Plagued by a rent increase, seventeen-year-old Kiara turns to sex work to support herself and her older brother Marcus. Kiara struggles with the loss of her mother while parenting her neglected nine-year-old neighbor. Like many Black women in sex work, she experiences abuse at the hands of men and police officers. Most likely, author Leila Mottley draws Kiara from the real-life Oakland Police Department scandal of 2005, in which officers were found to have abused a minor in highs school–none of which were charged. Mottley deftly captures the landscape of Oakland–old funeral homes, speaker-booming strip clubs, and its bubbly, laugh-in-your-face inhabitants. Kiara is not a cautionary tale of ill ends met, but a girl who is consistently failed and left unprotected by her community, and abused by a corrupt policing system, rising. She does not simply fade away from the scene, there is still life in her: Mottley accurately captures teenage life and vernacular in her prose, a friends-to-lovers arc, and a biting spirit throughout. $28, Charis Books and More; 184 S Candler St; charisbooksandmore.com.
B. All This Could Be Different (2022) by Sarah Thankam Mathews
As a new college graduate, Sneha struggles under the weight of an unfulfilling corporate job required for her visa. She finds some comfort in being able to send her parents money back in India, hanging out with college friends, and the new depths of dating women. Sneha manages her emotional distance while plunging into a whirlwind romance with Marina. Set in the 2008 recession, Sneha still manages to find community even as the world seemingly dives into chaos around her. Mathews cloaks a romance in millennial humor, critiques of capitalism, and sardonic existentialism. $27, Charis Books and More
C. Yerba Buena (2022) by Nina LaCour
Nina LaCour writes a story of queer love and grief. LaCour’s work is grounded, gritty, and understands her readers are not doe-eyed idealists. Sara and Emilie are transformed by the traumas of their childhood. Sara is an elusive yet renowned bartender at Yerba Buena in L.A. Emilie arranges flowers for the bar and also carries herself with mysticism. Each of them must discard their old patterns before they can choose to love each other. $20.95, Charis Books and More
D. Black Cake (2022) by Charmaine Wilkerson
In a saga about intergenerational trauma and grief, two siblings must come together to uncover their mother’s secret past. Benny and Byron’s search revolve around a black cake recipe, their mother’s only remembrance of a lost Caribbean family. The recipe itself is a colonial fusion, made for Catholic traditions and manifested from agricultural exploits of fruit and sugar cane. Benny and Byron must contend with the black cake, as complex as their relationship to their mother, who all her life mourned an island-nation. Fans of Maisy Card’s “These Ghosts Are Family” will love this meditation on what the dead have to say long after they pass. $18, Charis Books and More
E. ¡Hola Papi!: How to Come Out in a Walmart Parking Lot and Other Life Lessons (2022) by John Paul Brammer
With a David-Sedaris-type of sarcasm, Brammer runs through the sexual exploits of his twenties. As a baby gay, he slowly learns his location in the queer community via fetishization on Grindr, hence the nickname ¡Hola Papi! Brammer, in this pseudo-memoir, traces intergenerational trauma and his lack of social convention back to his upbringing in Oklahoma as a half-white, half-Latin kid. Brammer was always looking for a social mentor – whether as a hetmasc teenage boy in the Midwest or navigating university hook-up life as a gay man. This inspires him to write the ¡Hola Papi! advice column to give out the gay wisdom he always searched for. $17.99, Charis Books and More
F. Dolly Parton Songteller: My Life in Lyrics (2020) by Dolly Parton
This celebrity memoir is unlike any other, exploring the remarkable life and lyrics of Dolly Parton. As told in her own words, “Songteller” explores 175 songs that have defined her journey, bringing readers behind the lyrics. $50, The Merchant; 99 Krog St NE; themerchantatl.com.
G. My Rainbow (2020) by DeShanna Neal and Trinity Neal
A dedicated mother puts love into action as she creates a rainbow-colored wig for her transgender daughter. What makes this children’s book so special is that it’s based on the real-life experience of mother-daughter duo Trinity and DeShanna Neal. $17.99, Rhen’s Nest Toy Shop at Ponce City Market; 675 Ponce de Leon Ave NE;rhensnesttoyshop.com.