When times get tough, it can be hard to figure out how to work through those emotions. If you’ve exhausted your usual pick-me-ups, try one of these reads. These guardian angels in book form are so full of hope and emotion that you’ll feel as if the author is some otherworldly spirit sharing their wisdom. Though some are tough reads that tackle difficult themes, they’re important and may just help you work through troubles of your own.
Sonya Chung’s LONG FOR THIS WORLD captures the immigrant’s conflict of yearning to have more than your world can offer and yet not wanting to leave behind the life you have loved. Fifty years ago, Han Hyun-kyu’s family uprooted themselves from a small town in Korea and journeyed to the U.S. with their eyes set on a more prosperous future. Now, after tragedy strikes and causes him to question what heritage, culture, and family all mean to him, Han Hyun-kyu decides he wants to return to Korea and settle back into that same small town he came from. This novel reminds us of our roots and that, in the wake of disaster, we still have much to be grateful for.
Pushcart Prize nominee Sonya Chung has displayed her stunning talent in her award-winning short fiction and essays. Now, she renders the compelling story of a troubled family straddling cultures, fleeing and searching, in her piercing and profoundly humane first novel.
In 1953, on a small island in Korea, a young boy stows away on the ferry that is carrying his older brother and his wife to the mainland. Fifty-two years later, Han Hyun-kyu is on a plane flying back to Korea, leaving behind his own wife in America. It is his daughter, Jane a war photographer recently injured in a bombing in Baghdad and forced to return to New York who journeys to find him in the small town in South Korea where his brothers have settled. Here, father and daughter take refuge from their demons, flirt with passion, and, in the wake of tragedy, discover something deeper and more enduring than they could have imagined.
Just as Monica Ali's Brick Lane introduced readers to a world that is both exotic and immediate, Long for This World illuminates the complexities and the richness of family bonds and establishes Chung as an exciting new voice in fiction.
Lucas Goodgame is the sole survivor of a tragic massacre in his small town of Majestic, Pennsylvania. Though the rest of the town sees him as a hero, Lucas is simply haunted by the ghost of his deceased wife—who he insists visits him each night as an angel—as he navigates through his crippling grief. His journey falls in line with that of the town pariah, Eli, who also struggles with mixed emotions of pain and anger. Together, they learn through the intense drama of WE ARE THE LIGHT that each person has their own unique path in managing agony, a lesson that each and every reader can apply to their own lives.
From Matthew Quick, the New York Times bestselling author of The Silver Linings Playbook—made into the Academy Award–winning movie starring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper—comes a poignant and hopeful novel about a widower who takes in a grieving teenager and inspires a magical revival in their small town.
Lucas Goodgame lives in Majestic, Pennsylvania, a quaint suburb that has been torn apart by a recent tragedy. Everyone in Majestic sees Lucas as a hero—everyone, that is, except Lucas himself. Insisting that his deceased wife, Darcy, visits him every night in the form of an angel, Lucas spends his time writing letters to his former Jungian analyst, Karl. It is only when Eli, an eighteen-year-old young man whom the community has ostracized, begins camping out in Lucas’s backyard that an unlikely alliance takes shape and the two embark on a journey to heal their neighbors and, most importantly, themselves.
From Matthew Quick, whose work has been described by the Boston Herald as “like going to your favorite restaurant. You just know it is going to be good,” We Are the Light is an unforgettable novel about the quicksand of grief and the daily miracle of love. The humorous, soul-baring story of Lucas Goodgame offers an antidote to toxic masculinity and celebrates the healing power of art. In this tale that will stay with you long after the final page is turned, Quick reminds us that life is full of guardian angels.
Sephiri is a boy with autism who lives in a world of his own imagination, as he does not understand how to cope with the distress of the real world. Back in reality, Sephiri’s mother, Brenda, is struggling to connect with her son while being burdened by all of the other challenges that come with single motherhood, as Sephiri’s father, Horus, has been imprisoned with a life sentence. Though Horus is incarcerated, he is able to reach Sephiri through the power of mental abilities, placing himself in Sephiri’s imaginative world—a world to which Brenda escapes as well. Morowa Yejide’s TIME OF THE LOCUST can seem unrelentingly dark at certain moments, but as each member of the family escapes their unique prisons, a sense of hope and light emerges.
