Welcome to Smugglivus 2016! Throughout this month, we will have guests – authors and bloggers alike – looking back at their favorite reads of 2016, looking forward to events and upcoming books in 2017, and more.
Smugglivus continues with a guest post from The Wonderful Kelly Jensen, former-librarian, current-Book Rioter, full-time feminist and writer/editor whose latest book is Here We Are: Feminism For The Real World (Algonquin Young Readers, February 2017)
Please give a warm welcome to Kelly, everyone!
I’m honored to be asked to be part of Smugglivus again this year, and I’m even more honored to have been asked to talk about my favorite feminist reads from 2016.
It’s good to have that sort of focus since, for the most part, I found 2016 to be a dud of a year when it came to reading. I read about the same amount I normally do, but finding gems was few and far between (kind of sounds like how 2016 was as a whole). That said, here are a few favorite reads with a feminist bent to them; many went under the radar and deserve a little more time in the spotlight. I can recommend each and every one of these without reservation, and I’ve limited to books pubbed this year.
This is a mix of young adult fiction and nonfiction, as well as adult fiction and nonfiction because I read a little of everything. Worth noting, too, I read only books by female-identifying authors over the last year, which changed my life, and this list certainly reflects that. To keep this post from getting out of hand length-wise, I’m keeping the book descriptions super short.
Being Jazz by Jazz Jennings:
The memoir of young Jazz Jennings and her experiences recognizing that she was a girl, rather than the boy label she was assigned at birth. Conversational and engaging, Jennings’s teen voice really shines through. This girl is going places.
Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia:
Vampires in Mexico City. This is a lush, well-developed story with a cast of memorable characters, including a wicked female cop named Ana who is whip smart, loves her daughter wildly, and is caught in the middle of a vampire rivalry.
Cherry by Lindsey Rosin:
This is a book about girls who are interested in having sex, so they make a pact to all do it before the end of their senior year. It’s fun, and it has a lot of heart a soul, along with inclusivity both in the characters and in their sexual preferences. One of the most underrated YA titles of the year.
The Good Divide by Kali VanBaale:
I’m not so much sure I’d call this modernly feminist, but it’s an outstanding slice-of-life story set in rural Wisconsin in the 1950s and 69s. Jean is what many would consider an ideal farm wife, but she harbors a huge crush on the brother of her husband, and the turn of events that push and pull them apart keeps the story not only engaging, but gives a sense of what life was like in those years for women in rural America.
If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo:
A romantic YA novel about a trans girl where the book is not about coming out or about overcoming tragedy? Yep, it’s a must-read. (That doesn’t mean there aren’t hard parts but those aren’t what the core of the book is — it’s a love story!).
In the Country We Love by Diane Guerrero:
I’ve never watched the show Guerrero is known for, but I loved the hell out of her memoir about growing up as the child of illegal immigrants. Stories like this are my kryptonite, and Guerrero’s was powerful, heartbreaking, and heartening from start to finish.
The Island by Olivia Levez:
This is a female-driven survival story. Think Hatchet but with a female lead (and in my mind, far more interesting, but that’s because I don’t really care about dudes doing their things to survive in the wild). Frances’s voice is top-notch.
Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera:
A young girl moves from the home she’s always known in the Bronx to take a job as an assistant for a feminist author she’s always admired in Portland, Oregon. What happens is that Juliet learns that feminism is so much more than she suspected, and that sometimes your heroes aren’t as great as they sound on paper. This one is for anyone who wants to see incredible intersectional feminism on the page or who wants to get a better sense of coming to understand why intersectionality is crucial.
Peas and Carrots by Tanita S Davis:
A middle class black family adopts a white girl. The ways their backgrounds and personalities clash is opposite of what you might expect, which is precisely why this book is so great. Also features some outstanding body representation.
Radioactive! How Iréne Curie and Lise Meitner Revolutionized Science and Changed the World by Winifred Conkling:
I never knew I’d hate a man named Otto so much, but alas, I do. This nonfiction dual biography explores the lives of Iréne Curie (daughter of Marie) and Lise Meitner, who both worked toward understanding radioactivity. I found Meitner’s story in particular to be a powerful look not just at the life of a pioneering female scientist, but the way one’s life can be horribly impacted by time, one’s background, and history. I would love a whole YA novel about her OR Iréne (who didn’t get the kind of love she so desperately wanted from her mother).
Real Artists Have Day Jobs by Sara Benincasa:
Short essays, ranging from funny to serious, about things from why mental illness sucks, why you should masturbate, how to do breathwork, why you should make art like a little kid, enjoying rainbows, why it’s okay not to like everyone, and so much more. It’s a pep talk and life advice and a funny read all packed into one.
A Tyranny of Petticoats edited by Jessica Spotswood:
An inclusive and engaging collection of short stories about women throughout American history. The stories are based on real lives of real women. Beth Revis, Lindsay Smith, YS Lee, Saundra Mitchell, and Jessica Spotswood wrote some of my favorite pieces in this collection and now I eagerly await the companion to this anthology. A rare gem where everything is good.
The Vegetarian by Han Kang:
Yeong-hye’s slow descent into madness is so strange and painful. The way one person can impact an entire family, or perhaps the question that we’re left with to chew on (heh), is how does an illness impact more than one person? What separates dream from reality? Sane from insane? This is a book written as three short novellas “about” a woman who declares she’s going vegetarian.
When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore:
This is a story about fables and legends, as well as a story about gender and gender fluidity. The writing is lush and vibrant and urgent, and the story itself is a true shining example of magical realism. I took my time reading it because the prose and the story itself marry in such wonderful, thought-provoking ways. For readers eager for representation in fiction, there is a transboy at the heart of the story, as well as a transwoman.
Who Cooked Adam Smith’s Dinner by Katherine Marcal:
A readable, witty look at the intersection of economics and feminism. I loved this and breezed through it — a lot to chew on relating to women’s work, economic mobility, and human psychology. Also a reminder than white dudes who did a lot of the groundwork for “thinking” and “philosophy” in the past and became legends were only allowed to do so because mom/wife did all of the other work. In Smith’s case, he lived with mom, she fed him, she did the chores, and he only had to work. (Thoreau, if you didn’t know, “went to the woods because he wished to live deliberately” but went home to mommy who did his laundry).
Women in Science by Rachel Ignotofsky:
A beautiful collective biography of women in science. The short entries on each women offer enough narrative to be engaging and encourage further exploration without inundating a reader with too many facts — rather, fun facts and notes of interest are sprinkled about the spreads for each women, along with excellent illustrations. I read way too many collective biographies of women this year and none came close to the excellence of this one.
Wrecked by Maria Padian:
A powerhouse of a novel about rape culture on college campuses. This book made me angry at so many of the characters at so many times, but it does something marvelous in encouraging such passion. . . as well as encouraging a change of opinion about one or two as the story progresses. One to pair with Speak or All The Rage or What We Saw.
I’ve not read as much for the upcoming year yet, but a couple of titles for your 2017 feminist reading radar:
>After The Fall by Kate Hart:
Kate’s debut is everything you could want in a strong contemporary YA novel about rape culture, about living in Arkansas, and about the choices we make that do and do not define us as people. I got to beta read this a few years ago and I’m so excited that Raychel’s story will be available to all readers soon. It’s one part Sara Zarr, one part Courtney Summers, and one part Laurie Halse Anderson.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas:
Starr, Starr, Starr. This novel inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement is going to mean so much to so many readers, particularly because our main character Starr is such a memorable and strong lead. This book will be big and it should be and hopefully it continues to open up doors to more inclusive YA (the doors have always been so slow to open wider).