First-time mothers might be apt to reach for ‘80s bestseller What to Expect When You’re Expecting, but literature by women of color provides new perspectives on the diversity of motherhood. Narratives in these books are often led by mothers while some have a feminist standpoint, speaking directly to readers who grapple with finding their identity.
As these Black and Latina authors honor their culture through reclamation and lived experiences of womanhood, they also focus on uncompromising resilience. Spanning across generations, the individuality of our favorite women authors reminds us that womanhood isn’t monolithic, but affirms readers of their existence. Pushing back against stereotypical narratives about Black and Latine cultures, these books encourage readers to contextualize their true selves and navigate their place in a world where trauma and societal barriers are rampant.
Through cultural synergy, authors like Sandra Cisneros, Aja Monet and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie interweave portraits of feminism, gender roles and healing with the strength of motherhood and raising daughters. Here are seven titles that remind young mothers to validate their own purpose.
"One of the Good Ones" by Maika Moulite & Maritza Moulite
Published at the beginning of 2021, One of the Good Ones, written by Haitian sisters Maika Moulite and Maritza Moulite combines tragedy with social activism, after avid history buff Kezi Smith is killed during a social justice rally. With overbearing grief, Kezi’s sisters Happi and Genny set out to immortalize Kezi by embarking on a road trip, finding multi-generational revelations about their family. One year after the United States faced social unrest following the killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and other African-Americans at the hands of law enforcement, The Moulite Sisters authentically pen a tribute to sisterhood in an unjust world.
“My Mother Was a Freedom Fighter” by Aja Monet
With an intricate balance of wisdom and sincerity, Cuban-Jamacian poet Aja Monet pays homage to her Brooklyn origins and women who radically shift social movements. Giving a voice to marginalized people, My Mother Was a Freedom Fighter gives space to poems about heartbreak, spirituality, conflict and the tenacity of being a woman.
“Of Women and Salt” by Gabriela Garcia
Published in March, Of Women and Salt by Cuban-Mexican author Gabriela Garcia cross-connects 1866 during the first Cuban war for independence with 2018, where protagonist Carmen battles with her daughter, Jeanette’s, drug addiction. As Carmen unveils family secrets and processes strenuous relationships with Jeanette and her own mother, Garcia captures the hardships of ancestral trauma and reshaping the future.
“Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
In 2013, Nigerian feminist author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was famously sampled on unflinching Beyoncé track “Flawless;” in the 2017 book Dear Ijeawele, Adichie, the author remains fearless. A powerful statement about new age feminism, Dear Ijeawele is an intimate guide to daughters of all backgrounds filled with compassion, humor and empowerment.
"Side by Side" by Marilisa Jiménez García
For mothers with education in mind, literature study Side by Side: US Empire, Puerto Rico, and the Roots of American Youth Literature and Culture critically investigates children’s Latin literature and the consequences of cultural erasure in various forms of media. Written by Marilisa Jiménez García, assistant professor of English and Latinx studies at Lehigh University, the book is a timely approach to contemporary debates about texts about Puerto Rican children, especially written by white authors.
“The House on Mango Street” by Sandra Cisneros
The 1984 debut novel of Mexican author Sandra Cisneros, The House on Mango Street is a coming-of-age story that follows 12-year-old Esperanza Cordero based in Cisneros’ hometown of Chicago. As Cordero grows into awareness about her sexuality, the women on Mango Street endure patriarchal oppression within a close-knit Chicano community. While an observant Cordero looks to escape the neighborhood, The House on Mango Street is a poignant novel that frames moral responsibility with self-discovery.
"Clap When You Land" by Elizabeth Acevedo
Penned with young adults in mind, 2020 novel Clap When You Land, written by author Elizabeth Acevedo, finds delicate ground between alternating perspectives, rawly uncovering the explorations of separate worlds. Dominican characters Camino and Yahaira discover that they are sisters following their father’s tragic death as their lives become intertwined through cultural identity, grief and understanding.