A deeply imaginative debut novel about a family in crisis, Time of the Locust “deftly brings together the fantastic and the realistic, and touches on a variety of issues, from politics, race, and murder to disability, domestic tragedy, and myth…[and] spins them with gold and possibility” (The Washington Post).
Sephiri is an autistic boy who lives in a world of his own making, where he dwells among imagined sea creatures that help him process information in the “real world” in which he is forced to live. But lately he has been having dreams of a mysterious place, and he starts creating fantastical sketches of this strange, inner world.
Brenda, Sephiri’s mother, struggles with raising her challenged child alone. Her only wish is to connect with him—a smile on his face would be a triumph. Sephiri’s father, Horus, is serving a life sentence in prison, making the days even lonelier for Brenda and Sephiri. Yet prison is still not enough to separate father and son. In the seventh year of his imprisonment and at the height of his isolation, Horus develops extraordinary mental abilities that allow him to reach his son. Memory and yearning carry him outside his body, and through the realities of their ordeals and dreamscape, Horus and Sephiri find each other—and find hope in ways never imagined.
Deftly portrayed by the remarkably talented Morowa Yejidé, this “unique and astounding debut” (New York Times bestselling author Lalita Tademy) is a harrowing, mystical, and redemptive journey toward the union of a family.
Celona Shannon was abandoned at the local YMCA when she was born. Why? Y by Marjorie Celona explores the reasons why people choose the paths they choose and how, sometimes, there may not be an answer to that critical question. This novel follows the incidents leading up to the abandonment—Shannon’s biological mother, Yula, has faced her own series of heartbreaking hardships—as well as the montage of foster homes, neglect, and survival that Shannon endures throughout her young life. It’s a story that examines choices and circumstances, all while teaching the importance of forgiveness.
“A gorgeous, moving debut.…Marjorie Celona writes with acute sensitivity to how a child sees her world and renders a character readers will love in all her glorious self-doubt” (The Boston Globe).
Marjorie Celona’s internationally acclaimed debut, longlisted for the Giller Prize, chronicles a wise-beyond-her-years child abandoned as a newborn on the doorstep of the local YMCA.
Growing up in foster homes, Shannon chooses to define life on her own terms, but she never stops wondering why she was abandoned. Brilliantly interwoven with Shannon’s story is the tale of her mother, Yula, a girl herself who is facing a desperate fate in the hours and days leading up to Shannon’s birth. As past and present converge, Celona’s beautiful novel tells an unforgettable story of identity, inheritance, and, ultimately, forgiveness.
Loss has plagued the Jacobs family following the suicide of Sophie, eldest daughter of Joan and Anders and sister to two young girls, Eve and Eloise. In their mourning, the family unfortunately encounters another tragedy: the untimely death of a young local boy named James Favazza. As the stories of the two deceased youths unfold, each family deals with grief in their own way. If you’ve ever found yourself questioning “why?” to the hardships in your life, Elizabeth Hartley Winthrop’s THE WHY OF THINGS can shed some light on the uncertainties of life and how to cope with the unknown.
“A fast-paced, entertaining summer read” (People), The Why of Things is a “keenly observed” and “richly drawn” (The New York Times) novel about a family fighting towards hope in the wake of a terrible tragedy.
Since the loss of her seventeen-year-old daughter less than a year ago, Joan Jacobs has struggled to keep her tight-knit family from coming apart. But Joan and Anders, her husband, are unable to snap back into the familiarity and warmth they so desperately need, both for themselves and for their surviving daughters, Eve and Eloise. The family flees to their summer home in search of peace and renewal, only to encounter an eerily similar tragedy when a pickup truck drives into the quarry in their backyard killing a young local named James Favazza.
