Optimists Die First by Susin Nielsen

optimistsdiefirst
This post contains affiliate links.

Originally published: 2017

What it’s about: A teen girl who is working through the grief and guilt of losing her baby sister.

What made me pick it up: I was reading The Kite Runner when I just got really sick of what a fucking bummer it was so I went looking for a lighter book and stumbled upon this YA novel in audio on OverDrive. On double speed you’ll get through it in just a couple hours.

My favorite parts: I enjoyed the authentic depictions of various types of grieving and the discussion of and character arrivals at forgiveness. The relationships between all the teen characters were great, and very realistic. I appreciated the way it dealt with heavy themes in a hopeful way and didn’t feel like it was including horrific incidents just for show (looking at you, Kite Runner). It reminded me of Sarah Dessen novels mixed with just a smidgen of John Green.

Who it’s great for: Anyone struggling through something heavy who wants a break. Those looking for a quick, engaging read.

Erica’s rating: three-and-a-half-shells


Find this book on Amazon or in your local library.


 

Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown

Originally published: 2017

What it’s about: Prolific author Brown tackles how to find true belonging by being your authentic self.

What made me pick it up: I love love love Brown and her works. She is a personal hero of mine and I always feel empowered and slightly shaken by her books. I recommend them to everyone so when I found out about this I grabbed it asap.

My favorite parts: This book was very powerful in a quiet, personal way. If you have ever tried to speak out and stand your truth and been ridiculed or worse, then you have an inkling of what she’s talking about in this book. Yet, she encourages you to do even more of just that. And if you haven’t experienced it, she makes the strong case for beginning. Being kind but fierce and living our truth are points she really hammers home but she has such a inviting way of phrasing that you’ll be thoroughly convinced and ready to give it a go. I may have teared up at the line “No one belongs here more than you.”

Who it’s great for: Anyone who needs a pick me up or a reminder that you are great the way you are. People who feel we’re too divided and want to find our way back together.

Erica’s rating: four-shells


Find this book in your local library or on Amazon (affiliate link).


 

White Working Class by Joan C. Williams

wwc
This post contains affiliate links.

Originally published in: 2017

What it’s about: A very astute explanation of the reasons for the class divide among white voters in America and how it can be bridged.

What made me pick it up: I had read White Trash and was intrigued by this one which seemed to be similar in theme, if not scope.

My favorite things: I appreciated Williams even-handed explanation of this divide and very easy to understand explanations of how and why the White Working Class votes. As someone who grew up smack in the middle of a WWC area I saw firsthand a lot of these beliefs and behaviors demonstrated both pre- and post-election in 2016. For those without a thorough upbringing or understanding of these folks this is a great read. More than anything I identify strongly with her plea that we pursue social and economic opportunity for all — which will work to alleviate issues besides class problems, like sexism and racism (to a point).

Who it’s great for: Readers looking to understand working class Americans and why their actions don’t always mesh with their interests. Anyone who needs a reminder that we’re all in this together, or at least we should be. You. READ IT.

Erica’s rating: five-shells


Find this in your local library or on Amazon.


 

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

9780008220563
This post contains affiliate links.

Originally published in: 2016

What it’s about: Think Winter’s Bone meets a politician’s pre-campaign book release and that’s pretty much what you’ve got.

What made me pick it up: Let me start by saying that I’m not from Appalachia, but I grew up in a much more economically stable (read: college town) community nearby. Growing up I was acutely aware that there was a sharp economic and cultural divide between families associated with the university and those from working-class backgrounds that had been around for generations. That is to say that I am not from the community Vance is discussing, but I have lived most of my life in close proximity to another part of Appalachia and have been consistently disappointed with the way it is represented and talked down to by people who want to ‘save’ it. When I saw the rave reviews for Hillbilly Elegy I was excited to read a voice from within Appalachia speaking about it.

