YW Boston’s 2020 Reading List

YW Boston's 2020 Annual Reading List

YW Boston’s Fourth Annual Recommended Reading List

Knowledge is power, if we use it effectively. As COVID-19 and anti-Black racism, two interconnected pandemics, have demonstrated, we all must commit to bringing about racial, gender, and social equity. Learning and reflecting are two critical components of taking action, so that we can be better prepared to partake in advocacy. Books, in particular, are a tool for learners to dive deep into topics and learn about worlds unlike their own. 

We hope you find inspiration and a call to action from the books chosen for our 2020 Annual Reading List. They include recommendations from our staff, board of directors, Academy of Women Achievers Host Committee, and our Academy of Women Achievers awardees. With non-fiction, fiction, memoirs, and books for kids, we hope anyone can find something to add to their personal reading list.


She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World by Chelsea Clinton
Recommended by Jessica Ragosta Early, Board Member and AWA Host Committee Chair
Great for kids grades K – 3

Chelsea Clinton introduces tiny feminists, mini activists, and little kids who are ready to take on the world to thirteen inspirational women who never took no for an answer, and who always, inevitably and without fail, persisted. She Persisted is for everyone who has ever wanted to speak up but has been told to quiet down, for everyone who has ever tried to reach for the stars but was told to sit down, and for everyone who has ever been made to feel unworthy or unimportant or small.

Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado-Perez
Recommended by Sarah Faude, Ph.D, Director of Research and Evaluation

Data is fundamental to the modern world. From economics, to healthcare, to education and public policy, we rely on numbers to allocate resources and make decisions. But because so much data fails to take into account gender, because it treats men as the default and women as atypical, bias and discrimination are baked into our systems. And women pay tremendous costs for this bias. Built on hundreds of studies from around the world, and written with energy, wit, and sparkling intelligence, this is a groundbreaking, unforgettable exposé that will change the way you look at the world.

Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See by Jennifer L. Eberhardt
Recommended by Marguerite Fletcher, Board Chair

How do we talk about bias? How do we address racial disparities and inequities? Dr. Eberhardt offers us the language and courage we need to face one of the biggest and most troubling issues of our time. She exposes racial bias at all levels of society—in our neighborhoods, schools, workplaces, and criminal justice system. Yet she also offers us tools to address it. We can be vulnerable to bias but not doomed to live under its grip. Racial bias is a problem that we all have a role to play in solving.

Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World by Anand Giridharadas
Recommended by Deborah Frieze, 2020 Academy of Women Achievers Awardee

Giridharadas takes us into the inner sanctums of a new gilded age, where the rich and powerful fight for equality and justice any way they can—except ways that threaten the social order and their position atop it. He asks hard questions: Why, for example, should our gravest problems be solved by the unelected upper crust instead of the public institutions it erodes by lobbying and dodging taxes? He also points toward an answer: Rather than rely on scraps from the winners, we must take on the grueling democratic work of building more robust, egalitarian institutions and truly changing the world.

Healing Resistance: A Radically Different Response to Harm by Kazu Haga
Recommended by Kemarah Sika, Vice President of Programs

Nonviolence was once considered the highest form of activism and radical change. And yet its basic truth, its restorative power, has been forgotten. Kazu Haga blazingly reclaims the energy and assertiveness of nonviolent practice and shows that a principled approach to nonviolence is the way to transform not only unjust systems but broken relationships. Kingian Nonviolence takes on the timely issues of endless protest and activist burnout, and presents tried-and-tested strategies for staying resilient, creating equity, and restoring peace.

Herstory: 50 Women and Girls Who Shook Up the World by Katherine Halligan
Recommended by Jessica Ragosta Early, Board Member and AWA Host Committee Chair
Great for kids grades 3+

Throughout history, girls have often been discussed in terms of what they couldn’t or shouldn’t do. Not anymore. It’s time for herstory—a celebration of not only what girls can do, but the remarkable things women have already accomplished, even when others tried to stop them. Follow the stories of fifty powerhouse women from around the world and across time who each managed to change the world as they knew it forever. These women are sure to motivate young readers of all backgrounds to focus not on the can’ts and shouldn’ts, but on what they can do: anything!

The Memo: What Women of Color Need to Know to Secure a Seat at the Table by Minda Harts
Recommended by Dominique Calixte, Associate Director of Annual Giving and Special Events

Most business books provide a one-size-fits-all approach to career advice that overlooks the unique barriers that women of color face. Harts offers a much-needed career guide tailored specifically for women of color. With wit and candor, she acknowledges “ugly truths” that keep women of color from having a seat at the table in corporate America. Providing straight talk on how to navigate networking, office politics, and money, while showing how to make real change to the system, The Memo offers support and long-overdue advice.

