What it’s about: A woman’s first year living with stage IV, incurable cancer and the insidious aphorisms she has always told herself that she now must confront – like the book title.
What made me pick it up: I was scrolling through Twitter and saw her TED talk. So I watched it and then I googled and learned about this book.
My favorite parts: In the vein of other books which I have loved, like When Breath Becomes Air and The Bright Hour, this is a beautiful examination of life, and figuring out the important parts, and learning how to go forward even though you won’t necessarily live to see the grown up dreams from the seeds you’ve planted. Unlike those other two books, this isn’t about someone who is dying – at least not yet. It is about someone who is living with a disease that will likely end her life sooner than she ever expected, but maybe not as soon as she thinks. You will cry along with Bowler as she lives for two months at a time, between scans, and as she decides what legacies to start building for her young son and beloved husband. More than anything it will remind you to live more fully in the present since it is truly all the precious time we are guaranteed.
Who it’s great for: Anyone, especially those looking for truth after a difficult diagnosis.
What it’s about: Memoirist Corrigan uses anecdotes to impart lessons about hard things she’s learning to say.
What made me pick it up: I had listened to her on Jen Hatmaker’s For The Love podcast, and she was irreverent and funny and I wanted to learn/hear more (since she reads the audio).
My favorite parts: This reminded me strongly of The Bright Hour, if it was instead written by a grieving friend. She tells stories about the most ordinary parts of her life – fights with her spouse, disappointing her parents, reckless youthful activities – and you feel like you are having coffee with your bestie. But that’s the gem that is her writing, these tiny parts of each day and each life make up the beautiful whole. It was a great reminder that we’re all trying and if we aren’t perfectly good that doesn’t make us bad and losing people is hard, full stop. Bonus points: It’s also short and has a great cover.
Who it’s great for: Anyone who likes stories with humor and heart.
Originally published in: 2015 (here in the States)
What it’s about: A man who has been grieving (or not so much) his lost love for 20 years by shutting down part of himself and trying to forget, and his path back to life.
What made me pick it up: I had tried to read it once before but was expecting a bit of fluff centered around a female protagonist (for no particular reason) and when I encountered a male one I set it back down. Just couldn’t get into it. Then I got it as a gift for Christmas and gave myself a six-month deadline. Five months in, when I finally picked it up and gave it a try I was quite engaged and it went very quickly.
My favorite things: I absolutely didn’t expect this to fall near my category of grumpy old man books, but it really wasn’t far from it. In that sense it fit my bill. We follow Paris’s Literary Apothecary as he prescribes books for all of life’s ailments, except his own. But once he is force to confront his past loss he…. well, he runs away. Expect to fall wildly in love with the lush description of France’s cities and countryside. You’ll want to throw everything away and rush across the pond to also amble through. Along the way he meets fellow travelers hiding from their own lives and it becomes a tale of becoming, and friendship, and healing. Grief isn’t neat and tidy and its timeline is fluid. I adored how the author presented characters who were decades into their half lives and still solidly grieving. And of course, there are love stories, and tiny surprises, and a lot of forgiveness and compassion and new beginnings. This story will give you hope and do so with stories of the gentlest absurdity that is life. You’ll be thinking of this story long after you finish it.
Who it’s great for: Adults, especially those who feel like they got off track somewhere and are struggling to find the way back.
What it’s about: A novel in verse about a teen boy coping with the sudden loss of his father.
What made me pick it up: I’m a huge fan of Alexander’s and read whatever he puts out. It helped that it was National Poetry Month and I was looking for books in verse.
My favorite parts: I really like the depiction of how sincerely mixed up this boy is since his dad’s death. He’s trying to be good but also he is having trouble coping and expressing his grief especially when everyone around him is afraid to bring up the subject or show their grief, even his mother and friends. Part of his grief is having panic attacks when sirens sound, and I appreciated the description of them and the understanding of the situation by supporting characters. You will really cheer for him to find his way forward with help from good friends and love of family. There is also a positive portrayal of using a journal to express your thoughts and feelings. You might cry — especially if you’ve read The Crossover.
What’s it about: Clayton Byrd loves nothing more than playing his blues harp with grandfather – Cool Papa Byrd. When Cool Papa Byrd passes suddenly Clayton struggles to adjust. He leaves home hoping to catch up with Cool Papa’s band of Bluesmen and finds an unexpected adventure on the way.
