Feature image credit: @booksnbikram

I am so grateful for book clubs! I have been a member of the same book club for or over 20 years.  We essentially have read through life together. The ability to get together and chat about life and books brings such joy and comfort, especially during challenging times.  As a result of the “stay-at-home” order we all experienced last year, virtual book clubs and buddy reads became the norm. Now it is hard to imagine life without them.  The selections I have highlighted are not only excellent stories, but they have characters and plots that will lead to thought-provoking and lively discussions and that is what book clubs are all about!

Fifty Words for Rain by Asha Lemmie

It is 1948 in Kyoto Japan, post-World War II. Eight-year-old Noriko “Nori” is abandoned by her mother with the words…Do not question. Do not fight. Do not resist. These words do not serve her well as her grandmother punishes her for being born to her Japanese mother and a Black father. She is subject to unimaginable cruelty, including confinement in the attic, bleach baths and beatings. Nori’s hope comes in the form of her big brother Akira. I could not help but be invested in Nori’s future as she grew, learned, and developed a quiet strength.

 Yellow Wife by Sadeqa Johnson

This historical fiction story captures the reader from the beginning and does not let go.  Pheby Deloris Brown is a slave born of her master’s lust.  She lives in the hope that her master will keep his promise and grant her freedom. After his death Pheby is sold to “the jailer” of Devils Half Acre. As the jailer’s wife, she bears his children and dedicates her life to giving them the freedom she never had. The inhumane treatment that she and the other slaves endured was hard to stomach. However, Pheby’s resilience and sacrifice was a thread of hope throughout.

White Ivy by Susie Yang

Ivy Lin is not at all as she appears to be. Ivy is Asian American living with her immigrant family near Boston. As a young girl her grandmother teaches her to steal to get what she wants. Thus, begins her journey to accumulate the wealth to live the life she feels her family has denied her. Years later when she unexpectedly reconnects with her high school crush, her attraction turns into an obsession. She is determined by any means necessary to become a part of Gideon’s and his family’s life. She is a character you will love to hate. There are elements of mystery and suspense that kept me turning the pages.

A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum

The beautifully written story of three generations of women straddling the tradition of their Palestinian culture and embracing the American way. Isra is married off at a young age and relocates from Palestine to Brooklyn. She is oppressed not only by her husband but by his domineering mother Fareeda. Isra’s oldest daughter Deya uncovers family secrets about her mother and father’s life and death. She begins to question the path in front of her and dares to hope for a different future. I love the way the story was told from each woman’s point of view through current and past timeframes. Learning and books played a central role in providing escape, freedom and hope.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

This book made me question what I believe to be true and decisions I would make under the same circumstances.  On the surface this is a story about marriage, yet, the story is multilayered. As Celestial and Roy face challenges of injustice and separation, it forces the reader to grapple with right vs wrong and the meaning of commitment and true love. It is an example of how the criminal system can get it wrong and lives are destroyed in the process. Tayari’s writing brings the characters to life. Chapters are told by each of the major characters point of view, pressing the reader to consider a situation from all views.

Island of Sea Women by Lisa See

This is a magical yet tragic story. It is a story of lifelong friends Mi-ja and Young-Sook who experience the joys of sisterhood and the pain of betrayal. The story is based on history; it starts in the 1930s and spans throughout WW II and the Korean War. It takes place on the island of Jeju with a group of women called the haenyeos. In this culture the women dive for a living, bringing in the food and income. The men oversee the house and taking care of the children. The fact that this society does exist is even more amazing. There is a lot of action and suspense throughout the book. There are some difficult violent scenes in the story. Ultimately it is a powerful story of forgiveness, friendship and family. It is one of those stories you think about long after the last page.

With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo

This is a book that you cannot stop reading—but you don’t want it to ever end! Emoni is a senior in high school living in Philly, raising her daughter with the help of her Abuela. She is overwhelmed with decisions and responsibilities of an adult and life decisions teenagers face as they graduate high school. Her love for her daughter saturates each page. The comfort her cooking brings to her and those she loves is so well described that I could smell the aromas. Even though her challenges were many, she was also a teen navigating relationships with her bestie and the new guy she is cautiously opening her heart to. Emoni is wise beyond her years. I cheered for her, was sad with her, and often smiled and laughed out loud.

On the Come Up by Angie Thomas

On the Come Up crosses color, class and generational lines. It gives a realistic view to those who cannot understand how it feels to live in a city like The Heights were Bri is from. Most cannot imagine feeling unsafe walking the streets of their own neighborhood or being bused to a school in a better neighborhood but not belonging there. Add to the story that Bri is a teenager navigating her first love and friendship. As if that is not enough, she recently lost her father who was a successful rapper, to the streets. She has his talent and is determined to make it On the Come Up. In her circumstance, it is not just a dream but a necessity.  I wanted so badly for Bri to make the right decisions for herself and find her voice against the odds.