February 2021 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 excluded 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! 

February is half-over! Is anyone else finding it near impossible to keep up with responsibilities lately? I hope it’s not just me… well, apologies for my perpetual tardiness so far in 2021. I am trying to get back on track and many thanks for your patience and kind words of support.

Here’s to all of us getting through the rest of winter as gracefully and painlessly as possible. I’m confident that the 47 books on this list will help. 

Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted

By Suleika Jaouad (@suleikajaouad). Random House. 368 pages. Out now.

This is an extraordinary, searing and brave debut memoir of illness, healing, hope and new beginnings.

Border and Rule: Global Migration, Capitalism, and the Rise of Racist Nationalism

By Harsha Walia (@HarshaWalia). Haymarket Books. 320 pages. Out now.

In her latest illuminating call-to-action, award-winning writer and activist Harsha Walia examines how migration is part and parcel of colonization, capitalism and climate change. 

Do Better: Spiritual Activism for Fighting and Healing from White Supremacy

By Rachel Ricketts (@iamrachelricketts). Atria Books. 384 pages. Out now.

With Do Better, racial justice educator and spiritual activist Rachel Ricketts has provided a guidebook for self-care and healing while doing the exhaustive labor that comes with fighting white supremacy. 

Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019

Edited by Dr. Ibram X. Kendi (@DrIbram) and Dr. Keisha N. Blain (@KeishaBlain). One World. 528 pages. Out now.

This is easily, already, one of my picks of the year. A transformative volume, it features contributions from 80 Black writers and ten Black poets—over half of whom are women, queer and/or transgender—who expertly and creatively cover this 400-year timespan, #RequiredReading. 

The Gilded Ones 

By Namina Forna (@NaminaForna). Delacorte Press. 432 pages. Out now.

An atmospheric debut, this fantasy centers the power of a redefined sisterhood to overcome a seemingly impossible fate. 

Girlhood: Teens around the World in Their Own Voices

By Masuma Ahuja (@masumaahuja). Algonquin Young Readers. 256 pages. Out now. 

This is a beautiful volume of stories, photos and diary entries from 30 girls living in 27 countries around the world. From them, we learn what the lives of ordinary girls are like, from their own perspective. 

The Good Girls: An Ordinary Killing 

By Sonia Faleiro (@soniafaleiro). Grove Press. 253 pages. Out now.

Award-winning writer Sonia Faleiro delivers a disarming account of the disappearance and murder of two teen girls in northern India and a crucial challenge to traditional notions of caste, gender, sexuality and violence. 

Hear #MeToo in India: News, Social Media, and Anti-Rape and Sexual Harassment Activism

By Dr. Pallavi Guha (@pallavi_guha). Rutgers University Press. 154 pages. Out now.

It can be challenging to find a single volume that is rigorously researched, endlessly readable and undoubtedly useful in the fight against rape and sexual harassment, but this one does it.  

How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House: A Novel 

By Cherie Jones (@csajthewriter). Little, Brown and Company. 288 pages. Out now.

Set in Barbados, this intense debut thriller speaks volumes about domestic violence, class struggle, loss and the legacy of trauma. 

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The Kindest Lie: A Novel 

By Nancy Johnson (@NancyJAuthor). William Morrow. 336 pages. Out now.

Set in 2008 Chicago, this powerful debut examines motherhood, race and the American Dream with candid and impassioned beauty.

Kink: Stories 

Edited by R.O. Kwon (@rokwon) and Garth Greenwell (@GarthGreenwell). Simon & Schuster. 288 pages. Out now.

This groundbreaking anthology features some of today’s hottest authors writing about some of the hottest topics. It’s luscious, tender, sexy, erotic, queer AF and challenges norms up, down and around the spectrum.

Land of Big Numbers: Stories 

By Te-Ping Chen (@tepingchen). Mariner Books. 256 pages. Out now.

In this extraordinary debut collection, former Wall Street Journal reporter Te-Ping Chen insightfully explores life in modern China in all its beauty, flaws and volatility. 

Loud Black Girls: 20 Black Women Writers Ask: What’s Next? (Slay in Your Lane) 

Edited by Yomi Adegoke (@yomiadegoke) and Elizabeth Uviebinené (@lizuvie). Fourth Estate. 256 pages. Out now. 

This is an insightful, funny and inspirational anthology of essays by Black British women writers weighing in on pop culture, our historical moment, Black girlhood and womanhood as well as the importance of finding your own voice. 

Love Is an Ex-Country

By Randa Jarrar (@randajarrar). Catapult. 240 pages. Out now.

Randa Jarrar is Muslim, Egyptian, Palestinian, American, fat, queer, feminist and, in her cathartic, candid and adventurous memoir, on a journey to find her joy and taking no prisoners along the way.

Love Is a Revolution

By Renée Watson (@reneewauthor). Bloomsbury YA. 304 pages. Out now. 

From bestselling writer Renée Watson comes this charming coming-of-age story focusing on themes of race, self-love, community, poetry, finding your voice and living your joy. 

