BTM Recommends: The Rachel Edit!

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We’ve a new face on the block! Give a very warm welcome to Rachel, ardent subscriber turned team member! Rachel is going to be joining our content team to write all about exciting books, feminism and our topical themes! Having been with Books That Matter on our journey since day one, Rachel is an asset to the team, and we are so excited to welcome her aboard!

Hi, I’m Rachel. I’m 34 and live in Nottingham with my husband Leon. During the working week, I am a programme officer. In my spare time I love nothing more than settling in with a nice cup of tea and a good book. I recently joined the Books That Matter team as a contributor and am excited to get involved with a brand I have been a supporter of since the very beginning. Here are some of my absolute favourite reads, I hope at least one of piques your interest and that you will love reading them as much as I did.

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
This one is not for the faint of heart! We follow Jude and his three friends as they go from being struggling twenty-somethings in New York to achieving success in their chosen careers. Their friendship provides them with a kind of makeshift family, and they are bound together by the battle scars they each carry. As the story progresses, we focus in on Jude and learn just how he came to be so broken. You will cry. Your heart will be shattered. You have been warned.

Honour by Elif Shafak
Honour sets out the fate of twin sisters Jamila and Pembe. Jamilia stays behind in their Kurdish village while Pembe travels to London with her Turkish husband Adem in the hope of building a new life. As the family unit starts to break apart, Pembe finds solace in a friendship that brings her comfort but risks the honour of her family. I did not see the ending for this one coming.

Stay With me by Ayobami Adebayo
Part love story, part mystery and part thriller, Stay with Me will definitely keep you turning the pages. The story focuses on Yejide and Akin a young couple living in Nigeria. While they live in a culture where men having multiple wives is an accepted practice, they vow to keep their relationship to just the two of them. After failing to produce a child, however, Akin bows to pressure from his mother to take a second wife and, well, let’s just say things get a bit crazy after that.

We Need New Names by Noviolet Bulawayo
When we meet our protagonist Darling she is just 10 years old and at that tender age, she has already witnessed multiple atrocities the likes of which no child should ever have to see. We follow her as she leaves a life of paramilitary rule Zimbabwe to travel to America but when she gets there, she finds her struggles have not so much disappeared as altered in form.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
I love all of Adichie’s novels but I think Americanah is my favourite. It’s about Ifemelu, a black woman from Nigeria who goes to America to study and her relationship with Obinze her childhood sweetheart who travels to the UK but ends up as an undocumented immigrant. Ifemelu’s experiences in the US force her to look at race in a way she’s never had to before and she writes a blog as a way of capturing her thoughts. While, as a black woman, I found her blog posts hilarious and particularly relatable all readers should find something here to enjoy. Americanah is at its heart a love story. There’s also a movie coming out with Lupita Nyong’o as the lead, so if that’s not a reason to bump this book up your TBR list, I don’t know what is.

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
At the beginning of last year, I found myself consumed by Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels. My Brilliant Friend starts the quartet and if you love it like I did, you will adore the rest of the books. It is the story of a friendship that is as toxic as it is enduring. The writing style takes some getting used to, it is hyper-detailed, but I savoured it because it made me feel as if I were right there with the characters.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
This memoir told in verse gives us an insight into what it was like for Woodson growing up African American in Carolina and New York in the 1960s and 70s. The simple beauty of the poems belies an underlying current of racism that must have been tough for her to grow up with and no doubt shaped the writer she is today. It’s a book that can be enjoyed on multiple levels so while the language has been written so it can be understood by younger readers, older readers will find a lot to think about here too.

Good Talk by Mira Jacobs
Good Talk is a graphic memoir which combines simple line drawings with photographs in a unique art style perfectly suited to the subject matter. Mira deftly covers issues around racial identity and race relations in the States through conversations with her son, friends and husband. Mira is Indian, her husband is white and Jewish which made the conversations they had about race and raising their biracial son particularly poignant.

Citizen by Claudia Rankine
Citizen defies categorization and is something you just have to experience for yourself. Rankine presents us with images and then creates a narrative around them that will force you to challenge your own views and assess what racism really is. It provides an insight into how microaggressions are so easy to miss when they’re not aimed at you and how exhausting it feels when they are. It’s a fairly surreal reading experience, you may need to go back and reread some sections a few times but it is well worth the effort.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
In this first instalment of Angelou’s 7-part autobiography, we learn what it was like for her growing up black and poor in America – spoiler alert it wasn’t great. And yet despite all the hardships she faces, she finds hope and optimism and we all know the legend she ultimately grew up to be.

Written by Rachel Matthews

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