Recommended Reading: Moving Forward
Get ready to read! Here is a list of recommended books that address our Action Book Club theme: Moving Forward, celebrating growth, resilience, and well-being for all. We think you’ll find something that inspires you!
Everyone can take part in the Action Book Club program. That’s why this list of suggested books—recommended by Little Free Library stewards, communities, and advisers—includes options for young readers, middle readers, and adults. Do you know of another great book that fits this theme? Your club is welcome to read that instead; we’d love to hear your book ideas.
The New York Times is now a partner of the Action Book Club! The New York Times’ Learning Network is providing a curated collection of articles relating to our “Moving Forward” theme that complements our reading list. We hope you enjoy this resource!
For even more book ideas, check out our previous Action Book Club themes on unity, diversity, and more.
After the Fall (How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again) by Dan Santat (40 pp, Roaring Brook Press, 2017). Fiction. Everyone knows that when Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. But what happened after? Caldecott Medalist Dan Santat’s poignant tale follows Humpty Dumpty, an avid bird watcher whose favorite place to be is high up on the city wall―that is, until after his famous fall. Now terrified of heights, Humpty can longer do many of the things he loves most. Will he summon the courage to face his fear? After the Fall is a masterful picture book that will remind readers of all ages that life begins when you get back up. Ages 4-8.
The Bad Seed by Jory John, illustrated by Pete Oswald (40 pp, HarperCollins, 2017). Fiction. This is a book about a bad seed. A baaaaaaaaaad seed. How bad? Do you really want to know? He has a bad temper, bad manners, and a bad attitude. He’s been bad since he can remember! With The Bad Seed is a funny yet touching tale that reminds us of the remarkably transformative power of will, acceptance, and just being you. Perfect for young readers, The Bad Seed proves that positive change is possible for each and every one of us. Ages 4-8.
Grandma Gatewood Hikes the Appalachian Trail by Jennifer Thermes (48 pp, Harry N. Abrams, 2018). Nonfiction. Emma Gatewood’s life was far from easy. In rural Ohio, she managed a household of 11 kids alongside a less-than-supportive husband. One day, at age 67, she decided to go for a nice long walk . . . and ended up completing the Appalachian Trail. With just the clothes on her back and a pair of thin canvas sneakers on her feet, Grandma Gatewood hiked up ridges and down ravines. When the newspapers got wind of her amazing adventure, the whole country cheered her on to the end of her trek. A story of true grit and girl power at any age, Grandma Gatewood proves that no peak is insurmountable. Ages 5-7.
I Am Enough by Grace Byers, illustrated by Keturah A. Bobo (32 pp, Balzer + Bray, 2018). This is a gorgeous, lyrical ode to loving who you are, respecting others, and being kind to one another—from Empire actor and activist Grace Byers and talented newcomer artist Keturah A. Bobo. We are all here for a purpose. We are more than enough. We just need to believe it. Ages 4-8.
I Am Small by Qin Leng (40 pp, Kids Can Press, 2018). Mimi is so little, “I might as well be called Mini,” she says. Everyone is taller than her, even the family dog! Though her friends try to tell her there are lots of advantages to being her size—like fitting into the best hiding places and easily scooting to the front of the cafeteria line—to Mimi, being small is the worst. But then one day, she hears that there’s a surprise waiting for her at home. And Mimi is about to discover a little something about being little. Qin Leng has crafted a delightful picture book with a fresh twist on the themes of self-acceptance, resilience, growing up, and the arrival of a new sibling. Ages 4-7.
Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall (32 pp, Candlewick, 2017). Fiction. Working up the courage to take a big, important leap is hard, but Jabari is almost absolutely ready to make a giant splash and jump off the diving board. He’s finished his swimming lessons and passed his swim test, and he’s a great jumper, so he’s not scared at all. “Looks easy,” says Jabari, watching the other kids take their turns. But when his dad squeezes his hand, Jabari squeezes back. He needs to figure out what kind of special jump to do anyway, and he should probably do some stretches before climbing up onto the diving board. In a sweetly appealing tale of overcoming your fears, newcomer Gaia Cornwall captures a moment between a patient and encouraging father and a determined little boy you can’t help but root for. Ages 4-8
Listening with My Heart: A Story of Kindness and Self-Compassion by Gabi Garcia, illustrated by Ying Hui Tan (34 pp, Skinned Knee Publishing, 2017). Fiction. We talk to kids a lot about how to be friends to others. Not much about how to be friends to themselves. Yet, positive self-talk and self-acceptance help build emotional resilience, happiness and well-being. Along with Esperanza, children can learn the importance of being a friend to ourselves! This beautiful book also touches on the universal themes of friendship, empathy and kindness. Includes mindfulness and self-compassion activities. Ages 5-10.
Manjhi Moves a Mountain by Nancy Churnin, illustrated by Danny Popovici (32 pp, Creston Books, 2017). Nonfiction. Dashrath Manjhi used a hammer and chisel, grit, determination, and twenty years to carve a path through the mountain separating his poor village from the nearby village with schools, markets, and a hospital. Manjhi Moves a Mountain inspires children to persevere despite challenges and shows how everyone can make a difference if their heart is big enough. Ages 5-11.
Me and My Fear by Francesca Sanna (40 pp, Flying Eye Books, 2018). Fiction. When a young immigrant girl has to travel to a new country and start at a new school, she is accompanied by her Fear who tells her to be alone and afraid, growing bigger and bigger every day with questions like “how can you hope to make new friends if you don’t understand their language?” But this little girl is stronger than her Fear. A heart-warming and timely tale from the bestselling author and illustrator of The Journey, this book shows us the importance of sharing your Fear with others—after all, everyone carries a Fear with them, even if it’s small enough to fit into their pocket! Ages 3-7.
Rescue & Jessica: A Life-Changing Friendship by Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes, illustrated by Scott Magoon (32 pp, Candlewick, 2018). Fiction, based on a true story. Rescue thought he’d grow up to be a Seeing Eye dog—it’s the family business, after all. When he gets the news that he’s better suited to being a service dog, he’s worried that he’s not up to the task. Then he meets Jessica, a girl whose life is turning out differently than the way she’d imagined it, too. Now Jessica needs Rescue by her side to help her accomplish everyday tasks. And it turns out that Rescue can help Jessica see after all: a way forward, together, one step at a time. Ages 4-9.
Rock What Ya Got by Samantha Berger, illustrated by Kerascoet (40 pp, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2018). When a drawing of a little girl comes to life, she boldly declares that she doesn’t want to be erased, or put into a picture that doesn’t feel like her true self. Instead, she decides to speak up in a powerful way. And she has some words of advice: embrace what you have, love yourself, and “rock what ya got.” In this affirmation of self-identity and girl power, a child’s memorable mantra offers a timeless lesson, reminding readers of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities that it’s okay to be yourself. Ages 4-7.
Trombone Shorty by Troy Andrews, illustrated by Bryan Collier (40 pp, Harry N. Abrams, 2015). Nonfiction. Hailing from the Tremé neighborhood in New Orleans, Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews got his nickname by wielding a trombone twice as long as he was high. A prodigy, he was leading his own band by age six, and today this Grammy-nominated artist headlines the legendary New Orleans Jazz Fest. His lively picture book autobiography is an inspirational look at overcoming our circumstances to follow our dreams. Ages 4-8.
You Are Your Strong by Danielle Dufayet, illustrated by Jennifer Zivoin (32 pp, Magination Press, available March 2019). Fiction. Soothing and empowering, You Are Your Strong reassures kids that they can handle big emotions and highlights the benefit of developing inner strength and confidence in oneself. With diverse characters and scenes featuring a range of different family relationships—from parents, to grandparents, to an older sister in the military—this book shows kids that they will have help along the way to being strong and in control. Includes a Note to Parents and Caregivers by Julia Martin Burch, PhD, with advice for building skills to navigate and cope with big emotions. Ages 4-8.
