Shobha Rao’s Girls Burn Brighteris an intense story of survival and sisterhood.
And so much more.
Set in India against a backdrop of a strict caste system, arranged marriages, and harsh poverty, the two main characters of Rao’s poetic story develop an unlikely friendship that proves to be an enduring constant on which they build the strength needed to endure the violence and powerlessness they experience. This alone is reason enough to read the book but I knew it was important to push myself past the initial awe at this story of strength and resiliency. When I did, I experienced an even deeper story of multidimensional characters navigating their lives and attempting to balance tradition with self-realization.
The book begins with a story about a temple in the village of Indravalli and the old childless woman who was responsible for growing the trees whose wood was used to build it. Referring to the trees as her children, the old woman is complimented on her good fortune to have so many sons. At this, with “her eyes on fire,” the woman quickly gives the correction that the trees are not her sons but her daughters. This story and its subtle emphasis on fire, wholeness, and the girl-child sets the tone for the book and these recurring themes.
As the book continues, the reader witnesses Rao’s distinct talent for detailed descriptions of the surroundings of her main characters, Poornima and Savitha. She offers us a vibrant, albeit stark, picture of life in Indravalli and the ever-present gender inequities women face. Both characters experience trauma that forces them apart and drastically changes the trajectories of their lives.
There was a door, she remembered, a hidden one. Where all her treasures lay. And it remained closed, through the tea stall and the concrete room and the drugs, through the men and the men and the men. And it was through this door that the words found their way.
In her book, as in her BookPage “Behind the Book” article, Rao challenges her reader to reflect upon what a girl is worth.
A brown girl. A poor girl. A disabled girl. An uneducated girl. An ugly girl.
A girl in Khayelitsha, South Africa. A girl in Aleppo, Syria. A girl in Indravalli, India.
What is she worth, anyway? And why should we care?
Throughout Girls Burn Brighter, we must keep these questions in our minds. We must answer them honestly, then interrogate and re-interrogate those answers as well as our biases to get to the truth. The truth may be uncomfortable and unexpected. But to go through this process by reading this book and others like it, is one place to begin to explore the worth of girls. To see their light, their wisdom, their energy, their complexities, their fire, their spirit burning brighter.
Here’s a roundup of the new books by women being released in March that I am most excited about, with a focus on womxn and gender non-conforming people from historically underrepresented and underserved communities.
If you are curious about which books I focus on, see my Review Policy. These are just guidelines and I reserve the right to include (or not!) any books I see fit.
I’ll probably add to this list as I learn of others; if you have a suggestion, please place it in the comments below!
“Corazón is a love story. It is about the constant hunger for love. It is about feeding that hunger with another person and finding that sometimes it isn’t enough. Salgado creates a world in which the heart can live anywhere; her fat brown body, her parents home country, a lover, a toothbrush, a mango, or a song. It is a celebration of heartache, of how it can ruin us, but most importantly how we always survive it and return to ourselves whole.”–Amazon
“The Brooklyn Museum published two volumes related to its groundbreaking exhibition, We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965–85, which focused on radical approaches to feminist thinking developed by women artists and activists of color. The first volume, a Sourcebook, was published in 2017 and focused on re-presenting key voices of the period by gathering a remarkable array of historical documents. Available in 2018, the second volume, New Perspectives, includes original essays and perspectives by Aruna D’Souza, Uri McMillan, Kellie Jones, and Lisa Jones that place the exhibition’s works in both historical and contemporary contexts. New Perspectives also includes two new poems by Alice Walker.”–Amazon
“A fresh, honest, and startling look at what it means to exist in a woman’s body, in all of its beauty and pain. Abby’s voice is inviting, unifying, and remarkably brave.”–Gillian Anderson, Actress, activist and co-author of We: A Manifesto For Women Everywhere
“Required reading for anyone who is a woman, or has ever met a woman. This means you.”–Jenny Lawson, author of Let’s Pretend This Never Happened and Furiously Happy
“This is an encouraging, uplifting book to highlight in any library’s women’s history collection. It will be an inspiration to many young adult readers and browsers.”–VOYA, starred review
“Bagieu delivers a pièce de résistance that succinctly summarizes the obstacles and victories of these daring women. Insightful and clever, at times infuriating and disheartening, this serves as a reminder that the hardships women face today have been shared―and overcome―by many others.”–Kirkus, starred review
“The next big thing in literature and film.”—Ebony
“One of the biggest young adult fiction debut book deals of the year. Aside from a compelling plot and a strong-willed heroine as the protagonist, the book deals with larger themes, like race and power, that are being discussed in real time.”—Teen Vogue
