Guest blog by Laura Nicole Diamond
My favorite novels are those pull the reader into the character’s mind and heart, and experiences the world through their eyes and ears. A good story well told seeps into your skin, breathes into your lungs, creates images so rich the mind incorporates them into its own memories. By submerging readers into the characters’ lives, these novels have the power to humanize strangers, make unfamiliar lives relatable, and bridge divides.
Some of my favorite novels take this connection between reader and character one step further, by bringing characters from disparate circumstances together to learn about each other. Here are a few such novels that have stayed with me.
In Little Bee, by Chris Cleave, readers feel as if they are participating in the evolving and fragile friendship between an illegal Nigerian immigrant to the U.K. and a suburban London widow. As these characters develop an understanding of each other, the reader does as well. In The Space Between Us, author Thrity Umrigar explores the both the intimacy and distance between an upper-middle-class Indian woman and her 65-year-old slum-dwelling servant. A decade after I first read it, its universal truths about the bonds that can be built between women have stayed with me. In The Help, by Kathryn Stockett, readers experience the indignities born by black maids and nannies in a segregated southern town, and their bravery in daring to give voice to their treatment. Through their relationship with a young white writer who amplifies their tales, readers also experience the frustrations and limitations of the connection between two groups that aren’t supposed to be allies. More recently, in Behold the Dreamers, author Imbolo Mbue immerses readers into the vivid, intersecting worlds of an uber-wealthy NYC family and the recent Cameroonian immigrants who work for them, granting readers insight into their divergent challenges and frailties.
Shelter Us, my novel, also explores the connection between two women from disparate worlds, when their lives intersect on the streets of downtown Los Angeles. Sarah, a suburban stay-home-mom and former attorney, is struggling emotionally after a tragic loss. When she sees Josie, a young mother whose broken relationship and lost job have led her on a downward spiral to homelessness, Sarah becomes obsessed with helping her. These women develop a friendship that puts them on a path out of their crises, but away from each other. Though from different backgrounds, and with different futures, they are connected by what they have in common — imperfect mothers striving to protect their children, and needing the support of other women to survive.
Novels that honestly portray connections between characters from disparate backgrounds can reveal how much we have in common. We need such books now more than ever.
Laura Nicole Diamond is a human rights lawyer and award-winning author of the novel Shelter Us (2016 National Indie Excellence Award for Literary Fiction) and the editor of the anthology Deliver Me: True Confessions of Motherhood (whose proceeds benefit non-profits working to end homelessness). For more information, please visit www.lauranicolediamond.com or follow on social media: www.facebook.com/lauranicolediamondauthor, Twitter @LauraNDiamond1, Instagram @laurandiamond