My favorite things: There’s a reason why Rita Williams-Garcia has won so many awards – she’s a masterful writer who never shies away from difficult topics. She takes a tale of love, loss, and grief and makes it thrilling but relatable. She weaves music throughout the story, making Clayton’s world come alive. No character is two dimensional, rather, she writes everyone as a full and complex person.
Who it’s great for: Middle-grade readers looking for a story that treats black boys as real people and not as stereotypes. Fans of Williams-Garcia’s other work. Readers interested in the roles music can play in life.
What it’s about: A sixteen-year-old girl who has extreme anxiety which leads to thought spirals that can only be controlled through compulsive, self-harming actions and how she deals with her mental illness while she continues to also be just a normal teen with crushes on boys, a best friend, and straight As in school.
What made me pick it up: John Green is a phenomenal writer who structures his stories so the blows come at you hard and fast at the end and leave you happy/sad and bawling. He just gets teens and how to write them and when I found out he had incorporated aspects of his struggle with mental health into this book I admired him all the more.
My favorite things: My favorite thing is also the thing I hated the most and what made me keep getting exasperated and putting the book down and walking away. Green writes so honestly and in such a raw way about this character’s experience of thought spirals and the compulsive behaviors they lead to which she feels will help that it was hard to read about her suffering. I needed frequent breaks because staying in the fictional situation for too long made me uncomfortable for her and sad for her and in pain for her. It is masterful, but it may be a trigger to some individuals, and it is certainly overwhelming to read if you have any amount of empathy at all. I like how he portrayed it as a struggle by a normal person who has a normal life and only ever aspires to be her authentic, balanced self able to do normal things. Most of all I was brought to tears by the honest depiction of the process of treating and managing a mental illness and the very hard-earned hope that can come from continuing to try.
Who it’s great for: Anyone who has struggled with or known someone who struggled with mental illness. Readers who need hope.
Pick this up in your local library or get a copy online somewhere like Amazon (affiliate link).
What it’s about: A young teen girl dealing with a new school and a new family situation while finding her place on a new track team.
What made me pick it up: I’ve been wanting to read something by this author for a while. When I saw this audio was available I placed a hold.
My favorite parts: As a former track runner I enjoyed the depictions of how important running is for a runner, as well as how much it is a team sport even though it seems so individualistic. Made me want to run a relay again. I also enjoyed how much this was a just a plain every day story about a regular girl and her situation and how she is dealing with it. It was incredibly authentic both in relationships and experiences.
Who it’s great for: Older chapter book readers looking for a good, but realistic, story. Those looking for proof that you can come through any situation. Runners and wannabe runners.
What it’s about: After a tragic loss of her first love, Louna no longer believes in happily ever after which is tough because her day job as a wedding planner has her surrounded by a thousand versions of just that.
What made me pick it up: Sarah Dessen is one of my favorite YA authors and one of my most enjoyed author follows on Twitter. I was excited to learn about this new book and grabbed it as soon as I could.
My favorite parts: Dessen doesn’t shy away from real teen behavior or feelings which I appreciate. Louna has suffered a catastrophic loss and spends her time with two cynical parental figures who no longer believe in love. Her growth throughout the story and courage to be honest with herself and willing to consider love again is powerful. More than anything Dessen shows how sadness and hope go hand-in-hand.
Who it’s great for: Teens of all ages. Dessen fans. Anyone looking for a hopeful love story that stays on the realistic side.
What it’s about: A graphic memoir exploring love, art, loss, memory, and mortality.
What made me pick it up: I can’t seem to pass up a graphic memoir.
My favorite things: Radtke’s art is done in a simple grayscale that perfectly complements her story. I loved the way she tied together her own restlessness with an examination of mortality. The way she chronicles her own loss and grief through a growing fascination with deserted towns is honest and compelling.
Who it’s great for: Readers looking for an engaging exploration of mortality and meaning. Fan’s of artists’ memoirs.
What it’s about: How Sandberg found resilience while grieving the sudden death of her husband. It also has personal stories from other individuals, as well as psychological research on what helps build resilience.
What made me pick it up: This got a lot of good reviews and I’m a big fan of Grant’s (if you haven’t, pick up Originals).
My favorite things: This book is so raw and honest I was in tears in places. Sandberg manages to effectively write about her grieving process and do so while providing hope for others in grief. It was a beautiful combination of vulnerable personal storytelling and incorporation of useful research.
Who it’s great for: Anyone grieving a loss or recovering from trauma. Readers who enjoyed Sandberg’s previous book, Lean In.