It’s hard to believe that we are now officially at the midpoint of summer 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic has killed nearly 150,000 people in America—and our leaders have done little to stop its spread. Although the numbers project a bleak outcome, there is still the possibility to have moments of relief and solidarity—whether it be by protesting police violence or immersing oneself in art and literature. 

Here, we present 33 books to escape into fantasy, brush up on history and discuss systemic racism for people of all ages.

Activism

The free ebook “Against Police Violence” is quintessential reading for the movement against police brutality, featuring excerpts from the luminary works of Angela Davis, Huey P. Newton, Assata Shakur and more (Seven Stories Press). Discover a myriad of anti-racist activists through these 100-plus reflections in “Anti-Racism,” by former Colorlines Senior Editorial Director Kenrya Rankin (Spruce Books). Six youth activists who have experienced undocumented status challenge notions of assimilation through personal essays with photos and poems in “Eclipse of Dreams” (AK Press). Scholar Sandra-Patton Imani’s “Queering Family Trees” presents interviews with lesbian mothers of color to illuminate how same-sex marriage legislation reinforces structures of oppression (NYU Press). Authors Brenna Bhandar and Rafeef Ziadah trace 40 years of anti-racist feminist thought in “Revolutionary Feminisms” (Verso). 

Fiction

Raven Leilani’s “Luster follows the strange journey of a 23-year-old Black art school dropout as she spirals through sex, intimacy and self-discovery (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). In Stephen Graham Jones’ supernatural horror “The Only Good Indians,” four young Blackfeet men are haunted by the manifestation of a spirit creature (Saga/Simon & Schuster). Author Lysley Tenorio’s debut novel, “The Son of Good Fortune,” follows the complicated relationship between an undocumented Filipino teen and his mother, an online scammer and former D-list actress (Ecco Press). A Puerto Rican family of farmers experiences exploitation caused by the Spanish-American War in Marisel Vera’s “The Taste of Sugar” (Liveright). Twin sisters run away from their southern Black community and diverge into very separate lives, with one choosing to pass as white, in Brit Bennett’s “The Vanishing Half” (Riverhead Books). 

Graphic Novels

In “Apsara Engine,” trans illustrator Bishakh Som features queer South Asian characters against surrealistic landscapes and rewritten mythologies (The Feminist Press). Vivian Chong, in collaboration with cartoonist Georgia Webber, finds creative expression after losing her sight to toxic epidermal necrolysis in “Dancing After TEN” (Fantagraphics). “Nori,” the eponymous three-year-old at the heart of Rumi Hara’s new graphic novel, explores her surroundings in her suburban home, filled with Japanese traditions and folklore (Drawn & Quarterly). “Parasite” made history when it became the first foreign-language film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture; relive the Korean satire through Bong Joon-ho’s original storyboards (Grand Central Publishing). “Paying the Land” portrays the rise of resistance movements by the Dene Nation in Canada’s Northwest Territories, written and illustrated by comics journalist Joe Sacco (Metropolitan/Henry Holt).

History + Politics

Novelist Calvin Baker traces America’s failure at racial integration, from slavery until the present moment in “A More Perfect Reunion” (Bold Type Books). In “Prison by Any Other Name,” authors Maya Schenwar and Victoria Law address the many ways that well-intentioned criminal justice reforms can cause more harm than good (The New Press). Author Seyward Darby’s “Sisters in Hate” focuses on white women at the forefront of white nationalist movements and the many reasons they are drawn to one another (Little, Brown). BBC race correspondent Emma Dabiri’s comprehensive research and autobiographical stories unravel the culture and world history of Black hair in “Twisted” (Harper Perennial). 

Memoir

In “Disability Visibility,” activist and editor Alice Wong centers the diverse voices of disabled people through an anthology of first-person essays (Vintage). Catherine Cho’s memoir “Inferno” recounts her time involuntarily committed to a psychiatric ward following postpartum psychosis (Henry Holt and Co.) Poet Shayla Lawson shares personal stories that pay homage to Black women and challenge the notion of #BlackGirlMagic in “This Is Major” (Perennial / Harper Collins). Take a short break from the apocalypse with Mia Mercado’s hilarious-yet-insightful essays in “Weird but Normal” (HarperOne).

Children’s

Dr. Ibram X. Kendi’s “Antiracist Baby” helps young children understand systemic racism and offers resources for parents and caregivers to encourage conversations about race (Kokila). “Goodnight, Little Dancer,” a bedtime picture book by Jennifer Adams and Alea Marley, sends dancers of all genders to sleep with its soothing rhymes (Roaring Book). “She was the First!” follows the life of Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman elected to the United States Congress (Lee & Low Books). “You Matter” teaches young ones self love through colorful illustrations by Christian Robinson (Anthem). After a difficult day of teachers mispronouncing her name, a Black Muslim girl learns the beauty and history of non-White names through her mother’s singing in “Your Name is a Song,” by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow and Luisa Uribe (The Innovation Press). 

Young Adult

In Jennifer de Leon’s “Dont Ask Me Where Im From,” a Central American teenager deals with the stresses of life at home with her immigrant family and the predominantly white school she attends through a desegregation program (Caitlyn Dlouhy/Atheneum). Indigenous Mexican environmental youth activist and musician Xiuhtezcatl Martinez invites Gen Z to direct their creativity and passions into the climate justice movement in “Imaginary Borders” (Penguin Workshop). Jordan Ifueko’s fantasy, “Raybearer,” centers on a 16-year-old Black girl as she attempts to craft her own destiny in a world plagued by imperialism (Amulet/Abrams). In “Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything,” by Raquel Vasquez Gilliand, a Mexican-American teen discovers that her mother—who disappeared into the Sonoran Desert after being deported—has been abducted by aliens (Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster). A queer Black high school student competes for prom queen in an effort to win a $10,000 scholarship to her dream college in Leah Johnson’s “You Should See Me in a Crown” (Scholastic). 

For more book recommendations, visit the #ColorlinesReads archive.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version misspelled the title of the graphic novel, “Apsara Engine.” We regret the error.


catherine is a writer from Miami living in New York, and a former editorial assistant at Colorlines.