Everything Happens for a Reason by Kate Bowler

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Originally published in: 2018

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.

Erica’s rating: four shells

How to Be a Good Creature: A Memoir is Thirteen Animals by Sy Montgomery

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Originally published in: 2018

What’s it about: A memoir told through reflections on life-shaping relationships and interactions with animals.

What made me pick it up:  This book is SO CUTE!

My favorite things: I was pleasantly surprised by how effortlessly readable this was. Montgomery’s anecdotes vary between heartwarming and heartbreaking, but always highlight the importance of connection and family – even when your family doesn’t fit the traditional mold. I also found Rebecca Green’s illustrations to be absolutely charming.

Who it’s great for: Fan’s of Sy Montgomery’s other work. Readers interested in memoirs with unusual structures.

Abby’s rating: four shells


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


 

Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig

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Originally published in: 2015

What’s it about:  The author recounting the horribly debilitating deep depression he unexpectedly sank into in his mid-twenties and the ways he learned to cope with it and eventually, mostly, got better.

What made me pick it up: It was recommended by a blogger on her Instagram.

My favorite things: Haig somehow manages to describe what it feels like inside your head and your body when you are struggling through the heavy darkness that is depression. As someone who has also been nearly lost in the fog before I really appreciated how well articulated this depiction was and the twenty years of distance he needed to be able to write it down. If you’ve never been depressed and have difficulty truly understanding how it could be “that bad”, please pick up this book. He tells what he found helpful for him while emphasizing that mental illness is as individual as we each are, so all treatments should be on the table.

Who it’s great for:  Everyone.

Erica’s rating: four shells


For those who regularly dip into deep depression or are only recently out of one reading this book may be a bit of a trigger. If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or other mental health concerns please seek help. The National Suicide Hotline is 1-800-273-8255. It can sometimes be hard to believe, but the darkness will not last. It does get better.


 

The Girl Who Smiled Beads by Clemantine Wamariya

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Originally published in: 2018

What it’s about: The author’s refugee experience escaping the Rwandan genocide and the years she spent traveling from one camp to another before immigrating to the US.

What made me pick it up: It was really well reviewed.

My favorite parts: Wamariya escapes at such a young age she almost doesn’t understand death and war and why they are walking and not stopping. She yearns her whole life to go back to her family, as it was, even as she reconnects with them. It is heartbreaking, both reading of the little girl who does not comprehend and as the adult who cannot stop grieving all that is lost. I so admire her indomitable spirit and the unbreakable will of her older sister who helped her survive through multiple countries and camps. Wamariya examines the many ways to move past trauma, especially that caused by civil war and genocide, with no easy answers only her personal truth and what she sees others attempting as well. If you are American you will feel shame for the atrocities we ignored in 1994 and the ongoing ones we continue to ignore worldwide. You will also be immensely grateful for all you have lucked into based on the geography of your birth. Mostly, you will want to help refugees any way you can.

Who it’s great for: Readers who want to learn more about the unending trauma of war.

Erica’s rating: four and a half shells

Tell Me More by Kelly Corrigan

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Originally published in: 2018

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.

Erica’s rating: four and a half shells

Okay Fine Whatever by Courtenay Hameister

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Originally published in: 2018

What it’s about: How an awkward late bloomer overcomes her anxiety. Or at least tries to.

What made me pick it up: If there is one thing I love it’s other people’s late bloomer stories. As someone who feels like they got a late start on this blooming process I like to meet the other members of the club and see the ways in which they blossom.

My favorite parts: Her voice. She’s honest and funny at the same time, which is necessary given she’s talking about some big topics of mental and personal health. Also if you find yourself employing “defensive pessimism” to manage your anxiety you’ll find a kindred spirit in her tiny triumphs, big attempts, and catastrophic outcomes. Life is scary and hard. Let’s employ all our tools so our brains don’t hijack it and make it MUCHWORSE. To see a good example: pick up this book.

Who it’s great for: Anyone who wants to step outside their comfort zone, even vicariously. Anxious ones. Readers who feel like they aren’t yet at peak bloom when the world expects them to be.

Erica’s rating: four shells

 

Permission to Screw Up by Kristen Hadeed

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Originally published in: 2017

What it’s about: A woman who started a business while still in college and how she learned to be a successful leader through a series of failures.

What made me pick it up: The title.

My favorite parts: I really enjoyed the candor of the author while recounting her less than perfect moments. She was highly relatable and made an entrepreneurial path seem attainable if you were willing to work hard and define your values. I especially was drawn to the concept of company culture and how important it was to know what it was and support it at all costs. More workplaces should follow suit. This is a quick read but enjoyable, almost like sitting down with a friend to hear what she’s up to. If you’re wondering how to be a better leader or work the kinks out of your org pick this up.

Who it’s great for: Anyone who wants to be a better leader or wants to work the kinks out of their business. Readers who want to start a business and need inspiration to get started.
Erica’s rating: four shells


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


 

Dear World by Bana Alabad

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Originally published in: 2017

What’s it about: A child’s account of surviving and escaping the ongoing war in Syria.

What made me pick it up: Bana Alabed’s pleas for peace and assistance reached the world through Twitter, but I knew her book would tell a more complete story.

My favorite things: Bana’s clear voice is heartwrenching, a reminder to care for refugees. Her mother, Fatemah, includes essays written for Bana, explaining her point of view and her experiences. Their words in concert with each other serve to humanize the numbers and news reports and give a personal story to the images of Syrian children that have circulated widely.

Who it’s great for:  Adults and teens trying to understand the war in Syria. Readers who to understand what the day to day struggle is like in the Syrian Civil War, and those wanting to build empathy for refugees.

Abby’s rating: four shells


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


 

The Bright Hour by Nina Riggs

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Originally published in: 2017

What it’s about: The author’s experience dying from stage 4, metastatic breast cancer.

What made me pick it up: I loved When Breath Becomes Air, and then I saw this story about how his widow and the widower of this author met and fell in love. It’s so bittersweet and unexpected I had to pick up this book.

My favorite parts: This is like an evening with your best friend and a couple bottles of wine. You want to keep chatting, even though what you’re chatting about is her terminal diagnosis and how she deals with it. It’s hopeful and exquisitely painful. It will make you want to solve breast cancer once and for all and hug your loved ones close the next time you can, every time you can. And you will grieve for this newfound friend that is already lost to you. I am still crying over the sweet sadness of this memoir.

Who it’s great for: Lovers of excellent memoirs, especially fans of When Breath Becomes Air. Anyone who is losing or has lost someone from a terminal illness.

Erica’s rating: four shells


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


 

Lighter Than My Shadow by Katie Green

lighter than my shadow

Originally published in: 2013

What’s it about: A personal memoir of surviving and recovering from an eating disorder and abuse.

What made me pick it up: I love graphic memoirs and find they are a great medium for exploring personal traumas

My favorite things: Green is achingly honest and relatable. Her art is both lovely and despondent. She sheds light on the reality that eating disorders are about more than food and that not all are textbook cases.

Who it’s great for:  Readers struggling to understand mental illness in someone they love.

Abby’s rating: five-shells


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