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Nikita Gill Recommends Her Top 5 Reads of 2019

Posted on 27th November 2019 by Mark Skinner

A vibrant fusion of poetry, prose and illustration, Nikita Gill's Great Goddesses recast the thrilling stories of ancient deities for a twenty-first century audience, highlighting the empowering narratives often neglected by conventional literary accounts. Here, Nikita shares the books that she has found transformative in 2019.  

I Never Said I Loved You by Rhik Samadder

It seems like a near impossible task for a writer to be able to write about pain in a truly empathetic and sensitive way whilst still being able to make people laugh, but this is exactly what Rhik Samadder does so well in this hilarious, heartbreaking book. A memoir that takes the reader through the lows of depression as well as the work it takes of finally learning to navigate it, this book does not shy away from intense vulnerability. When I first started reading it, I made the mistake of taking it with me on the train and ended up startling the gentleman sitting next to me with loud guffaws of laughter followed by copious tears, which as you can probably guess, is a great look on public transport.

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A blazingly funny memoir about the depths of depression, I Never Said I Loved You is Rhik Samadder’s unflinchingly frank account of his mental health issues and subsequent empowerment. Mining a rich seam of gallows humour, this is wickedly perceptive and bracingly unsentimental autobiography of the highest order.
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Starling Days by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan

This gem of a book hit me hard. For many, many reasons, but also because the love story is so elegant and nuanced. Human relationships are infinitely complex, hardly ever black and white and that is exactly what Rowan Hisayo Buchanan gets so right in this story. With references to mythological women, an unflinching look at depression, and a tender romance, this was certainly one of my favourite books of 2019, but also of the last decade.

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A poised, delicate novel about isolation, both enforced and voluntary, and the unexpected connections people make at their most vulnerable. Based around an unconventional love triangle and set in both New York and London, Starling Days interrogates ideas of ennui, loneliness and alienation in shimmering, sophisticated prose.
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The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta

I cannot stop recommending this book to everyone I know. A coming of age story about drag, coming out, family and friendship, this book cleverly uses the protagonist’s love for poetry as a narrative device making it the best novel in verse I have ever read. The final poem in this book, “How to Come Out As Gay” is an anthem for the ages, this book is a much needed and powerful addition to every library.

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Big hearted and dizzyingly flamboyant, Atta’s verse novel about a black gay teen reclaiming his identity as a drag artist is an outspoken triumph from opening couplet to last. A beautiful book about self-discovery and embracing the real you, The Black Flamingo is suffused with optimism, positivity and love.
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Somebody Give This Heart A Pen by Sophia Thakur

An empowering, brilliant debut collection of poems by one of my favourite poets, this book was one of my favourite releases this year. I read it in a single sitting, breaking my own rule of consuming poetry slowly simply because it was so good. This book got everything right – powerful words, how to navigate heartbreak, empathy, growing up, identity and love. Sophia is a powerhouse, the verse is almost musical.

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One of the finest performance poets out there finally gets into print with this powerhouse debut collection. Raw, honest and emotionally naked yet equally lyrical and poised, Somebody Give This Heart a Pen deftly captures modern life and its attendant issues of identity and belonging with wit and fire.
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A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes

My love of mythology led me to this treasure. I have a turbulent relationship with the Iliad in that I think the book forgets how traumatic war is and is deeply male-centric, but it remains one of my favourite books because I enjoy the classics so much. Along comes A Thousand Ships, a witty, remarkable book giving voices to the women of the Trojan war starting with Calliope, the muse of epic poetry. A thoroughly enjoyable read for anyone interested in strong female led narratives and retellings.

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Hot on the heels of Madeline Miller’s Circe and Pat Barker’s Silence of the Girls comes Natalie Haynes’ all-female retelling of the Trojan War. A Thousand Ships shows why Homeric classics are such rich source material for 21st- century authors. With piercing wit and crystalline prose Haynes draws compelling parallels between the inner lives of women caught in the conflict and modern attitudes.
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