Monthly Recommendations is a Goodreads group hosted by Trina from Between Chapters and Kayla from Kayla Rayne. March’s theme is Own Voices which is an important and prominent topic among readers and reviewers right now. As an extension of the diversity movement, Own Voices refers to a book not only having a diverse main character, but the author being part of the same diverse group – diversity includes ethnicity, race, gender (e.g., transgender), sexuality, disability, chronic somatic or mental illness, religion, socioeconomic status, body type, and many others. With regard to striving for more accuracy of diversity representation, Own Voices has become incredibly relevant. Nina and I have been trying to focus more on reading own voices books. However, our recommendations aren’t as extensive as we would like. We are always looking to learn and grow, to hear from different voices and experience the world from a different point of view, so please please leave any recommendations you have for us in the comments! We would really appreciate it! We really hope you enjoy all of these wonderful books listed below! As always, they are sorted alphabetically and clicking on the title will lead you to our reviews (if we have one). We also included a long list of resources at the bottom of the post, so please check these for further information and recommendations of Own Voices!

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

One of my favourite novels of 2016, Everything I Never Told You is an impactful story of a Chinese-American family whose middle daughter Lydia disappears one day and is later found dead at the bottom of a lake. Based on her own experiences growing up in Ohio, Celeste Ng’s novel explores the ignorance, bullying and micro-aggressions that permeate 1970s small town Ohio, mainly focusing on race but also touching upon age, gender and sexuality. It’s a story about family, expectations and miscommunication; it made me reflect on my own privilege and I had to learn to sit with my own discomfort. An absolutely brilliant own voices novel that I cannot recommend highly enough. — Chantal

Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok

Girl in Translation was one of my favourite contemporaries growing up. It is an insightful debut on immigration, hardship, and striving for higher education. Based on her own childhood experiences as a migrant from Hong Kong, Jean Kwok tells the story of the ambitious Kimberly Chang who finds herself doing the splits between a life in Chinatown, wasting away as a sweatshop worker and living in a run-down apartment, and striving for a successful career at a fancy private school. I really enjoyed the raw, honest, and authentic narration, and Kwok cleverly wove Chinese culture into the storyline. Girl in Translation provides a powerful message of hope, redefinition of the self in a foreign country, and reaching for the stars against all odds. –– Nina

In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddy Ratner

This book was a blind purchase for me, meaning I had never heard of it nor had it been recommended to me. In the Shadow of the Banyan is an Own Voices book in every sense of word. It is a semi-fictional novel written by a survivor of the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia, so both the cultural elements and the storyline were drawn from the author’s personal experience. I started wondering at some point if anything, except for the names, was actually fictional, because it reads like a direct insight into Ratner’s thoughts and feelings. This is a touching yet devastating tale of power, family, and survival in one of Cambodia’s darkest hours, and it does us well not to forget the horrors witnessed during the reign of the Khmer Rouge. –– Nina

Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Yet another of my favourite books of 2016, Purple Hibiscus is written by one of the most admirable people I have ever come across: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. This was my introduction to her work and was enough to convince me that absolutely everyone should read her books. This novel tells the story of 15-year-old Kambili who is growing up in Nigeria, just as the country begins to fall apart under a military coup. Besides being a powerful story about family, love and grief, we also get a glimpse into Nigerian  culture and the effects of colonialism on the native population. It explores religion in its different forms and beliefs and is an unflinching portrayal of a family torn between tradition and change, blurring the lines of right and wrong. — Chantal

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

It’s not a coincidence that he walks with a cane and I walk with a cane.” – Leigh Bardugo. Up until Chantal had pointed it out to me, I had no idea Six of Crows classified as Own Voices. Bardugo skillfully incorporated disability into her fantasy duology, letting the pain she experienced with her degenerative condition flow into Kaz Brekker’s characterization. His cane – his signature feature – is actually a prime example for a well-hidden Own Voices element. If you read a book on Indian culture by an author with Indian heritage, you immediately know it is Own Voices, but this? This is brilliant. Leigh Bardugo took her disability and turned it into a weapon in a fantasy book, and when I finally found out about it, I was so impressed and moved. Not only is Six of Crows a gripping, action-packed fantasy with stellar characters and world-building, but it is also my dream come true. Because the representation of real-life issues, such as disabilities, diseases, or mental disorders, take on a whole new meaning in the fantasy genre. –– Nina

