Autumn is a season of change. The lush and vibrant spark of life slowly fades to a cool and serene muted tone in preparation for our period of rest and hibernation. As I ready myself for a new season of growth, I love to pick up a richly layered story of a character’s transformation. These seven stories of extreme hardships and distress all bloom into inspiring tales of immense growth. The characters in these books—both true and fictional—give us hope for positive and hopeful change, even in the most treacherous and unforgiving times.
7 Inspiring and Hopeful Books to Help You Grow Through Change
Britain is on the brink of World War II as three childhood friends anxiously read the harrowing headlines. For German expat Marie, a war could very well mean her family is in jeopardy. As tensions begin to rise and the German invasion encroaches, Marie is labeled an alien. The three friends fight to preserve both their friendship and Marie’s life in this moving story of friendship and womanhood told in the midst of severe conflict.
For fans of historical novels by Kristin Harmel and Martha Hall Kelly comes a “gripping tale by a writer at the top of her game” (Fiona Davis, author of The Chelsea Girls) following three friends who struggle to remain loyal as one of them is threatened with internment by the British government at the start of World War II.
In August of 1939, as Britain watches the headlines in fear of another devastating war with Germany, three childhood companions must choose between friendship and country. Erstwhile socialite Nora is determined to find her place in the Home Office’s Air Raid Precautions Department, matchmaker Hazel tries to mask two closely guarded secrets with irrepressible optimism, and German expat Marie worries that she and her family might face imprisonment in an internment camp if war is declared. When Germany invades Poland and tensions on the home front rise, Marie is labeled an enemy alien, and the three friends find themselves fighting together to keep her free at any cost.
Featuring Julia Kelly’s signature “intricate, tender, and convincing” (Publishers Weekly) prose, The Whispers of War is a moving and unforgettable tale of the power of friendship and womanhood in the midst of conflict.
A bloody civil war is underway in England, heightening its witch hysteria. Alinor’s neighbors have always whispered about her sinister beauty and unique determination, marking her as a rule-breaking woman. One evening, Alinor sits in a graveyard, hoping to find the ghost of her missing husband to confirm his death and her widowhood. Instead she meets James, a young man on the run. She shows him the secret way across the treacherous marshy landscape of the Tidelands, not knowing she is leading a spy and an enemy into her life.
This New York Times bestseller from “one of the great storytellers of our time” (San Francisco Book Review) turns from the glamour of the royal courts to tell the story of an ordinary woman, Alinor, living in a dangerous time for a woman to be different.
On Midsummer’s Eve, Alinor waits in the church graveyard, hoping to encounter the ghost of her missing husband and thus confirm his death. Until she can, she is neither maiden nor wife nor widow, living in a perilous limbo. Instead she meets James, a young man on the run. She shows him the secret ways across the treacherous marshy landscape of the Tidelands, not knowing she is leading a spy and an enemy into her life.
England is in the grip of a bloody civil war that reaches into the most remote parts of the kingdom. Alinor’s suspicious neighbors are watching each other for any sign that someone might be disloyal to the new parliament, and Alinor’s ambition and determination mark her as a woman who doesn’t follow the rules. They have always whispered about the sinister power of Alinor’s beauty, but the secrets they don’t know about her and James are far more damning. This is the time of witch-mania, and if the villagers discover the truth, they could take matters into their own hands.
“This is Gregory par excellence” (Kirkus Reviews). “Fans of Gregory’s works and of historicals in general will delight in this page-turning tale” (Library Journal, starred review) that is “superb… A searing portrait of a woman that resonates across the ages” (People).
Jeanette Walls is known for her compelling memoir, THE GLASS CASTLE, about her own growth from struggle, but she also astounded me with this piece about her no-nonsense grandmother, Lily Casey Smith. Lily survived tornadoes, droughts, floods, the Great Depression, and heartbreaking tragedy. This is the story of her spirit and life on the frontier. The amount of growth and transformation throughout this novel will leave readers in admiration of Lily’s growth.
This is a story about a prideful electrician in 1920s rural Alabama struggling to overcome past sins, find peace, and rescue his marriage. After Roscoe’s wife inherits her father’s failing farm, Roscoe must risk his electrical work and integrity—if he doesn’t, he may lose everything. Realizing he needs to do something to help the farm, he begins to siphon energy from the state, but when a young man stumbles upon the illegal lines and is electrocuted, Roscoe is arrested and the farm again deteriorates. Struggling to survive in prison, Roscoe must ask himself whether his work is worth the price of his family and the crimes that he committed.
