WHITE IS NOT THE DEFAULT. STRAIGHT IS NOT THE DEFAULT.
SKINNY IS NOT THE DEFAULT. THERE ARE NO DEFAULTS HERE.
KICK A** WOMXN
Cinder by Marissa Meyer
Genre: Science Fiction (series)
Format: Traditional book
Tackling the patriarchy head-on, Cinder is a Chinese, differently-abled, mechanic. Cinder has a malfunctioning foot, has been taken in by her evil stepmother, and is also a cyborg—which means she’s thought of as ‘other’ and ‘less than’ by society. While saving the world, Cinder is forced to swap her broken foot for one that’s too small, which sees her struggle to do things able-bodied people take for granted. Cinder is a retelling of the fairy tale, Cinderella, yet in this version, Cinderella saves Prince Charming, and Prince Charming isn’t a dunderhead i.e. Prince Phillip of Sleeping Beauty (Prince Eric from The Little Mermaid is obviously exempt. We love Price Eric.).
Intersectional feminism is a dominant theme, but first we need to understand feminism itself, especially if you cringed at that dirty, dirty word.
Feminism isn’t a man/male hating stance. Feminists fight the patriarchy, and all genders benefit from it being dismantled. The patriarchy is a social construct where men hold more power in society than womxn (an inclusive term for every version of female), and perpetuate such things as toxic masculinity (Ford, 2019). This can be seen through the pay gap between men and womxn, the higher number of politicians/leaders who are men, the statistics of violence against womxn (Ford, 2019), and to wrap all of that in one: all the wives Henry the VIII killed/divorced because he was a rich man in power. #historyisfun
Intersectional feminism, however, supports ALL womxn, while recognising able-bodied, cisgender, heterosexual, white women have privilege because of these things.
If the traditional format of this book is daunting, never fear! Did you know assisted reading, where you follow along with the words while listening to the audiobook can help develop your language and literacy skills (Whittingham, Huffman, Christensen & McAllister, 2013)?
Author and activist Marc Lamont Hill released a video talking about the importance of Black Lives Matter including ALL Black Lives, which is essentially intersectional feminism within the Black community. Take this message and apply it to every womxn. Also take note that Marc is a young, successful, intelligent man who’s also a feminist. Maybe it's not such a dirty, dirty word now?
Figure 1. Cinder by Marissa Meyer. December 10, 2018.
The Grio. (2020, June 5). OPINION: Do ALL Black Lives Matter? [Video]. YouTube.
Throne of Glass by Sarah J Maas
Genre: Fantasy (series)
Celaena Sardothian has been a slave in Endovier for the past year, but the Prince of Adarlan has just released her on the premise she represents him in a contest to become King’s Champion. If Celaena doesn’t make it through the gruelling challenges, she’ll be sent back to Endovier. Yet if she wins, she’ll be serving the most murderous king to have ever ruled.
Calaena spends most of the book strutting around, being snarky and entirely too arrogant for her own good. But a lot of it’s used to hide her PTSD, and not allow the other competitors—all males—see her as anything but strong. It takes Celaena a long time to become vulnerable, but when she does, it makes her stronger.
The chosen format is audiobook, as the reader conveys Celaena’s sass very well. Crank up the speed to double if you’re struggling to remain engaged, or listen while you exercise, or do chores, as audiobooks are great for multitasking.
Figure 2. Throne of Glass series by Sarah J Maas. April 27, 2018.
Black, Indigenous and People of Colour
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
The Hate U Give isn’t spelt that way accidentally, it’s an anagram Tupac Shakur coined: THUG LIFE.
If the idea of white privilege shocks you. If you’ve caught yourself thinking or saying ‘Black lives matter, but’. If you’ve never had to worry about your skin colour being represented in crayon sets, or that prostheses or ‘nude’ underwear weren’t made in your skin tone—if you never had to worry about these things, read this book.
Starr Carter and her friend Khalil are driving home from a party when they’re pulled over by police and Khalil is shot and killed. As the only witness, Starr’s voice is important, but the fear of speaking out is made very real by the intimidating police department, and gangs in Starr’s neighbourhood. With the support of friends and family, Starr finds justice for her friend. Let THUG be your challenge to improve not only your reading, but yourself, for if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that we can all do better.
If the eBook is off-putting because you find absorbing information this way difficult, or the length and style are a bit out of reach, no worries! Watch the movie, then give the eBook another chance, because you’ll be going into it with a solid foundation. Here's the first ten minutes.
