2023 ‘Best of the Rest’: Our Favorite Books of the Year!

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!

You’ve read the other “Best of” lists—now read this one. You know, the one for the rest of us.

Each year, I review my monthly Reads for the Rest of Us lists and choose my favorite books of the year. It is such a wonderful challenge to narrow them down. I read so many books I enjoy, but there are always those that rise to the top, the ones I won’t—or can’t—forget. 

Because I can’t include all the books, I am extra selective for my end-of-the-year list. I did leave some off that are all over other major lists—and as well they should be! Of course, the spectacular 50 Years of Ms.: The Best of the Pathfinding Magazine that Ignited a Revolution is one of my best-of-books, but I might be biased. In the list below, I also focus on books from independent publishers, which may have flown a bit under the mainstream radar. 

So here they are, my top 38 in alphabetical order. 

This past year was difficult, but I hope the challenges were tempered by some rest, love, companionship and joy. I wish you all the best in 2024.

At the Edge of the Woods 

By Kathryn Bromwich (@kathryn.bromwich). Two Dollar Radio. 220 pages. 

It happens every year. I always miss a few fantastic books, and they don’t make it on my monthly lists. This is one of those books. I was absorbed by the slow-burn lyrical detail of Bromwich’s descriptions of nature and her captivating reflections on womanhood, illness, solitude and relationships.


Bad Cree: A Novel

By Jessica Johns (Sucker Creek First Nation) (@JessicaStellaaa). Doubleday. 272 pages. 

After her sister dies, Mackenzie is riddled with guilt and all-too-real dreams, not to mention the murder of crows that seem to be following her every move. Johns has crafted a magical debut thriller that is both terrifying and lovingly written. 


The Berry Pickers: A Novel

By Amanda Peters (Mi’kmaq). Catapult. 320 pages.

This memorable debut is focused on the mystery of a young Mi’kmaq girl who disappears while picking blueberries. Through the perspectives of two very different families, Peters deftly tackles themes of abuse, colonialism, intergenerational trauma, grief and more. Keep the tissues nearby for this one. 


The Black Joy Project 

By Kleaver Cruz (@KleavCruz). Mariner Books. 224 pages. 

Filled with essays and full-color photographs focused on the joy of Black life, this stunning volume will make the perfect gift for anyone on your holiday list. Luckily for us, Kleaver Cruz has put The Black Joy Project in print, and it is a celebration.


Brooding Over Bloody Revenge: Enslaved Women’s Lethal Resistance

By Nikki M. Taylor. Cambridge University Press. 250 pages. 

Howard University history professor Nikki Taylor has written an extraordinary, and necessarily gruesome, account of the ways in which enslaved women resisted the violence and oppression they encountered daily. By challenging existing narratives, Taylor sheds new light on the lengths some went to for safety, dignity, revenge and justice. 


Care: The Highest Stage of Capitalism

By Premilla Nadasen (@premillanadasen). Haymarket Books. 288 pages. 

In her latest crucial book, historian and activist Premilla Nadasen explores how caring for others—work long-relegated to women, and predominantly women of color—became part of the inequity, indignity and extraction of capitalism. But as Nadasen illustrates, when care workers connect with those of other justice-based movements, a collective of solidarity, resistance and hope can form an indelible force for change.   


The Dialectic is in the Sea: The Black Radical Thought of Beatriz Nascimento

Edited and translated by Christen A. Smith (@christenasmithphd), Bethânia N. F. Gomes and Archie Davies (@AOJDavies). Princeton University Press. 408 pages. 

For this groundbreaking volume, Bethânia N. F. Gomes teamed up with scholars Christen A. Smith and Archie Davies to collect, translate and share the work of her mother, the brilliant Black Brazilian poet, thinker, historian and political leader Beatriz Nascimento. Radical and influential, Nascimento’s work is available here for the first time in English. It’s this month’s #RequiredReading.


Dyscalculia: A Love Story of Epic Miscalculation 

By Camonghne Felix (@camonghne). One World. 240 pages. Out Feb. 14. 

After a terrible heartbreak, Camonghne Felix did some deep soul searching, reflecting on her past, her traumas and her dyscalculia diagnosis in order to make sense of it. The outcome is this extraordinary volume reckoning with intimacy, healing, perception, love and loss. 


The Feminist Killjoy Handbook: The Radical Potential of Getting in the Way

By Sara Ahmed (@SaraNAhmed). Seal Press. 304 pages. 

While we all need more joy in our lives, Sara Ahmed is back to explore those moments when being the Feminist Killjoy is the most critical and revolutionary thing we can be. Being the killjoy is often a joy unto itself, and Ahmed shows us how to embrace it in all its liberatory glory.


The Flower in the Skull

Written by Kathleen Alcalá (Ópata Nation) (@katzilla.alqala). Raven Chronicles Press. 176 pages. 

Under the heading “I missed this one when it first came out” is this brilliant back-in-print intergenerational tale of Ópata women across Sonora, Los Angeles and Tuscon. A beautiful representation of Alcalá’s thoughtful and tender style and the second in a trilogy, it can be read as a standalone. But just do yourself a favor and read the first book, Spirits of the Ordinary, which is just as magnificent.


