Hot Girl Summer Gonna Be LIT(erary) With These Female-Focused Novels About Race, Gender, Motherhood & More.

Forget “hot girl summer”, because we’re declaring 2022 to be “Hot female-driven story Summer”, and it’s going to be lit (pun fully intended)! Today we’re featuring two new novels, written by women of color authors that you need to add to your fiction list asap, as we have already done. Covering themes such as racism, gender, history, class, motherhood, trafficking and more, these books are sure to keep you turning the pages well into the night until you reach the back cover.

First up is author Laila Ibrahim’s ‘Scarlett Carnation’, out now from Lake Union Publishing. From the bestselling author of ‘Golden Poppies’ and ‘Yellow Crocus’ comes a story set in early twentieth-century America, a time when the country is roiling with racial injustice, class divides, and WWI. During this tumultuous era, a presidential election and the influenza pandemic, two women from opposite worlds must fight for their dreams.

The year is 1915. May and Naomi are extended family, their grandmothers’ lives inseparably entwined on a Virginia plantation in the volatile time leading up to the Civil War. For both women, the twentieth century promises social transformation and equal opportunity.

May, a young white woman, is on the brink of achieving the independent life she’s dreamed of since childhood. Naomi, a nurse, mother, and leader of the NAACP, has fulfilled her own dearest desire: buying a home for her family.

But they both are about to learn that dreams can be destroyed in an instant. May’s future is upended, and she is forced to rely once again on her mother. Meanwhile, the white-majority neighborhood into which Naomi has moved is organizing against her while her sons are away fighting for their country. In the tumult of a changing nation, these two women—whose grandmothers survived the Civil War—support each other’s quest for liberation and dignity.

In ‘Scarlett Carnation’, May struggles to navigate the harsh reality of being an unwed mother in 1915 America. There are many feminist themes in Laila’s novel, including the early forms of contraception that paved the way for modern methods.

Naomi is the leader of the NAACP’s Oakland branch. She is fierce and unabashed in her fight against racism and segregation in her community. But when the overwhelming ignorance and hatred feels like a force to powerful to overcome, Naomi finds hope in her neighbors, friends, and family. Naomi’s strength and perseverance in the face of racial injustice is an integral aspect of her character.

As for the title, it stems from the origins of the Mother’s Day celebration. Julia Ward Howe was a woman’s suffrage advocate, who originally imagined that Mother’s Day could be a day on which mothers from around the nation came together to demand peaceful conflict resolution during war time. And during WWI, many mothers would wear scarlet carnations to signify that they had a son who was a soldier. While the holiday has taken on a new shape since Woodrow Wilson declared it a national holiday in 1914, Laila wanted to honor the original purpose of the holiday and those mothers who fought to keep their sons home from war. The title serves as a symbol for love, courage, and mourning during unprecedented times.

Get a copy of ‘Scarlett Carnation’ by clicking HERE.

The second book we’re featuring is ‘Mother Country’, by Jacinda Townsend, out now from Graywolf Press.

Saddled with student loans, medical debt, and the sudden news of her infertility after a major car accident, Shannon, an African American woman, follows her boyfriend to Morocco in search of relief. There, in the cobblestoned medina of Marrakech, she finds a toddler in a pink jacket whose face mirrors her own. With the help of her boyfriend and a bribed official, Shannon makes the fateful decision to adopt and raise the girl in Louisville, Kentucky. But the girl already has a mother: Souria, an undocumented Mauritanian woman who was trafficked as a teen, and who managed to escape to Morocco to build another life.

In rendering Souria’s separation from her family across vast stretches of desert and Shannon’s alienation from her mother under the same roof, Jacinda Townsend brilliantly stages cycles of intergenerational trauma and healing. Linked by the girl who has been a daughter to them both, these unforgettable protagonists move toward their inevitable reckoning. ‘Mother Country’ is a bone-deep and unsparing portrayal of the ethical and emotional claims we make upon one another in the name of survival, in the name of love.

Jacinda’s setting in this book and the themes interwoven stem from the author’s own experience in real life. After graduating from Harvard University and Duke Law School, and after four years of being first a broadcast journalist and then an antitrust lawyer in New York City, spent a year as a Fulbright fellow to Côte d’Ivoire. 

During her Fulbright year, on a layover in Morocco, Jacinda discovered the city of Marrakech and fell in love. Later that same year, on a trip to Northern Mali, she also first witnessed modern-day slavery: that incident inspired the research that eventually took her to Mauritania, where she met with escaped slaves and anti-slavery activists and began the work that would become her forthcoming novel.

One of our fave feminist authors, Roxane Gay, described Jacinda’s previous work as  “an absolute marvel”. Jacinda Townsend is dazzling as she transports the reader to a different time and place.” With an endorsement like that, we were sold!

You can get a copy of ‘Mother Country’ HERE, to add to your female-focused Summer Fiction Reading list.

Author Jacinda Townsend. Image by Jim Krause.

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