Editor and book club founder Kristy Ebanks shares her summer holiday reading list
I have always been a keen reader, and in 2020 my girlfriends and I decided to counteract the negativity of the world (phew) and retain our joy and sisterhood through the power of black literature by starting a book club; accordingly named Book Club in Babylon. So as summer travel is seemingly back on the table, now is a good time to share my top five books to pack in your summer holiday bag.
I must say that my ideal summer read to get lost in – the ‘just one more chapter’ kind of read – tends to come with a little heartache. Books that change the way you think. While I can’t guarantee that you’ll return from your holiday with a suntan – particularly if you’ve opted for a staycation as seasons are simply suggestions in Britain – you will return with a change of perspective, or at the very least wondering how big dinosaur poop was. So, if you’re after a captivating poolside read that you can burn through in a week or so, then read on…
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Homegoing is one of the best books I have ever read – there I said it! Starting in Ghana we follow one family as it is ripped into two by one of the world’s most egregious crimes against humanity. Generation after generation Effia’s lineage is plagued with unrest, while Esi’s with oppression. Although a fictional novel, Yaa Gyasi cleverly navigates historical facts across three centuries all while keeping us locked into the painstakingly remarkable lives of Maame’s descendants. Each character’s story is engrossing, so while reading stay tuned into the wider context by referring to the family tree which opens the novel. From a historical perspective I appreciate the work that went into this heart-breaking, honest and beautiful read. I also wish that it wasn’t so close to the truth – a truth that we should never forget. A truly unputdownable book. The kind of story you feel your way through.
Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler
It’s 2024 and society has deteriorated to the point where money has little to no value. People are desperate, constantly worried, hyper vigilant and going outside as little as possible to keep safe. Sound familiar? Well, Lauren – a hyper empath – is preparing for the pending end of the world since humankind can no longer continue in the state it is operating. What starts as Lauren’s set of principles to live by ends up being the foundation of a new religion; a religion that unintentionally picks up followers as Lauren flees her gated community following a successful organised attack by jealous ‘outsiders’. The similarities with modern times and this post-apocalyptic sci-fi novel are uncanny, so it’s bound to appeal to anyone who enjoys a gripping story (even if you’re not into sci-fi). Note: After reading you may find yourself Googling ‘houses with bunkers for sale’.
The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré
I love this title and had high expectations for this novel – it did not disappoint. Fourteen-year-old Adunni GOES THROUGH IT! After Adunni’s arranged marriage to a man who’s old enough to be her father, things go so far left that you simply could not predict what happens next. I spent the first few chapters wanting Adunni to win before I became convinced that she would, come what may. Through the eyes of a teenage girl with a ‘louding voice’, Abi Daré unpacks the complexities of culture and traditions, expectations, education, and class. Adunni is brave and determined and as a result she changes the lives of those who she encounters. While at times an uncomfortable read, it’s an important one. There’s nothing funny about this story but you may find yourself chuckling at Kofi’s point of view and if not, Adunni’s perspective is sure to make you giggle.
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
One thing you’re guaranteed from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a good storyline. This book unpacks some heavy issues such as identity and immigration, but ultimately, it’s a love story. Two teenagers fall in love, and we follow them as they leave Nigeria and come of age. Ifemelu heads off to the United States where she grapples with self-acceptance and takes on a new label – black – something which was a non-factor for her in Nigeria. Obinze – an educated, middle class young man with high hopes and a promising career trajectory – ends up in England. However, terrorist attacks in the West and subsequent immigrant scaremongering leave Obinze navigating London as an illegal immigrant. But don’t get me wrong, the politics in this novel are not forced. First and foremost, this is Ifemelu and Obinze’s love story. All the hard-hitting topics are secondary to a relationship that you’ll find yourself heavily invested in.
If I had a dinosaur by Gabby Dawnay and Alex Barrow
Whenever my family and I travel we bring our favourite kids’ books with us. Story time always helps to calm an overstimulated (too much ice cream) little mind. So, I wouldn’t be doing this list justice without including one of my family favourites from the ‘If I had a…’ series. If I had a dinosaur encourages the use of little imaginations as it explores what it might be like to own a pet dinosaur. There’s even a double page illustration of dino poop – guaranteed audience pleaser there! The protagonist in Gabby Dawnay’s ‘If I had a…’ series is a little black girl, rocking the cutest afro, who’s not being called on to tackle racism or teach the world any profound message that it hasn’t managed to grasp over the past few hundreds of years. Just a fun book for kids, truly what I consider representation – so simple yet so effective.