We are a planet made up of a diverse group of people – and a diverse group of people imply a diverse set of problems. We are riddled with issues so eclectic in their nature, it’s almost impossible to find a uniform solution to all of them.
This is where I think literature comes into picture. We turn to books and poetry when we are most helpless. In times of adversity, we seek refuge in art – which is why it is so important to have proper and equal representation in all of art’s branches.
As a reader, I have discovered several books that deal tactfully with sensitive topics. Over a journey that has spanned almost a decade, I’ve developed an affinity for books representing minority groups. I’ve tried to incorporate a variety of minorities into my bookshelf, starting from disabled individuals to marginalized communities.
In this article, I discuss in detail my top picks.
- On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous – by Ocean Vuong
“All this time I told myself we were born from war—but I was wrong, Ma. We were born from beauty.”
In this beautiful and poignant book, Little Dog writes a letter to his illiterate mother. With every word he writes, he goes farther away from where his mother stands- and yet, he comes closer to redemption. An Asian boy born into the Vietnam War, Little Dog writes to untangle the trauma living within him. He stitches his heart together with metaphors and poetry- and lends it to his mother.
He talks about sexuality and what it is like to love when you have known violence all your life. He talks about giving his fists amnesia and teaching them purpose. He talks about parents who were never there, and parents who were there but never cared. He talks about grief and how it consumes him, about language and how it reveals him. He explores race, poverty, and what it is like to grow up poor in America.
Written in poetic prose, ‘On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous’ will both rip you apart and piece you together. It will give you shelter as you read about refugees of War. It will show you death and life, rebirth and regeneration. Recommended for slightly mature audiences, this book will forever stay with you.
- Wonder – by R.J.Palacio
“When given the choice between being right and being kind, choose kind.”
Let’s face it- 11-year-old August Pullman has a face that scares people. Young children in parks scream and run away when they see Augie. Teenagers holler and call him ‘Gollum’. Adults whisper behind cupped hands. Everyone stares when they think he won’t be able to catch it.
Little do they know, he sees it all.
August has spent half his life in operation theatres and waiting rooms. He has never been to an actual school before- so when he joins Beecher Prep in 5th Grade, he is not the only one who is starting Middle School for the first time. But he is the only one who looks the way he does.
When he walks into the vast corridors of Beecher, he has to let go of the life he knows. He has to let go of the Astronaut helmet he has worn forever, and the routine of homeschool he has adapted to. He steps into a whole new world, and he tries to make it his own.
‘Wonder’ deals with bullying and peer pressure in a beautifully subtle way. It sheds light on how impactful small actions can be, both good and bad. It tells us to talk a little more, love a little harder. And above all, it tells us to stand out, because we weren’t born to blend in.
- Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe – by Benjamin Alire Sanéz
“Another secret of the universe: Sometimes pain was like a storm that came out of nowhere. The clearest summer could end in a downpour. Could end in lightning and thunder.”
Aristotle doesn’t know how to talk. He wakes up every morning, hoping his life will be different when he opens his eyes. He has a father who was torn apart by war, and a brother who is in prison for murder. He has spent his entire life within himself- bottling everything in and throwing the bottles into a bottomless sea.
And then Dante comes into his world.
Dante is an Artist. He speaks in emotions and poetry. He glides through the water, literally. He paints and sketches. He is beautiful. To Ari, Dante’s face is a map of a world without darkness. Ari connects constellations in Ari’s eyes and finds mysteries in the ridges of Dante’s knuckles. Dante gives Ari something to love, and Ari learns what it is like to give his heart to someone.
In this revelation of a book, Ari and Dante explore their heritage and sexuality as they navigate through high school. They fall in love and out of it, become part of each other’s lives just as easily as they drift away. They discover the secrets of the universe in themselves and in each other, and they give us a few secrets to keep too.
- The Hate U Give (THUG) – by Angie Thomas
“What’s the point of having a voice if you’re going to be silent in the times you shouldn’t be?”
THUG revolves around Starr- a Black protagonist who witnesses the shooting of her best friend, Khalil. Khalil was unarmed when he was brutally murdered by a police officer at a house party.
Soon, Khalil’s death becomes a news flash- bright and blinding. Protestors take to the streets with signs and posters. Everyone has something to say about ‘that Ghetto boy who got killed’.
Caught in the midst of a revolution, Starr finds her world turned upside-down. Suddenly, she is less Starr and more chief witness in the Court Trial for Khalil’s death. Now, it is up to her to prove that Khalil was innocent- and that his skin colour was not a weapon.
Written against the backdrop of the Black Lives Matter movement, this book skillfully tackles racism and its impact on teenagers. Thomas writes about rules and regulations, rights and rebellion. She reminds us of our voice and tells us that we need to use it- loudly and frequently.
She tells us that we hold our future in the palm of our hand. We can forge something beautiful for ourselves, if only we dare.
Lastly, I’d like to add an insightful quote by Sandhya Renukamba, the Senior Editor at Women’s Web.
About one of her favourite books, ‘What is a Girl? What is a Boy?’ by Kamla Bhasin, she says – “Gender discrimination affects everyone – female and male – by denying them the ability to grow to their full potential as human beings. You read that right, even males lose out by this discrimination. They are strait-jacketed into society’s expectations of male behaviour: denying them their softer, emotional side; anger and aggression being the only emotions that they are permitted to display. Kamla Bhasin works with Jagori publications to create a book which is as much for parents as for the children. It tackles everyday instances of gender stereotyping in simple terms, with lots of colourful pictures and raises several points for discussion.”
Over time, literature has evolved into a dynamic entity and has assumed many forms. It gives itself to the hands of the writer and to the mind of the reader- it is ours in the truest sense, which is why it is so important to use it responsibly.
Words can change the world. The books I talked about above changed me in more ways than one; they gave me something to hold on to in the worst of times. As I share these with you, I share a piece of myself. I hope these books make homes in your hearts, just like they have done in mine.
// This is a commissioned article penned by 14-year-old Trisha Rath from Bhubaneshwar, India. She has combined research and her reading experiences to come up with an interesting list of inclusive books in children’s/YA literature. //