A Perilous Path: Talking Race, Inequality, and the Law by Sherrilyn Ilfill, Loretta Lynch, Bryan Stevenson, and Anthony C. Thompson
Recommended by Sherrie Saint-Amant, Board Member and Advocacy Committee member

A no-holds-barred, red-hot discussion of race in America today from some of the leading names in the field, including the bestselling author of Just Mercy. Drawing on their collective decades of work on civil rights issues as well as personal histories of rising from poverty and oppression, these leading lights of the legal profession and the fight for racial justice talk about the importance of reclaiming the racial narrative and keeping our eyes on the horizon as we work for justice in an unjust time.

Thick: And Other Essays by Tressie McMillan Cottom
Recommended by Sarah Faude, Ph.D, Director of Research and Evaluation

In eight highly praised treatises on beauty, media, money, and more, Tressie McMillan Cottom is unapologetically “thick”: deemed “thick where I should have been thin, more where I should have been less,” McMillan Cottom refuses to shy away from blending the personal with the political, from bringing her full self and voice to the fore of her analytical work. Thick â€śtransforms narrative moments into analyses of whiteness, black misogyny, and status-signaling as means of survival for black women” (Los Angeles Review of Books) with “writing that is as deft as it is amusing” (Darnell L. Moore).

Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women That a Movement Forgot by Mikki Kendall
Recommended by Dominique Calixte, Associate Director of Annual Giving and Special Events and Kemarah Sika, Vice President of Programs

Today’s feminist movement has a glaring blind spot, and paradoxically, it is women. Mainstream feminists rarely talk about meeting basic needs as a feminist issue. All too often, however, the focus is not on basic survival for the many, but on increasing privilege for the few. How can we stand in solidarity as a movement, Kendall asks, when there is the distinct likelihood that some women are oppressing others? An unforgettable debut, Kendall has written a ferocious clarion call to all would-be feminists to live out the true mandate of the movement in thought and in deed.

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
Recommended by Geeta Aiyer, 2020 Academy of Women Achievers Awardee

From two of our most fiercely moral voices, a passionate call to arms against our era’s most pervasive human rights violation: the oppression of women and girls in the developing world. Through these stories, Kristof and WuDunn help us see that the key to economic progress lies in unleashing women’s potential. They make clear how so many people have helped to do just that, and how we can each do our part. Unleashing that process globally is not only the right thing to do; it’s also the best strategy for fighting poverty.

How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
Recommended by Kathryn Henderson, Vice President of Strategic Partnerships

Antiracism is a transformative concept that reorients and re-energizes the conversation about racism—and points us toward liberating new ways of thinking about ourselves and each other. Racism creates false hierarchies of human value; its warped logic extends beyond race, from the way we regard people of different ethnicities or skin colors to the way we treat people of different sexes, gender identities, and body types. Kendi takes readers through a widening circle of antiracist ideas—from the most basic concepts to visionary possibilities—that will help readers see all forms of racism clearly, understand their poisonous consequences, and work to oppose them in our systems and in ourselves.

The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters by Priya Parker
Recommended by Sheena Collier, 2020 Sylvia Ferrell-Jones Awardee

In The Art of Gathering, Priya Parker argues that the gatherings in our lives are lackluster and unproductive—which they don’t have to be. We rely too much on routine and the conventions of gatherings when we should focus on distinctiveness and the people involved. At a time when coming together is more important than ever, Parker sets forth a human-centered approach to gathering that will help everyone create meaningful, memorable experiences, large and small, for work and for play. The Art of Gathering will forever alter the way you look at your next meeting, industry conference, dinner party, and backyard barbecue—and how you host and attend them.

Yes, You Can Do This! How Women Start Up, Scale Up, and Build the Life They Want by Claudia Reuter, LeadBoston Class of 2016
Recommended by Kathryn Henderson, Vice President of Strategic Partnerships

Reuter shares her own reasons for starting a business and makes a call to action for women to consider entrepreneurship so that they can create businesses with the rules they want and change the playing field for others, making a significant impact in the world. More than a “how-to book” on building a business, Yes, You Can Do This! provides clear examples and practical resources to help others create the life they want through entrepreneurship.

The Color of Compromise: The Truth About the American Church’s Complicity in Racism by Jemar Tisby
Recommended by Sharon Maylor, Ph.D, Organizational Development Manager

Equal parts painful and inspirational, this book details how the American church has helped create and maintain racist ideas and practices. You will be guided in thinking through concrete solutions for improved race relations and a racially inclusive church. The Color of Compromise is not a call to shame or a platform to blame white evangelical Christians. It is a call from a place of love and desire to fight for a more racially unified church that no longer compromises what the Bible teaches about human equality.