As the Jacobs family learns more about the inexplicable events that preceded that fateful evening, each of them becomes increasingly tangled in the emotional threads of James’s story: fifteen-year-old Eve is determined to solve, on her own, the mystery of his death; Anders finds himself facing his own deepest fears; and seven-year-old Eloise unwittingly adopts James’s orphaned dog. For her part, Joan becomes increasingly fixated on James’s mother, a stranger whose sudden loss so closely mirrors her own.
With an urgent, beautiful intimacy that her fans have come to expect from this “bitingly intelligent writer” (The New York Times), Elizabeth Hartley Winthrop delivers here a powerful, buoyant novel that explores the complexities of family relationships and the small triumphs that can bring unexpected healing. The Why of Things is a wise, empathetic, and exquisitely heartfelt story about the strength of family bonds. It is an unforgettable and searing tour de force.
This guardian angel of a novel can shed some wisdom when it comes to loss, adjusting to new lives, and letting go. A QUIET LIFE follows the lives of three individuals, each of whom is grappling with their own issues: Chuck does not know how he could possibly go on his annual relaxation trip after his wife died just months prior; Ella is anxiously waiting for news about her missing daughter as she copes with moving to a new city; and Kirsten finds herself changing career paths after the sudden death of her father, but she can’t seem to let go of her old dreams. These parallel stories can teach us all how to both feel the intensity of our emotions but also have the strength to go on living despite the hardships.
From the author of A Little Hope—a Read with Jenna Bonus Pick—comes an enormously powerful and life-affirming novel about three individuals whose lives intersect in unforeseen ways.
Set in a close-knit Pennsylvania suburb in the grip of winter, A Quiet Life follows three people grappling with loss and finding a tender wisdom in their grief.
Chuck Ayers used to look forward to nothing so much as his annual trip to Hilton Head with his wife, Cat—that yearly taste of relaxation they’d become accustomed to in retirement, after a lifetime of working and raising two children. Now, just months after Cat’s death, Chuck finds that he can’t let go of her things—her favorite towel, the sketchbooks in her desk drawer—as he struggles to pack for a trip he can’t imagine taking without her.
Ella Burke delivers morning newspapers and works at a bridal shop to fill her days while she anxiously awaits news—any piece of information—about her missing daughter. Ella adjusts to life in a new apartment and answers every call on her phone, hoping her daughter will reach out one day.
After the sudden death of her father, Kirsten Bonato set aside her veterinary school aspirations, finding comfort in the steady routine of working at an animal shelter. But as time passes, old dreams and new romantic interests begin to surface—and Kirsten finds herself at another crossroads.
In this beautifully crafted and profoundly moving novel, three parallel narratives converge in poignant and unexpected ways, as each character bravely presses onward, trying to recover something they have lost. Emotionally riveting and infused with hope, A Quiet Life celebrates humanity in the midst of uncertainty.
Adrian Mandrick is addicted to painkillers and birdwatching—the former threatens the perfect white-picket-fence life he’s built for himself, while the latter presents an opportunity. His long list of 863 correctly identified and cataloged bird species is the third longest in the world, but when the second-place birder unexpectedly dies, Adrian mysteriously receives an anonymous tip about an extremely rare bird that could help him take first place: the elusive ivory-billed woodpecker. Though he tries to use his hobby as a distraction from the crushing responsibilities of juggling his pill problem, family turmoil, and unresolved trauma, Adrian’s life is falling apart while he chases after the woodpecker. THE LIFE LIST OF ADRIAN MANDRICK serves as a reminder that we cannot always run from our problems and that, perhaps, the wisest solution of all is to escape from escapism.
“With a birder’s eye for detail, White takes us on [Adrian Mandrick’s] painful, near death descent…[her] life-affirming conclusion reminds us that endangered species aren’t the only ones that need to change and adapt in order to survive.”—The New York Times Book Review
H Is for Hawk meets Grief Is the Thing with Feathers in this evocative debut novel about a pill-popping anesthesiologist and avid birder who embarks on a quest to find one of the world’s rarest species, allowing nothing to get in his way—until he’s forced to confront his obsessions and what they’ve cost him.
