From gender and sexuality to colonisation and climate change, this month’s reading challenges the status quo and calls for change.
None of the Above by Travis Alabanza
Through seven sentences addressed to them, acclaimed trans writer Alabanza enters upon a thought-provoking and articulate discussion of non-binary identity and the impact of society’s attitudes toward their existence.
None of the Above: Reflections on Life Beyond the Binary examines seven sentences people have directed at Alabanza over the years and how they have resonated with them. Travis Alabanza turns a mirror back on society and reflects on broader issues raised by a world that insists that gender must be binary. Their experiences as a Black mixed-race, working-class, non-binary trans person informs their views on lives that are defined by social markers.
Alabanza is a performance artist, writer and theatre maker. Their show Burgerz toured internationally and won the Edinburgh Fringe Total Theatre award in 2019. In 2020 their theatre show Overflow debuted at the Bush Theatre to widespread acclaim and later streamed online in over 20 countries. Their writing has appeared in the Guardian, Vice, gal-dem and BBC Online, and they previously had a fortnightly column in the Metro. They have been published in numerous anthologies, including Black and Gay In the UK.
Praise for None of the Above:
“Travis Alabanza writes about gender and its possibilities with such generosity and ease even the most provocative suggestions start to seem obvious, despite their challenges to society at large. This anti-memoir, which is at times both profound and funny, will make anyone question the stories we tell about ourselves, how we tell them and even who the telling is for.” Shon Faye, author of The Transgender Issue
“Lucid and glorious. Truth that goes on and on making room for itself.” Yrsa Daley-Ward
The Last Gift of the Master Artists by Ben Okri
Two lovers meet for the first time. One is the son of a king, struggling to find his place in the world, and the other is the gifted daughter of a master craftsman from a famous but secretive tribe. The young people meet accidentally, just for a moment, by the river. They vow to meet again.
Mysterious ships are glimpsed, like ghosts, on the horizon, hidden in bays, glanced between trees in the forest. A white wind begins to blow through the world. And with it, things begin to disappear, songs, stories, sculptures, and finally people.
Booker Prize-winning author of The Famished Road, Ben Okri’s new novel is about life in the time immediately before the arrival of the Atlantic slavers in Nigeria. This novel was previously published as Starbook in 2008, but it has been substantially rewritten. The first reception of the book did not reference the slavery aspects or saw them as allegorical. This re-publishing is a chance to put that right in the light of contemporary acknowledgement of historical and current injustices.
Praise for Ben Okri:
“Ben Okri is that rare thing, a literary and social visionary, a writer for whom all three – literature, culture and vision – are profoundly interwoven.” Ali Smith
Unearthed by Claire Ratinon
One of my favourite reads of the year so far, Unearthed: On Race and Roots, and How the Soil Taught Me I Belong, is a captivating mix of memoir and nature writing. Claire Ratinon is of Mauritian descent, and she weaves her experiences as a person of colour in Britain with her relationship to nature and the English countryside. It is an insightful, emotional, and beautiful read.
Claire Ratinon is an organic food grower and writer based in East Sussex. Unearthed reflects on the trajectory of her career, her decision to move from London to the English countryside, and her experience of lockdown. Her writing is socially conscious, and Ratinon writes about pertinent contemporary issues, from climate change to the Black Lives Matter movement, and she reflects on the history of her homeland Mauritius.
Unearthed is a stunning meditation on reclaiming one’s relationship with nature, the echoes of diasporic experience and reconnecting with one’s inheritance. It is a heartfelt call to reconsider our history, the way we think about nature and the complex relationships we all have with the land.
Praise for Unearthed:
“A beautiful book about nature, and how re-engaging with the foundational experience of our species of growing and cultivating crops can be a source of healing and spiritual truth… I recommend it.” Afua Hirsch, author of Brit(ish)
“Poignant and groundbreaking… we are tenderly offered a new possibility of deeper wonder, awe and profound hope as we unearth the truth that grows in all our garden.” The Garden
Without Warning and Only Sometimes: Scenes from an Unpredictable Childhood by Kit de Waal
Caught between three worlds, Irish, Caribbean and British in 1960s Birmingham, Kit and her brothers and sisters knew all the words to the best songs, caught sticklebacks in jam jars and braved hunger and hellfire until they could all escape. Kit de Waal grew up in a household of opposites and extremes. Her haphazard mother rarely cooked, forbade Christmas and birthdays, worked as a cleaner, nurse and childminder sometimes all at once and believed the world would end in 1975. Meanwhile, her father stuffed barrels full of goodies for his relatives in the Caribbean, cooked elaborate meals on a whim and splurged money they didn’t have on cars, suits and shoes fit for a prince. Both of her parents were waiting for paradise. It never came. Without Warning and Only Sometimes is a story of an extraordinary childhood and how a girl who grew up in a house where the Bible was the only book on offer went on to discover a love of reading that inspires her to this day.
Kit de Waal’s first novel, My Name is Leon, was published in 2016 and shortlisted for the Costa Book Award. It was recently adapted into a well-received BBC drama. She worked in criminal and family law for fifteen years and was a magistrate for several years.
