Top Ten (plus two) Novels that taught me about Social Justice and Life


10. How Not to Save the World (Remi Austin #1)Jessica Yinka ThomasRemi Austin is a fundraiser for the African Peace Collaborative (APC), a conflict resolution nonprofit founded by her late mother. Frustrated by her inability to raise funds and faced with the imminent closure of the APC, Remi turns to a life of crime to keep her nonprofit afloat. With the help of her best friend, a designer and inventor who creates gadget-packed gowns, Remi eludes a dashing insurance agent and a terrifying stalker, all while redistributing the wealth of the world, one work of art at a time.
9. Forging JusticeMargaret Murray.In this restorative justice mystery, Claire Cassidy is a police detective in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, who’s beginning to think she’s wasted the last fifteen years of her life. Claire meets Daniel Pierce, a vice principal at a local high school. Frustrated by an education system that throws kids out onto the street at the first sign of trouble, Pierce claims he knows a better way.
8. Just MercyDorothy Van SoestBernadette Baker lives through every mother’s worst nightmare when her adopted sixteen-year-old daughter, Veronica, is brutally murdered in a shocking and random act of violence. Ten years later the murderer, Raelynn Blackwell, is facing execution for her crime, and despite being united in their grief over Veronica, the Baker family is deeply divided on the subject of the death penalty. After Raelynn receives a last-minute stay of execution, a secret is revealed that changes everything and leads to an unlikely bond between Raelynn and Bernadette. This is a heart-wrenching, redemptive family drama of forgiveness, destiny, and the true nature of justice.
7. PushSapphirePrecious Jones, an illiterate sixteen-year-old, has up until now been invisible: invisible to the father who rapes her and the mother who batters her and to the authorities who dismiss her as just one more of Harlem’s casualties. But when Precious, pregnant with a second child by her father, meets a determined and highly radical teacher, we follow her on a journey of education and enlightenment as Precious learns not only how to write about her life, but how to make it her own for the first time. (Do read the book, it is SO much better than the movie.)
6. The Giving Tree.Shel Silverstein.”Once there was a tree…and she loved a little boy.” Every day the boy would come to the tree to eat her apples, swing from her branches, or slide down her trunk…and the tree was happy. But as the boy grew older he began to want more from the tree, and the tree gave and gave and gave. This is a tender story, touched with sadness, aglow with consolation. A moving parable for readers of all ages that offers an affecting interpretation of the gift of giving and a serene acceptance of another’s capacity to love in return. For me it is a Rorschach test of my current level of openness and generousity.
5. Things Fall Apart (The African Trilogy, #1)
Chinua AchebeThe classic tale of Nigerian tribal life before and after European colonialism. A short, powerful tragedy that examines the impact of European economic and cultural domination on traditional life in Nigeria.Reading this book got me thinking about colonialism!
4. Sarah’s KeyTatiana de RosnaySet in Paris in 1943 and 2002, this is the story of Sara who at ten is brutally arrested with her family by the French police in the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup, but not before she locks her younger brother in a cupboard in the family’s apartment, thinking that she will be back within a few hours; and of journalist Julia Jarmond who is asked to write an article about this black day in France’s past. Through her contemporary investigation, she stumbles onto a trail of long-hidden family secrets that connect her to Sarah. Julia finds herself compelled to retrace the girl’s ordeal, from that terrible term in the Vel d’Hiv’, to the camps, and beyond. As she probes into Sarah’s past, she begins to question her own place in France, and to reevaluate her marriage and her life.
3. The Zoo Keeper’s WifeDiane Ackerman(A true story that reads like a novel) After their zoo was bombed, Polish zookeepers Jan and Antonina Zabinski managed to save over three hundred people from the Nazis by hiding refugees in the empty animal cages. With animal names for these “guests,” and human names for the animals, it’s no wonder that the zoo’s code name became “The House Under a Crazy Star.”
2. I Know Why the Caged Bird SingsMaya AngelouThe early years of Maya Angelou’s life, this is a story of suffering, grit and resilience. Sent by their mother to live with their devout, self-sufficient grandmother in a small Southern town, Maya and her brother, Bailey, endure the ache of abandonment and the prejudice of the local “powhitetrash.” At eight years old and back at her mother’s side in St. Louis, Maya is attacked by a man many times her age—and has to live with the consequences for a lifetime. Years later, in San Francisco, Maya learns that love for herself, the kindness of others, her own strong spirit, and the ideas of great authors (“I met and fell in love with William Shakespeare”) will allow her to be free instead of imprisoned.
1. Stranger in a Strange Land.Robert A. Heinlein.Valentine Michael Smith is a human being raised on Mars, newly returned to Earth. Among his people for the first time, he struggles to understand the social mores and prejudices of human nature that are so alien to him, while teaching them his own fundamental beliefs in grokking, watersharing, and love. This was one of my earliest introductions to hope for justice and a better life.
+1. The Alchemist
by Paulo CoelhoThe story of an Andalusian shepherd boy named Santiago who travels from his homeland in Spain to the Egyptian desert in search of a treasure buried in the Pyramids. Along the way he meets a Gypsy woman, a man who calls himself king, and an alchemist, all of whom point Santiago in the direction of his quest. No one knows what the treasure is, or if Santiago will be able to surmount the obstacles along the way. But what starts out as a journey to find worldly goods turns into a discovery of the treasure found within. The story is a testament to the transforming power of our dreams and the importance of listening to our hearts.
+2. The Little Prince
Antoine de Saint-ExupéryMoral allegory and spiritual autobiography, it tells the story of a little boy who leaves the safety of his own tiny planet to travel the universe, learning the vagaries of adult behaviour through a series of extraordinary encounters. His personal odyssey culminates in a voyage to Earth and further adventures.  “it is only with the heart that one sees rightly. What is essential is invisible to the eye.” This is the book that taught me about human dignity and the responsibility of relationships.


With thanks to Good Reads for the book descriptions!

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