God Went Like That: A Novel

By Yxta Maya Murray (@murrayyxta). Curbstone Books. 200 pages. 

Yxta Maya Murray’s latest examines the real-life nuclear meltdown and accidents that occurred in 1960s Simi Valley, California. Although not well known, these incidents had far-reaching health and environmental consequences, which Murray details in this powerful and genre-defying book.    


The Goth House Experiment 

By SJ Sindu (@sjsindu). Soho Press. 208 pages. 

This fresh collection got me out of my reading slump! Original, evocative and memorable, SJ Sindu’s latest examines queerness, gender, class and more. I don’t know how Sindu does it, but somehow these stories are surreal and subversive yet strangely relatable. That’s talent.


A Grandmother Begins the Story

By Michelle Porter (Métis). Algonquin Books. 336 pages.  

This singular and visionary debut spectacularly reimagines the epic family saga novel. Touching, evocative and kaleidoscopic, the storytelling spans five generations of Métis women and bison in this world and the next to explore colonialism, kinship, healing and belonging.  


Head Above Water: Reflections on Illness

By Shahd Alshammari (@ShahdAlshammari). The Feminist Press at CUNY. 176 pages. 

Woven from her journals, Shahid Alshammari has created a candid and heartfelt memoir of chronic illness, culture, embodiment, fear and hope. Alshammari is an excellent storyteller representing a world of women whose voices often remain unheard. 


Healing Justice Lineages: Dreaming at the Crossroads of Liberation, Collective Care and Safety

By Cara Page and Erica Woodland (@ebmore1). North Atlantic Books. 320 pages.

Dorothy Roberts describes this as “an essential guide for all abolitionists,” and I need no more convincing. Get it, read it, live it, pass it on.


Hit Parade of Tears

Written by Izumi Suzuki. Translated by Sam Bett (@sambett), David Boyd (@_davidboyd) and Daniel Joseph. Verso Fiction. 288 pages. 

I was so curious about this collection of stories by Izumi Suzuki, a Japanese sci-fi writer whose work I had actually never read, despite her cult following. Described as “wryly anarchic and deeply imaginative,” it was at the top of my TBR list, and it did not disappoint. I’ve never read anything quite like it, and it was wondrous.


I’m a Fan: A Novel 

By Sheena Patel (@imightbesheenapatel). Graywolf Press. 216 pages. 

Fresh and original, Sheena Patel’s debut centers any one of us who is obsessed with social media, fandom, self-esteem or self-loathing. It explores identity, class, patriarchy and pop culture, all within a framework of heart and humor, irony and iconoclasm.


I Saw Death Coming: A History of Terror and Survival in the War Against Reconstruction 

By Kidada E. Williams (@KidadaEWilliams). Bloomsbury Publishing. 384 pages. 

In this extraordinary work of scholarship, Williams offers an insightful reexamination of the Reconstruction period and the African American people who lived through it. By centering formerly enslaved peoples’ experiences, Williams challenges previous exclusion, misrepresented understandings and disputed legacies.

Joie: A Parisian’s Guide to Celebrating the Good Life

By Ajiri Aki (@ajiriaki). Clarkson Potter. 272 pages. 

This book is stunningly beautiful and so full of hope, loving suggestions and reminders that life is meant to be lived with (and in) joy. I will make it to Paris one day, but until I do, I will turn to Ajiri Aki for soothing inspiration.  


Journal of a Black Queer Nurse

By Britney Daniels (@BlackQueerNurse). Common Notions. 192 pages.

I read this debut in one sitting and was moved, enlightened, enraged and hopeful all at once. As a Black queer nurse, Britney Daniels has experienced Some Things and instead of being jaded (which is my go-to), she turns her stories into valuable lessons from which we all can learn.


Land of Milk and Honey: A Novel 

By C Pam Zhang (@cpamzhang). Riverhead Books. 240 pages. Out Sept. 26.  

When an unnamed chef takes a job with surprisingly distinctive and delectable food, she sees the difference money and standing can make even in a dying world. Through lush and leisurely descriptions, Zhang explores pleasure, privilege and palette with care. This is one to savor.


Let This Radicalize You: Organizing and the Revolution of Reciprocal Care 

By Kelly Hayes (Menominee) (@MsKellyMHayes) and Mariame Kaba (@prisonculture). Haymarket Books. 220 pages. 

If you are tired and overwhelmed with the daily work of resistance, fighting for justice and well, life, this volume will provide support and guidance from its wildly wise authors, who also include pearls from Barbara Ransby, Ejeris Dixon, Ruth Wilson Gilmore and others. 


The Lost Journals of Sacajewea: A Novel 

By Debra Magpie Earling (Bitterroot Salish). Milkweed Editions. 264 pages. 

From the author of the amazing Perma Red comes a story that reimagines the life, gifts and legacy of Sacajewea (Lemhi Shoshone) from her own perspective. It is intimate, original and powerful.



By Hayley Gold. Street Noise Books. 240 pages. 