“A remarkable achievement.”—Campus Lately
“Tomi Adeyemi is about to take both the literature and film world by storm.”—Jet
“Ever since the centuries of burning women healers as witches, because they taught women how to govern our own bodies, thus to control reproduction—the medical world hasn’t included all of humanity. Doing Harm shows what is left to be done, and directs both women and men toward healing.”–Gloria Steinem
“Dusenbery’s excellent book makes the sexism plaguing women’s health care hard to ignore…skillfully interweaving history, medical studies, current literature, and hard data to produce damning evidence that women wait longer for diagnoses, receive inadequate pain management, and are often told they are imagining symptoms that are taken seriously in men.”–Publishers Weekly, starred review
The Feminist Revolution offers an overview of women’s struggle for equal rights in the late twentieth century…It demonstrates as well that the feminist revolution was enacted by women from all backgrounds, of every color, and of all ages and that it took place in the home, in workplaces, and on the streets of every major town and city. This sweeping overview of the key decades in the feminist revolution also brings together for the first time many of these women’s own unpublished stories, which together offer tribute to the daring, humor, and creative spirit of its participants.–IndieBound
“Piercingly empathetic, Forna’s latest explores instinct, resilience, and the complexity of human coexistence, reaffirming her reputation for exceptional ability and perspective.”–Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“The overarching message tucked into Scottish and Sierra Leonian writer Forna’s quietly resonant novel is this: Every living thing is the net sum of its history, and we carry the weight of our past on our shoulders.…Intricately woven…Forna’s novel is ultimately a mesmerizing tale studded with exquisite writing”–Booklist (starred review)
“Themes as diverse as growing up first-generation American, Latinx culture, sizeism, music, burgeoning sexuality, and the power of the written and spoken word are all explored with nuance. Poignant and real, beautiful and intense.”–Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Debut novelist Acevedo’s free verse gives Xiomara’s coming-of-age story an undeniable pull, its emotionally charged bluntness reflecting her determination and strength. At its heart, this is a complex and sometimes painful exploration of love in its many forms, with Xiomara’s growing love for herself reigning supreme.”–Publishers Weekly (starred review)
How am I just hearing about this book now?? #ownvoices
From 3rd-century Syrian queen Zenobia to 20th-century Nigerian women’s rights activist Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, these are women who gave absolutely zero f**ks, and will inspire a courageous new movement of women to do the same.–IndieBound
“A brave transgender woman experiences both triumph and tragedy in this memoir of transitioning and so much more… Throughout, the author ably balances great accomplishments and strong emotions. Reading McBride’s inspiring story will make it harder to ostracize or demonize others with similar stories to share.”–Kirkus Reviews(starred)
“Sarah McBride’s powerful memoir, Tomorrow Will Be Different, is a brave and moving story that will inspire and galvanize readers to join the urgent fight for LGBTQ rights. The energy and vigor Sarah has brought to the fight for equality is ever present in this book and she starkly defines what is at stake, and how we can do better to advocate on behalf of all people.”–Senator Kamala Harris
“Anyone interested in the history of our country’s ongoing fight to put its founding values into practice—as well as those seeking the roots of current political fault lines—would be well-served by picking up Elaine Weiss’s The Woman’s Hour. By focusing in on the final battle in the war to win women the right to vote, told from the point of view of its foot soldiers, Weiss humanizes both the women working in favor of the amendment and those working against it, exposing all their convictions, tactics, and flaws. She never shies away from the complicating issue of race; the frequent conflict and occasional sabotage that occurred between women’s suffrage activists and the leaders of the nascent civil rights movement make for some of the most fascinating material in the book.”–Margot Lee Shetterly, author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Hidden Figures
“Would You Rather? is an extraordinarily generous and affecting book. Katie Heaney has written something with a remarkable amount of room in it–enough for anyone to spread out and connect with. It’s deeply felt, clear-eyed, joyful, and illuminating.”–Mallory Ortberg, author of Texts from Jane Eyre: And Other Conversations with Your Favorite Literary Characters
“What does it mean to find yourself, to know who you are and walk boldly in that truth? Would You Rather? takes readers on that journey along with Katie, reveling in the relief and glee of finding your tribe and frolicking in the exquisite joy of being a woman who loves women.”–Jenna Wortham, staff writer at TheNew York Times Magazine and co-host of the podcast Still Processing
“This book came straight out of a long thread on Deborah Alma’s Facebook page in October 2017. Something was released and given a space within social media. Many women felt emboldened by this to share more difficult stories, more details. As a poet, and an editor, it felt natural to Deborah to collect these stories somehow and it was obvious to collect them as poems.
