…So I Could Read Them Again For The First Time
There’s nothing quite as delicious as falling in love with a book—one that makes you think and feel and rage and laugh. And while you can always reread books you love, often discovering new insights, the level of awe and wonderment of that first read can never be fully duplicated.
Until science discovers a gadget akin to the “flashy thing” from the Men In Black movies which can selectively erase books from memory—or barring an amnesia-causing injury—we’re stuck with merely reminiscing about that momentous “first read” and maybe living vicariously through the friends to whom we recommend our very favorite books.
But…if the flashy thing gadget did exist, here are the books I’d erase in a heartbeat (in alphabetical order because there’s no way I could rank them otherwise):
Name: El Deafo
Author: Cece Bell
Published by: Abrams Books, 2014
Going to school and making new friends can be tough. But going to school and making new friends while wearing a bulky hearing aid strapped to your chest? That requires superpowers! In this funny, poignant graphic novel memoir, author/illustrator Cece Bell chronicles her hearing loss at a young age and her subsequent experiences with the Phonic Ear, a very powerful—and very awkward—hearing aid.
The Phonic Ear gives Cece the ability to hear—sometimes things she shouldn’t—but also isolates her from her classmates. She really just wants to fit in and find a true friend, someone who appreciates her as she is. After some trouble, she is finally able to harness the power of the Phonic Ear and become “El Deafo, Listener for All.” And more importantly, declare a place for herself in the world and find the friend she’s longed for.
I adored this middle-grade graphic novel memoir about Bell’s experiences navigating middle school with her Phonic Ear (think: super-charged hearing aid). It’s an honest, funny story about a kid with a medical condition minus the noble suffering (but plus, for some explained reason, human characters with long, rabbit-like ears.)
Name: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Author: Douglass Adams
Published by: Pan Books, 1979
Douglas Adams’s “six-part trilogy,” The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy grew from a blip of a notion into an ever-expanding multimedia universe that amassed an unprecedented cult of followers and became an international sensation. As a young journalist, Neil Gaiman was given complete access to Adams’s life, times, gossip, unpublished outtakes, and files (and became privy to his writing process, insecurities, disillusionments, challenges, and triumphs). The resulting volume illuminates the unique, funny, dramatic, and improbable chronicle of an idea, an incredibly tall man, and a mind-boggling success story.
In Don’t Panic, Gaiman celebrates everything Hitchhiker: the original radio play, the books, comics, video and computer games, films, television series, record albums, stage musicals, one-man shows, the Great One himself, and towels. And as Douglas Adams himself attested: “It’s all absolutely devastatingly true—except the bits that are lies.”
Don’t panic! It’ll all be okay in the end, though you may have to endure Vogon poetry, a depressed robot and a two-headed galaxy president. Douglas Adams’ “ill-conceived trilogy” (there are five books in the series) is as hysterical and irreverent as it is unforgettable. Better still, the wildly successful series has produced a multitude of ancillary project for fans to enjoy.
Name: I’ll Be There
Author: Holly Goldberg Sloan
Published by: Little, Brown, 2011
Blurb: Emily believes in destiny. She’s waiting for the moment her real life begins.
Sam wishes he could escape. He’s spent his life being dragged from place to place by his father. But he could never abandon his little brother Riddle.
Then everything changes. Because Sam meets Emily.
This tender story of star-crossed love is both romance and thriller, and a compelling exploration of the power of human connection.
Harrowing, heartbreaking, heavenly—I could NOT put this multi-POV book down. Especially when Sloan throws brothers Sam and Riddle and their abusive father off a cliff at one point, literally. The sequel Just Call My Name, is equally amazing. Actually, everything she’s written is amazing. Seriously. Go read all of her books. I’ll wait.
Name: Incident at Hawk’s Hill
Author: Allan W. Eckert
Published by: Little, Brown, 1971
Six-year-old Ben is very small for his age, and gets along better with animals than people. One June day in 1870, Ben wanders away from his home on Hawk’s Hill and disappears into the waving prairie grass. This is the story of how a shy, lonely boy survives for months in the wilds and forges a bond with a female badger.
Incident will break your heart, put it back together and then maybe break it all over again—if I could only get you to read it. It’s a bit old-fashioned and starts slowly, which has turned off some friends I’ve recommended the book to. Do yourself a favor and make the effort. It’s an astonishing read.
Name: The Kid
Author: Dan Savage
Published by: Dutton, 1999
Dan Savage’s nationally syndicated sex advice column, “Savage Love,” enrages and excites more than four million people each week. In The Kid, Savage tells a no-holds-barred, high-energy story of an ordinary American couple who wants to have a baby. Except that in this case the couple happens to be Dan and his boyfriend. That fact, in the face of a society enormously uneasy with gay adoption, makes for an edgy, entertaining, and illuminating read. When Dan and his boyfriend are finally presented with an infant badly in need of parenting, they find themselves caught up in a drama that extends well beyond the confines of their immediate world. A story about confronting homophobia, falling in love, getting older, and getting a little bit smarter, The Kid is a book about the very human desire to have a family.
