This Book is RAD!

There are countless resources out there when it comes to diversity in books for children and youth. The successful We Need Diverse Books campaign, for one.

But when my friend and fellow librarian Christina Appleberry and I tried to find books for adults that featured diverse characters, we had a much more difficult time doing so. By all means, there are numerous staff lists on library websites that embrace diversity, but that took a lot of digging and sifting. Plus, many of those lists grouped the books into categories such as Asian Books or African American Books. What if we wanted to find a cozy mystery that featured a lead character that also just happened to be a person of colour or identified as gay?

This is when we had our lightbulb moment to create a website that would act as a Readers’ Advisory resource for those seeking various types of books featuring diverse characters or written by diverse authors. Thus, This Book is RAD was born! (RAD stands for Readers’ Advisory Diversity.) We are still in the beginning stages of this, with a handful of book titles up on the site and continuing to update it as much as we can whenever possible, but we have yet to break the Internet. With that being said, if anyone out there has any recommendations for diverse books, please do feel free to get in touch with us and send in a write-up for us to post!

Diversity is such a big topic, so we try to read widely and add categories as they come up. Our main focus is people of colour, but we have also gone on to include sexuality, gender, body image, disabilities, mental health, women, etc. We do try to keep it to adult selections as well, though you’ll notice there are definitely several young adult titles that we have featured. We also try to have a variety of genres, from non-fiction to graphic novels, poetry, science fiction, spy, etc.

Here are a few selections from our blog:

Homegoing
By Yaa Gyasi
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Epic is the best word for me to describe this debut novel from Yaa Gyasi. It reminded me a lot of And the Mountains Echoed, in the way that each chapter revolves around a different character and how it jumps in time, but it all fits together into one larger story. A novel in stories, I believe is what I had been told this is called. Each story stands alone perfectly, but is woven seamlessly together to create an expansive tapestry.

Homegoing encompasses the lives of two sisters born in Ghana in the 18th century who get separated and wind up with very different lives – one is sold into slavery, the other becomes the wife of a British slave trader. And from there, we watch as the two family trees unravel into Africa and America, respectively. There is so much going on in this novel, that it’s just breathtaking. Parts will destroy you, while others will lift you right back up again. At only 26 years old, Gyasi has produced an instant classic here. Now how RAD is that?

Homegoing was released this past June 2016, so it’s a very new and current novel, as well!

-Alan Woo

And The Mountains Echoed
by Khaled Hosseini
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This third novel from Khaled Hosseini is a return to form for the author the bestselling book The Kite Runner. I loved that book. It was a doorway into a world I had no concept of. His second outing, A Thousand Splendid Suns, focused mainly on the lives of Muslim women and domestic abuse. I wasn’t sure if I was a fan of it as much as The Kite Runner, but I liked it enough to want to read his most recent piece, And The Mountains Echoed.

This book is a sweeping tapestry of stories from Afghanistan, with a pit-stop in Paris, and jumps through time as we visit upon a multitude of characters whose lives intertwine and are torn apart. The first chapter featured a story within a story (i.e. one of the characters is telling a fable), which threw me off and didn’t really make me want to continue reading, but the fable fits well with the story line and once I got over that hump, I just could not put this book down. Beautiful, poetic, and downright moving, And The Mountains Echoed is a wonderful read that I would highly suggest.

-Alan Woo

Dietland
by Sarai Walker
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I really enjoyed Sarai Walker’s debut novel Dietland, which is toted as being “part coming-of-age and part revenge-fantasy.” It follows the story of Plum, a heavy set woman who is dealing with body image, weight, dieting, and self-confidence. One day she notices a young lady following her, and this leads her into an adventure of self-discovery. The journey itself is filled with intrigue, as we meet mysterious characters and an international movement to empower women.

This book makes the RAD list because it features a character who is overweight, and also a side character who is half-Black and possibly a lesbian. Many of the characters in the book are female, with only a handful of men popping up here and there if only to put their chauvinism on display. This was also an enjoyable read that had me flipping through the pages as quick as I could to reach its heart-swelling climax.

-Alan Woo

Symptoms of Being Human
by Jeff Garvin
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Oh wow. This book is fantastic. It taught me the term “gender fluid” which was something totally new to me. If you don’t know what gender fluid is, this book will definitely enlighten you. It brings you into the world of Riley, who sometimes feels like a boy and sometimes feels like a girl.

