Top 5 Fiction Books for Black History Month
Dana Barrett, my Buddy over at Midtown Review wrote a great blog last week about Black History Month (it’s the whole month of February, in case you’re wondering…) In her post she featured 5 Non-fiction books—which tell the true stories of what she calls the “unsung heroes” in black history. Her list is great—and it got me to thinking (it sometimes happens…) about how much history we learn from Fiction books as well—which is why this is such a hot category for book clubs. Book Clubs wanting to celebrate Black History Month—or just wanting a good, discussable book, might want to take a look at some of these titles. So as a companion to Dana’s Top 5 Non-Fiction list, here’s my Top 5 Fiction Books:
1) Someone Knows My Name, by Lawrence Hill
Originally published in Canada as The Book of Negroes, it was published in the US as Someone Knows My Name. I discovered this gem last fall just before leaving on vacation—and I was glad we were going on a 16-hour flight to Australia, because I don’t know that I could’ve put this one down! It’s the story of Aminata Diallo, born free in a small village in 18th century Africa, who was torn from her family by slave traders. We follow her very human story as she marches to the sea for months, endures life on a slave ship for even longer, and ultimately is sold on the auction block in North America. We travel with her back and forth over several continents—and learn of British-sanctioned Free Black settlements in Canada as well as Africa (both news to me…) Beautiful language, round characters and a compelling story—what more could a book club ask for?
Awards: Longlisted for the Giller Prize, and won the 2007 Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, the 2008 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, the 2008 Evergreen Award (presented by the Ontario Library Association) the 2009 edition of Canada Reads, and the BookBrowse favorite book awards, 2008.
2) Song Yet Sung, by James McBride
From the New York Times-bestselling author of The Color of Water comes a gripping story of a clairvoyant run-away slave, Liz Spocott—who trudges the swamps of the underground railroad in her struggle for freedom. Alongside Liz, we gradually learn of “The Code”—the signs, milestones, and customs that will get her safely to The North. Set in Maryland, the Chesapeake Bay itself plays a main character, but you will not be disappointed by the other characters in this historical adventure. My neighborhood book club had one of our best discussions ever when we selected this book.
Awards: NAACP Image Award Finalist, Dayton Literary Peace Prize Finalist, and the Book Club Cheerleader’s Top 10 Book Club Books of 2009.
3) The Girl Who Fell From the Sky, by Heidi Durrow
I received this book as an Advanced Reading Copy, and although there were dozens of books ahead of it in my TBR pile, the premise of this book was so compelling, I just had to pick it up and read it. Right then. And thus, it became “the book that fell to the top of my pile….” Am I ever glad it did! This book was such a treat—not because it was a light, fluffy and happy book—indeed it is quite disturbing in parts. But because Heidi Durrow takes you inside this young girl’s head and makes you see another side, another life, another world.
This fresh coming of age story is alternately narrated by several unique voices—Rachel’s by far the strongest—and in this way, dark family secrets are slowly revealed to the reader. Rachel’s honest words resonate with quiet wisdom as she struggles with such themes as: racial identity, love and loss, affection and sexuality, abandonment and belonging, and growth and survival. Durrow also addresses gritty themes such as alcoholism and recovery, and abuse and caretaking. Coming of age, coming to terms with loss—without completely coming undone…Rachel’s story will yank at your heartstrings—and book clubs will certainly have plenty to discuss!
Awards: Bellwether Prize (2008), and the Book Club Cheerleader’s Top 10 Book Club Books of 2009
4) What is the What, by Dave Eggers
With “Lost Boy” Valentino Achak Deng as our narrator, we learn of the horrors of war and genocide in the civil war in Sudan. We follow in his footsteps, from his village—where his father is a respected merchant—to a biblical trek across Africa, relive his future-less life in various refugee camps, and his eventual resettlement in the United States—where his story is told to us in flashbacks. Poignant, yet with injections of humor, this book will attempt to have you understand the unimaginable.
Awards: Best Book of the Year-San Francisco Chronicle, National Book Critics’ Circle Award Nominee for Fiction, New York Times Notable Book of the Year, Independent Publishers Award (IPPY) for Literary Fiction (2007), Medicis Prize (France) (2009)
5) The Kitchen House, by Kathleen Grissom
You might be surprised by my inclusion of this title. It is written by a white Canadian-American, and the primary protagonist, Lavinia, is also white. However, another major character, Belle, steals the show—and the book is not only her story—but the story of her family.
When Lavinia, a 9-year old Irish immigrant, is orphaned on a ship to America, she is thrust into the world of the Black servants in the kitchen house of a tobacco plantation. Belle, the plantation owner’s illegitimate daughter, runs the kitchen house and takes Lavinia under her wing. The story is told in the alternate voices of these two young women. But Lavinia finds herself in no man’s land—a servant, yet she’s white—and eventually her uncertain loyalties put her adopted family at risk. It has been described as “Gone with the Wind from Mammy’s point of view.” And I will agree that it puts a very different perspective on “life at Tara”…It also provides some great discussion opportunities for book clubs—with themes such as Family, Isolation, Depression, Secrets, and Divided Loyalties.
Awards: GoodReads Choice Award Nominee for Historical Fiction (2010)
So whether or not your book club is actively celebrating Black History Month, these are some titles that will help y’all celebrate Humanity!
P.S. And don’t forget to check out Dana Barrett’s Non-fiction list over at Midtown Review