancient Rome to medieval England to 1950s Hollywood, Jennifer Wright’s It Ended Badly guides you through the worst of the worst in historically bad breakups. This book has everything: heartbreak, beheadings, uprisings, creepy sex dolls, and celebrity gossip. It’s also absolutely hilarious. The perfect read if you’re looking to laugh and feel better about your own breakups(s) while learning a bunch of interesting historic tidbits in the process.
What are you reading right now?
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