Figure 3. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. February 7, 2018.
Entertainment Access. (2019, January 13). THE HATE U GIVE - First 10 Minutes From The Movie (2018) [Video]. YouTube.
A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi
Format: Traditional book
Do you know the difference between a burka, hijab and niqab? Do you know the numbers that make up your mobile number are Arabic in origin? Do you know that 1 in 4 Australian students are bullied (Bullying. No Way!, 2020)? And did you know, that BIPOC and culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) people are twice as likely to suffer from depression because of discrimination and abuse i.e. bullying (Lawrence et al., 2015)?
Shirin is a sixteen-year-old Muslim girl living in America, dealing with increased Islamophobia one year on from the 9/11 terrorist attacks. She’s spiky, but has the best sense of integrity due to the horrid bullying she endures at school. She finds escape in music and breakdancing, and tries to navigate her way through a relationship with a white boy, and the xenophobic people who make no attempt to understand.
A Very Large Expanse of Sea is in fact A Very Short and Easy Read in flow and length. It’s also an #ownvoices narration, which means a Muslim woman wrote it, which is important because it’ll educate you from her perspective, not a biased viewpoint from a Basic Karen or Brad (apologies if your name is Karen or Brad, but by now we know these are the labels for hateful, uneducated white people, and not directed at everyone named Karen or Brad).
Figure 4. A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi. September 26, 2017.
Turtles All The Way Down by John Green
Format: Traditional book
Turtles all the way… huh? This book isn’t about turtles. The title is a metaphor—an old philosophical joke used to rebut logic—it’s existential, pretentious, and psychological. Basically every John Green book ever written.
Turtles All The Way Down is a story about how Aza copes with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and anxiety while trying to solve a mystery and navigate a new relationship. Oh, and there’s a tuatara—a cool lizard thing. And Star Wars fanfiction. About Wookiees. Yes, Chewbacca.
This book is also #ownvoices as John Green lives with OCD and anxiety. The book is written in such a way that you experience what it’s like to have OCD and anxiety. John Green also dismantles the dangerous trope of love making people with mental health issues ‘better’. Yes, there’s a love interest. But the love interest doesn’t try to ‘fix’ Aza, and Aza ends up finding strength and being kick a** on her own.
This book will pull you inside the head of someone who can’t control their spiralling thoughts. It’ll give you an existential crisis. And it’ll make you want to improve your language and literacy skills so you can dissect your own existential crisis just like the characters in John Green’s books.
An additional resource to check out is this video from John Green’s vlog. It’s a succinct and comprehensive explanation of what it’s like for him to live with OCD, and gives a really good premise of the book.
Figure 5. Turtles All The Way Down by John Green. January 5, 2018.
Vlog Brothers. (2017, July 25). What OCD Is Like (for Me) [Video]. YouTube.
The Wicker King by K. Ancrum
Format: Non-traditional book format
August is a boy who doesn’t fit in. And Jack is a boy who does. Their friendship spins out of control as Jack begins hallucinating an entire fantasy world while August struggles to help. Both have neglectful parents who they can’t turn to for help, and both need each other in an unhealthy way that’s no fault of their own, but means August will do everything to keep Jack with him, even start believing Jack’s hallucinations might be real after all...
The book format is enthralling, told in micro-fiction, like snapshots of lives, with multimedia photos, drawings and letters scattered throughout. The pages become darker as the book goes on, text shifting from black to white as the pages darken along with the story. It’s a fast read, but still deep and heart-breaking. It implores you not to assume you know someone’s story from what they choose to show the world. If this book teaches you anything, it would be patience. The patience not to jump to conclusions, to allow someone the benefit of the doubt that they’re doing their best, which might not be the same as yours, but their circumstances might be different. The layout will keep you turning page after page because it’s so engaging. Which will mean your intrinsic motivation will be pumping, driving you to challenge yourself with harder stories, developing your language and literacy skills while learning about important issues.
Though The Wicker King is a hardcopy book, it’s definitely not traditional! Become immersed in the multimedia layout of this amazing story.
Figure 6. The Wicker King by K. Ancrum. July 24, 2018.
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Format: Traditional book
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is a story about two boys who meet at the local swimming pool and develop a friendship that changes their lives. Dante’s a whirlwind of colour and has immense gravitational pull. Whereas Ari’s a black hole who doesn’t know why he’s unhappy and unknowable. Dante’s parents are supportive and fabulous and SO in love, like OTP level, whereas Ari’s parents love each other in an entirely different way, which is a beautiful theme.