Memoir and Biography

In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado
Recommended by Leigh Chandler, Manager of Marketing and Communications

Tracing the full arc of a harrowing relationship with a charismatic but volatile woman, Machado struggles to make sense of how what happened to her shaped the person she was becoming. And it’s that struggle that gives the book its original structure: each chapter is driven by its own narrative trope―the haunted house, erotica, the bildungsroman―through which Machado holds the events up to the light and examines them from different angles. She widens the view of the history and reality of abuse in queer relationships. The result is a wrenching, riveting book that explodes our ideas about what a memoir can do and be.

Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot
Recommended by Leigh Chandler, Manager of Marketing and Communications

A powerful, poetic memoir of a woman’s coming of age on the Seabird Island First Nation in the Pacific Northwest. Having survived a dysfunctional upbringing only to find herself hospitalized and facing a dual diagnosis of post traumatic stress disorder and bipolar II disorder; Mailhot is given a notebook and begins to write her way out of trauma. The triumphant result is a memorial for Mailhot’s mother, a social worker and activist who had a thing for prisoners; a story of reconciliation with her father―an abusive drunk and a brilliant artist―who was murdered under mysterious circumstances; and an elegy on how difficult it is to love someone while dragging the long shadows of shame.

Know My Name
by Chanel Miller
Recommended by Coralys Negretti, Associate Director of Marketing and Communications

She was known to the world as Emily Doe. Brock Turner had been sentenced to just six months in county jail after he was found sexually assaulting her on Stanford’s campus. Now Miller reclaims her identity to tell her story of trauma, transcendence, and the power of words. Her struggles with isolation and shame during the aftermath and the trial reveal the oppression victims face. Her story illuminates a culture biased to protect perpetrators, indicts a criminal justice system designed to fail the most vulnerable, and, ultimately, shines with the courage required to move through suffering and live a full and beautiful life.

A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II by Sonia Purnell
Recommended by Pam Adams, 2020 AWA Host Committee

In 1942, the Gestapo sent out an urgent transmission: “She is the most dangerous of all Allied spies. We must find and destroy her.” The target in their sights was Virginia Hall, a Baltimore socialite who talked her way into Special Operations Executive and became the first Allied woman deployed behind enemy lines and–despite her prosthetic leg–helped to light the flame of the French Resistance, revolutionizing secret warfare as we know it. A breathtaking story of how one woman’s fierce persistence helped win the war.


Fiction and Poetry

If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin
Recommended by Andrea Kramer, 2020 AWA Host Committee

Told through the eyes of Tish, a nineteen-year-old girl, in love with Fonny, a young sculptor and father of her child. Tish and Fonny have pledged to get married, but Fonny is falsely accused of a terrible crime and imprisoned. Their families set out to clear his name, and facing an uncertain future, the young lovers experience a kaleidoscope of emotions–affection, despair, and hope. In a love story that evokes the blues, where passion and sadness are inevitably intertwined, Baldwin has created two characters so alive and profoundly realized that they are unforgettably ingrained in the American psyche.

The Fifth Season (The Broken Earth Series (1)) by N.K. Jemisin
Recommended by Joanna Chen, LeadBoston Program Associate

At the end of the world, a woman must hide her secret power and find her kidnapped daughter in this Hugo Award-winning novel of power, oppression, and revolution. This is the way the world ends…for the last time. It starts with the great red rift across the heart of the world’s sole continent, spewing ash that blots out the sun. It starts with death, with a murdered son and a missing daughter. It starts with betrayal, and long dormant wounds rising up to fester. This is the Stillness, a land long familiar with catastrophe, where the power of the earth is wielded as a weapon. And where there is no mercy.

