Helen in Love: A Novel by Rosie Sultan – The mainstream view of Helen Keller is that of a deaf-blind child and student of Anne Sullivan, learning language by spelling out words on her palm. We rarely hear of Helen as an adult, including her political endeavors and love life. Sultan’s novel, through fictional prose, explores Helen’s relationship with Peter Fagan and the social barriers (including overprotective family) preventing her from living as she wanted.
Geek Love by Katherine Dunn –The carnival family of the Binewskis set out to produce children with physical difference – including a son with fins instead of arms, and conjoined twins. At the core of this novel is a story about what it means to be “normal” vs. a “freak,” and how those two intersect within personal and social identity. This book is championed by many in the disability community as it imagines a place where disability is not just accepted, but desired. Please note this book depicts very heavy themes, including acts of violence.
He Mele a Hilo by Ryka Aoki – Noelani is putting together a grand hula routine after a famous CEO makes a sizeable donation – the only stipulation is to pay it forward. Meanwhile, the dancers and musicians struggle to find their own voice within the dance and in their relationships with each other. There’s romance, food trucks, practical jokes, passion, and other events that culminate in beautiful prose. The characters felt like my best friends, even when they annoyed or angered me - that’s a sign of a powerful book. You can read Thrive’s interview with Ryka, too!
The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi – In this graphic novel, Satrapi’s tells her story of growing up in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution, living under political violence, losing family, struggling with the end of a relationship, and the pain of leaving behind what you adore. The images are black and white, with simple but bold lines, capturing the stark reality of this moment in history. If you are looking to get into graphic novels, this is one of the best.
Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude by Ross Gay – A garden can be a place where we reflect and find solace. As we watch flowers grow, and nurture them with water, we also watch them die. Gay’s collection of poetry uses the theme of a garden to explore agony, memory and loss, self-care, and ultimately hope. I’m drawn to poetry that uses nature as a vessel to connect with deeper topics, so I loved this. His language and metaphors are direct and clear, making Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude an accessible read.
If At Birth You Don’t Succeed by Zach Anner – As an award-winning comedian, you’d expect Zach’s book to be funny – and it is. But in between the humor are truth bombs about life as a person with a disability, which is much needed in the literary world. He writes about every topic under the sun, including winning his own show on Oprah’s network, while giving major side eye to those with negative assumptions about people with disabilities. Zach is a super guy, and was a featured guest in our reality TV and disability Twitter chat!
In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez – Even though I read this many years ago, I still feel it in my bones; this is a book that stays with you. In the Time of the Butterflies is literary nonfiction about the Mirabal sisters, known as Las Mariposas (the butterflies), of the Dominican Republic; three of the four sisters were murdered for their actions against the dictator Rafael Trujillo. It is told from each sister’s perspective, highlighting their strength, bravery, and love for one another and their country. For Spanish readers, I would also suggest Vivas en Su Jardin, a biography by Dede Mirabal, the surviving sister, with an introduction from Alvarez.
Thrall by Natasha Trethewey – The 19th US Poet Laureate penned this stunning collection of poems that explore identity as a mixed-race woman in the United States. There is so much history, political and personal, concentrated in every line; I kept reading and reading the words, gaining a new understanding each time. Trethewey’s poems are not written as puzzles to be solved, but as works to be explored and understood through reflection.
Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – Kambili and Jaja, siblings living in Enugu, Nigeria, are sent to live with their aunt outside the city after military and familial battles take over their home. The aunt shows them a different life, free of unrest from their abusive father and local military, where they gain privileges so longed for. But when the siblings move back home, they must readjust to keep their family together. As always, Adichie captivates with her storytelling and characters; it feels like an honor every time I read her work. You can also check out her book Americanah, which I reviewed in last year’s summer reading list!
On The Edge of Gone by Corinne Duyvis – A comet is headed directly toward Earth, and the only escape is a ship taking passengers to inhabit other worlds; but the craft will only accept individuals based on their “usefulness.” Denise is afraid they won’t let her aboard because she is autistic. Duyvis’ work stands out from other dystopian novels as both the character and author share the same disability. We interviewed Corinne about her previous work, too.
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