I was expecting sex advice columnist Dan Savage’s memoir about becoming a father to be hysterical and raunchy. I wasn’t expecting to be moved to tears . . . more than once. Despite the title, this one’s definitely NSFYK (as in, not suitable for younger kids) due to explicit sexual content, but it’s a great read and surprisingly poignant.
Name: A Tale of Despereaux
Author: Kate DiCamillo
Published by: Candlewick, 2003
Despereaux is very different from all the other mice in the castle. He is romantic and heroic. He even falls in love with the Princess and is banished to the dungeon by his father. This award-winning novel follows his adventures in his search for love and acceptance.
For me, Despereaux’s specialness is as indescribable as it is absolute. Just your average tale of a mouse in shining armor who loves music, stories and a princess, not necessarily in that order. It’s literally impossible not to root for him. Trust me—you must read this book (but do yourself a favor and skip the movie).
Name: The Underneath
Author: Kathi Appelt
Published by: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2008
There is nothing lonelier than a cat who has been loved, at least for a while, and then abandoned on the side of the road.
A calico cat, about to have kittens, hears the lonely howl of a chained-up hound deep in the backwaters of the bayou. She dares to find him in the forest, and the hound dares to befriend this cat, this feline, this creature he is supposed to hate. They are an unlikely pair, about to become an unlikely family. Ranger urges the cat to hide underneath the porch, to raise her kittens there because Gar-Face, the man living inside the house, will surely use them as alligator bait should he find them. But they are safe in the Underneath…as long as they stay in the Underneath.
Kittens, however, are notoriously curious creatures. And one kitten’s one moment of curiosity sets off a chain of events that is astonishing, remarkable, and enormous in its meaning. For everyone who loves Sounder, Shiloh, and The Yearling, for everyone who loves the haunting beauty of writers such as Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Flannery O’Connor, and Carson McCullers, Kathi Appelt spins a harrowing yet keenly sweet tale about the power of love — and its opposite, hate — the fragility of happiness and the importance of making good on your promises.
Appelt had me at the book’s opening line: There is nothing lonelier than a cat who has been loved, at least for a while, and then abandoned on the side of the road. How could I possibly abandon her? What follows is a gorgeous book-length poem about survival, found family and the enduring power of love.
Name: Whale Talk
Author: Chris Crutcher
Published by: Harper Collins, 2001
There’s bad news and good news about the Cutter High School swim team. The bad news is that they don’t have a pool. The good news is that only one of them can swim anyway. A group of misfits brought together by T. J. Jones (the J is redundant), the Cutter All Night Mermen struggle to find their places in a school that has no place for them. T.J. is convinced that a varsity letter jacket – exclusive, revered, the symbol (as far as T.J. is concerned) of all that is screwed up at Cutter High – will also be an effective tool. He’s right. He’s also wrong. Still, it’s always the quest that counts. And the bus on which the Mermen travel to swim meets soon becomes the space where they gradually allow themselves to talk, to fit, to grow. Together they’ll fight for dignity in a world where tragedy and comedy dance side by side, where a moment’s inattention can bring lifelong heartache, and where true acceptance is the only prescription for what ails us.
A swim team comprised of misfits competing for a school that has no pool? Sign me up! Especially when the misfits are in the extremely capable hands of Chris Crutcher. A consistent theme of Crutcher’s (which I personally really dig) is on full display here—that of an outcast-by-choice championing kids who are bullied, ostracized or otherwise mistreated.
Name: What My Mother Doesn’t Know
Author: Sonya Sones
Published by: Simon & Schuster, 2001
An utterly authentic story of first (and second and third) love, told in accessible free verse and featuring a new cover and larger trim size.
It’s not that I’m boy crazy.
It’s just that even though
I’m almost fifteen
I’ve been having sort of a hard time
trying to figure out the difference
between love and lust.
and my body
and my heart
just don’t seem to be able to agree
Get to know Sophie, a freshman in high school who’s struggling through the daily grind and all the crushes that come with it, as she shares her innermost thoughts and feelings in this remarkably relatable novel in verse from Sonya Sones.
I love everything Sonya Sones has written but this one’s probably my favorite. Ninth-grader Sophie Stein faces a dilemma nearly everyone will face in some way at some point (or at several points)—follow your heart or follow the crowd? P.S. Be prepared to fall totally in crush with Robin Murphy.
Name: Will Grayson, Will Grayson
Author: John Green & David Levithan
Published by: Dutton, 2010
One cold night, in a most unlikely corner of Chicago, teenager Will Grayson crosses paths with . . . Will Grayson! Two teens with the same name who run in two very different circles suddenly find their lives going in new and unexpected directions.
Culminating in epic turns-of-heart on both of their parts, they team up to produce the most fabulous musical ever to grace the high-school stage. Told in alternating voices from two award-winning, popular names in young-adult fiction – John Green (author of The Fault in Our Stars) and David Levithan (author of Boy Meets Boy) – this unique collaborative novel features a double helping of the heart and humour that has won both authors legions of fans.
Both of these authors are rock stars in my eyes. (I am not alone in this thinking.) I loved Will Grayson, Will Grayson for a multitude or reasons, not the least of which being that the book features one of the most moving and relatable passages I’ve ever read. (It appears on page 192, if you’re interested.)