In Order to Live
A young woman in her early twenties, Yeonmi Park has lived through experiences that few people of any age will ever know. Yeonmi was born in North Korea and faced extreme hardship under the rule of Kim Jong Il, the country’s dictator. After her father was imprisoned and tortured by the regime for trading on the black-market, her family was marked as criminal and she was forced, along with her mother, to endure the cruelest parts of North Korean society. Starving and ill, Yeonmi and her mother were smuggled to China and forced into sex slavery for two years. Both Yeonmi and her mother eventually escaped and made their way to South Korea where they experienced stability for the first time. Today, Yeonmi is a human rights activist working to bring attention to the oppression taking place in her home country.
The Girl Who Smiled Beads
The Girl Who Smiled Beads documents Clemantine’s fight for survival during the Rwandan genocide as a child. When she was only six years old, her whole world began to shift towards violence and uncertainty as a massacre started to build in her homeland. In 1994, Clemantine and her fifteen-year-old sister, Claire, fled their home and spent six years migrating through seven African countries searching for safety. Finally, after years of being hungry, imprisoned, and abused, Clemantine and her sister were granted refugee status in the United States. This is the story of their lives before, during, and after the genocide—a story of trauma, resilience, and the road to recovery.
The Last Girl
Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, The Last Girl tells Nadia Murad’s story of survival in northern Iraq. A member of the Yazidi community, her family lived a quiet, peaceful life. On August 15th, 2014, when Nadia was just twenty-one years old, everything she knew came to an abrupt end. Islamic State militants massacred the people of her village, including her mother and six brothers. Nadia was taken to Mosul, along with thousands of other girls, and forced into being a sex slave. She managed a slim escape with the help of a Sunni Muslim man and took shelter in his family’s home. Nadia’s story is one that will be told for generations and this book is one of the most important memoirs of our time.
Tara Westover grew up isolated in a survivalist family in the mountains of Idaho. As a child, she received no education, no medical attention, and was raised to believe that the government was evil and the world would end soon. At the age of sixteen, she decided to seek education and carve out a better future for herself—one that, unfortunately, would not involve her family. Little did Tara know, this decision would change her life as she would go on to receive a phD from Cambridge University. Educated sheds light on the meaning of family, the psychological impact of abuse, and the immeasurable importance of an education.
The Unwinding of the Miracle
Julie Yip-Williams was born in Tam-Ky, Vietnam, just as the war was ending. She was born blind which was seen as a defect in her society and often led to death—she almost lost her life as an infant at the hands of her own grandmother. In the 70s, she fled with her family to Hong Kong and, ultimately, America, where a surgeon at UCLA gave her partial sight. She would go on to become a Harvard-educated lawyer, with a husband, a family, and a life she had once assumed would be impossible. Then, at age thirty-seven, with two little girls at home, Julie was diagnosed with terminal metastatic colon cancer. This is her story about living in the face of death as an immigrant, mother, and wife, and accepting the end of her life with unwavering strength and courage.
I Should Have Honor
Khalida was going to be the first female doctor in her small village in Pakistan until her cousin’s murder at the hands of her father—an “honor killing,” the result of falling in love with a man who was not her betrothed—shook her to her core. Khalida responded with activism, and from the age of sixteen began a Facebook campaign that went viral, using her platform to empower women in rural communities that hold fast to traditions that harm their female members. Khalida learned to embrace the parts of her culture that she loved, and work to change the parts she doesn’t, by working to change the minds of the men that so believe in them.
Michelle Obama—one of the most compelling women of our era—details her incredible life story in this intimate, powerful memoir. As the first African-American woman to serve as First Lady, Michelle helped to create a more inclusive White House while also establishing herself as a powerful advocate for women and girls everywhere. As she takes readers on a journey through her world, she shares the life experiences that have made her the woman she is today. From her childhood in the South Side of Chicago, to her years as an executive and a mother, to her time spent at the world’s most famous address, this memoir is one you won’t want to miss.
The Diary of a Young Girl
Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl is among the most impactful documents of the twentieth century. Since its publication in 1947, it has been read by millions of people around the world. In an effort to hide from the Nazis during Hitler’s reign, Anne Frank and her family stowed away in the back of an Amsterdam office building for two years. This diary is Anne’s record of that time. Anne Frank’s story will live on forever through this powerful book and will serve as a constant reminder of both the horrors that humankind has inflicted upon groups of people and the strength of those who have been persecuted.
Things I've Been Silent About
In this moving memoir, Azar Nafisi shares what it was like to grow up in Iran against the backdrop of a political revolution. She shares intimate family stories about a collective fight for freedom and documents her discovery of literature and the power it gave her. Azar’s story will remind us that safety and comfort are privileges not all people have. This beautiful memoir will pull at your heartstrings with every page as Azar transforms the way we see the world and “reminds us of why we read in the first place.”
In Unbowed, Nobel Prize winner Wangari Maathai details her life journey from her childhood in rural Kenya to the world stage. As the founder of the Green Belt Movement, Wangari is a maker of change—she transformed Africa by championing the poor, fighting for environmental conservation, and empowering women. She endured run-ins with the Kenyan government and personal losses, and was jailed and beaten on numerous occasions, but that didn’t stop her relentless fight. Wangari Maathai’s remarkable story of courage, faith, and the power of persistence will surely inspire generations to come.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
Maya Angelou’s debut memoir is a modern American classic beloved worldwide. In it, she tackles her own life experiences head on and, in the process, frees herself. As a child, Maya faced constant discrimination and, at only eight years old, was sexually abused by a man many times her age—an assault that would stay with her forever. 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 will allow her to be free instead of imprisoned.
A Cup of Water Under My Bed
In this coming-of-age memoir, Daisy Hernandez, a queer Colombian-Cuban woman, chronicles the lessons that the women in her family taught her about love, money, and race. These lessons demonstrate the impact of colonization and immigration and define what it means to grow up female in an immigrant home. Daisy showcases what it was like for her to try to overcome issues of class and race while figuring out her identity as a bisexual woman of color.
In 2004, at a beach resort on the coast of Sri Lanka, Sonali Deraniyagala and her family—parents, husband, sons—were swept away by a tsunami. Sonali was the only one who survived this tragedy. This is her account of this experience and its aftermath. It’s the story of Sonali’s miraculous survival, her insurmountable pain after losing everything she loved, and the ups and downs of grief and recovery in the face of something that is truly devastating.
Thinking in Pictures, Expanded Edition
Temple Grandin is an icon in the world of autism because she broke through boundaries to make herself, and others like her, visible for the first time. Temple was a child with autism in a world that didn’t quite know what that meant, which made her early life very difficult, to say the least. But she went on to become a prominent author and speaker on both autism and animal behavior—she is a professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University, and HBO made an Emmy Award-winning movie about her life. She was even inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2016.
This collection by the magnificent Audre Lorde is composed of fifteen essays and speeches that fearlessly take on sexism, racism, ageism, homophobia, and class. Through her indomitable writing, she advocates for social change while also offering messages of hope. This edition includes a new foreword by Lorde-scholar and poet Cheryl Clarke, who celebrates the ways in which Lorde’s philosophies resonate more than twenty years after they were first published.
Throughout history, fearless women have existed, experienced, and impacted those around them. Unfortunately, not all women have the opportunity to make their voices heard. Here at Read It Forward, we believe that herstory is vital and we champion the women who deserve recognition for what they’ve contributed to society.
We’ve gathered together a list of books by brave women from around the world that are compelling, enlightening, and important. We hope that you read them, cherish them, remember them, and most importantly, share them with everyone you know.
Featured image: @brittneyborowski via Twenty20