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

That Hate U Give was one of my most anticipated releases of this year and for once it was a YA book that deserves every bit of hype it receives. The novel is about 16-year-old Starr who witnesses the murder of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed at the time. The story follows Starr as she finds her voice and her activism, it explores the impact of racism on her community and personal life and discusses white privilege in absolutely brilliant way that feels so authentic to the story. The novel is inspired by the “Black Lives Matter” movement and rips unapologetically into the subject matter of racial bias in the justice system and I cannot stress enough how important this book is. Not only is this story important though, it’s also fantastically written and captivating with well-drawn characters, friendships and family dynamics that I devoured. — Chantal

Wild Swans by Jung Chang

This is the only non-fiction book on this and I cannot recommend it highly enough. Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China is a somewhat intimidating book, but it is worth every second. The amount of insight I gained from this read is invaluable, and yet, it didn’t read like a history textbook. Instead it is an entertaining, albeit harrowing, memoir depicting the joys and struggles of three Chinese women of the same family through three generations in the 20th century. It is a book you can  read regardless of your prior knowledge and is suitable for anyone who can stomach the descriptions of torture and violence that took place at the time. The novel is simultaneously depressing and uplifting and is made even more so by the way it is narrated so honestly and emotionally and in such a self-aware manner. –– Chantal

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

I read Wintergirls when I was an adolescent and I didn’t have the same grasp on mental illnesses as I do now, majoring in Clinical Psychology. I rated it 3 stars, probably because my younger self eventually tired of all the calory counting and weighing and the overall dark atmosphere of the novel. This was, however, in complete disregard of the accurate and brilliant portrayal of an eating disorder. Browsing passages of the book now, I see Wintergirls for what it is: An educative piece of contemporary literature which zooms in on the toxic relationships between a girl, her best friend, and her anorexia. I absolutely adored how recovery was handled as well. Though Laurie Halse Anderson states that she hasn’t suffered from anorexia, which she depicts in this book, the domain of eating disorders is not unfamiliar to her, as she has experienced disordered eating in her youth (for more information, please visit her Q&A about Wintergirls). –– Nina

Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed

Aisha Saeed’s debut Written in the Stars is one of the most heart-wrenching YA contemporaries I’ve ever read. Not only does Saeed include Pakistani culture in her novel, but she also addresses a topic important to her as a person and to her culture. According to Saeed’s foreword, she is in a semi-arranged marriage and very happy with her match. This book is not hateful. It is not about assessing whether arranged marriages are bad or not. It’s about the right to choose. If a person decides to let their parents pick someone suitable for them, it is still their choice. The Pakistani-American main character in this book does not get to choose and faces a horrible ordeal, fighting for her right to love and marry freely. Importantly, Saeed also includes contacts for young girls and women (and men!) who face an arranged marriage against their will and who need help. Written in the Stars does not sugarcoat but it also does not judge. –– Nina

Resources:

GayYA

Disability in Kid Lit

We Need Diverse Books

Corinne Duyvis Ownvoices FAQ

Amazing blog posts:

Diverse Rep in YA
Muslims in YA
POC representation from non-marginalized authors
Calling out authors on problematic books
“What Does Diversity Mean To You?”

More Own Voices book recommendations:

Disabled Authors
Latinx Authors
Muslim Authors
#OwnVoices Non-fiction Recommendations
POC Poet Recommendations
Asian Female Authors
Black Female Authors
Black Women as Heroes and Role Models
Works from Indigenous Authors
Transgender Books
10 YA/10 Adult Diverse Recommendations

These are our recommendations for unique and enjoyable Own Voices novels. If you’ve read any of these, come share the love, or have any recommendations of your own, please share!