Getting collective with it

As promised in my last post, I’m working on launching a project and I want this project to be a collective effort. I’m reaching out to ask for your support and expertise.

I’m looking for adult/young adult fiction/memoir that illuminates the experience of Americans in the following categories: immigrant, refugee, Muslim, African-American, disabled, Native American, Asian, women, LGBT. I’m interested in any group targeted in the election campaign and/or vulnerable if proposed policies are implemented.

I’m most interested in contemporary works that depict current American lives, and I’d like a range of ages for the main characters. Please share any titles you’d recommend in the comments.

Thank You!

8 thoughts on “Getting collective with it

  1. Marian says:

    Hi Rita — you have my support, but I’m unfortunately woefully deficient in the area of expertise (your request has brought home the fact that I read virtually NO contemporary fiction).

    That being said, I do have a few titles to offer. In the area of YA disabled, my daughter read and loved Wendy Mass’ A Mango-Shaped Space a few years ago. (In the same area, there’s Wonder, by R.J. Palacio, although that’s children’s, not YA.) Also from my daughter’s shelves, the YA author Julie Anne Peters with two novels in the LGBT area: Keeping You a Secret and Luna. Also LGBT, I read Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home a couple years ago, alongside my daughter who had to read it for her first year English course. Again from my daughter’s shelves: in the Muslim area, but set in Australia, is the YA novel Does My Head Look Big In This by Randa Abdel-Fattah. And lastly, I remember coming across Saffron Dreams by Sailah M. Abdullah a few years ago. I confess I didn’t read it but looking at the Goodreads reviews now it certainly seems to be a very well received novel that illustrates the Muslim experience in the US post-9/11.

    Sorry I couldn’t be of more help with this…

    • Rita says:

      This is super-helpful! Thank you! And happy new year to you–I’m working furiously to get this project launched by Monday. Will write more later–

  2. Debbie M says:

    The first things I thought of were some books I read in my childhood:
    * Farewell to Manzanar (1973) – set partly in a US Japanese internment camp
    * Flowers for Algernon (1966) – About someone with an IQ of 68 (at least for part of the book)
    Hardly contemporary!

    But the past couple of years I’ve mostly been reading books set in other countries. The good thing is that I have been writing little summaries of them for myself, so I include some below. I think most or all are not what you’re looking for but a) I might be wrong about that and b) they might remind you of better ideas.

    Hmm, I’m not sure if I have anything you’d like, but here’s what I’ve read in the past couple of years.

    Anderson, Maggie with Ted Gregory, _Our Black Year: One Family’s Quest to Buy Black in America’s Racially Divided Economy_ (2012) – Not surprisingly, she has trouble finding good places, especially for food. She does better than expected on her mission, if not quite as well as No Impact Man on his. One guy with a good store can’t get customers because his store is so good that even local black people assume it is owned by whites and even locals go elsewhere–tragic.

    Platt, Kin. _The Boy Who Could Make Himself Disappear_. (1968) – YA – boy moves to New York with mom after parents break up. We meet him when he can’t pronounce his R’s and follow him until he loses his marbles. Gratuitous death thrown in just for fun.

    Everett, Percival. _I Am Not Sidney Portier_. (2009) – The unfortunately named Not Sidney Portier has real trouble making friends, but manages just enough to keep this side of evil. One theme is unfortunate names. A lot of really horrible stuff happens to him, in an all-too-realistic way. (Leaving Atlanta, one enters Georgia. For a black man, this is not good.) But he manages to escape quickly, in very unrealistic ways. Still, there are a lot of gems. My favorite: “My mother had been, if not disdainful then suspicious of holidays; she thought that they were all either some form of corporate extortion, religious indoctrination, or governmental propaganda. Thanksgiving fell into the third category–one big glorious lie to put a good face on continental theft.”

    Frankel, Valerie. _Four of a Kind_. (2012) – Bess (the rich beauty queen) invites three others to join her to form a diversity club. But they become friends and help each other through big changes in their lives. Bess’s daughter (and mother) don’t like her–she helps her daughter by diverting a trip to her mother to one to her mother-in-law and annoys her mother by sending her sons instead of her daughters. Robin, the redhead Jew, is forced to confront the father of her daughter, and he turns out to be amazing. She is a bitter ex-fat lady with no self-esteem (anyone who could like her must have serious problems), but they may do okay. Carla, the big black lady, gets re-organized at work, and has the guts to threaten her husband into signing loan papers so she can take over a dying physician’s practice. And Alicia, the poor one, gets out of a loveless marriage. This author loves Texas Hold ‘Em, which I now know a bit more about, but I’m NOT a fan of poker at all. Parts in the middle (with the ten-year-old daughter, especially) were quite funny.

    Bruchac, Joseph. _Killer of Enemies_. (2013) – [Native American] teenager and family has been captured in postapocolyptic world. Teen must use her skills to kill the scary gemods, genetically modified animals created for people’s amusement. She uses brains, guns, knives, a bicycle, and her ability to sense danger (and its direction). One character steals the show, starting with the line, “Hello, little food!” Scary. Good morals. Some torture. Author writes many books with Native American themes.