Library Lion by Michelle Knudsen
Recommended by Rachael Rollins, 2020 Academy of Women Achievers Awardee
Great for kids grades Pre-K – 3

Miss Merriweather, the head librarian, is very particular about rules in the library. No running allowed. And you must be quiet. But when a lion comes to the library one day, no one is sure what to do. There aren’t any rules about lions in the library. And, as it turns out, this lion seems very well suited to library visiting. His big feet are quiet on the library floor. He makes a comfy backrest for the children at story hour. And he never roars in the library, at least not anymore. But when something terrible happens, the lion quickly comes to the rescue in the only way he knows how.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Recommended by Rachael Conway, LeadBoston Manager

Harper Lee’s Pulitzer prize-winning masterwork of honor and injustice in the deep south–and the heroism of one man in the face of blind and violent hatred. A gripping, heart-wrenching, and wholly remarkable tale of coming-of-age in a South poisoned by virulent prejudice, it views a world of great beauty and savage inequities through the eyes of a young girl, as her father–a crusading local lawyer–risks everything to defend a black man unjustly accused of a terrible crime.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
Recommended by Sherrie Saint-Amant, Board Member

In the early 1900s, teenaged Sunja, the adored daughter of an incapacitated fisherman, falls for a wealthy stranger at the seashore near her home in Korea. He promises her the world, but when she discovers she is pregnant–and that her lover is married–she refuses to be bought. Instead, she accepts an offer of marriage from a gentle, sickly minister passing through on his way to Japan. But her decision to abandon her home, and reject her son’s powerful father, sets off a dramatic saga that will echo down through the generations.

Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine
Recommended by Joanna Chen, LeadBoston Program Associate

Citizen recounts mounting racial aggressions in ongoing encounters in 21st-century daily life and in the media. Some of these encounters are slights, seeming slips of the tongue, and some are intentional offensives in the classroom, at the supermarket, at home, on the tennis court with Serena Williams, online, on TV–everywhere, all the time. The accumulative stresses come to bear on a person’s ability to speak, perform, and stay alive. Our addressability is tied to the state of our belonging, Rankine argues, as are our assumptions and expectations of citizenship. This is a powerful testament to the individual and collective effects of racism in our contemporary, often named “post-race” society.

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
Recommended by Sheera Bornstein, Senior Manager of Partnerships

Alix Chamberlain is a woman who gets what she wants and has made a living showing other women how to do the same. So she is shocked when her babysitter, Emira Tucker, is confronted while watching the Chamberlains’ toddler one night at their local high-end supermarket. The store’s security guard, seeing a young black woman out late with a white child, accuses Emira of kidnapping two-year-old Briar. A small crowd gathers, a bystander films everything, and Emira is furious and humiliated. Alix resolves to make things right. When the video of Emira unearths someone from Alix’s past, both women find themselves on a crash course that will upend everything they think they know about themselves, and each other.

As Brave As You by Jason Reynolds
Recommended by Beth Chandler, President and CEO
Great for kids grades 5+

Genie’s summer is full of surprises. The first is that he and his big brother, Ernie, are leaving Brooklyn for the very first time to spend the summer with their grandparents all the way in Virginia – in the COUNTRY! The second surprise comes when Genie figures out that their grandfather is blind. Genie thinks Grandpop must be the bravest guy he’s ever known, but he starts to notice that his grandfather never leaves the house. He begins to wonder if his grandfather is really so brave after all. Then, Grandpop says to become a man you have to learn how to shoot a gun, but Ernie has no interest in learning how to shoot. None. Dumbfounded by Ernie’s reluctance, Genie wonders, are bravery and becoming a man only about proving something, or is it important to own up to what you won’t do?

Ghost by Jason Reynolds
Recommended by Beth Chandler, President and CEO
Great for kids grades 5+

Ghost. Lu. Patina. Sunny. Four kids from wildly different backgrounds with personalities that are explosive when they clash. But they are also four kids chosen for an elite middle school track team, a team that could qualify them for the Junior Olympics if they can get their acts together. Ghost has a natural talent, but no formal training. But Ghost has been running for the wrong reasons, it all starting with running away from his father, who, when Ghost was a little boy, chased him and his mother through their apartment, then down the street, with a loaded gun, aiming to kill. Since then, Ghost has been the one causing problems until he meets Coach, an ex-Olympic Medalist who is determined to keep other kids from blowing their shots at life.

Don’t forget to visit your local library or an independent Boston-area bookstore when looking for these books.

Find more recommendations on our 2017, 2018, and 2019 reading lists.
Find a PDF version of this book list here.


About YW Boston

As the first YWCA in the nation, YW Boston has been at the forefront of advancing equity for over 150 years. Through our DE&I services—InclusionBoston and LeadBoston—as well as our advocacy work and F.Y.R.E. Initiative, we help individuals and organizations change policies, practices, attitudes, and behaviors with a goal of creating more inclusive environments where women, people of color, and especially women of color can succeed.

As part of that work, we are helping organizations prioritize Diversity, Equity & Inclusion and become socially connected while staying physically distant. During this time, YW Boston is providing organizations with digital workshops and resources to help them better understand the challenges faced by their employees. For more information, please contact Sheera Bornstein at sheera@ywboston.org.