“She learns to ask. To want. To hope. Learns the feeling of responding to a hunger that lives, not in her belly, but somewhere else in her body.”
A People's History of Heaven offers a portrayal of an impoverished urban community in India which is both honest about the hardships this community faces and is not written like tragedy-porn. Instead, Subramanian's focus is the ways in which the members of the community fiercely show up for one another across difference to not only survive, but to carve out joy in their ironically (or perhaps aptly) named neighborhood called "Heaven."
Read for: lyrical prose, uplifting representations of gender and sexual diversity with family support, post-colonial analysis, youth friendly
Content warnings: One scene of verbal harassment towards a transgender youth. State violence and poverty (not graphic).
"Time has a way of eternally looping us in the same configurations. Like fruit flies, we are unable to register the patterns. Just because we are the crest of the wave does not mean the ocean does not exist. What has been before will be again."
Set in a northern region where the seasons oscillate between the permanent darkness of winter and the delirious never-ending daylight of summer, Tanya Tagaq's #ownvoices mythobiography dances between extremes. Presented through gorgeous poetry, prose, and retellings of myths, Split Tooth explores the tenderness and beauty that coexists with the harshness of daily life in a tight-knit indigenous community devastated by colonialism, addiction, and sexual abuse. In equal measure fantastical and brutally real, Split Tooth will appeal to fans of other dark magical realism titles such as Carmen Maria Machado's In the Dream House and Akwaeke Emezi's Freshwater.
Read for: Do you like books that are beautiful, heart-wrenching, and truly bizarre? This one is for you.
Content warnings: Wow this book will not make you feel good. Addiction, domestic violence, sexual abuse, pregnancy & birth, infanticide
This unhurried, character-driven read is from 2016 but feels incredibly topical given the recent attention on India's military occupation of Kashmir and rising Hindu nationalism. Roy resists the trap of "a single story" by interweaving opposing perspectives and contradictory truths as her characters take different approaches to navigating the violence of the state. Roy's poetic prose and blistering observations of injustice make this book my all-time fave!
Read for: A book that will stay with you for a life-time
CW: There are some disturbing depictions of gun violence, mob violence, torture, and sexual violence. I have a pretty low tolerance for these things and I got through them, but this definitely is not a lighthearted read. Also content warnings for death, alcoholism, mention of the deaths of animals.
Wow! I am often luke-warm about short story collections because it rarely feels like enough time for me to become invested in the story or characters, but Jemisin immediately pulled me in within the first couple of sentences. Some of the stories are dystopian and grotesque, many are invigorating and hopeful, most leave lingering questions unanswered. Jemisin allows us only a taste of the strange and wonderful futuristic worlds she has dreamed up. My favorites were the sensual, mysterious stories centered around food that made me ache for half-forgotten meals, and yearn for flavors yet unknown.
Read for: Something that will blow your mind!
CW: Some blood & gore, death, natural disasters.
The woods conceal potent herbs, trickster foxes, and chilling secrets in this American Gothic portrayal of the role of folk medicine on American plantations in the antebellum period and immediately following the Civil War. The book follows a medicine woman born into slavery named Rue, whose inherited knowledge of hoodoo opens up opportunities to influence the complex power structure of the plantation, as well as accusations of consorting with the devil. Atakora exposes the sinister violence ingrained in plantation life while honoring the knowledge, ingenuity, and mediums of agency passed down between Black women of the era.
Read for: An ominous ambiance, complex characters, and wonderful use of symbolism to complete cycles and bring the story to a satisfying close
Content warnings: Physical and psychological violence against Black people, sexual violence, birth, miscarriage, abortion, and addiction.