    Danticat, Edwidge. _The Dew Breaker_ (2004) – recommended book on Haiti, different viewpoints of a torturer. It reads like a bunch of short stories, mostly about Haitian immigrants to New York. After a while into a new story you might realize the protagonist was a character in a previous story. The stories were all interesting, but rarely fun, especially the one with torture at the end.
    One of the stories was about the day after Baby Doc and his wife left the country. “I have decided to transfer the destiny of the nation into the hands of the military.”
    “Overnight our country had completely changed. We had fallen asleep under a dictatorship headed by a pudgy thirty-four-year-old man and his glamorous wife. During the night they’d sneaked away–I had to see the television images myself before I could believe it–the wife ornately made up, her long brown hair hidden under a white turban, her carefully manicured fingers holding a long cigarette, the husband at the wheel of the family’s BMW, driving his wife and himself to the tarmac of an airport named after his dead father, from whom he’d inherited the country at nineteen, to an American airplane that would carry them to permanent exile in France. … Their departure, however, orphaned a large number of loyal milia-men, who had guarded the couple’s command with all types of vicious acts. Now the population was going after those militiamen, those macoutes, with the determination of an army in the middle of its biggest bettle to date.”
    Another educational quote: “Before my father was arrested, the president of the republic would drive through my town on New Year’s Eve and throw money from the window of his big shiny black car. Sun rays would wrap themselves around the brand-new coins, making them glow like glass. When we heard that the president was coming, we would clean our entire house, dust our cedar table, and my father would stay home from the sea in case the president chose to get out of the car and walk into our house, to offer us something extra, a bag of rice, a pound of benas, a gallon of corn oil, a promise of future entrance to the medical school or the agricultural school in Damien, somethng that would have bought our loyalty forever, so that twenty, thirty, forty years after he was long dead, we might still be saying, ‘Things were hard, but we once had a president who gave me a sack of rice, some beans, and a gallon of cooking oil. It was the first and last time anyone in power gave me anything.’ As if this sack of rice, this pound of beans, this gallon of cooking oil were the gold, silver, and bronze medals in the povery Olympics.”
    The author has a book “for young readers” called “Behind the Mountains” that I might try.

    Yousafzai, Malala and Christina Lamb _I Am Malala_ (2013) – autobiography of a girl whose father fought for education for all (finally opening his own school) and who herself spoke for education, especially for girls. I knew this would be horrible, but was looking forward to it being by someone who still loves her country, and she does. Includes a history of Swat, a part of Pakistan, during her childhood when the Taliban slowly gained power, were finally kicked out, but still appeared with assassins and suicide bombers. She’s a Pashta, a group that spans Afghanistan and Pakistan. Pakistan wasn’t created until 1947, when Great Britain broke India into three when India got independence, as a homeland for Muslims. Maulana Fazlulla started a radio show in 2005 where he espoused Muslim values, but then got weirder and weirder. At first people loved him, but then he insisted on his own messed-up version of Islam (and educated people know what is and is not in the Koran). He didn’t want women ever leaving the house at all, let alone to go to school, without their husband or other male relative and while wearing a burka, for example. They were opposed to dancing, art, and of course old Buddhas and temples. There was also a horrible earthquake in 2005. The military makes everyone leave Swat to fight against the Taliban and declares victory in 2009. In 2010, floods damage more than the earthquake and fighting and are due to deforestation. In 2010 Osama bin Ladin was killed in Pakistan and it is impossible to believe the Pakistani government didn’t know he was there. Malala was shot in 2012–she had already won the Pakistan National Peace Prize. She has since won the Nobel and started the Malala Fund but is stuck in Birmingham (second largest city in England).

    Also, there are some (old) songs I like on one of these themes:
    * “Johnny Half-Breed” (Peter LaFarge) (1965)
    * “Indian Reservation (The Lament of the Cherokee Reservation Indian)” (Paul Revere and the Raiders) (1971)

    Good luck to you!

    • Rita says:

      Thank you, Debbie! Thank you so much for sharing your reading with me. Your voice really comes through in your writing. 🙂

      • Debbie M says:

        Oh, just saw the page on your project. I have never read any of the books on your list! This is a very exciting project and you have my support even if I can’t actually help you. Except by publicizing it and reading some of the books later.

  3. Stephenie says:

    Rita, I wracked my brain on this one. My 11-year old tells me this is an amazing read, although it is maybe less YA, more junior:
    Wonder by R. J. Palacio (about a boy with facial disfigurement)
    The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon (about a boy with autism)
    And here is a really nice little short list of fantastic reads….

    • Rita says:

      Thank you! Wonder is hugely popular with our elementary students (but I confess I haven’t read it yet). I loved Curious Incident when I read it (years ago now) and there are some fantastic books on that list. This is really helpful!

      Hope your year has gotten off to a good start. 🙂

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