This story chronicles the most devastating refugee crisis of this century. Aeham Ahmad was born a second-generation refugee—the son of a blind violinist and carpenter who encouraged him to play piano. When the Israeli–Palestinian conflict heightens, Aeham’s family built a life in Yarmouk, an unofficial camp in Damascus to more than 160,000 Palestinian refugees. There, they raised a new generation while waiting for the conflict to be resolved, with music as their only solace. Both heartbreaking and hopeful, THE PIANIST FROM SYRIA paints a gripping portrait of one man’s search to protect his family in the midst of horror.
An astonishing but true account of a pianist’s escape from war-torn Syria to Germany offers a deeply personal perspective on the most devastating refugee crisis of this century.
Aeham Ahmad was born a second-generation refugee—the son of a blind violinist and carpenter who recognized Aeham's talent and taught him how to play piano and love music from an early age.
When his grandparents and father were forced to flee Israel and seek refuge from the Israeli–Palestinian conflict ravaging their home, Aeham’s family built a life in Yarmouk, an unofficial camp to more than 160,000 Palestinian refugees in Damascus. They raised a new generation in Syria while waiting for the conflict to be resolved so they could return to their homeland. Instead, another fight overtook their asylum. Their only haven was in music and in each other.
Forced to leave his family behind, Aeham sought out a safe place for them to call home and build a better life, taking solace in the indestructible bond between fathers and sons to keep moving forward. Heart-wrenching yet ultimately full of hope, and told in a raw and poignant voice, The Pianist from Syria is a gripping portrait of one man’s search for a peaceful life for his family and of a country being torn apart as the world watches in horror.
In 2012, Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head at point-blank range while riding the bus home from school, and few expected her to survive. Instead, her recovery has taken her on an extraordinary journey from a remote valley in northern Pakistan to the halls of the United Nations in New York. At just sixteen years old, Malala became a global symbol of peaceful protest. This inspiring story is one of great strength as a family is uprooted by global terrorism while their daughter joins the fight for girls’ education.
When the Taliban took control of the Swat Valley in Pakistan, fifteen-year-old Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head after she refused to be silenced or give up her right to go to school. Her memoir is the remarkable story of a family uprooted by global terrorism. I Am Malala will make you believe in the power of one person’s voice to inspire change in the world.
DEAR DIARY BOY is a shocking memoir that provides a glimpse into the world of traditional Japanese education. When her five-year-old son passed the entrance exams to one of Japan’s top private elementary schools, Makihara, a single mother, thought they were set. But things did not turn out as dazzling as she had hoped. This memoir illustrates how the school’s hypercompetitive environment mirrors what faced by parents in the US and raises the same questions about the best way to educate a child. Both heartwarming and heartbreaking, this story will resonate with all parents.
"A heart-wrenching, revelatory and shocking memoir that opens a fascinating window into the world of traditional Japanese education." —Amy Chua, author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother and Political Tribes
An intensely personal, heartwarming, and heartbreaking chronicle of one mother and child’s struggle to fit in at a prestigious private elementary school in Japan.
When her five-year-old son passed the rigorous entrance exams to one of Japan's top private elementary schools, Makihara, a single mother, thought they were on their way. Taro would wear the historic dark blue uniform and learn alongside other little Einsteins while she basked in the glory of his high achievements with the other perfect moms. Together they would climb the rungs into the country's successful elite.
But it didn't turn out that way. Taro had other things in mind. While set in Japan, their struggles in the school's hyper-competitive environment mirror those faced by parents here in the US and raise the same questions about the best way to educate a child—especially one that doesn’t quite fit the mold. Public or private? Competitive or nurturing? Standardized or individualized. Helicopter parenting or free-range? Amid this frenzied debate, how does one find balance and maintain a healthy parent-child relationship?
Dear Diary Boy is an intensely personal, heartwarming, and heartbreaking chronicle of one mother and child's experience in a prestigious private Tokyo school. It's a tale that will resonate with all parents as we try to answer the age-old questions of how best to educate our children and what, truly, is in their best interests versus what is in our own.
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