- Which books should I read by BIPOC writers?
- Choosing age-appropriate books
If you’re currently studying for your GCSEs, you may have noticed that your GCSE syllabus features almost no BIPOC writers. Research published by Penguin and The Runnymede Trust has revealed that “less than 1% of GCSE students in England study a book by a writer of colour”– and only 7% by a female author, despite the fact that 34.4% of children in England identify as Black, Asian or of an ethnic minority.
This means that students in the UK aren’t exposed to a diverse range of voices, and many young people don’t see themselves represented in the books they read as part of the limited syllabus. Diversity in books is hugely important, as readers will be able to gain valuable insight into the experiences of people who don't share their race, religion, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status.
For children and teenagers, reading books by BIPOC writers can help them understand the world around them better and increase their empathy for other people, as well as provide opportunities to push back against bias, prejudice and racism.
At GoStudent, we believe that students in the UK should be exposed to a diverse range of literary works during their schooling. Fortunately, several organisations are hard at work campaigning for a more inclusive curriculum in schools. In the meantime, pupils and students should take matters into their own hands and seek out books by BIPOC writers in order to diversify their reading – so let’s dive right in with our top recommendations! 📚
Which books should I read by BIPOC writers?
There’s no shortage of fantastic books written by BIPOC writers, so there’s no one answer to that question! However, The Guardian has put together a list of books that its readers recommended as “A 'decolonised' syllabus: the BAME [Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic] authors you think students should read.”
This list could be a great place to start if you’d like to diversify your reading experience, but we’ll share some of our favourite books by BIPOC writers that are well-suited for reading in your teenage years.
Students may find that reading these books can open their minds and help them develop a better understanding of issues like racism, colonialism, the refugee crisis and even the more tender ones like sexuality, romance and all the taboos surrounding human existence.
Reading diverse books can aid you in evolving your emotional intelligence and identifying key issues the global society faces today. ☝️
Without further ado, here are our top picks for books by BIPOC writers that all students should read:
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseni
An international bestseller, The Kite Runner is Afghan-American author Khaled Hosseni’s debut novel. The heart of the story is about an unlikely friendship that forms between a wealthy boy and the son of his father’s servant.
The book will give students a peek into the lives of those whose home and country is being systematically destroyed, as well as the harsh realities of betrayal, sexual abuse and what it means to be a refugee – while the power of love, friendship and familial bonds continue to move the characters' life forward.
The God Of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
The God Of Small Things became the first book by an Indian author to win the Man Booker prize. In this book, writer Arundhati Roy describes the tropical lushness of Kerala in a language both vivid and exquisite. This is a hard one to put down for students who love descriptive nature writing!
The book is about the childhood experiences of fraternal twins, whose lives are pulled apart by what Roy describes as society’s “Love Laws” – that lay down "who should be loved, and how. And how much."
Through this allegory, the author educates her readers about the deeply entrenched casteism in Indian society and the injustices it inflicts through discrimination.
The book is also a gateway for students to get interested in Roy’s larger body of work, which is largely her political essays as a renowned human rights activist.
The Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
One of the 20th century’s greatest novelists, Jean Rhys, grew up on the Caribbean island of Dominica. Written as a sequel to Charlotte Brontë’s ‘Jane Eyre’, The Wide Sargasso Sea is a redemption of Bertha Mason; Mr Rochester’s apparently deranged wife. Rhys sees Bertha not as the “aggressor” but the “sacrificial victim”.
Set in the mesmerizing landscape of the Caribbean islands, this novel will reveal to students the cruelty and irony of not being able to conform to the norms of English sexuality, as well as the colonial power of uprooting lives and the pathos it induces in the central character of Bertha.
Born to a Creole mother of Scottish descent and a Welsh doctor father, Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea bears echoes from her own life – of misunderstood identities and a desire to belong.
Linda Grant describes Rhys’ writing as one of “yearning, rage and desire whose unadorned prose hits the solar plexus.” 🔥
This is a book that will definitely be an impressionable literary read for students.
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
This two-part graphic novel which was also made into an animated award-winning film is perfect for students who struggle to read longer novels. 🎦
An autobiographical account, Persepolis narrates the Iranian-born French author’s experience of growing up in Iran before and after the Islamic Revolution.
A poignant coming-of-age novel, through it students will witness Satrapi’s life as a child of war when she is forced to flee her beloved homeland. 😢
The author’s experiences will also acquaint students with the struggles of cultural adaptation and xenophobia that Satrapi experiences in Austria.
Yet the book has a light touch, often laced with humour which becomes a great way to introduce young students to the difficult themes in the novel.
Persepolis connects the Western and Iranian world like never before, making it a must-read contemporary literary gem!
Women Of Brewster Place by Gloria Naylor
Written in 1982 by African-American writer Gloria Naylor, The Women Of Brewster Place is a set of seven stories. Each features one of the female residents of Brewster Place – a fictional poor housing project in America.
As the characters intersect each other’s lives their relationships with each other reveal the hardships of loneliness, poverty and asserting one’s sexual identity.
Though at the core of the book lies the search for home – and inter-generational part of the African American experience.
Student's greatest takeback from the book will also be the power of community and friendship. Despite their cultural and social differences, the women of Brewster Place ultimately find belonging and comfort in each other. 🤍
Choosing age-appropriate books
Please keep in mind that several of the books on this list, and many other books by BIPOC writers contain serious and challenging themes, such as war, death, racism, sexual assault and more, which readers may find distressing.
It’s important that the books you read at different stages of your childhood and teenage years are age-appropriate and suited to your maturity level. If you feel upset and sad at anything you’ve read in a book, discussing it with your parents, teachers or peers is a great idea to work through those emotions and look after your mental health.
If you think you may be too young to read certain books, it may be best to put them aside for a couple of years until you’re ready to take them in. You may find yourself unsure of whether a book would be appropriate for you at this stage – if so, we would recommend that you talk it over with a parent or teacher who can guide you.
We’re happy that you’re keen to explore culturally diverse books, and hope this list helps you on your way. If you’d like some help with developing your interest in reading or support with any other academic needs, our experienced tutors would be happy to help you – you can book a free trial lesson with us here!