Made in China: A Prisoner, an SOS Letter, and the Hidden Cost of America’s Cheap Goods

By Amelia Pang (@ameliapangg). Algonquin Books. 288 pages. Out now.

Journalist Amelia Pang has written an urgent, shocking and enraging account of the forced labor in China behind the cheap goods we purchase here in the U.S.

Milk Blood Heat 

By Dantiel W. Moniz (@dantielwmoniz). Grove Press. 208 pages. Out now.

Set against the lush and unpredictable backdrop of Florida, these 11 stories present women and girls as we really are: complex, deep, smart, sour, joyful, tough, loving and powerful.

Noopiming: The Cure for White Ladies 

By Dr. Leanne Betasamosake Simpson (Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg). University of Minnesota Press. 368 pages. Out now.

This is another of my favorites so far this year. Probably unlike anything you’ve ever read, this remarkable novel is written in prose and fragments and is an alarmingly beautiful tale of decolonial resistance and the uncovering of a world of natural abundance, connection and compassion.

On Fragile Waves 

By E. Lily Yu. Erewhon. 288 pages. Out now.

In her spellbinding debut, E. Lily Yu takes us on a journey from Afghanistan to Australia, from childhood to growth, from family to individual, from reality to imagination—and back again.

Rabbit Island

Written by Elvira Navarro (@ElviraNavarro) and translated by Christina MacSweeney. Two Lines Press. 184 pages. Out now.

Each of these eleven stories feel like a dream. Sometimes creepy, sometimes witty, but always reflective of our innermost fears and vulnerabilities, always haunting, always extraordinary.

Surviving the White Gaze: A Memoir 

By Rebecca Carroll (@rebel19). Simon & Schuster. 320 pages. Out now.

Rebecca Carroll has written this remarkable memoir of her time growing up as the only Black child in the neighborhood, of meeting her white birth mother and of her subsequent search for identity, wholeness, acceptance and authenticity.

This Close to Okay: A Novel 

By Leesa Cross-Smith (@leesacrosssmith). Grand Central Publishing. 320 pages. Out now.

Following her wildly successful short story collection, Leesa Cross-Smith has written a lovely novel about two strangers, brought together unexpectedly, and the hope and connection they provide one another.

The Three Mothers: How the Mothers of Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and James Baldwin Shaped a Nation

By Anna Malaika Tubbs (@annas_tea_). Flatiron Books. 272 pages. Out now.

To celebrate and honor Black motherhood, Anna Malaika Tubbs has written this triumphant debut exploring the lives and influence of Berdis Baldwin, Alberta King and Louise Little, the mothers of three of the most important figures in US history. 

We Too: Essays on Sex Work and Survival

Edited by Natalie West (@MsNatalieWest) with Tina Horn (@tinahornsass). The Feminist Press at CUNY. 336 pages. Out now.

This critical collection of essays centers the call for greater understanding of sex work as work and for increased respect for sex workers themselves. By including a wide variety of contributors, topics and writing styles, this volume models the crucial ways forward.

Women and Leadership: Real Lives, Real Lessons

By Julia Gillard (@JuliaGillard) and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (@NOIweala). MIT Press. 336 pages. Out now. 

This remarkable exploration into women leaders—and why there aren’t more of them—is an indispensable guide to addressing sexism and overcoming inequities.

American Delirium: A Novel

Written by Dr. Betina González and translated by Dr. Heather Cleary (@_heathercleary). Henry Holt and Co. 224 pages. Out Feb. 16.

This is the English-language debut from Argentinian writer Betina González about the wild discord that erupts in a small Midwestern town and the three unlikely people who set out to rescue themselves and each other.

Anti-Racist Ally: An Introduction to Activism and Action

By Sophie Williams (@sophiewilliamsofficial). Amistad. 176 pages. Out Feb. 16.

Founder of the wildly popular @officialmillennialblack Instagram account, Williams has written this handy pocket-sized guide for those working to up their anti-racist game. And we all need to do that.

The Echo Wife

By Sarah Gailey (@gaileyfrey). Tor Books. 256 pages. Out Feb. 16.

If you haven’t heard of this thrilling multi-genre sophomore novel by the amazing talent Sarah Gailey by now then I am not sure where you have been. But now you know, so get to reading!

How to Order the Universe

Written by María José Ferrada and translated by Elizabeth Bryer. Tin House Books. 180 pages. Out Feb. 16.

Set in 1980s Chile, this remarkable debut centers a child who accompanies her father on his traveling sales in an examination of family, memory and the precarity of life.  

Like a Tree: How Trees, Women, and Tree People Can Save the Planet

By Jean Shinoda Bolen, MD. Conari Press. 264 pages. Out Feb. 16.

In this updated edition of a classic in ecofeminism, Jean Shinoda Bolen poetically addresses the continuing need to save the earth and the relationship between women and trees necessary to do so.

The Mermaid and the Minotaur: The Classic Work of Feminist Thought 

By Dr. Dorothy Dinnerstein. Other Press. 336 pages. Out Feb. 16.

Originally published in 1976, this feminist classic addressing gender roles in parenting is presented in an updated edition with a new introduction by Gloria Steinem. 

