As we enter November and approach Thanksgiving, we’re starting to think about what we’re thankful for—a good exercise to find some joy in this crazy year. Of course, for all of us, the answer is: BOOKS. So we decided to narrow it down and dig into what specific characters have especially made a difference in our lives. Here we’ve rounded up those characters that we cherish above all others. Whether their stories have grown with us throughout our childhoods or recently helped us through tough times (or just the tough time that is 2020), these are the inspiring, brave characters that we can’t imagine our lives without.
Courtney’s Pick: Emmie Blue
DEAR EMMIE BLUE is one of those books I wish I could read for the first time again, but I’m also just thankful to have met all these fantastic characters already so I can carry them with me. Author Lia Louis is a beautiful writer, and I was swept up in Emmie Blue’s journey. Her story begins with putting a secret and her email address inside a balloon and sending it across the English Channel—only for it to be found by a boy in France, named Lucas Moreau. Fast-forward fourteen years and Emmie is in love with Lucas, convinced the big question he has to ask her will reveal his love for her. But when things don’t go as planned, Emmie realizes she has neglected other aspects of her life (from her relationship with her mother to her career) in favor of Lucas, and that it’s time to make a change. I love all these characters, and by the end, I felt like I knew them personally. This is one book you don’t want to miss.
“A delightful story about how the things we imagine to be best for us usually aren’t. The reason you will love Dear Emmie Blue is because you’ve probably *lived* Dear Emmie Blue, in some small part of your own journey to adulthood.” —Jodi Picoult, #1 New York Times bestselling author
In this charming and poignant novel, teenager Emmie Blue releases a balloon with her email address and a big secret into the sky, only to fall head-over-heels for the boy who finds it; now, fourteen years later, the one thing Emmie has been counting on is gone for good, and everything she planned is up in the air.
At sixteen, Emmie Blue stood in the fields of her school and released a red balloon into the sky. Attached was her name, her email address…and a secret she desperately wanted to be free of. Weeks later, on a beach in France, Lucas Moreau discovered the balloon and immediately emailed the attached addressed, sparking an intense friendship between the two teens.
Now, fourteen years later, Emmie is hiding the fact that she’s desperately in love with Lucas. She has pinned all her hopes on him and waits patiently for him to finally admit that she’s the one for him. So dedicated to her love for Lucas, Emmie has all but neglected her life outside of this relationship—she’s given up the search for her absentee father, no longer tries to build bridges with her distant mother, and lives as a lodger to an old lady she barely knows after being laid off from her job. And when Lucas tells Emmie he has a big question to ask her, she’s convinced this is the moment he’ll reveal his feelings for her. But nothing in life ever quite goes as planned, does it?
Emmie Blue is about to learn everything she thinks she knows about life (and love) is just that: what she thinks she knows. Is there such thing as meant to be? Or is it true when they say that life is what happens when you are busy making other plans? A story filled with heart and humor, Dear Emmie Blue is perfect for fans of Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine and Evvie Drake Starts Over.
Holly’s Pick: Stargirl
Jerry Spinelli was a staple author on my adolescent bookshelf, with his novel STARGIRL always holding a special place in my heart. In the book, Stargirl was formerly homeschooled, where her quirks and differences were adored and celebrated. But after starting a new life in an Arizona high school, Stargirl begins to stir up the status quo. For starters, her name is far from normal. Despite their initial acceptance, the other students suddenly turn on Stargirl. Throughout the novel she battles the urge to shine as her true self amid the pressures to conform, all while navigating bullies, friendships, and first loves. I’m incredibly thankful to have grown up reading about Stargirl and her persistence through the chaos that is high school.
Anne’s Pick: Queenie
I keep finding myself without copies of QUEENIE because I end up giving the book to my friends, which may be the best endorsement possible. In fact, Candice Carty-Williams has created such a fully realized character that I am delusional enough to think that Queenie Jenkins is my friend. And for that reason, I’m incredibly thankful to her! When we meet Queenie, she is dealing with a messy breakup, unsatisfying hookups, casual workplace racism, and constant judgment from her family. She combats it all with humor, empathy, and, sure . . . sometimes questionable decision-making. But as Queenie confronts her past trauma, I found myself completely overwhelmed with love for her.
Sharon’s Pick: Katniss Everdeen
There’s a reason why I still have my Hunger Games poster on my bedroom door. Although I read the trilogy back in middle school, these books left a lasting impression on me and defined my identity as a reader. What really drew me into the series, besides the tremendous world-building of Suzanne Collins, was Katniss as the lead protagonist. I can’t remember reading a book before THE HUNGER GAMES that had such a strong and crafty female protagonist. She was also written so realistically, from volunteering to save Prim from competing in the Games to becoming an unwilling leader in Panem’s ultimate revolution. Without Katniss and THE HUNGER GAMES, I’d be a much different reader—and person—today.
In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. Long ago the districts waged war on the Capitol and were defeated. As part of the surrender terms, each district agreed to send one boy and one girl to appear in an annual televised event called, "The Hunger Games," a fight to the death on live TV. Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she is forced to represent her district in the Games. The terrain, rules, and level of audience participation may change but one thing is constant: kill or be killed.
Emily’s Pick: Alanna
The Song of the Lioness series by Tamora Pierce was everything to me growing up, and I’m pretty sure Alanna’s stubbornness strongly influenced my own. In this epic four-book fantasy series, Alanna of Trebond longs to be a knight, but only boys are allowed to train. So, in the vein of She’s the Man, she switches places with her twin brother and goes on to become one of the top pages in training in the land of Tortall. The other knights she befriended felt like my own friends (and enemies) and Alanna’s anger at injustices and her refusal to let ridiculous sexist rules prevent her from following her dreams was influential to me in middle school. I’m so thankful to have read these books when I did!
From Tamora Pierce, the first book in the Song of the Lioness Quartet, honored with the Margaret A. Edwards Award.
“From now on I’m Alan of Trebond, the younger twin. I’ll be a knight.”
In a time when girls are forbidden to be warriors, Alanna of Trebond wants nothing more than to be a knight of the realm of Tortall. So she finds a way to switch places with her twin brother, Thom. Disguised as a boy, Alanna begins her training as a page at the palace of King Roald. But the road to knighthood, as she discovers, is not an easy one. Alanna must master weapons, combat, and magic, as well as polite behavior, her temper, and even her own heart.
Filled with swords and sorcery, adventure and intrigue, good and evil, Alanna’s first adventure begins—one that will lead to the fulfillment of her dreams and make her a legend in the land.
photo credit: jacoblund / iStock