Be warned: You’ll need a tub of ice-cream for the emotional punch this book gives.
Without going too far into spoiler territory, Ari’s story is about denial and self-discovery, with Dante as the catalyst. The way Sáenz broke important, heavier topics up with sass, friendship and familial relationships, means you’ll be able to empathise with Ari and Dante, rather than draw on negative stereotypes of the LGBTQIA+ community (Hendrickson, 2018).
The additional resource comes from The Book Basement’s YouTube channel. The review is spoiler free, but captures the essence of the book so well, and is very compelling!
The Steel Prince #1, #2, #3 & #4 by V.E. Schwab, Andrea Olimpieri, Enrica Angiolni, and Enrica Eren Angiolini (based on the A Darker Shade of Magic series by V.E. Schwab)
Format: Graphic Novels
Maxim, the prince of Red London, is sent to oversee soldiers trying to protect a violent port city from the rule of the Pirate Queen, Arisa. Maxim befriends a talented soldier, Isra, who turns out to be Arisa’s niece, and is where the books become representative of the LGBTQIA+ community because Isra isn’t interested in men, but women (yay womxn!). The graphic novels follow Maxim and Isra’s friendship and their quest to overthrow the Pirate Queen with lots of stabby battles and creepy bone magic.
The Steel Prince graphic novels are super short (between 30-34 pages each!), which is why they’ve been combined into one ‘book’ for this guide. You don’t need to have read the A Darker Shade of Magic series to understand these graphic novels, as they introduce the world and characters in a way that’s separate from the main books. The artwork is detailed and tells the story on its own, so if you’re finding any words difficult, you can look up their meaning, then see an image as a descriptor to help flesh out any uncertainties.
Figure 7. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz. January 28, 2018.
The Book Basement. (2014, August 21). BOOK REVIEW: ARISTOTLE AND DANTE DISCOVER THE SECRETS OF THE UNIVERSE BY BENJAMIN ALIRE SAENZ [Video]. YouTube.
Figure 8. The Steel Prince #1 & #2 by V.E. Schwab, Andrea Olimpieri, Enrica Angiolni, and Enrica Eren Angiolini. September 25, 2018.
Figure 9. A Darker Shade of Magic series by V.E. Schwab. April 6, 2018.
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Note: It’s best to read Eleanor & Park before The Upside of Unrequited.
Eleanor is the new kid at school, an intelligent girl from a broken home, who’s larger than most protagonists. Park is a small, witty, biracial boy. Eleanor and Park meet on the bus to school and slowly form a relationship (duh, it’s a meet-cute!), but it becomes fraught with worries over how Eleanor’s perceived by the ‘cool’ kids, and what she fears that could do to Park’s reputation.
Eleanor & Park tackles Eleanor’s body image, which is juxtaposed by Park. Eleanor will suck her stomach in when Park touches her, but when we read Park’s thoughts, he’s thinking about how soft her skin is, how awesome she smells, oh, and that she’s bigger, but that’s not a negative—why would that be a negative? The dual perspectives show the anxiety behind body image, and the notion that no one really notices your ‘flaws’ as much as you do your own.
Though Eleanor never really comes to terms with her size, it isn’t something she dwells on, or tries to change into someone else’s version of how she should look. Conversely, in The Upside of Unrequited, we see acceptance, confidence, and self-love from the start. So the glorious thing about reading them in this order is that you can see the difference between a supportive family and friend network who don’t shame someone into being something they’re not.
The Up Side of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli
Format: Traditional book
Molly is a seventeen-year-old girl who fears being left behind because, unlike most of her friends, she hasn’t reached certain milestones in life i.e. being in a relationship. She’s had 26 crushes, but her anxiety, not her size, holds her back. She loves food and her body, and isn’t here for self-hate, but worries other people will hate her body, which feeds into her anxiety.
The fact that these books highlight different areas of fatphobia is important because it’s quite an apt representation of the world we live in.
Did you know that The Upside of Unrequited is part of the Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda (Love, Simon, the movie adaption), and Leah on the Offbeat universe? In this additional resource, Becky Albertalli gives a rundown of the main characters which might intrigue you!
Figure 10. Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell. November 6, 2018.
Figure 11. The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli. May 6, 2017.