Hayley Gold has created a candid, witty and reflective examination of life with disordered eating. At the same time, she presents a damning portrait of what passes for treatment and how it can be just as damaging as the illness itself. 


Ordinary Notes

By Christina Sharpe. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 392 pages.

This is the original and layered latest work by Christina Sharpe that builds upon a series of 248 notes focused on Black life, loss, beauty, hope and possibility. It’s evocative, reflective and extraordinary.


Our Secret Society: Mollie Moon and the Glamour, Money, and Power Behind the Civil Rights Movement

By Tanisha C. Ford (@soulistaphd). Amistad. 368 pages.

The brilliant Tanisha C. Ford has recovered the sparkling story of Mollie Moon, whose fundraising helped support the work of the civil rights movement. With rigorous research and signature finesse, Ford illustrates the oft-forgotten centrality of women in the movement.


Practicing New Worlds: Abolition and Emergent Strategies

By Andrea Ritchie (@dreanyc123). AK Press. 304 pages. 

Andrea Ritchie’s latest book builds on existing research on emergent strategies, not least of which is the book by adrienne maree brown. Here, she explores how we might utilize the practices in our fight for abolition and liberation. It’s powerful, practical and critical. 


Punished for Dreaming: How School Reform Harms Black Children and How We Heal

By Bettina L. Love (@BLoveSoulPower). St. Martin’s Press. 352 pages. 

In a book billed as the “prequel” to Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, Love explores the past 40 years of educational reform and those who were its target—read: Black and Brown children. 


Shirley Chisholm: Champion of Black Feminist Power Politics

By Anastasia C. Curwood (@CurwoodA). University of North Carolina Press. 472 pages. 

Curwood has written a definitive and absorbing biography of Shirley Chisholm that details her life and work, as well as her unparalleled influence on feminism, politics and activism. 


Sing a Black Girl’s Song: The Unpublished Work of Ntozake Shange 

Written by Ntozake Shange. Edited by Imani Perry (@imaniperry). Legacy Lit. 496 pages.

From a poem published in her high school newspaper to her groundbreaking choreopoems to moving critical essays—all previously unpublished—this volume showcases the genius of Shange: her breadth, depth, wisdom and love.


A Song Over Miskwaa Rapids: A Novel

By Linda LeGarde Grover (Bois Forte Band of Ojibwe). University of Minnesota Press. 128 pages. 

In this slim but atmospheric novel, Linda LeGarde Grover revisits the fictional Mozhay Point Ojibwe Reservation in Minnesota, where Margie Robineau fights for land and truth in the midst of secrets and spirits. Grover writes with intentionality and grace as she examines ancestry, autonomy and survival.   


The Stolen Daughters of Chibok

Written by Aisha Muhammed-Oyebode. Photography by Akintunde Akinleye. powerHouse Books. 278 pages. 

Most of us recall the 2014 terrifying kidnapping of 276 girls from their school dorms by the terrorist group Boko Haram in Chibok, Nigeria. This extraordinary volume collects essays by experts as well as photos and interviews of 152 of the 210 Chibok families documented by the book’s creators.  


The Survivalists: A Novel

By Kashana Cauley (@KashanaCauley). Soft Skull. 388 pages. 

This darkly funny doomsday satire is what many of us need right now. Offering a nuanced and only half-joking look into survivalism, capitalism, gun ownership and what it takes to survive in today’s world, Cauley provides a necessary tension-breaker. 


We Are Many: Defending Women and Sex Worker Human Rights

Edited by Beldan Sezen (@beldan_sezen) and Adam Shapiro. Radix Media. 152 pages.

Using the evocative and democratizing power of comics, this remarkable collection of stories from women human rights defenders covers topics from violence, autocracy and misogyny to resistance, community building and courage. Including contributors from Brazil, Lebanon, Sudan, Armenia, Puerto Rico and more, this is a bold and enlightening volume.   


Where I’m Coming From 

By Barbara Brandon-Croft. Drawn & Quarterly. 184 pages. 

In 1989, Barbara Brandon-Croft was the first Black woman cartoonist to enter national syndication with her comic strip “Where I’m Coming From.” This beautiful book celebrates Brandon-Croft and her trailblazing work.


Yellowface: A Novel 

By R. F Kuang (@kuangrf). William Morrow. 336 pages. 

R.F. Kuang wrote one of my favorite books of 2022, Babel, so I was excited to get into her latest novel. This one is about plagiarism and appropriation in publishing and hits it out of the park. I loved this book.


Y/N: A Novel

By Esther Yi. Astra House. 224 pages. 

Esther Yi’s debut is absurdly funny, brilliantly surreal and wildly unique. It speaks to 21st-century technosocietal conundrums of celebrity obsession, loneliness, voyeurism, media and consumption.


Yours for the Taking: A Novel

By Gabrielle Korn (@gabriellekorn). St. Martin’s Press. 336 pages. 

It’s the year 2050 and to have a shot at surviving the climate-ravaged places across the planet, you must be accepted into the Inside Project. Tackling themes of feminism, capitalism, queerness, race and gender, this is a remarkably frightening, enlightening and unflinching take on dystopian literature. 


Up next:

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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.