Life can be so incredibly crazy, especially these days. Whenever I feel like the world is spinning too fast around me, I pick up a book to bring some sense of stability. One of the most grounding things about books is how they have the power to make me feel seen. Nothing is quite as comforting as diving into a new world with a whole crew of characters who are just as chaotic and confused as I am—and then watching them complete their journey of growth and healing. Here are some of my favorite stories that felt so relatable, I thought the author was peering into my own thoughts.
Finishing anything Taylor Jenkins Reid writes always leaves me feeling so much and wanting to read more of her work. MAYBE IN ANOTHER LIFE follows the two potential paths twenty-nine-year-old Hannah Martin could travel. After coming back to her hometown and moving in with her best friend, Gabby, she runs into her high school boyfriend at a bar. They catch up all night and, when closing time rolls around, she hesitates between leaving with him or going home with Gabby. As Hannah considers each potential decision, her story showcases the wonders of friendship and acts as a perfect reminder never to get lost in the what-ifs of life—everything will work out in the end.
This pandemic has turned everyone’s world upside down, including the narrator of DELPHI by Clare Pollard. This novel captures the tedious balance of mania, restlessness, and urgency of the unprecedented times we’ve been experiencing without feeling dreary and hopeless. The unnamed narrator is a mother and wife who finds herself immersed in different ways to predict the future. Her search to find something to believe in is one, I’m sure, we can all relate to.
For readers of Jenny Offill, Deborah Levy, and Olivia Laing, an exquisite debut novel about a classics academic researching prophecy in the ancient world, just as the pandemic descends and all visions of her own family’s future begin to blur.
Covid-19 has arrived in London, and the entire world quickly succumbs to the surreal, chaotic mundanity of screens, isolation, and the disasters small and large that have plagued recent history. As our unnamed narrator—a classics academic immersed in her studies of ancient prophecies—navigates the tightening grip of lockdown, a marriage in crisis, and a ten-year-old son who seems increasingly unreachable, she becomes obsessed with predicting the future. Shifting her focus from chiromancy (prophecy by palm reading) to zoomancy (prophecy by animal behavior) to oenomancy (prophecy by wine), she fails to notice the future creeping into the heart of her very own home, and when she finally does, the threat has already breached the gates.
Brainy and ominous, funny and sharp, Delphi is a snapshot and a time capsule—it both demythologizes our current moment and places our reality in the context of myth. Clare Pollard has delivered one of our first great novels of this terrible moment, a mesmerizing story of our pasts, our presents, and our futures, and how we keep on living in a world that is ever-more uncertain and absurd.
Mele is the single mom of a toddler and she’s looking for a playgroup for her daughter. What she wasn’t expecting to find along the way was an intimate camaraderie with the mothers of the playgroup. HOW TO PARTY WITH AN INFANT is a poignant story about the intricacies of mommyhood and, while we might not all be able to relate to that aspect, at its core, this book is about the pressures of the world around you and the competitiveness that can sometimes wind its way into every part of our lives. As we follow Mele’s story, along with those of the other parents in the group, we see that each person has their own inner demons; whether it’s trying to figure it all out and fit into a group or wondering if your body will ever feel like it’s your own again, Kaui Hart Hemmings captures it all.
“Mommyhood gets hilariously tricky in this novel from the author of The Descendents” (Cosmopolitan). How to Party With an Infant follows a quirky single mom who finds friendship and love in this “smart, funny send-up of modern motherhood, San Francisco-style” (San Francisco Chronicle).
When Mele Bart told her boyfriend Bobby she was pregnant with his child, he stunned her with an announcement of his own: he was engaged to someone else.
Fast forward two years, Mele’s daughter Ellie is a toddler, and Bobby and his fiancée want Ellie to be the flower girl at their wedding. Mele, who also has agreed to attend the nuptials, knows she can’t continue obsessing about Bobby and his cheese making, Napa-residing, fiancée. She needs something to do. So she answers a questionnaire provided by the San Francisco Mommy Club in elaborate and shocking detail and decides to enter their cookbook writing contest. Even though she joined the group out of desperation, Mele has found her people: Annie, Barrett, Georgia, and Henry (a stay-at-home dad). As the wedding date approaches, Mele uses her friends’ stories to inspire recipes and find comfort, both.
The “delicious” (The Seattle Times) How to Party with an Infant is a hilarious and poignant novel from Kaui Hart Hemmings, who has an uncanny ability to make disastrous romances and tragic circumstances not only relatable and funny, but unforgettable. “[Hemmings] perfectly captures modern parenthood among the privileged and, with moments of concise poignancy, the silent shames of motherhood...The pleasure of Hemmings’s levity and wisdom more than sustain the reader. We cheer for her warm, self-deprecating characters and hope they continue to laugh together instead of crying alone” (The New York Times Book Review).
Some of my favorite stories revolve around the importance and value of friendship. PONTI by Sharlene Teo seems like it’s a teen coming-of-age novel, but it’s that and so much more. Set in modern-day Singapore and told from three different perspectives and time frames, this book follows Szu, a teenage girl who has always lived in the shadow of her mother; Amisa, a beautiful and talented former actress; and Szu’s new friend, Circe. Covering everything from awkwardness and aging to success and failure, PONTI is a special book that anyone and everyone will be able to find themselves in.