This collection contains mainly previously unpublished work from 80 of our finest poets…”–Amazon
“Following the innovative collection Spill, Alexis Pauline Gumbs’s M Archive—the second book in a planned experimental triptych—is a series of poetic artifacts that speculatively documents the persistence of Black life following a worldwide cataclysm. Engaging with the work of the foundational Black feminist theorist M. Jacqui Alexander, and following the trajectory of Gumbs’s acclaimed visionary fiction short story “Evidence,” M Archive is told from the perspective of a future researcher who uncovers evidence of the conditions of late capitalism, antiblackness, and environmental crisis while examining possibilities of being that exceed the human. By exploring how Black feminist theory is already after the end of the world, Gumbs reinscribes the possibilities and potentials of scholarship while demonstrating the impossibility of demarcating the lines between art, science, spirit, scholarship, and politics.”–Duke University Press
“The notion of home has always been elusive. But as evidenced in these stories, poems, and testaments, perhaps home is not so much a place, but a feeling one embodies. I read this book and see my people—see us—and feel, in our collective outsiderhood, at home.”–Ocean Vuong, author of Night Sky with Exit Wounds
“Go Home! is a bold, eclectic chorus that provides an invigorating antidote to the xenophobia of our times.”–Ruth Ozeki, author of A Tale for the Time Being
“With callouts to a mind-revving roster of photographers, writers, filmmakers, intellectuals, and media magnets, erudite, discerning, and everdaring Tillman has forged a mischievous conflation of criticism and fiction. Incantatory, maddening, brilliant, zestful, compassionate, and timely, Tillman’s portrait of a floundering academic trying to make sense of a digitized world of churning, contradictory messages reveals the perpetual interplay between past and present, the personal and the cultural, image and life.”–Booklist (starred review)
Selected as “1 of 60 Books We Can’t Wait to Read in 2018” by Huffington Post Selected as “1 of 101 Books to get excited about in 2018” by BookRiot
“A wholly satisfying blend of silliness, feminist critique, and deft prose makes this a collection of bedtime stories that will keep you up at night for all the right reasons.”–Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Ortberg’s uniquely hilarious voice lends itself well to the dark and twisted milieu of fairy and folk tales and her reimagining of classics is predictably perverse, but also offers wonderful insight into the reasons why humans are so drawn to these stories of horror and loss.”–NYLON
“As one of America’s top Cuba hands, Huddleston has been a privileged eyewitness to key moments of history as well as backroom policy debates. Huddleston’s anecdotes of her life in Havana―everything from spy stories to an argument with Fidel she had at a cocktail party―are sometimes poignant, at other times hilarious, and always delightfully candid.”–Jon Lee Anderson, author of Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life
“Set in the 1990s, The Red Word interrogates the prevailing political preoccupations of that time: gender politics, third-wave feminism, and consent . . . A timely and nuanced dissection of rape culture.”–Booklist
“An aesthetically arresting interrogation of rape culture…timely and brilliant.”—Kirkus Reviews
Cited by Autostraddle as one of the “Queer and Feminist Books to Read in 2018”
“Here we have 49 women and men and queers and inter-sexuals throwing their everything at this moment in time when the patriarch is really shaking, and it looks like he’s about to tumble down. We’ve got this shiny new book. People are scared that nothing will be left after he falls except a bunch of poems. Pick up this glowing book as you’re crawling through the rubble, and poem by poem and page by page you’ll begin to know that you’ll be okay. You’re in there, and so are your friends. You won’t starve, you’re safe and strong thanks to all these proud, funny, violent, trembling words. Start memorizing. Cause the future is here and this stuff is true.” ― Eileen Myles
This is the first book to provide an in-depth sociological examination of the contemporary social and material conditions of health for transgender people. It draws upon the findings of a six-year ethnographic project in the United Kingdom that looked at the challenges faced by trans patients and the practitioners who work with them. Ruth Pearce shows that patients and practitioners are frequently divided by their different understandings of what it means for someone to be trans, a situation that is complicated by the operation of professional power within medical settings and that has profound consequences for both healthcare provision and for trans communities more widely. – IndieBound
“In this smart and necessary book, Sami Schalk persuasively argues that black women’s speculative fiction offers a rich archive of alternate framings of (dis)ability, race, sexuality, and gender that move us closer toward justice. Bodyminds Reimagined reveals how nonrealist representations can defamiliarize categories assumed to be self-evident, opening up new ways of thinking about methodology, trauma, metaphor, and politics. Schalk’s work pushes all of us in feminist studies, black studies, and disability studies to reimagine how we understand minds and bodies moving though the world.”–Alison Kafer, author of Feminist, Queer, Crip
“From experimental shorts and web series to Hollywood blockbusters and feminist porn, the work of African American lesbian filmmakers has made a powerful contribution to film history. But despite its importance, this work has gone largely unacknowledged by cinema historians and cultural critics. Assembling a range of interviews, essays, and conversations, Sisters in the Lifetells a full story of African American lesbian media-making spanning three decades.”–Duke University Press
“Emily X.R. Pan’s brilliantly crafted, harrowing first novel portrays the vast spectrum of love and grief with heart-wrenching beauty and candor. This is a very special book.”–John Green, bestselling author of The Fault in Our Stars and Turtles All the Way Down
“In this dazzling debut, author Emily X.R. Pan has created a spellbinding narrative about love, family, and what it means to grieve.”–Bustle
Blood Letters tells the astonishing tale of Lin Zhao, a poet and journalist arrested by the authorities in 1960 and executed eight years later, at the height of the Cultural Revolution. The only Chinese citizen known to have openly and steadfastly opposed communism under Mao, she rooted her dissent in her Christian faith–and expressed it in long, prophetic writings done in her own blood, and at times on her clothes and on cloth torn from her bedsheets.
