The first half of the list.
William Golding, The Inheritors. One of the questions I’ve come back to again and again over the years when I want something interesting to think about is this: what was it like to grow up Neanderthal 30,000 years ago? What were the real differences between Neanderthals and Homo sapians sapians?
Golding’s answer to this question doesn’t agree with current research but the characters he breathes to life are unforgettable.
John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath.
This book taught me more about the Great Depression than any history class in public school.
Margaret Atwood, Alias Grace.
(Very) loosely based on a real murder trial in the 1840s. The narrator is at time unlikable and unreliable (or maybe she really doesn’t remember what actually happened?) but Atwood’s description of what life was like for a working class Canadian woman is chilling. I suspect even an innocent narrator would have been found guilty by virtue of the horrifically sexist and classist society that tried her.
Susan Goldman Rubin, Emily Good as Gold.
It’s been 15 years since I last read this book but Emily is still one of my favourite characters. I don’t know how accurate the depiction of her developmental disabilities is – I’ll leave that argument up to people with firsthand knowledge of the subject. What I can say is that I remember this being one of those rare young adult books that takes a hard look at sensitive topics like sexual assault and discrimination against people with disabilities without sounding like an after school special.
John Colapinto, As Nature Made Him.
One of the most captivating books about gender, sexuality and how society influences our identities that you’ll ever read. In a nutshell, when John he was an infant a botched circumcision destroyed his penis. The doctor treating him told John’s parents to move to a new town, change his name and raise their son as a girl.
So they did.
As soon as John could talk, though, he insisted he was a boy like his twin brother. This is the story of what happened next. It’s a powerful argument for the idea that gender identity and sexual orientation are inborn traits, not something that anyone can change.
Do you have a list of unforgettable books?