An award-winning novel about the value of friendships in present-day Singapore—a “stirring debut…relatable yet unsettling [that] smartly captures earnest teenage myopathy through a tumultuous high school relationship” (Publishers Weekly, starred review).
“I am Miss Frankenstein, I am the bottom of the bell curve.” So declares Szu, a teenager living in a dark, dank house on a Singapore cul-de-sac, at the beginning of this richly atmospheric and endlessly surprising tale of non-belonging and isolation.
Friendless and fatherless, Szu lives in the shadow of her mother Amisa, once a beautiful actress—who gained fame for her portrayal of a ghost—and now a hack medium performing séances with her sister in a rusty house. When Szu meets the privileged, acid-tongued Circe, an unlikely encounter develops into a fraught friendship that will haunt them both for decades to come.
With remarkable emotional acuity, dark comedy, and in vivid prose, Sharlene Teo’s Ponti traces the suffocating tangle the lives of four misfits, women who need each other as much as they need to find their own way. It is “at once a subtle critique of the pressures of living in a modern Asian metropolis; a record of the swiftness and ruthlessness with which Southeast Asia has changed over the last three decades; a portrait of the old juxtaposed with the new (and an accompanying dialogue between nostalgia and cynicism); an exploration of the relationship between women against the backdrop of social change; and, occasionally, a love story—all wrapped up in the guise of a teenage coming-of-age novel…Teo is brilliant” (The Guardian).
Brutally honest, hilarious, insightful, and eye-opening are the best ways to describe GROWN UPS by Emma Jane Unsworth. Jenny is in her mid-thirties and feels like she’s falling apart as she tries to heal from a breakup. Heightening the tension and relatability even more is her attachment to social media and the expectations that people on the social apps have for the lifestyle choices of others. This witty book manages to perfectly encapsulate the realities of the social media age we are all experiencing and will make you question how much you let yourself dive into this digital reality.
“[E]ssential reading for our dismal times.” —The Wall Street Journal
One of Bustle’s “Most Anticipated Books of Summer 2020”
PopSugar’s “26 Incredible New Books Coming Your Way This August”
Good Housekeeping’s “25 New Fall Books You Have to Read This Season”
Lit Hub’s “Most Anticipated Books of 2020”
Fleabag meets Conversations with Friends in this brutally honest, observant, original novel about a woman going through a breakup…but really having more of a breakdown.
Jenny McLaine’s life is falling apart. Her friendships are flagging. Her body has failed her. She’s just lost her column at The Foof because she isn’t the fierce voice new feminism needs. Her ex has gotten together with another woman. And worst of all: Jenny’s mother is about to move in. Having left home at eighteen to remake herself as a self-sufficient millennial, Jenny is now in her thirties and nothing is as she thought it would be. Least of all adulthood.
Told in live-wire prose, texts, emails, script dialogue, and social media messages, Grown Ups is a neurotic dramedy of 21st-century manners for the digital age. It reckons with what it means to exist in a woman’s body: to sing and dance and work and mother and sparkle and equalize and not complain and be beautiful and love your imperfections and stay strong and show your vulnerability and bake and box…
But, despite our impossible expectations of women, Emma Jane Unsworth never lets Jenny off the hook. Jenny’s life is falling apart at her own hands and whether or not she has help from her mother or her friends, Jenny is the only one who will be able to pick up the pieces and learn how to, more or less, grow up. Or will she?
PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER is a book that will always feel like someone dove into my head and made a story with what they found. Stephen Chbosky’s 1999 debut novel is the perfect coming-of-age story for anyone who felt like they were lost in the background of the tumultuous ups and downs of high school. Charlie’s story is one that will make you laugh, cry, and everything in between. It is also the origin of one of my most quoted lines: “We accept the love we think we deserve . . .” I mean, how can you read those eight powerful words and not want to lose yourself in the book that they came from?
GONE by Cathi Hanauer is another book that covers the familiar feeling of having your life turned upside down. When her husband disappears, forty-two-year-old Eve Adams is forced to hold her family together while she tries to grapple with the unknown of what happened. It is a touching story about relationships, forgiveness, and the heartbreaking question of when to let go, which is something we all have had to ask ourselves at least once in our lives.
From the editor of the New York Times bestselling essay anthology The Bitch in the House and the novel Sweet Ruin comes a heart-pounding drama about a woman who must hold her family together after her husband disappears.
Called “beautiful, complicated, and often funny” by O, The Oprah Magazine, “clear-eyed” by Vanity Fair, and “rich with relatable characters” by Kirkus Reviews, Cathi Hanauer’s stirring novel is about redefining, in middle age, one’s marriage, one’s career, and even one’s role as parent and friend.
For fourteen years, Eve Adams has worked part-time while raising her two children and emotionally supporting her sculptor husband, Eric. Now, at forty-two, she has a growing private nutritionist practice and a book deal, and Eric’s once-thriving career has hit a slump. When he simply does not come home one night, Eve is forced to shift her family in possibly irreparable ways and to realize that competence in one area of life doesn’t always keep things from unraveling in another.