Top Ten Tuesday: Diversity in 2021

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

Previous Top Ten Tuesday Topics

Covid self-isolation finished on Friday so it has been back out into the outside world for the first time… and I found the busyness of Tescos and town and of work actually a little bit overwhelming! The fact that we are now scarily close to Christmas has probably not helped either the size of the crowds or the behaviour in schools, either! It made me quite nostalgic for that self-isolation!

This week’s freebie, I was intending to look at new-to-me authors in 2021, but looking at Jana’s upcoming list, that already features next month so I hall leave it for then. Instead, I thought I’d spend this week considering diversity and representation in my reading. Whilst I dislike the idea of choosing a book for no better reason than its representation, I equally quail at the idea of limiting myself to the white male middle class canon. Because is reading not a window into other worlds, other experiences, other hearts?

So these are ten (am I really going to manage to limit theses to ten?) books from diverse authors, dealing with diverse representation. Many of these books will feature more than one form of representation.

Diversity: Women

It is appalling, isn’t it, that in this day and age our society is still one where women’s writing is viewed as diverse. How can it be that 50% of humanity can still be devalued and marginalised to that extent?

The Women of Troy, Pat Barker

Troy has fallen. The Greeks have won their bitter war. They can return home as victors – all they need is a good wind to lift their sails. But the wind has vanished, the seas becalmed by vengeful gods, and so the warriors remain in limbo – camped in the shadow of the city they destroyed, kept company by the women they stole from it.

The women of Troy.

Helen, Cassandra, stubborn Amina, Hecuba, howling and clawing her cheeks on the silent shore. And Briseis, carrying her future in her womb: the unborn child of the dead hero Achilles.

Luster, Raven Leilani

Edie is just trying to survive. She’s messing up in her dead-end admin job in her all-white office, is sleeping with all the wrong men, and has failed at the only thing that meant anything to her, painting. No one seems to care that she doesn’t really know what she’s doing with her life beyond looking for her next hook-up. And then she meets Eric, a white, middle-aged archivist with a suburban family, including a wife who has sort-of-agreed to an open marriage and an adopted black daughter who doesn’t have a single person in her life who can show her how to do her hair. As if navigating the constantly shifting landscape of sexual and racial politics as a young black woman wasn’t already hard enough, with nowhere else left to go, Edie finds herself falling head-first into Eric’s home and family.

Nightbitch, Rachel Yoder

One day, the mother was a mother but then, one night, she was quite suddenly something else…

At home full-time with her two-year-old son, an artist finds she is struggling. She is lonely and exhausted. She had imagined – what was it she had imagined? Her husband, always travelling for his work, calls her from faraway hotel rooms. One more toddler bedtime, and she fears she might lose her mind.

Instead, quite suddenly, she starts gaining things, surprising things that happen one night when her child will not sleep. Sharper canines. Strange new patches of hair. New appetites, new instincts. And from deep within herself, a new voice…

Her Body and Other Parties, Carmen Maria Machado

In her provocative debut, Carmen Maria Machado demolishes the borders between magical realism and science fiction, comedy and horror, fantasy and fabulism.
A wife refuses her husband’s entreaties to remove the mysterious green ribbon from around her neck. A woman recounts her sexual encounters as a plague spreads across the earth. A salesclerk in a mall makes a horrifying discovery about a store’s dresses. One woman’s surgery-induced weight loss results in an unwanted house guest.
A dark, shimmering slice into womanhood, Her Body and Other Parties is wicked and exquisite.

Diversity: LGBTQIA+ Sexuality

What I love about these books below is the sheer sense of fun, adventure and tenderness of them: the sexuality of their characters is not “addressed” in the novels, they are not novels about sexuality; they are novels in which the protagonists’ sexuality just is. And is not that representation at its truest and most valuable? And truly wonderful?

Under the Whispering Door, T. J. Klune

When a reaper comes to collect Wallace from his own sparsely-attended funeral, Wallace is outraged. But he begins to suspect she’s right, and he is in fact dead. Then when Hugo, owner of a most peculiar tea shop, promises to help him cross over, Wallace reluctantly accepts the truth.

Yet even in death, he refuses to abandon his life – even though Wallace spent all of it working, correcting colleagues and hectoring employees. He’d had no time for frivolities like fun and friends. But as Wallace drinks tea with Hugo and talks to his customers, he wonders if he was missing something.

The Kingdoms, Natasha Pulley

Come home, if you remember.

The postcard has been held at the sorting office for ninety-one years, waiting to be delivered to Joe Tournier. On the front is a lighthouse – Eilean Mor, in the Outer Hebrides.

Joe has never left England, never even left London. He is a British slave, one of thousands throughout the French Empire. He has a job, a wife, a baby daughter.

But he also has flashes of a life he cannot remember and of a world that never existed – a world where English is spoken in England, and not French.

And now he has a postcard of a lighthouse built just six months ago, that was first written nearly one hundred years ago, by a stranger who seems to know him very well.

One Last Stop, Casey McQuiston

Cynical twenty-three-year-old August, moves to New York City where there’s certainly no chance of her subway commute being anything more than a daily trudge through boredom and electrical failures.

