July 2020 Reads for the Rest of Us

The Feminist Know-It-All: You know her. You can’t stand her. Good thing she’s not here! Instead, this column by gender and women’s studies librarian Karla Strand will amplify stories of the creation, access, use and preservation of knowledge by women and girls around the world; share innovative projects and initiatives that focus on information, literacies, libraries and more; and, of course, talk about all of the books.

Each month, I provide Ms. readers with a list of new books being published by writers from historically underrepresented groups.

The aims of these lists are threefold:

  1. I want to do my part in the disruption of what has been the acceptable “norm” in the book world for far too long—white, cis, heterosexual, male;
  2. I want to amplify amazing works by writers who are women, Black, Indigenous, Latinx, APIA/AAPI, international, LGBIA+, TGNC, queer, disabled, fat, immigrant, Muslim, neurodivergent, sex-positive or of other historically marginalized identities—you know, the rest of us; and
  3. I want to challenge and encourage you all to buy, borrow and read them! 

At times, I’ve included cishet white women writers on this list if their books focus on feminism, rape culture, gender-based violence, etc. But not this month. Now more than ever, we need to read and buy books by women of color, and let’s continue to buy books by Black women writers. 

This month, all 24 of the books on the list are written by BIWOC writers, so get to it. 

July 2020 Reads for the Rest of Us books

Say It Louder! Black Voters, White Narratives, and Saving Our Democracy

By Tiffany Cross (@TiffanyDCross). Amistad. 256 pages. Out July 6.

In one of the most important election years in history, Tiffany Cross publishes her imperative examination of the importance of Black voters in this, and all, elections. Oppressed by a system designed to hold them down, Black voters hold a key vital to forward progress in this country. This is a well-researched and pragmatic book for our current moment.

The Beauty in Breaking: A Memoir

By Michele Harper. Riverhead Books. 304 pages. Out July 7.

A book for our times, Harper’s debut is a compelling memoir about her life as a Black woman emergency room doctor and how that work overlaps with the complexities of life. Harper explores hurt and healing, race and gender, justice and hope with candor and compassion.   

Cinderella Is Dead

By Kalynn Bayron (@KalynnBayron). Bloomsbury YA. 400 pages. Out July 7.

Bayron turns the Cinderella story—and all fairy tales—on its head with her debut featuring queer Black girls who fight to overthrow the patriarchy. Part dystopia, part romance, this book is super fun and full of the representation we want. A great summer read!

The Color of Air: A Novel

By Gail Tsukiyama. HarperVia. 320 pages. Out July 7.

The latest book by bestselling author Gail Tsukiyama is historical fiction centering a Japanese American family in Hawai’i. When Daniel returns home to the island, he is hit with a secret about his family and the possible eruption of Mauna Loa volcano. Lushly written, this is a story of family ties, immigation, resilience and home. 

The End of White Politics: How to Heal Our Liberal Divide

By Zerlina Maxwell (@ZerlinaMaxwell). Hachette Books. 224 pages. Out July 7.

If you’ve ever seen or heard Zerlina Maxwell on MSNBC or on her SiriusXM morning show, you know she calls it like she sees it. Her first book is an imperative read for our times. Arguing we need to lean into identity politics, Maxwell explains what we need to do—now—to move the Democratic party, and the nation, forward.

The Sky is Blue with a Single Cloud 

Written by Kuniko Tsurita and translated by Ryan Holmberg. Drawn & Quarterly. 258 pages. Out July 7. 

Available for the first time in English, this volume collects some of cartoonist Kuniko Tsurita’s best graphic short stories in all their feminist, gender-questioning, visionary, dystopian glory.

Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close

By Aminatou Sow (@aminatou) and Ann Friedman (@annfriedman). Simon & Schuster. 256 pages. Out July 14.

From the wonders that bring you the Call Your Girlfriend podcast, Big Friendship is about just that: how some friendships can weather ups and downs, ebbs and flows, failures and successes over time and distance, and still come out intact. It describes the friendships we have and desire, the ones that we all need, especially in our current moment.

Crooked Hallelujah 

By Kelli Jo Ford (@kellijoford). Grove Press. 304 pages. Out July 14.

Kelli Jo Ford has penned an extraordinary debut set in 1974 in the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma that is focused on mothers and daughters, the strength and sacrifices of women and the journey that growth requires. 

If you found this article helpful, please consider supporting our independent reporting and truth-telling for as little as $5 per month.

My Favorite Girlfriend was a French Bulldog

Written by Legna Rodriguez Iglesias (@lasanalfabetas) and translated by Megan McDowell. McSweeney’s Publishing. 152 pages. Out July 14.

A novel in 15 stories narrated by one Cuban immigrant, this book is centered on themes of home, politics, queerness, feminism and identity. The distinct voices and events that mark her journey make this a unique and unexpected journey for readers as well.  

The Names of All the Flowers: A Memoir

By Melissa Valentine (@iammelissav). The Feminist Press. 296 pages. Out July 14. 

This is the striking debut memoir about a childhood in Oakland and the shooting death of a beloved older brother; it is also a powerful call to action to stop the endless violence against communities of color in the U.S.

Sex and Lies: True Stories of Women’s Intimate Lives in the Arab World

By Leila Slimani. Penguin Books. 176 pages. Out July 14.

When she was in her native Morocco promoting her award-winning book Adèle, Leila Slimani was surprised by the number of women who confided in her about their own stories of sex and sexuality. So surprised, that she wrote a book based on them that is a compassionate and searing examination of women in Morocco and the Arab world.