Praise for Without Warning and Only Sometimes:
“I knew Kit de Waal was special the moment I met her. And now I know why” Lemn Sissay
“Kit’s writing is beautiful – vivid and compelling, and so moving. Families are such a mix of joy and pain and Kit’s depiction of her parents’ dynamic was both painful and comforting to read. There’s so much love, warmth and hope. I wanted to keep reading this book forever.” Marian Keyes
God’s Children Are Little Broken Things by Arinze Ifeakandu
In this stunning debut from one of Nigeria’s most promising young writers, the stakes of love meet society in flux.
A man revisits the university campus where he lost his first love, aware now of what he couldn’t understand then. A daughter returns home to Lagos after the death of her father, where she must face her past – and future -relationship with his longtime partner. A young musician rises to fame at the risk of losing himself and the man who loves him.
Generations collide, families break and are remade, languages and cultures intertwine, and lovers find their ways to futures; from childhood through adulthood; on university campuses, city centres, and neighbourhoods where church bells mingle with the morning call to prayer.
These nine stories of queer male intimacy brim with simmering secrecy, ecstasy, loneliness and love in their depictions of what it means to be gay in contemporary Nigeria.
Praise for God’s Children Are Little Broken Things:
“God’s Children Are Little Broken Things remains subtle and measured even through massive emotional transitions, carrying the reader the whole way through. Arinze writes like a composer or an orchestral director, bringing notes together to form a staggering, heart-shattering show.” Eloghosa Osunde, author of Vagabonds!
“A beautiful, significant debut. Although he writes about queer lives and loves in Nigeria, Arinze Ifeakandu’s voice is sensually alert to the human and universal in every situation. These quietly transgressive stories are the work of a brilliant new talent.” Damon Galgut, author of The Promise
The Women Could Fly by Megan Giddings
Reminiscent of the works of Margaret Atwood, Deborah Harkness, and Octavia E. Butler, The Women Could Fly is a feminist speculative novel that speaks to our times. A piercing dystopian tale about the unbreakable bond between a young woman and her absent mother, set in a world in which magic is real and single women are closely monitored in case they are shown to be witches . . .
The novel follows Josephine Thomas has heard every conceivable theory about her mother’s disappearance. That she was kidnapped. Murdered. That she took on a new identity to start a new family. That she was a witch. This is the most worrying charge because in a world where witches are real, peculiar behaviour raises suspicions and a woman – especially a Black woman – can find herself on trial for witchcraft
In this powerful and timely novel, Megan Giddings explores the limits women face – and the powers they have to transgress and transcend them.
Praise for The Women Could Fly:
‘Megan Giddings’s prose is brimming with wonder. The Women Could Fly is a candid appraisal of grief, inheritance, and the merits of unruliness.’ – Raven Leilani, author of Luster
The Light Always Breaks by Angela Jackson-Brown
In 1947, few women own upscale restaurants in Washington, DC. Fewer still are twenty-four, Black, and wildly successful. But Eva Cardon is unwilling to serve only the wealthiest movers and shakers, and she plans to open a diner that serves Southern comfort to the working class.
A war hero and one of Georgia’s native sons, Courtland Hardiman Kingsley IV is a junior senator with great ambitions for his time in DC. But while his father is determined to see Courtland on a path to the White House, the young senator wants to use his office to make a difference in people’s lives, regardless of political consequences.
When equal-rights activism throws Eva and Courtland into each other’s paths, they can’t fight the attraction they feel, no matter how much it complicates their dreams.
For Eva, falling in love with a white Southerner is all but unforgivable—and undesirable. Her mother and grandmother fell in love with white men, and their families paid the price. Courtland is already under pressure for his liberal ideals, and his family has a line of smiling debutantes waiting for him on every visit. If his father found out about Eva, he’s not sure he’d be welcome home again.
Surrounded by the disapproval of their families and the scorn of the public, Eva and Courtland must decide if the values they hold most dear—including love—are worth the loss of their dreams . . . and everything else.
My Other Husband by Dorothy Koomson
Cleo Forsum is a bestselling novelist turned scriptwriter whose TV series, ‘The Baking Detective’ is a huge success. Writing is all she’s ever wanted to do, and baking and murder stories have proved a winning combination.
But now she has decided to walk away from it all – including divorcing her husband, Wallace – before her past secrets catch up with her. As Cleo drafts the final ever episodes of the series, people she knows start getting hurt. And it’s soon clear that someone is trying to frame her for murder.
She thinks she knows why, but Cleo can’t tell the police or prove her innocence. Because then she’d have to confess about her other husband…
Praise for My Other Husband:
‘The very definition of a page-turner, it’s suburban noir at its finest. A perfect holiday read‘ – Harriet Tyce
‘From the Queen of the Big Reveal… filled with chills, twists that make this the pacey domestic noir read‘ – My Weekly
‘The bestselling Queen of the Big Reveals never disappoints… Koomson hooks us from the very first page. This is another Koomson you won’t be able to put down‘ – Refinery29
The Missing Piece by Jordan Stephens illustrated by Beth Suzanna
Sunny loves jigsaw puzzles – the bigger the better. When she completes one, she gets a warm, happy honeybee buzz.
One day, her Gran gives her a ONE-THOUSAND-PIECE puzzle. Piece after piece, all by herself, she puts together the picture, until … DISASTER! The final piece is missing.
Sunny may be small, but she is very determined – so she sets off to find it. As the day whizzes by in a whirl of new places and friends, Sunny discovers that looking for something is every bit as fun as finding it, and that perhaps the missing piece was there all along …
The Missing Piece is available for purchase Thursday 18th August. You can purchase from Bookshop.org and other retailers.