But then, there’s this gorgeous girl on the train.

Jane. Dazzling, charming, mysterious, impossible Jane. Jane with her rough edges and swoopy hair and soft smile, showing up in a leather jacket to save August’s day when she needed it most. Jane doesn’t just look like an old school punk rocker. She’s literally displaced in time from the 1970s, and August is going to have to use everything she tried to leave in her own past to help her. Maybe it’s time to start believing in some things, after all.

Diversity: Race

2021 saw Black Lives Matters marches and statues torn down across the country and the world which was still reeling from the George Floyd murder, and saw the conviction of his murderer in April.

The Mermaid of Black Conch, Monique Roffey

Near the island of Black Conch, a fisherman sings to himself while waiting for a catch. But David attracts a sea-dweller that he never expected – Aycayia, an innocent young woman cursed by jealous wives to live as a mermaid.

When American tourists capture Aycayia, David rescues her and vows to win her trust. Slowly, painfully, she transforms into a woman again. Yet as their love grows, they discover that the world around them is changing – and they cannot escape the curse for ever . . .

The First Woman, Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi

As Kirabo enters her teens, questions begin to gnaw at her – questions which the adults in her life will do anything to ignore. Where is the mother she has never known? And why would she choose to leave her daughter behind? Inquisitive, headstrong, and unwilling to take no for an answer, Kirabo sets out to find the truth for herself.

Her search will take her away from the safety of her prosperous Ugandan family, plunging her into a very different world of magic, tradition, and the haunting legend of ‘The First Woman’.

Diversity: Class

The working classes, those trapped in poverty and in the margins of society are still woefully under-represented in literature.

Exciting Times, Naoise Dolan

When you leave Ireland aged 22 to spend your parents’ money, it’s called a gap year. When Ava leaves Ireland aged 22 to make her own money, she’s not sure what to call it, but it involves:

– a badly-paid job in Hong Kong, teaching English grammar to rich children;
– Julian, who likes to spend money on Ava and lets her move into his guest room;
– Edith, who Ava meets while Julian is out of town and actually listens to her when she talks;
– money, love, cynicism, unspoken feelings and unlikely connections.

Exciting times ensue.

The Golden Rule, Amanda Craig

When Hannah is invited into the First-Class carriage of the London to Penzance train by Jinni, she walks into a spider’s web. Now a poor young single mother, Hannah once escaped Cornwall to go to university. But once she married Jake and had his child, her dreams were crushed into bitter disillusion. Her husband has left her for Eve, rich and childless, and Hannah has been surviving by becoming a cleaner in London. Jinni is equally angry and bitter, and in the course of their journey the two women agree to murder each other’s husbands. After all, they are strangers on a train – who could possibly connect them?

But when Hannah goes to Jinni’s husband’s home the next night, she finds Stan, a huge, hairy, ugly drunk who has his own problems – not least the care of a half-ruined house and garden. He claims Jinni is a very different person to the one who has persuaded Hannah to commit a terrible crime. Who is telling the truth – and who is the real victim?

Shuggie Bain, Douglas Stuart

It is 1981. Glasgow is dying and good families must grift to survive. Agnes Bain has always expected more from life, dreaming of greater things. But Agnes is abandoned by her philandering husband, and as she descends deeper into drink, the children try their best to save her, yet one by one they must abandon her to save themselves. It is her son Shuggie who holds out hope the longest. Shuggie is different, he is clearly no’ right. But Shuggie believes that if he tries his hardest, he can be normal like the other boys and help his mother escape this hopeless place.

And there we have it, a number of books exploring a range of diversity and representing a diverse range of human experience. There were so many more that I could have listed here! But I have chosen to limit myself just to those read during 2021. They all feature wonderful compelling characters and settings – people and places which will live with you for years after reading.

If I were asked to pick one, however, as a favourite, I would have to plump for Shuggie Bain – bleak though it was and harrowing in more than a few paces, little Shuggie Bain and his mother Agnes with her broken life and indomitable pride were extraordinary.

There is, perhaps, an irony in that I am currently listening to Stephen Fry’s narration of P. G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves stories on Audible. And those are not a model of diversity, however joyfully frivolous and warm hearted they may be.

Upcoming Top Ten Tuesday Themes

  • December 14: Books on My Winter 2021 To-read List (or summer if you’re in the southern hemisphere)
  • December 21: Books I Hope Santa Brings/Bookish Wishes
  • December 28: Best Books I Read In 2021
  • January 4: Most Anticipated Books Releasing In the First Half of 2022
  • January 11: Most Recent Additions to My Book Collection
  • January 18: 2021 Releases I Was Excited to Read But Didn’t Get To
  • January 25: New-to-Me Authors I Discovered in 2021

15 thoughts on “Top Ten Tuesday: Diversity in 2021”

  1. It’s horrifying to see how much push-back diverse books are getting right now, especially in my state. We have to do something to remind the world how important it is for people (especially, in my mind, children and other young people) to see themselves in books.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Great post with lots of great recs! I don’t pay much attention generally to who or what I’m reading, but I need to make a better effort at diversifying in the future!

    Here is our Top Ten Tuesday. Thank you!


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