One of the many wondrous things about books is their ability to transport readers. You get to experience new cities, real and fantasy, right in the comfort of your own home. But one of the best things about books is their ability to allow readers to experience new cultures and walk a mile in the shoes of someone completely different than you. Whether the characters have a different ethnicity or religion, sexual orientation, etc., you get to experience something new. Or maybe, for the first time, the main character looks and feels like you do.
Honestly, diversity wasn’t something that I took into consideration when I was trying to decide my next read until the lack of diversity was pointed out to me on bookstagram years ago. Fast forward a few years and there has been a surge of books being published where the main character is a minority.
These 13 books depict the everyday struggles that many minorities go through: being judged for the color of their skin, fear of coming out, fear of rejection, feeling like they don’t fit in, etc. I’ve listed some of my favorite books that have broken cultural barriers. While this isn’t a definitive list, it’s definitely a start.
Books with LGBTQIA+ Characters
Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
So what happens when your mom is the president and you have a crush on the Prince of Wales? In Red, White, and Royal Blue, we find out exactly what happens. This was definitely a standout read for me last year! It put a positive spin on politics during a tenuous and tumultuous political climate.
While this book is funny and heartwarming, it also touches on how scary it can be to come out. That fear of rejection from loved ones and judgment from strangers. It’s just that in this case it’s magnified because he’s America’s First Son, how terrifying is that?!
I Wish You All The Best by Mason Deaver
Now more than ever, the younger generations are demanding to be seen for who they are. In the case of Ben De Backer, that means coming out to their parents as non-binary. After immediately getting kicked out of the only home they’ve ever known, they are struggling to regain their footing. Trying to survive high school, an anxiety disorder and their parents’ rejection, it takes everything in Ben just to put one foot in front of the other.
This book is a unicorn, covering a topic that has only been in the spotlight for a few years. I expect to see a rise in books covering a wider section of the sexual orientation/gender identity spectrum in the coming years as society makes strides in acceptance.
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
In my opinion, Taylor Jenkins Reid has a magical way of conveying emotion with just a few words. And after reading this book I found myself asking, “What would Evelyn Hugo do?”
Evelyn Hugo decided at an early age not to let anything get in her way. Not the fact that she grew up poor. Not the fact that she was a woman in the 1950s demanding to be paid her fair share. Even if she had to… marry seven men, as long as they fueled her ambition (whether they knew it or not), nothing was going to stop her from getting what she wanted. But what about love? Would all of this have been possible if people knew who she really loved?
This book left me feeling empowered, yet heartbroken; it truly is a stroke of genius.
Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
If you haven’t heard of this book or the movie, Love, Simon, then you’ve probably been living under a rock. And I have to say that, in a truly astonishing twist of events, the movie was just as good as the book!
I think that people will be able to relate to this book because, to put it simply, high school is hard. It’s this weird limbo where you’re kind of still a kid but kind of an adult and you have to make all of these life-changing decisions and it’s just all too much to handle. Now imagine, on top of all that, someone is threatening to expose your deepest darkest secret. Now Simon has to decide if he’s going to get in front of the situation and tell his family and friends before the decision is taken out of his hands.
Simon grapples with a fear of rejection from his friends and family and maybe losing his chance at happiness with the cutest boy… he’s never met.
Books with Asian Characters
Emergency Contact by Mary H.K. Choi
I related to this book so much because it perfectly captured how awkward I felt my first semester in college. There are so many new people, you’re living with a stranger, classes are totally bizarre and for the first time ever, you’re on your own. The main characters, Penny and Sam, are two lonely, lost souls just trying to connect with someone.
While awkward and adorable, this book also addresses racism. The type that isn’t malicious, the type of racism that is so ingrained, most people don’t even realize they’re doing it. Penny is Korean American and regularly calls out people on their blatant racism, whether it’s directed at her or just Asian Americans in general. She isn’t afraid of calling people out and I feel like we can all learn something from her confidence.
Mary H.K. Choi’s book also addresses mental illness as both characters suffer from anxiety and a bit of depression. Being someone’s ‘emergency contact’ is all about being there for someone even when they may not realize that they need help.
The Bride Test by Helen Hoang
This book seamlessly depicts the meddling, but good intentions, of Asian parents while also having a neurodiverse main character and it also depicts the struggles Asian immigrants face.
It shows the patience and empathy that is needed when you’re around people on the autism spectrum while also showing how cruel people can be when they don’t understand that people on the autism spectrum process emotions, and thus relationships, differently.
For immigrants, it captures how scary and overwhelming it is to be transplanted to a strange new country without a proper grasp of the language. When you add all of that together – a new relationship with a man you barely know, living with said man, a new country, separated from everything you know – things become overwhelming very quickly.
