Wild, Cheryl Strayed
After spiraling into drugs and depression after the death of her mother, Cheryl decides, rather rashly, to hike the Pacific Crest Trail- alone. Despite having zero long-distance hiking experience, Cheryl goes off to find herself amongst the desert, mountains, and solitude, and comes back with a riveting story to share and a stronger sense of purpose and meaning.
“Alone wasn’t a room anymore, but the whole wide world, and now I was alone in that world, occupying it in a way I never had before. Living at large like this, without even a roof over my head, made the world feel both bigger and smaller to me. Until now, I hadn’t truly understood the world’s vastness–hadn’t even understood how vast a mile could be– until each mile was beheld at walking speed. And yet there was also its opposite, the strange intimacy I’d come to have with the trail, the way the piñon pines and monkey flowers I passed that morning, the shallow streams I crossed, felt familiar and known, though I’d never passed them or crossed them before.”
The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt
Surviving a freak accident that kills his mother, Theo winds up in possession of a priceless painting. As he grows up around the country with no real adults to speak of, the painting takes him deeper into something he’s been hiding from his whole life, where he is forced to confront his fears, his loneliness, and the darker sides of himself before he can come out the other side.
“Was it wrong, wanting to sleep late with the covers over my head and wander around a peaceful house with old seashells in drawers and wicker baskets of folded upholstery fabric stored under the parlor secretary, sunset falling in drastic coral spokes through the fanlight over the front door? Before long, between school and workshop, I had slipped into a sort of forgetful doze, a skewed, dreamlike version of my former life where I walked familiar streets yet lived in unfamiliar circumstances, among different faces; and though often walking to school I thought of my old, lost life with my mother–Canal Street Station, lighted bins of flowers at the Korean market, anything could trigger it–it was as if a black curtain had come down on my life in Vegas.”
The Fault In Our Stars, John Green
Two teenagers meet in a cancer support group, and despite their best intentions, fall in love. While this is young adult fiction, the writing is striking, with nuanced characters whose wit and humor are just as sharp as the pain of their reality. You won’t be able to put this down without some tears, but the story is worth every one of them.
“So here’s how it went in God’s heart: The six or seven or ten of us walked/wheeled in, grazed at a decrepit selection of cookies and lemonade, sat down in the Circle of Trust, and listened to Patrick recount for the thousandth time his depressingly miserable life story–how he had cancer in his balls and they thought he was going to die but he didn’t die and how here he is, a full-grown adult in a church basement in the 137th nicest city in America, divorced, addicted to video games, mostly friendless, eking out a meager living by exploiting his cancertastic past, slowly working his way toward a master’s degree that will not improve his career prospects, waiting, as we all do, for the sword of Damocles to give him the relief that he escaped lo those many years ago when cancer took both of his nuts but spared what only the most generous soul would call his life.
AND YOU TOO MIGHT BE SO LUCKY!”
The Invention of Wings, Sue Monk Kidd
Sarah and her handmaid Hetty (also known as Handful) are tied together, though both wish it were not so. Set in antebellum Charleston, each girl- one white aristocrat, one black slave- are fighting for freedom, and this story follows their lives through the years as they each find their voices and try to break free from the things that enslave them.
“I saw then what I hadn’t seen before, that I was very good at despising slavery in the abstract, in the removed and anonymous masses, but in the concrete, intimate flesh of the girl beside me, I’d lost the ability to be repulsed by it. I’d grown comfortable with the particulars of evil. There’s a frightful muteness that dwells at the center of all unspeakable things, and I had found my way into it.”