Back during the first year of my undergraduate degree, I attended a lecture given by a very brilliant man. He said a lot of things but the one that stuck the most was “How many yous are you a ‘you’ to?” His point was about language, but it was also about identity.
Who are you? What do people think of when they think about you?
Becoming who you are is one of the hardest things in the world, especially when the world is so often devoted to overriding that and asking you to conform. Fit in. Carve yourself to fit the place that people want you to fit. Be the person they want you to be instead of the person who you really are.
Books like The Good Immigrant question that narrative; righteously, honestly and often furiously. It is a collection of twenty-one essays from Black, Asian and minority ethnic voices that cover the immigrant experience in the United Kingdom. The essays are strong, potent and visceral things and I can’t imagine a more important reading experience than coming across this volume in your formative years.
My Little Pony: The Ultimate Guide is a tie-in to the cartoon series, and covers life in Ponyville, Canterlot and all of Equestria. It’s perhaps not the first title you’d think for feminist empowerment, but it’s kind of awesome. As one of the ponies reflects: “A real leader doesn’t force her subjects to deny who they are. She celebrates what makes them unique and listens when one of them finds a better way!” My Little Pony feminist warriors? I am all for that.
I am also all for seminal voices and am convinced that Holly Bourne is on her way to becoming one if she’s not there already. The Spinster Club series concluded a run of remarkable novels last year which explored the trials and tribulations of life as a girl. Whether that’s starting a feminist revolution in What’s A Girl Gotta Do?, dealing with mental health issues in Am I Normal Yet?, or the problems of romantic relationships in How Hard Can Love Be?, these books are outstanding. Friendship, strength, and cheesy snacks. What’s not to love?
Stardust by Jeanne Willis and Briony May Smith is a similarly outstanding book, even if it is for a much younger reader. It’s a quiet picture book about a younger sister who feels overlooked by her brighter and shinier sibling. But her grandfather believes in her, and he helps her to realise that everybody shines in different ways. That’s not the ending however; the girl grows up and does something quite wonderful. I won’t spoil what that is here, but trust me when I tell you that it’s wonderful. This is an empowering and honest book about difference—but also the strength that comes in adversity.
A final book that I want to tell you about is Piglettes by Clementine Beauvais. An author who writes in both French and English, I’ve read and loved a lot of what she’s done. Piglettes, however, outshines them all. Three girls have won a competition that none of them wanted to win: they have been dubbed the ugliest girls in their school. However, and stay with me here, the three girls decide to cycle to Paris to gatecrash a garden party run by the French president. It makes sense in the novel, trust me, but as ever with a road-trip novel, the trip itself is the least important element. What matters here is the strength to be found in each other, a strength which enables each girl to claim her self-identity with both hands. This book is spiky, deeply eccentric, and rather wonderful. There’s a special place in my heart for books which deliver me lessons about body image, empowerment and identity, whilst also giving me tips on how to best cook sausages.
These are just a handful of the titles that are out there, but they’re all titles that have hit home for me in one way or another. But I guess in a way that’s the joy about books; they’re the gift that keep on giving. The books you read as a child will stay with you throughout life. Let’s make them good. Let them make you great.