Now try going to a new high school with that. Add in a love interest, political drama, bullying, and so much more, and you have a recipe for a tightly-written, engulfing coming-of-age-and-then-some story, while introducing a whole new world and experience to readers at the same time. Other characters who bump this book up the RAD (Readers Advisory Diversity) ladder include Solo, the African-American jock with a heart of gold and a slight body image issue; Bec, the girl who wins Riley’s heart; and the multitude of trans characters who show up throughout the book in numerous different ways.

This book ran me through a gauntlet of emotions. I was crying my eyes out one moment, then completely enraged the next, but throughout the story, I found myself consistently rooting for our main character, Riley. Jeff Garvin’s book is a YA treasure that needs to be uncovered by more people. So go do it already and read this book!

-Alan Woo

Whatever It Takes
by Gwynne Foster
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This is not the kind of book I would normally read, but I was walking through the paperbacks section of the library and I saw a book with a black woman on the cover. It’s not a common sight among the cozies and westerns and romances, so I figured I’d give it a try. Whatever It Takes, written by Gwynne Foster, is about a woman who is dealing with her parents’ divorce, a jealous and spiteful twin sister who seems hell bent on sabotaging her life, and the new man in her life. At times I thought that I might be reading Christian fiction (the father is a deacon) or romance, but I don’t think this book is either. It’s really just about family and relationships. It’s kind of like a Lifetime movie… but a book. Not bad, but not great. It didn’t change my life, but it was nice to read a book with black characters that wasn’t about slavery, civil rights, poverty, violence, or racism. We need more of that.

-Christina Appleberry

Fresh Off The Boat: A Memoir
by Eddie Huang
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In the words of the author, Eddie Huang, this book is ill! (That’s a good thing!) Huang’s memoir, Fresh Off The Boat, is the basis of the hit ABC sitcom of the same name. If you’ve seen it, you’ll know it’s a pretty funny show. If you haven’t, what are you waiting for? The book however, is not quite the same. The show is much more Disney while the actual memoir is pretty raw and gritty at times.

Don’t get me wrong. The book is still full of humour as Huang navigates what it’s like growing up as an Asian-American in 1990s Orlando, with wit, intelligence, and heart. He bares all as he describes all the fist fights, the drug pedaling, and the racism. You don’t see much of that in the TV sitcom. What you also don’t get from the TV show is the reason why his grandma is in a wheelchair. On the show, she shows up in every other scene to deliver a sassy line of dialogue. In the book, it turns out she’s in a wheelchair because her feet were bound when she was a child!

His obsession with hip hop is also rampant in the book, as is his love for sneakers, basketball, and food. Now the proprietor of NYC’s BaoHaus restaurant, this book clearly shows his trajectory from being a small time troublemaker to a law school graduate to restaurateur, and everything in between. Along for the ride are his two younger brothers, his bad-ass of a father (also dumbed down for television), and his outrageous mother. Huang tackles the issues of race from his perspective, using his points of reference: hip hop, rap, basketball, and food.

This was an inspirational read. I can’t wait to go to NYC and visit his restaurant and maybe even meet the man himself.

-Alan Woo

Indian Horse
by Richard Wagamese
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This novel by First Nations/Aboriginal Canadian author Richard Wagamese follows the life of Saul, aka. Indian Horse, as he is born and raised in the Canadian wilderness, only to be ripped out of his family’s arms and thrown into the horrors and evils of a residential school. It’s terrifying to know that these places actually existed here in Canada, a country that today seems so advanced in human rights yet has a dark and cruel past.

Saul’s only savior is of all things, hockey. How much more Canadiana can this be? His success on the ice helps carve out a new life for him, away from the residential school. But no matter what hockey team he plays on or what Canadian town he ends up in, there is little escape from the atrocities of racism that plight the world around him. Saul continues to run, skate, and drink, but eventually his past threatens to break through the ice to leave him drowning.

The first part of this book was intriguing, describing traditions, living in the woods, and re-tellings of Aboriginal stories. The residential school portion was infuriating and heartbreaking. The hockey parts of the book are the most fleshed out, and you can tell Wagamese is either himself a huge hockey fan, or has done his research! I’m not fussed over hockey, but in the context of this novel, I can appreciate it as a vehicle for the main character to escape and make a better life for himself.

Indian Horse is a selection I came across through the Amnesty International Book Club.

–Alan Woo

Visit This Book Is RAD for more diverse selections!

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