Remembering the sacrifices and successes of African Americans—from unexpected champions of civil rights to talented performers who dreamed big—is one of the most inspiring ways to celebrate Black History Month. If we keep teaching our children well, racism just may someday be a thing of the past.
In the winter of 2001, the tragedy of 9/11 is still fresh, especially for 16-year-old Aidan Donovan. There’s something to fear everywhere, and with this fear comes isolation. Only charismatic and vibrant Father Greg offers certainty, and maybe even love, in a world that seems to be falling apart. As Aidan turns to drugs, alcohol and a new set of friends, he begins to question his relationship with Father Greg. Faced with the possibility of a girlfriend for the first time and a classmate who may share Father Greg’s dirty secrets, Aidan has more to ponder, including his own sexuality and his belief system.
Sharon Sala writes a charming story about a second chance at life and love in The Curl Up and Dye.When LilyAnn Bronte lost her high school sweetheart 11 years ago, she became mired in grief. But now, at 28, the sound of a hot-rod engine awakens her to all that’s wrong with her existence. Is the newcomer behind the wheel the next man of her dreams? Her neighbor and best friend, Mike Dalton, sure hopes not. Owner of the town’s fitness center, Mike’s been in love with LilyAnn forever, but she’s never considered him to be romance material.
The surprising source of Bich Minh Nguyen’s enthralling second novel, Pioneer Girl, was her discovery that Laura Ingalls Wilder’s daughter Rose had traveled to Vietnam as a journalist in 1965.
Nguyen (pronounced New-win), whose family fled Vietnam in 1975 when she was 8 months old and settled eventually in Grand Rapids, Michigan, says she “had read the Little House on the Prairie books when I was a kid, and I loved them. And I would reread them as an adult as comfort literature."
Taking a page straight out of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, Margaret Hawkins begins her third novel with the preparation for a dinner party. Each year, Lydia invites a group of friends over for a midwinter meal, where they devour food, sip wine and share secrets. Except this year, Lydia has the biggest secret of all. She has just been diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer, and with only a few weeks to live, she has to share the devastating news so that she can properly say goodbye.
Leah Vincent is a good girl who loves her rabbi father. In her Yeshivish community—a sect within ultra-Orthodox Judaism—she’s a girl “who would never sneak a kosher candy bar that did not carry the extra strict cholov Yisroel certification.”
Vicki Robin transformed our relationship with money in her bestseller Your Money or Your Life, and now she’s set to do likewise regarding our relationship with food. Don’t be misled into thinking her new book belongs in the religion section, though, because Blessing the Hands That Feed Us is all about food systems: how they work, how they don’t and how they can be healed.
Jenny Hubbard’s outstanding debut novel, 2011’s Paper Covers Rock, was set at a boys’ boarding school in the 1980s, where a young man struggled to find his poetic voice while overcoming a personal tragedy. Hubbard’s second novel, And We Stay, explores many of the same themes from a female perspective.
The Tyrant’s Daughter is the existential story of a teenage girl living on the periphery of war, where she straddles the blood-soaked country she’s always called home and the new American land of bittersweet promise where she has since been exiled.
African Americans have been struggling for independence, equality and respect from the moment they were brought to the New World in chains. As that struggle continues today, it’s instructive to look back on our turbulent history to learn from the past and hopefully improve on the future. The five books featured here can help us to do just that, examining historical themes that serve as milestones on the journey of progress.