Lift up Their Voices (#OwnVoices Fiction You Can Read Right Now)
Here at Crit & Pen, we’re never tired of talking up the value of Own Voices fiction. Like most modern industries, the main stream fiction world has been more-or-less hostile to marginalized creators since its inception. The situation sucks because it’s how our industry upholds the structural injustice in our society, it sucks on a personal level for many members of the Crit & Pen family, and it sucks for readers. When the same voices are centered, year after year, fiction becomes bland and same-y. No one can tell our stories with the clarity, the beauty, and the honesty that we can. The infusion of new perspectives, new voices, and new aesthetic traditions and priorities makes the whole field more rich, fertile, and unpredictable.
If we want to change the face of mainstream fiction, our only hope is to make the success of Own Voices fiction an overwhelming economic reality. That means pre-orders. That means trying to buy from book stores, not Amazon. That means dropping reviews everywhere and recommending them to your friends. That means letting your favorite sellers know you were disappointed not to find the small press title you wanted on their shelves.
Remember, when seeking out Own Voices fiction, that many marginalized artists work almost exclusively with small or indie presses. Even the fluffiest romance or most escapist spec fic title, from a marginalized creator, might be considered “too political” for big booksellers. Haven’t checked out your nearest “radical” bookshop yet? Now may be the time.
Here’s some #OwnVoices fiction we already love, some we’re excited to try, and most important: some links to help you search for more
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi: We probably don’t even have to tell you this, but sometimes its worth adding a voice to the chorus. Children of Blood and Bone’s strengths are many, but its neat refutation of the idea that a book’s strong central ethos or political clarity somehow disrupts its storytelling. A story about trying to maintain and defend one’s humanity in a brutal police state, Adeyemi renders the mechanics of a culture suffering under the first generation of absolutism with a realism that usually eludes fantasy tyrants. Her world is sparkling with magic, full of human warmth as well as human cruelty. This is as intensely personal and character-driven a book as any YA fantasy fan could want, and its thematic certainty only amplifies its characters’ vividly realized needs and motives.
Descendant of the Crane by Joan He: We’re suckers for a well-managed genre smashup, and He’s clear and energetic prose delivers a tangible, vibrant secondary fantasy world while also spinning out an intriguing mystery. The Kingdom of Yan would stand out from the masses just for its deftly rendered landscape and politics, but sinking its roots in Chinese folklore and literature gives He even more space to stand out from a genre deeply saturated in Western European flavour.
Dreadnought by April Daniels: The best superhero stories are about identity, which has always made cape fiction a natural home for stories about LGBTQA+ experiences. Dreadnought’s pairing of superhero origin story and social transition narrative is on-the-nose in the best possible way, the kind of story that calls to the fore a theme that has lurked in the subtext of a genre for decades.
Looking Forward to It
The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle: Generations of writers have struggled with the complicated legacy of HP Lovecraft, a legacy and a struggle both facilitated, one might add, by an accident of copyright that may have exaggerated Lovecraft’s importance to the genre by allowing infinite adaptations of his most famous works. The most interesting of these exercises are (indeed, must be) books like The Ballad of Black Tom, penned by creators whose humanity Lovecraft would have denied. In retelling Lovecraft’s “The Horror at Red Hook,” LaValle invites us out onto the streets of Harlem in 1924, where a man’s struggle to survive the maddening gaze of a vast, uncaring universe has an entirely different meaning.
Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas: Most mainstream narratives present coming out as an all or nothing proposition. You either get a family who accepts you and helps you live your live, or you lose your family entirely. Of course, it’s not that simple. Many, many LGBTQA+ folx find that it’s simply impossible to show their families who they are. Your loved ones keep loving you, but with a willful refusal to see the truths you’re laying out for them. The protagonist of Cemetery Boys is determined to take up his place in his family’s highly gendered spiritual and magical practices, but his family’s refusal to see him for who he is means he has to practice without the guidance of his elders. Queue mystical consequences! This one’s been sitting on the top of a lot of TBR piles, so let us know what you think!
Where To Start Your Search
The Goodreads YA/MG Ownvoices List (Year by Year): Goodreads lists are a great resources for starting any targeted search for new reading materials.
The YA/MG Trans & Nonbinary Voices Masterlist: Defining ‘Own Voices’ fiction can be a tricky enterprise, especially when dealing with areas of identity that many writers consider private. This database takes a broad view, including pretty much any books about non-cis characters by non-cis writers. Your definitions may be more restrictive, but the database is well-maintained and provides a fair amount of information to help you narrow down your choices.
The Aromantic and Asexual Characters Database: Own Voices fiction is not the center of this project, which catalogues ace and aro representation of all sorts, but the database is searchable for Own Voices fiction, and the #ownvoices reviews can be a helpful guide to what ace and aro readers look for and look out for in a story.
The Diversebooks.org Resource List: While these lists are also not centered on Own Voices fiction, they’re a good place to start looking for books with diverse characters - and just a little bit of the Google version of elbow grease can help you track down what you’re looking for.