My favorite things: Okaaaay. I did not love this book. I probably should have read reviews a bit more closely, but I wasn’t prepared for this book to be quite so politically charged as it is. Maybe I read it this way because I am inclined to disagree with nearly all of his conclusions, but it seems to me that Vance has incredibly little compassion for the members of a community he professes to love. Vance spends the first chunk of the book singing the praises of his hillbilly Mamaw and Papaw and then subtly, and perhaps not intentionally, turns toward a much more critical discussion of the challenges faced by these communities. What I am struggling with the most is that this book is being read and celebrated as universally true for people from Appalachian communities when it is definitely not. Vance’s Appalachia is comprised of people who would rather talk about working hard than actually work hard, suffer addiction due to poor choices, and are – apparently – all white.

Abby recommends: Look, everybody seems to be reading this book right now and many are taking it as a universal truth for Appalachian life and poverty. So, definitely read this, but then read bell hooks’ poetry in Appalachian Elegy.


Get this book on Amazon or at your local library.


 

Stella By Starlight by Sharon M. Draper

stella

Originally published in: 2016

What it’s about: An 11-year-old African-American girl named Stella growing up in a small North Carolina town in the 1930s and all the challenges she and her family and other African-Americans in her town face.

What made me pick it up: It came up when I placed another book on hold as a suggestion, but I can’t remember what that book was anymore. I’ll pick up almost any title with racial justice themes these days, so I think that may have played a role.

My favorite things: The language in this book is beautiful. I liked how just because it’s a children’s book it didn’t shy away from brutality and injustice to favor a happy ending. The depictions of bravery by young children like Stella, and family and community are very heartwarming and heart wrenching all at once.

Who it’s great for: Anyone interested in the poor treatment of African-Americans in the south during the Jim Crow era.

Erica’s rating: four-and-a-half-shells


Find this book in your local library or on Amazon(affiliate link).


 

The Universe in Your Hand by Christophe Galfard

universe

Originally published in: 2015

What it’s about: Galfard, protégé to renowned astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, takes readers on a journey through space to broaden their understanding.

What made me pick it up: I saw my coworker checking out the audio CDs from the library and I loved the font on the cover and then I saw the word universe and got my Google on. Another book about astrophysics? Yes please!

My favorite part: Galfard brings together imagination and analogy to help readers visualize complex astrophysical concepts. It also contains a fair bit of humor. I just love all the different books about these concepts and gobble them up. This one definitely had me texting friends things like “part of space is opaque” when I read interesting new tidbits. I still can’t totally explain string theory to dinner party guests but this book was fun and I’m recommending it to everyone.

Who it’s great for: Space nerds. Science geeks. People like me who have wandered into an astrophysics book bunny trail and want to keep going.

Erica’s rating: four-shells


Find this book on Amazon (affiliate link) or in your local library.


 

Bad Guy by Hannah Barnaby

badguy

Originally published in: 2017

What it’s about: A picture book about a young boy determined to be bad.

What made me pick it up: I like Barnaby’s work. I’ve only read her YA novels and was excited to get my hands on this, her first picture book. I heard her talk about the process of writing it a few years ago and am excited to see the finished product.

My favorite things: This book will remind you what it was like if you used to be a headstrong, mischievous child. The little boy hellbent on becoming a villain is fun. My most favorite part, though, is the end where he discovers a partner in crime in the most unexpected person. I also enjoyed the subtle send up to Bond villains in the illustrations.

Who it’s great for: Bad kids who grew up. Good kids who think they are or wish they were bad. Anyone with a healthy sense of imagination.

Erica’s rating: four-shells


Find this book on Amazon (affiliate link) or in your local library.


 

Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins

gregor

Originally published in: 2003

What it’s about: A teen boy and his two-year-old sister fall down an air vent in the laundry room of their NYC apartment building and land in a new world where they have to end a war and rescue their father to get back to the surface.

What made me pick it up: Abby told me to read it because it was good.

My favorite things: This book was so much fun! It’s full of action and adventure and authentic emotion. It has well-depicted family ties and fully fleshed out characters. It had me tearing up in parts and the action was so well paced that I was willing to overlook the minor predictability. In addition to the pace, I really enjoyed Gregor’s process of learning just how strong and capable he is. I can’t wait to read the rest in this series!

Who it’s great for: Young Harry Potter readers searching for a similar title. Readers of all ages looking for a little adventure.

Erica’s rating: four-and-a-half-shells


Find this book on Amazon(affiliate link) or in your local library.