Social Justice in Fiction: A Reading List

Cassandra Neace

Staff Writer

Cassandra Neace is a high school English teacher in Houston. When she's not in the classroom, she reads books and writes about them. She prides herself on her ability to recommend a book for most any occasion. She can be found on Instagram @read_write_make

one glorious ambitionThis week’s Riot Recommendation is sponsored by One Glorious Ambition: The Compassionate Crusade of Dorothea Dix, A Novel by Jane Kirkpatrick.

Growing up in household full of pain and tragedy, Dorothea Dix thought she was destined for nothing more than teaching and to raising her two younger brothers. She opened her first school for girls when she was fifteen and by twenty-three, was a best-selling author living an orderly and disciplined Boston life. But a visit to a prison to teach Sunday School to women in 1841 launched a new path for Dorothea, one that would turn her personal hardships into great strides for the less fortunate. Dorothea fought for the lives of those with mental illness, the poor and prisoners. Her political savvy, rare amongst women in her time, challenged those who made the rules in the almshouses, debtor prisons and private homes where mentally ill people were often chained and forgotten. Those tragic souls changed Dorothea, too, illuminating the path of peace within her own suffering and bring her “a happiness which goes with you.”


Inspired by Jane Kirkpatrick’s fictional account of activist Dorothea Dix’s life, we asked you to share your favorite works of fiction that feature social justice and characters who are deeply moved or take action to correct injustice. Here’s a collection of your recommendations from Facebook, Twitter, and the comments.

Bleak House by Charles Dickens

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Eventide and Plainsong by Kent Haruf

The Help by Kathryn Sockett

Arthur & George by Julian Barnes

Mudbound and When She Woke by Hillary Jordan

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Little Brother and Homeland by Cory Doctorow

The Lorax, The Sneetches, and Yertle the Turtle by Dr. Seuss

Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

1984 and Animal Farm by George Orwell

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Night by Elie Weisel

The Diary of Anne Frank by Anne Frank

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

Native Son by Richard Wright

The Color Purple and Possessing the Secret of Joy by Alice Walker

A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren

The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines

Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

The Jungle by Upton Sinclair

The Cider House Rules by John Irving

The Four Spirits by Sena Jeter Naslund

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Lamb by Christopher Moore

Mr. g by Alan Lightman

Beloved by Toni Morrison

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

Next by Michael Crichton

Lay that Trumpet in Our Hands by Susan Carol McCarthy

The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende

The Good Muslim by Tahmima Anam

Wicked by Gregory Maguire

The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad

The Crying Tree by Naseem Rakha

The Alchemy of Stone by Ekaterina Sedia

My Year of Meats by Ruth Ozeki

Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingslover

Jennifer Government by Max Barry

Sold by Patricia McCormick

Traveling Light by Katrina Kittle

July’s People by Nadine Gordimer

Five Smooth Stones  by Ann Fairbairn

The Milagro Beanfield War by John Nichols

The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky

It’s a pretty long list, but I’m sure a few titles were left off. What would you add?

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