Miraculously, Lin Zhao’s prison writings survived, though they have only recently come to light. Drawing on these works and others from the years before her arrest, as well as interviews with her friends, her classmates, and other former political prisoners, Lian Xi paints an indelible portrait of courage and faith in the face of unrelenting evil.–IndieBound
“This beautifully crafted work in slow and critical phenomenology allows us to understand the fatal consequences of skewed gender perception. Salamon takes us through the trial of Latisha King, murdered by a classmate who understood transgendered expression as an aggressive assault. Paying close attention to how the participants in the murder trial discuss and enact their normative passions about how the body should appear, Salamon shows us how phenomenological description that open up for strong criticism modes of perception and action that bear lethal consequences for those who contest hegemonic gender norms. This book is a model of careful and thoughtful philosophy and cultural criticism, bringing to life the resources of a phenomenological tradition that can name, describe, and oppose the obliteration of queer and trans lives. This work is as electric as its slow, making us think, and teaching us to see.”–Judith Butler, author of Gender Trouble
“Nothing is Okay is the second full-length poetry collection by Rachel Wiley, whose work simultaneously deconstructs the lies that we were taught about our bodies and our beings, and builds new ways of viewing ourselves. As she delves into queerness, feminism, fatness, dating, and race, Wiley molds these topics into a punching critique of culture and a celebration of self. A fat positive activist, Wiley’s work soars and challenges the bounds of bodies and hearts, and the ways we carry them.”–Amazon
“A must-read for anyone looking to critically explore how innumerable oppressions and indignities take root within our very bodies, and transform the ways in which we move through the world.”–Shanna K. Kattari, power/privilege/oppression scholar, University of Michigan School of Social Work
“With a finely tuned lens on the systems of oppression that traumatize bodies, and validation of worth beyond narrow standards of acceptability, Oppression and the Body is a groundbreaking voice in an intersectional somatic justice movement.”–Willy Wilkinson, MPH, author of the Lambda Literary Award-winning Born on the Edge of Race and Gender: A Voice for Cultural Competency
“This novel has everything: the circa-’99 lesbian indie-rock scene! Zines! Answering machines! . . . Our 90s nostalgia is hella high these days, and this tender, funny story made our aging hipster hearts sing.”–Marie Claire
“Insightful and brilliant, Stray City explores the stickiness of doing what’s expected and the strange freedom born of contradiction. I tore through this novel like an orphaned reader seeking a home in its ragtag yet shimmering world.”–Carrie Brownstein, New York Times bestselling author of Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl
“Krystal A. Smith writes of shape shifters, magical herbalists, and women ripe for love. Her collection of stories marries African American mysticism to speculative fiction announcing Smith’s solid place in the next generation of Afro Futurists. With its sensuous language, deftly drawn characters, and engaging narrative style, Two Moons shines bright.”–Jewelle Gomez, The Gilda Stories
“Two Moons takes readers on a whimsical journey to where ordinary women become goddesses and where Black Girl Magic is never denied. You’ll want to dive into these stories and never leave.”–Susana Morris, co-editor of Sycorax’s Daughters and the Crunk Feminist Collection
“A rich portrait of her grandmother’s full life…through lyrical prose interspersed with poetry, prayers, and legends…Readers will appreciate Edemariam’s work—part memoir, part history—for its personal look at an eventful century in Ethiopia.”–Booklist
“An ambitious, elegantly descriptive… profoundly lyrical narrative…Edemariam’s book offers a glimpse into a singularly fascinating culture and history as it celebrates the courage, resilience, and grace of an extraordinary woman. A richly evocative tale of family and international history.”–Kirkus Reviews
As trans and non-binary folks, we are often discouraged from advocating for our own bodies, as if we do not know what is best for ourselves. This anthology is filled with such tenderness, resilience and vulnerability; a beautiful love letter to queerness, to otherness, to the power of reclaiming our bodies as our own.–Emmett J. Lundberg, Writer & Filmmaker, Creator of Brothers the series
