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‘Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read.’ – Groucho Marx

#OwnVoices: Its Importance and Some Recommendations

Guest post: Wendy Chen

Since Dutch author Corinne Duyvis created it in 2015, #ownvoices has become a common hashtag for identifying and recommending books ‘about diverse characters written by authors from that same diverse group.’ As a reader, I value such stories because of the authenticity of their perspectives, drawn from the authors’ identities, and because it is important to uplift voices that are currently marginalised in literature. As a writer, drawing from aspects of my experiences and culture has made me care about my stories on a deeper level than I did before, and helped me better understand and accept my diasporic identity (and its often fragmented nature). #OwnVoices is a powerful encouragement for me to continue exploring these stories, and a reminder that they matter.

Below are some #ownvoices books I highly recommend:

Cover of Outrun The moon

Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee

Set in San Francisco in 1906, Outrun the Moon centres on fifteen-year-old Mercy Wong, whose family lives in Chinatown. Wanting to continue her education, she uses her cunning skills and a little bribery to gain admittance to the prestigious St Clare’s School for Girls, where she pretends to be a wealthy heiress from China. Mercy faces both amusing and painful challenges in her early days at St Clare’s, but on April 18, a massive earthquake hits, destroying her home and school. Despite the hardship and the tragedy that occurs as a result of this, Mercy finds strength along with her friends, and remains determined to help those in need around her.

What I loved:

  • Mercy, the incredible protagonist – her humorous and immersive narrative voice, fierce determination, and vulnerability that made her feel so incredibly real
  • The vivid historical setting, the issues it addressed and cultural details
  • The thematic focus on friendship and people coming together in spite of differences during tragedy.

Cover of Kira-Kira

Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata

Set in the 1950s, Kira-Kira is a beautiful story of a Japanese-American family overcoming challenges in life over the years after they move from Iowa to the Deep South of Georgia. Narrated by the younger sister, Katie, it focuses on the relationship between her and her sister, Lynn, whose hopeful outlook deeply inspires and strengthens Katie. When Lynn becomes seriously ill, it becomes more important than ever for Katie to be strong – for her whole family.

What I loved:

  • Katie’s narrative voice is captivating – authentic, and full of love and humour
  • I loved the focus of the book on family relationships, and the realism of their challenges and brighter moments
  • The hope and honesty of the story: the way it affirmed the importance of seeing beauty in life during hard times was incredibly moving.

Cover of Freedom Swimmer

Freedom Swimmer by Wai Chim

Told from two perspectives – Ming, who survived the famine that killed his parents during China’s ‘Great Leap Forward’, and Li, a Red Guard who has come to the village as part of a government re-education program – Freedom Swimmer is a story of friendship and courage that is based on the true story of the author’s father.

What I loved:

  • The premise – based on the ‘freedom swimmers’ who swam from mainland China to Hong Kong in search of freedom – was a fascinating insight into history. I also loved learning more about China during the Cultural Revolution, especially as someone who only had a vague knowledge of it, but wanted to know more
  • The friendship between the characters, and their courage, was heartwarming to read about
  • The slow-burn build-up of tension throughout the story kept me engaged all the way through
  • I absolutely loved the ending, which wrapped everything up beautifully.

WENDY CHEN  is a Sydney-based writer who has appeared as an artist at the Emerging Writers’ Festival, National Young Writers’ Festival and Noted Festival. She is a co-host of the book blogger collective Lit CelebrAsian, and has been a subeditor and contributor for the literary magazine Pencilled In. She has a particular interest in diasporic stories and historical fiction. Find her webiste here.

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