Adrian Mandrick seems to have his life in perfect order with an excellent job in a Colorado hospital, a wife and two young children he loves deeply, and a serious passion for birding. His life list comprises 863 species correctly identified and cataloged—it is, in fact, the third longest list in the North American region.
But Adrian holds dark secrets about his childhood—secrets that threaten to consume him after he’s contacted by his estranged mother, and subsequently relapses into an addiction to painkillers. In the midst of his downward spiral, the legendary birder with the region’s second-longest life list dies suddenly, and Adrian receives an anonymous tip that could propel him to the very top: the extremely rare Ivory-billed Woodpecker, spotted deep in the swamplands of Florida’s Panhandle.
Combining sharp, elegant prose with environmental adventure, The Life List of Adrian Mandrick is a poignant, engaging story that heralds the arrival of a new literary talent.
Sometimes to survive, what you need most is willpower. Growing up in a rough housing project in Nottingham, England, Kerrie-Ann reminds herself of that fact as she has had to deal drugs from a very young age in order to provide for her little brother—a responsibility thrust upon her because her father is gone and her mother is spiraling in addiction. As she powers through a world that is plagued with violence, rape, murder, and suicides, she is still hopeful that there is a better life out there. Edgy and dark, almost disturbing in some moments, THE KILLING JAR follows the growth of Kerrie-Ann from curious and naive young girl to a complex and mature young woman. This may be a tough read that will have you questioning your faith in humanity, but ultimately, as you root for Kerrie-Ann, you learn that sometimes, all you can do is try to make the most of what you have.
In her stunning debut, Nicola Monaghan lays bare the gritty underbelly of life in Nottingham, England.
Very early on, Kerrie-Ann begins to dream of the world beyond the rough council estate where she lives. Her father is nowhere to be found, her mother is a junkie, and she is left to care for her little brother. Clever, brave, and frighteningly independent, Kerrie-Ann has an unbreakable will to survive. She befriends her eccentric, elderly neighbor, who teaches her about butterflies, the Amazon, and life outside of her tough neighborhood. But even as Kerrie-Ann dreams of a better life she becomes further entangled in the cycles of violence and drugs that rule the estate.
Brilliant, brutal, and tender, The Killing Jar introduces a brave new voice in fiction. Nicola Monaghan's devastating prose tells an unforgettable story of violence, love, and hope.
THE MAP OF SALT AND STARS tells two parallel stories across time, connecting the narratives through poetic writing, familial themes, and, of course, intricate maps. In 2011, Nour, who visualizes experiences as colors because of her synesthesia, returns to Syria to be with her family after the passing of her father. As a result of the country’s civil war, Nour’s home is destroyed and her family faces an impossible decision: stay and try to rebuild, or flee for safety as refugees. Facing the same struggle of leaving home—but more than 800 years prior to Nour’s story—is Rawiya, a sixteen-year-old daughter of a widow, who adventures out of North Africa seeking fortune and help for her impoverished mother. She disguises herself as a boy and becomes a mapmaker’s apprentice to make an epic journey across the Middle East. Many years apart, these two young women travel the same route, both searching for a sense of home within the salt and the stars.
In Tamil Nadu, India, a boy named Kalki is believed to be the tenth human incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu. Kalki, born with blue skin, spends his entire childhood visited by those who seek blessings and divine guidance as his father spreads word of his son worldwide. Despite being able to seemingly heal those in need, Kalki’s godly ways are simply lies created by his family for profit and fame. As Kalki’s innocence fades with age, he begins to question the religious world his father has thrust him into and the role that patriarchal dominance has played in his life—questions that begin to tear down everyone in his family. BLUE-SKINNED GODS is a discussion of ethnicity, gender, faith, and sexuality, and provides guiding insights for any reader struggling with their own identity
Photo credit: iStock / Anastasiia Stiahailo