It’s rare that something can both break your heart and renew your spirit. My heart empathetically broke from the rawness and intimacy these pages hold. As I finished I was left feeling inspired and awestruck at the power of queer people – not just to endure but to use our experiences as a tool to empower others, like these words certainly will.–Karmilla Pillay-Siokos, Director of Slutwalk Johannesburg
“These gems of short fiction by women writers from Taiwan are a wonderful treat. Beautifully translated into English, they unfold and flicker with wistful, comic, and enigmatic lights and shadows. The vignettes and snapshots imbue existential anxiety and street life with grim and exquisite lyricism, mixed with unstoppable yearnings for sunlight and romance.” —Ban Wang, William Haas Professor in Chinese Studies and Professor of Comparative Literature, Stanford University
“Iraqi journalist and poet Mikhail lays bare the agonizing experiences of the Yazidi people at the hands of ISIS in this visceral account of the outskirts of modern day Iraq. In 2014, ISIS began invading villages of northern Iraq, killing most of the men and enslaving the women and children. Much of Mikhail’s account is made up of first-person testimonies of several survivors who speak of being repeatedly raped, sold to the highest bidder, and tortured. They recall losing their families and witnessing their children, raised by ISIS supporters, becoming “a distorted version” of who they once were. Mikhail also homes in on the rescue efforts of a man named Abdullah, a local beekeeper who used his knowledge of the region and the money he made selling honey in Iraq and Syria to cultivate a “hive of transporters and smugglers” to save women; he subsequently connected Mikhail to several survivors. Powerful and heartbreaking, this work lets the survivors tell their stories and highlights the courage of those risking their lives to rescue others.”–Publishers Weekly
“Writing in Caroline’s present-tense voice, Callender draws readers in and makes them identify with Caroline’s angst and sorrow and joy and pain. Embedding her appealing protagonist in a fully realized Caribbean setting, Callender has readers rooting for Caroline the whole way.”–Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“Lush descriptions bring the Caribbean environment to vivid life…. An excellent and nuanced coming-of-age tale.”–School Library Journal, starred review
“Set against the richly evoked backdrop of the Caribbean, Callender’s novel captures the exquisite agony and pain that accompanies rejection and abandonment. Caroline’s search for answers provides a steady through line for the story, but it’s the deeper questioning and reflection that set this book apart….Visceral, pensive, and memorable.”–Booklist, starred review
“Moonstruck makes me happy just thinking about it. I love everything about it. The first issue is a dreamy delight, a slice of life comic infused with queer romance and intersectional diversity.” –Tor.com
“In a year that often felt dark and dystopian, this delightful series from writer Grace Ellis (Lumberjanes), newcomer artist Shae Beagle, and editor Laurenn McCubbin was a wonderful escape. This world is populated by fantasy creatures who are also comfortable in their diverse identities, from lovestruck werewolves Julie and Selena to the upbeat non-binary centaur Chet.”–EW.com
“Puerto Rico Strong is a comics anthology that explores what it means to be Puerto Rican and the diversity that exists within that concept, from today’s most exciting Puerto Rican comics creators. All proceeds go to UNIDOS Disaster Relief & Recovery Program to Support Puerto Rico…
These stories follow individuals from diverse walks of life but are all part of the culture that is Puerto Rico.Puerto Rico Strong features art and writing by Rosa Colon, Vita Ayala, Naomi Franquiz, Javier Cruz Winnick, Sabrina Cintron, Ronnie Garcia, Fabian Nicieza, Joamette Gil, and many more!”–Amazon
“A Genealogy of Islamic Feminism offers a new insight on the changing relationship between Islam and feminism from the colonial era in the 1900s to the early 1990s in Indonesia.
Islamic feminism contributes to the rediscovery of Islam as the source of progress, the centering of women’s agency through spiritual equality, and the reworking of the private and public spheres. This book will appeal to anyone with interest in international women’s movements, interdisciplinary studies, cultural studies, women’s studies, post-colonial studies, Islamic studies, and Asian studies.”–Amazon
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