Books with People of Color
Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams
How can you figure out who you are when you don’t fit in anywhere? Candice Carty-Williams forces readers to answer this complicated question in her 2019 release Queenie.
As someone in their mid-to-late twenties, I can totally relate to not knowing your place in the world and subsequently making some questionable decisions. It’s an odd time in life where you’re trying to keep it all together but still feel incredibly lost.
During this confusing time, how can you discern what’s normal or what you want in life without the influence of societal pressures? That’s what Queenie is all about.
Dear Martin by Nic Stone
This book certainly made a splash when it came out in 2018. Nic Stone dared to delve into a topic that was rarely talked about in 2018. To this, Dear Martin day is still seen as a bit taboo. In all reality, the book discusses a topic that we – as a nation, as human beings – must talk about: race and discrimination.
This book boldly and unapologetically, while a work of fiction, emulates reality. Dear Martin gives you a small taste of what it’s like being the target of hate and discrimination.
Nic Stone continues addressing “taboo” topics in her sophomore release Odd One Out.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
The Hate U Give addresses something that happens all too often: the shooting and sequential death of an unarmed person of color, specifically shot by an officer. A topic that can be divisive and controversial, Angie Thomas handles it with absolute grace. Similar to Nic Stone, Angie covers topics that need to be discussed and approached with a gentle hand.
I live very close to where a controversial, nationalized murder took place and while that particular case didn’t involve an officer, I know just how divisive cases like that can be. Everyone has an opinion of what happened. Of who is innocent and who is guilty. The whole town is a pressure cooker ready to blow. Both this book and the movie adaptations perfectly capture that boiling point and shines a light on this timely topic.
When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon
This YA book follows two Indian American teens as their parents try to arrange their marriage in a time and culture where love, and choice, prevail.
For Dimple, a first-generation Indian American, marriage is the last thing on her mind. She wants an education and then a career and then, way down the line, marriage to a man of her choice. But her parents, especially her mom, are traditional and want her to marry the perfect Indian husband and start a family.
Thus starts the push and pull of Dimple’s relationship with her parents – doing her best to stay true to herself while also trying not to disappoint her parents. But can she ever find the perfect balance? How can she satisfy her parents without losing herself? I believe that, even if it wasn’t this exact scenario, we’ve all had to make a similar decision at some point in our lives.
Books with LatinX Characters
Dominicana by Angie Cruz
Dominica follows the story of Ana Cancion, now Ana Ruiz, as she is transplanted from the Dominican Republic to the ever-bustling and bright New York City. The book brilliantly portrays the trials and tribulations that immigrants go through. Follow Ana’s story as she tries to discover how a woman in the 1960s can find her voice and place in the world.
Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera
Juliet Milagros is a queer female minority just trying to figure out where she fits. She is on a journey of self-discovery in a world where she isn’t readily accepted. Oh and the best part? This book about a queer Puerto Rican from the Bronx is written by Gabby Rivera, a queer Puerto Rican from the Bronx. Sometimes you just gotta write what ya know and Gabby Rivera’s 2019 novel gives great insight into a powerful and authentic main character.
I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez
Unless you come from a Hispanic household you probably don’t know about the immense pressure our parents put on us (I know from personal experience). It honestly comes from them wanting us to have a better life than they had but boy, carrying that burden is heavy. That experience is perfectly captured by Julia in I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter.
After a tragic accident results in the death of her seemingly perfect older sister, Julia starts to feel the pressure to step up and become the token “perfect Mexican daughter.” But how can she start to discover who she is when her mom is trying to control every aspect of her life?
*Note from the contributor: I would be remiss writing this list and not mentioning American Dirt by Jeannine Cummins. As many of you know, the book has caused quite the controversy and has been rather divisive in the bookstagram community. For those of you speaking out: I hear you, I see you and thank you for speaking up.
So I implore you: if you are reading outside of your purview do your research. Ask questions. And listen.
With all of this in mind, here are some amazing #ownvoices books worth reading:
- The House of Broken Angels by Luis Alberto Urrea
- Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli
- The Affairs of the Falcóns by Melissa Rivero
- A Dream Called Home: A Memoir by Reyna Grande
- Native Country of the Heart: A Memoir by Cherrie Moraga
- Everyone Knows You Go Home by Natalia Sylvester
- Across A Hundred Mountains by Reyna Grande
- The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez
- Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya
- Black Dove by Ana Castillo
- Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera
- Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in 40 Questions by Valeria Luiselli
- The Devil’s Highway: A True Story by Luis Alberto Urrea
- Crux: A Cross-Border Memoir by Jean Guerrero
- Make Your Home Among Strangers by Jennine Capó Crucet
*Disclosure: The links above are affiliate links. These picks are editorially selected, but if you purchase, She Reads may get something in return. We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.