In 2018, I majorly stepped up my reading game and have been blown away by the poignant, imaginative, and diverse stories I’ve seen on the shelves of my local bookstore and library.
I didn’t explicitly intend to read mostly books by women of color this year, but those were the stories I found myself drawn to. Growing up, I’d read ferociously, but the books I read were written by white authors, about white characters. I honestly didn’t know I could write about characters who weren’t white until I began reading more stories about people of color.
It’s been incredibly empowering and enlightening to read both books that deepen my understanding of my own experiences, as well as books that help me understand the experiences of other underrepresented groups of people.
So, in no particular order, here are the best books I’ve read in 2018!
Disclosure: This post is not sponsored, but contains affiliate links. I encourage you to check out your local library or independent bookstore, but I have included Amazon links since they are the most ubiquitous book links.
The best books I read in 2018
This was an absolute pleasure to read! Celeste Ng explores questions about motherhood and belonging through the story of a meticulously planned community shaken to its core by the arrival of a mysterious mother-daughter pair, as well as an escalating controversy over the adoption of a Chinese baby.
At times bordering on cinematic and at times achingly too true to life, this book was hard to put down. Celeste Ng has a way of writing characters that are so real, you feel like you’ve known them your whole life. If you somehow haven’t picked this book up yet, go do it ASAP—you won’t want to put it down.
I already raved about this novel in my fall faves, but it had to make it onto this list!
This novel tells the stories of two half-sisters in eighteenth-century Ghana—one who marries a British governor and one who is sold into slavery in America—and their descendants over the generations until the present day.
It explores in unflinching detail the effects of imperialism and slavery on both Black Americans and Africans and how that trauma and violence is carried through generations; but it’s done so in beautiful prose and through unforgettable stories that bring historical facts to life. I think everyone should read this book, especially in today’s political climate.
Don’t let the thickness of this intergenerational saga intimidate you! It’s a chunky book, but intensely readable; I devoured the novel within a mere weekend.
Pachinko follows a Korean family, transplanted to Japan during Japanese colonialism, where they face poverty, discrimination, and hardship. The characters are beautifully human, rendered in Min Jin Lee’s lyrical prose that has you rooting for them all the way through. I loved the strength and resilience of the characters in face of oppression and danger, especially the wonderfully strong female characters. I didn’t expect to love this book so much, but I couldn’t put it down.
This debut novel tells the story of a young girl growing up in Colombia who forms a friendship with her family’s maid. As the horrific violence of drug lord Pablo Escobar comes closer and closer to home, the girls find themselves having to make difficult choices or be swept along currents outside of their control.
I loved the writing in this novel, which, although not magical realism, seemed to be inspired by the shimmering vividness of the Latin American magical realism tradition with its slower pacing and dreamy descriptions. I also loved that every single female character was strong, but also complex and flawed…you know, like human beings. At its core, this novel was about the unique burdens women carry in times of fear and violence, but also about the transformative bonds between women.
This tale of three supernaturally-powered outcasts of the African diaspora coming together to form the nation of Liberia reads like a superhero origin story in the best way possible. If you liked Black Panther, I recommend this book!
It’s an intense read, but worth it. Wayétu Moore reimagines the founding of Liberia through a fantastical lens that is often not given to stories of the African diaspora, and it’s wonderful to read about characters that, despite the pain they have endured as a result of their race, are gifted with powers that help them gain their own freedom and fight for others.
Okay, I’ll admit that I’m still making my way through this one, but what I’ve read so far is wonderfully written, rendering Michelle Obama’s childhood and earlier years in vivid detail. It’s a reflection on her own life that’s meant to inspire and empower her readers to find their own voices.
Michelle Obama (or her ghostwriter, or both) contextualizes anecdotes from her life—ranging from humorous to poignant—in the broader socio-political atmosphere of the times, illustrating how larger forces shape our lives but also how one may influence the world by changing these forces. TBH I wanted this book to tell me how to become Michelle Obama, but she’s done me one better by kind of telling me how to become myself.