Reaper of Souls (Kingdom of Souls, 2) 

By Rena Barron (@renathedreamer). HarperTeen. 448 pages. Out Feb. 16.

The second book in this riveting dark fantasy trilogy is full of demons, magic, thrills and imagination; it is the perfect distraction from reality we need right now.

The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together

By Heather McGhee (@hmcghee). One World. 448 pages. Out Feb. 16.

It’s terribly difficult to sum this brilliant addition to the examinations of inequality, racism and democracy in this country in one sentence, so I will let Ibram X. Kendi do it for me: “This is the book I’ve been waiting for.”

At the Threshold of Liberty: Women, Slavery, and Shifting Identities in Washington, D.C.

By Dr. Tamika Y. Nunley (@TamikaYNunley). University of North Carolina Press. 272 pages. Out Feb. 22.

Making tremendous use of archives, Tamika Y. Nunley examines the multitude of ways Black women resisted oppression and fought against the limitations placed upon them in 19th century Washington, D.C. 

Chronicling Stankonia: The Rise of the Hip-Hop South

By Dr. Regina Bradley (@redclayscholar). University of North Carolina Press. 136 pages. Out Feb. 22.

With vivid narrative and critical analysis, Bradley presents an innovative examination of the profound legacy and influence of Southern hip hop music and culture. 

Assume Nothing: A Story of Intimate Violence 

By Tanya Selvaratnam (@TanyaAuthor). Harper. 272 pages. Out Feb. 23.

A gripping memoir about the abuse Tanya Selvaratnam suffered at the hands of former New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

The City of Good Death

By Priyanka Champaneri (@priyanka.champaneri). Restless Books. 448 pages. Out Feb. 23.  

Featuring the manager of a death hostel in Banaras, India, who is struggling with his own past, this debut was the winner of the 2018 Prize for New Immigrant Writing from Restless Books.

Escaping Exodus: Symbiosis: A Novel 

By Nicky Drayden (@nickydrayden). Harper Voyager. 336 pages. Out Feb. 23.

With Symbiosis, we re-enter the belly of the beast as civilization clings to survival in this kaleidoscopic sci-fi saga.

Honey Girl: A Novel

By Morgan Rogers (@garnetmorgue). Park Row. 304 pages. Out Feb. 23. 

Lots of buzz about this one—and rightfully so. Centering a dependable, overachieving, freshly-minted PhD who explores her adulthood, her autonomy and her agency, this delightful debut will speak to many readers.

In the Company of Men 

By Dr. Véronique Tadjo (@VTadjo). Other Press. 160 pages. Out Feb. 23.

From multiple perspectives, Tadjo examines the effects of pandemics like the Ebola crisis and the toll they take on our health, our communities and our humanity. Particularly relevant to our times. 

Liner Notes for the Revolution: The Intellectual Life of Black Feminist Sound

By Dr. Daphne A. Brooks. Belknap Press. 608 pages. Out Feb. 23. 

In this engaging volume, acclaimed music critic Daphne A. Brooks presents a robust and authoritative exploration of the radical intellectual and feminist traditions of Black women’s music.

Mouths of Rain: An Anthology of Black Lesbian Thought

Edited by Briona Simone Jones. The New Press. 224 pages. Out Feb. 23.

Dubbed as the companion anthology to Beverly Guy-Sheftall’s groundbreaking classic Words of Fire, this outstanding collection honors the legacy and contributions made by Black lesbian writers throughout the last two centuries.

Never Have I Ever: Stories 

By Isabel Yap (@visyap). Small Beer Press. 248 pages. Out Feb. 23.

Drawing from science fiction, Filipino folklore, fantasy and horror, these thirteen stories are monstrous, scary, joyful, unexpected, inventive, eerie and weird. 

Raceless: In Search of Family, Identity, and the Truth About Where I Belong

By Georgina Lawton (@GeorginaLawton). Harper Perennial. 304 pages. Out Feb. 23. 

This is a candid, engrossing and important exploration into identity, family, race and how we understand the formation and evolution of our selves throughout our lives. 

Speak, Okinawa: A Memoir

By Elizabeth Miki Brina. Knopf. 304 pages. Out Feb. 23.

As the daughter of an Okinawan war bride and American soldier in Vietnam, Brina explores her cultural heritage, internalized racism and shame, forgiveness and identities in this brave and candid debut memoir.

We Do This ‘Til We Free Us: Abolitionist Organizing and Transforming Justice

By Mariame Kaba (@prisonculture). Haymarket Books. 200 pages. Our Feb. 23.

Through interviews, speeches, personal recollections and essential lessons learned, feminist abolitionist and organizer Mariame Kaba speaks to the necessity of collective action, critical analysis, intentional evaluation and compassionate vulnerability in the fight for true liberation.  

Fashion Criticism: An Anthology

Edited by Dr. Francesca Granata. Bloomsbury Visual Arts. 208 pages. Out Feb. 25.

This is a groundbreaking anthology of fashion criticism collected from the last 200 years that includes historical essays from Oscar Wilde, journalism through the ‘70s and ‘80s, to the bloggers of today. 

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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.