February 2022 Staff Picks: #OwnVoices

This month our librarians are highlighting books from the #OwnVoices genre. This term was originally created as a Twitter hashtag by author Corinne Duyvis in September 2015. It's meant to identify books with diverse characters written by diverse authors—an author of an under-represented group writing about characters from the same group.

Adult selections courtesy of Readers Advisory Librarian Nancy.

Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki
The most diverse of our diverse books from characters to genres. Light from Uncommon Stars features LGBTQIA characters in this bittersweet and hopeful coming-of-age/romance/science fantasy. Yes, it really is all of those things!

The world knows Shizuka Satomi as a legendary violin teacher who has discovered the most notable violinists. What the world doesn’t know, is that Satomi has made a literal deal with the devil. To escape her own damnation, she must deliver seven other violin prodigies to trade their souls for success. She has found her final candidate in Katrina Nguyen, a newly transitioned girl who has just ran away from her violent father to Los Angeles. Just as Satomi is closing in on her last soul, she meets Lan Tran, whose family runs Starrgate Donut. They also hold a secret: they are alien refugees from a galactic war! You wouldn’t think that violin prodigies selling their souls and alien donut makers would work together in the same novel, but Aoki writes everything beautifully with enticing and heartfelt descriptions about food, music and love.

The Other Americans by Laila Lalami
Driss Guerraoui immigrated to the United States from Morocco to give his family a safer life. He had two daughters; he opened a diner; and then one night... he is killed in a hit and run.
Hearing about how her father died in a suspicious accident, Nora returns home. She is struggling with her grief and pushing the police to search for answers. She's also rebuilding her strained relationship with her mother. We follow the investigation into Driss’s death and the impact it has on Nora. Chapter by chapter we read a different narrator’s perspective—each narrator being an “American outsider.”

It’s a literary fiction novel about immigration issues with elements of domestic drama, light suspense, and romance, that turns into an unlikely page turner as Lalami explores how humans can be strangers within their communities - and to themselves.

How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America by Clint Smith
This was actually one of Librarian Michael McArthur’s top books of 2021! He didn’t have time to talk about it in our Great Reads of 2021 video, but it is mentioned on our list, and I wanted to shine an extra spotlight on it.

Clint Smith is an author, poet, and currently a staff writer at The Atlantic. He and his family fled to New Orleans in 2005 due to Hurricane Katrina. I mention this because his book asks us to reconsider the way we teach and approach the history of slavery—and he starts with his own hometown of New Orleans. He travels to different plantations, memorials, cemeteries, museums, and prisons, and examines how each location reckons slavery, and if it is a truthful acknowledgment or an avoidance. Mostly historical with the author’s own story, perspective, and reflection added to make it feel much more emotional and personal as we bring ourselves into this living history.

Teen selections courtesy of Teen Services Librarian Maggie.

Blackout by Dhonielle Clayton, et al.
A summer heatwave blankets New York City in darkness. But as the city is thrown into confusion, a different kind of electricity sparks…. a first meeting. Long-time friends. Bitter exes. And maybe the beginning of something new. These six interlinked short stories about Black teen love are so heartwarming, you won’t want the book to end. 

A Pho Love Story by Loan Le
Bao Nguyen and Linh Mai’s families have always been at odds, having owned competing, neighboring Vietnamese restaurants. Bao and Linh, who’ve avoided each other for most of their lives, both suspect that the feud stems from feelings much deeper than friendly competition. But then a chance encounter brings Linh and Bao together and sparks fly. Can they find love in the midst of feuding families and complicated histories?

Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas
When Yadriel’s traditional Latinx family doesn’t accept his gender and won’t allow him to complete his brujo ceremony, he decides he’ll do it himself with the help of a friend. Yadriel summons the ghost of Julian Diaz, a recently deceased schoolmate with a reputation. Julian is determined to find out how he died before he passes on, so Yadriel reluctantly teams up with Julian in hopes of also discovering what happened to his murdered cousin. This book has excellent trans, queer, and Latinx representation. 

Frankly in Love by David Yoon
Frank Li has a Korean name, but no one uses it. He barely speaks Korean. He was born and raised in California. Even so, Frank’s parents still expect him to date a Korean girl, which is a problem for Frank because he’s dating Brit, a white girl. Desperate to be with Brit without his parents finding out, Frank turns to a family friend who is in a similar situation. Together, they come up with a plan to help each other and keep their parents off their backs. Two friends. One fake dating scheme. What could possibly go wrong? 

Children's Selections
I LOVE how popular #ownvoices works are becoming. These books cover any and all genres yet still provide us with stories told from the perspectives of people who could’ve lived them—in some cases more than others (I’m looking at you, fantasy and magical realism!) - Lindsay, Children’s Librarian

Picture Books
My Rainbow by Trinity & DeShanna Neal
This story has family and love at its center, along with the acceptance of an autistic transgender black girl for exactly who she is. Trinity is sad because she has short hair but would like long hair, so her family comes together to make Trinity’s wish come true in a tale that is a great introduction to trans and cisgender concepts.

Bowwow Powwow by Brenda J. Child
As the title suggests, this book describes an Ojibwe powwow and helps to communicate its importance as a tradition—but it also describes it in an entertaining and silly way through the outlandish dream of a young girl. Windy Girl falls asleep at a powwow and dreams that the people are replaced by dogs who dance, march, and celebrate the powwow as any human would.

Under My Hijab by Hena Khan
Helping to dispel stereotypes, this book describes the various women in a young girl’s family. Each of these women is smart, talented, strong, and joyous in their own way, and each of them expresses themselves by wearing their hijab in a way that suits them best.

Chapter Books
The Brave by James Bird
A middle schooler named Collin is sent to live with his Ojibwe mother on a reservation in Minnesota after he gets into trouble at his white school because of behaviors related to his OCD. On the reservation Collin finds more acceptance than he has ever known while learning about his Ojibwe inheritance and forms a strong bond with a girl named Orenda who has secrets of her own.

The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Pérez
Malú moves with her “SuperMexican” mother, who she has a difficult relationship with, to Chicago where she must learn to fit in at a new school while missing her white, punk father - who she is close to. Throughout the course of the story, Malú must work to accept her identity as both Mexican and punk, while overcoming the barriers to acceptance being biracial can create in both white communities and communities of color.

King and the Dragonflies
Grief-stricken Kingston is sure that his recently deceased older brother Khalid has transformed into a dragonfly, and complicating matters even further is the knowledge that Khalid may not love him anymore if he knew the truth about King—that he is gay. When King’s white, gay, friend Sandy, whom Khalid had told King to stay away from, disappears, King must decide what is right and wrong, and what is really worthy of shame.