Well-Behaved Indian Women

By Saumya Dave (@SaumyaJDave). Berkley. 400 pages. Out July 14.

This lovely debut centers three generations of Indian mothers and daughters who struggle to communicate and meet teacher’s expectations while staying true to their own hopes and desires. A universal tale, Dave’s writing is witty, poetic, and reflective.  

Hands for Language

By Uma Menon (@theumamenon). Mawenzi House/TSAR Publishers. 96 pages. Out July 15.

Shortlisted for the 2019 International Erbacce-Prize, this debut poetry collection is a powerful statement on globalism and migration, family and coming of age, gender and ethnicity. Uniquely written in a distinct voice, Menon is a bright new voice for our time. Did I mention she is 16 years old? She’s one to watch. 

The Divine Boys

Written by Laura Restrepo and translated by Carolina De Robertis (@caroderobertis). Amazon Crossing. 207 pages. Out July 21. 

This is a searing true crime novel in which five privileged men in Bogotá, Colombia, lead wayward, unconscionable lives until a young girl disappears. Violent and controversial as the content and characters are, the book eviscerates toxic masculinity and will elicit strong responses from readers. Powerful and award-winning, this is not one to be taken lightly. 

Tell Me Your Names and I Will Testify: Essays

By Carolyn Holbrook. University of Minnesota Press. 200 pages. Out July 21.

In this memoir-in-essays, Holbrook reflects on the power of art and storytelling to heal, grow, and flourish. Throughout her life she has faced violence, poverty and racism, but also experienced great love, compassion and beauty. This ultimately uplifting collection is candid, vibrant and powerful.  

Trouble the Saints: A Novel

By Alaya Dawn Johnson (@alayadj). Tor. 352 pages. Out July 21. 

Johnson gifts us this unique historical fantasy set in New York City at the beginning of World War II. Combining romance, thrills and racial injustice, it spans time but presents timely issues. And if N.K. Jemisin calls it “awesome”, you bet I’ll read it — and you should too. 

A Woman’s Place: Inside the Fight for a Feminist Future

By Kylie Cheung (@kylietcheung). North Atlantic Books. 336 pages. Out July 21.

Writer and cultural critic Kylie Cheung takes us to school on fourth wave feminism with her latest book. Clear and forward-thinking, Cheung examines how #MeToo, the current presidency, youth activism, online harassment and racial (in)justice have shaped today’s feminism and how today’s feminists can move forward in resistance and solidarity. 

The Year of the Witching

By Alexis Henderson (@alexhwrites). Ace. 368 pages. Out July 21. 

In this unique and haunting fantasy, Henderson’s biracial—and thus, born blasphemous—heroine finds solace in the rigid, puritanical community of Bethel. Or at least she does until she uncovers the dark truth and realizes she must fight this patriarchal, repressive world with all her powers.      

Anti-Racism: Powerful Voices, Inspiring Ideas

By Kenrya Rankin (@kenrya). Spruce. 160 pages. Updated release date: August 18.

From activist and author of How We Fight White Supremacy comes this slim yet powerful collection of quotes from over 100 imperative voices in the anti-racism movement, including Alicia Garza, Ta Nehisi Coates, Audre Lorde, Bayard Rustin and more. Partial proceeds to benefit The Movement for Black Lives Fund, so get yours to take a break, rejuvenate, refresh and get back into the fray.

Empire of Wild: A Novel

By Cherie Dimaline. William Morrow. 320 pages. Out July 28.

This is the revelatory US debut of award-winning writer Cherie Dimaline based on the Canadian Métis legend of the werewolf-like Rogarou. Gritty and engaging, this story of a woman and her missing husband is one of candor, wit and tradition. 

Intimations: Six Essays

By Zadie Smith. Penguin Books. 112 pages. Out July 28.

You can’t go wrong with Zadie Smith. Her latest book is a collection of six reflective, candid and sharp essays about our current moment written in the first months of COVID-19 lockdown. Smith will donate her royalties from the sale of the book to charity.

It Is Wood, It Is Stone: A Novel

By Gabriella Burnham (@jcupburn). One World. 224 pages. Out July 28.

Set in São Paulo, Brazil, this surprising debut centers women from differing backgrounds but who are bound together by need, memory and compassion. Themes of race, sexuality, gender, class and power are expertly interwoven in this engaging and insightful story of (in)stability, meaning-making and care.    

Memorial Drive: A Daughter’s Memoir

By Natasha Trethewey (@NTrethewey). Ecco. 224 pages. Out July 28.

Pulitzer Prize winner and former US Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey has penned this candid and sharp memoir focused on the murder of her mother by her stepfather when she was 19. Trethewey unforgettably examines how she was able to move forward through grief, racism and misogyny to find love, purpose and beauty.  

This Is My America

By Kim Johnson (@KCJohnsonwrites). Random House Books for Young Readers. 416 pages. Out July 28.

And last but not least, Kim Johnson’s debut novel explores mass incarceration and injustice against Black men through the eyes of 17-year-old Tracy Beaumont. As Tracy fights for the freedoms of her father and brother, time is quickly running out. This is—unfortunately—a book for our time. 


Karla J. Strand is the gender and women’s studies librarian for the University of Wisconsin. She completed her doctorate in information science via University of Pretoria in South Africa with a background in history and library science, and her research centers on the role of libraries and knowledge in empowering women and girls worldwide. Tweet her @karlajstrand.