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by Donna Huber For the A to Z Challenge, I discussed different book genres/categories. Each day, I gave a few details about the genre/catego...

May 21, 2022

2 Women's Fiction Stories Featuring Women of Color

by MK French

Women's fiction is one of the hottest genres for summer beach reads. If you are looking to add women of color to your lineup this summer then these are great books to toss into your beach bag.

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Such Big Dreams by Reema Patel 

book cover of women's fiction novel Such Big Dreams by Reema Patel
May 2022; Ballantine Books; 978-0593499504
audio, ebook, print (336 pages); women's fiction

Haunted by her best friend's death eleven years ago, Rakhi ekes out a living in the Mumbai slum working for the human rights law organization Justice For All. Fading Bollywood starlet Rubina Mansoor becomes the organization's ambassador in a bid to remain in the limelight and demands an internship for Alex, a family friend from Toronto that is Harvard bound. He asks Rakhi to show him the "real" India, which seems harmless enough until it doesn't.

We meet Rakhi in the slums and see what it's like to live in Mumbai without a famous name or much more than a secretary's income. It's crowded, potentially dangerous at every turn, and she's not too far from her past as a pickpocket and beggar on the streets. Alex, part Indian, has no idea what life is like, and his wealthy family protects him from the people with Rakhi's background. He wants to help others with the naiveté of a graduate student who hasn't seen injustice for himself. He pushes her to apply for college and want more, essentially believing that a secretary isn't good enough and that she should want bigger and better dreams than the life she's currently living.

Rakhi's different selves are held separate from each other, and it does remind me of growing up in New York City. People who have different groups of friends or associates tend to code switch, which she does effortlessly. Of course, Alex has no idea about this, because he grew up in a different city and economic class, and his aunties keep him in the affluent areas of this city. He doesn't see or know about lower classes and understand their struggles. Seeing it doesn't mean he understands, either, and hearing Rakhi's story (which we see bits and pieces of with each chapter) doesn't mean he truly knows what the experience actually was like. When it all comes to a head, I didn't expect the level of devastation. At the same time, I'm almost not surprised, either. All along, Rakhi was telling Alex about the level of corruption and how much the poor lose when the rich get their way. All along, we see her boss fight for justice and not get it. Rakhi's future is best when it's one she decides for herself, not what others decide for her. I was pleased to see what her own dream looked like and that she settled into herself at the end.

Buy Such Big Dreams at Amazon

Neruda on the Park by Cleyvis Natera

book cover of women's fiction novel Neruda on the Park by Cleyvis Natera
May 2022; Ballantine Books; 978-0593358481
audio, ebook, print (336 pages); women's fiction

Nothar Park is a predominantly Dominican part of New York City. Having lived there for twenty years, Eusebia Guerrero is determined to stop the demolition of a neighboring tenement to build luxury condos. Eusebia's daughter Luz is a law associate, trying to live the lifestyle her parents worked so hard to give her. She begins a romance with the white developer her mother opposes. At the same time, Eusebia's husband Vladimir is designing a retirement home in the Dominican Republic. Tensions are rising in Nothar Park, racing toward a near-fatal climax.

Nothar Park is a neighborhood spanning one block wide and two blocks long, which sounds small but is still packed full of people due to the high rises and sheer volume of people living in New York City. Luz wound up doing what a lot of immigrant and first-generation children do: understand the mother tongue but read and write and reply in English, excel because anything less isn't allowed, and take it incredibly personally when she isn't able to achieve her dreams. Getting laid off out of nowhere in the beginning of the book rocks her sense of self and place in the world. Eusebia's entire world is caring for her husband and daughter, and the home they have. She takes the demolition and gentrification personally, as it took her a long time to feel like the United States was home. Vladimir is the calm and practical one in the family. As the book progresses, we see the pairs within the family, the shifting expression of their loyalty and love for their home and each other.

Language is choppy in places, not following the usual rules of English grammar. That gives me the impression that it's thoughts translated from Spanish to English because even if she doesn't really speak Spanish anymore, its cadences and influence remains indelibly on her life. There's also significant commentary on physical appearance, particularly the way women must contort themselves into knots to fit all the roles expected of them. Some go to extremes, such as Cuca, but others push themselves in the name of careers and progress. We also have the question of home. For immigrants, is it their country of origin or the country where they carve a place for themselves? As the first generation born in the United States, I understand how hard it is to come to that decision, to figure out what home really is. It's a heart-wrenching story and one that many readers will appreciate.

Buy Neruda on the Park at Amazon

Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and a golden retriever.

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