BY Cheryl Till

With the George Floyd protests stirring up long held anguish over issues of race and marginalisation, a lot of book lists relating to racism and the Black experience have been floating around the Internet. 

And while it is certainly great to educate yourself, non-fiction (or even this topic in particular) isn’t for everyone. With that in mind, if you’re looking to expand your horizons, here are three books that will open your eyes.

Noughts & Crosses, by Malorie Blackman

Albeit aimed at a YA readership, Noughts & Crosses is a soul-consuming masterpiece that works brilliantly as a stand-alone read, even with four books that follow to round off the series. Mirroring our reality, this novel presents a dystopian world where the inferior ex-slave White citizens known as ‘Noughts’ are controlled by a ruthless Black ruling class of ‘Crosses’. In this hostile and violent world rife with prejudice and distrust, a Nought and a Cross fall in love. This pair of childhood friends struggle against the racist society in which they live, but their romance leads to a world of danger as they try to find a way for their relationship to thrive.

Blackman’s subversion of reality creates an incredibly thought-provoking novel, with unforgettably gripping writing. The complex relationship built between the lifelike characters creates an incredibly emotional plot that is about a lot more than just star-crossed lovers or the microaggressions of everyday racism. Blackman’s genius digs deep into the systemic racism that lies at the heart of our flawed socio-political world, delivering a damning and powerful message, accompanied by a good dose of heartache and tragedy while circumventing melodrama. And while the sob-inducing ending is polarising, the vehemence of this reaction truly attests to just how well-written and realistic the plot is – because after all it really is just forcing you to take a long hard look in the mirror.

The Innocent Killer, by Michael Griesbach

Written by the veteran prosecutor who worked with the Wisconsin Innocence Project to exonerate Steven Avery in 2003, The Innocent Killer provides a first-hand look into the case of a wrongfully convicted man turned cold-blooded killer. While this true story is perhaps better known from the Netflix series, Making a Murderer, which explores the later murder trial of Steven Avery, Griesbach’s narrative non-fiction centres mostly around Avery’s initial wrongful conviction and acquittal for a rape charge.

A vivid account of events coming straight from the horse’s mouth, the book does not seek to paint over Avery’s violent history, but presents the harrowing tale as a story to challenge the inner workings of the American criminal justice system, by zeroing in on the deficiencies in trial procedure and evidence presentation that led to the wrongful conviction. Through the prose itself, it is definitely evident that Griesbach is a no novelist, but he adds a unique personal touch to the account that makes this readable true crime thriller an absolute page turner.

The Familiars, by Stacey Halls

Based on actual historical figures, Halls’ debut novel The Familiars reads like the work of a seasoned writer who brings the old realities of a woman’s station in the 1600s back to life for us modern folk to understand how the world used to be. Against the backdrop of the Pendle Hill Witch Trials, Halls’ embodies the tenacious spirit of 17-year-old Fleetwood Shuttleworth, a noblewoman with child who is fearing for her life after the doctor’s dire predictions about her mortality following her previous miscarriages. As Fleetwood searches for a way to survive her pregnancy, she is drawn to the unusual but effective Alice Grey, even though the midwife soon stands accused of witchcraft.

With a captivating writing style that presents an incredibly rich and spellbinding look into the past, Halls’ gives us a glance into the realities of child marriage and the historical oppression of women in a 17th Century context. Delving into the difficulties of dealing with misogyny and ignorance, this book has an amazing ability to make you question your way of looking at the world. The gripping narrative send chills down your spine, and makes your blood boil as you commiserate with such compelling characters, making the enchanting novel one that is impossible to put down. 

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