Middle + Young Adult Readers
American Road Trip by Patrick Flores-Scott (336 pp, Henry Holt, 2018). Fiction. With a strong family, the best friend a guy could ask for, and a budding romance with the girl of his dreams, life shows promise for Teodoro “T” Avila. But he takes some hard hits the summer before senior year when his nearly perfect brother, Manny, returns from a tour in Iraq with a devastating case of PTSD. In a desperate effort to save Manny from himself and pull their family back together, T’s fiery sister, Xochitl, hoodwinks her brothers into a cathartic road trip. Told through T’s honest voice, this is a candid exploration of mental illness, socioeconomic pressures, and the many inescapable highs and lows that come with growing up―including falling in love. Ages 12-18.
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (368 pp, Puffin Books, 2016). Nonfiction. Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world. Woodson’s eloquent poetry also reflects the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, despite the fact that she struggled with reading as a child. Her love of stories inspired her and stayed with her, creating the first sparks of the gifted writer she was to become. Ages 10 and up.
(Don’t) Call Me Crazy: 33 Voices Start the Conversation about Mental Health edited by Kelly Jensen (240 pp, Algonquin Young Readers, 2018). Nonfiction. What does it mean to be crazy? Is using the word crazy offensive? What happens when a label like that gets attached to your everyday experiences? To understand mental health, we need to talk openly about it. Because there’s no single definition of crazy, there’s no single experience that embodies it, and the word itself means different things to different people. In (Don’t) Call Me Crazy, thirty-three actors, athletes, writers, and artists offer essays, lists, comics, and illustrations that explore their personal experiences with mental illness; how we do and don’t talk about mental health; help for better understanding how every person’s brain is wired differently; and what, exactly, might make someone crazy. If you’ve ever struggled with your mental health, or know someone who has, let’s get talking. Ages 14-18.
El Deafo by Cece Bell (248 pp, Harry N. Abrams, 2014). Nonfiction. 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. Ages 8-12.
Failing Up: How to Take Risks, Aim Higher, and Never Stop Learning by Leslie Odom Jr. (208 pp, Feiwel & Friends, 2018). Nonfiction. Leslie Odom Jr. burst on the scene in 2015, originating the role of Aaron Burr in the Broadway musical phenomenon Hamilton. Since then, he has performed for sold-out audiences, sung for the Obamas at the White House, and won a Tony Award for Best Leading Actor in a Musical. But before he landed the role of a lifetime in one of the biggest musicals of all time, Odom put in years of hard work as a singer and an actor. With personal stories from his life, Odom asks the questions that will help you unlock your true potential and achieve your goals even when they seem impossible. These stories will inspire you, motivate you, and empower you for the greatness that lies ahead. Ages 12 and up.
Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams (384 pp, Atheneum, 2019). Fiction. There are ninety-six things Genesis hates about herself. She knows the exact number because she keeps a list. Like #95: Because her skin is so dark, people call her charcoal and eggplant—even her own family. And #61: Because her family is always being put out of their house, belongings laid out on the sidewalk for the world to see. When your dad is a gambling addict and loses the rent money every month, eviction is a regular occurrence. But things aren’t all bad. Genesis actually likes her new school; she’s made a couple friends, her choir teacher says she has real talent, and she even encourages Genesis to join the talent show. But how can Genesis believe anything her teacher says when her dad tells her the exact opposite? How can she stand up in front of all those people with her dark, dark skin knowing even her own family thinks lesser of her because of it? And when Genesis reaches #100 on the list of things she hates about herself, will she continue on, or can she find the strength to begin again? Ages 9-13.
George by Alex Gino (224 pp, Scholastic, 2018). Fiction. When people look at George, they think they see a boy. But she knows she’s not a boy. She knows she’s a girl. George thinks she’ll have to keep this a secret forever. Then her teacher announces that their class play is going to be Charlotte’s Web. George really, really, REALLY wants to play Charlotte. But the teacher says she can’t even try out for the part…because she’s a boy. With the help of her best friend, Kelly, George comes up with a plan. Not just so she can be Charlotte—but so everyone can know who she is, once and for all. Ages 8-12.
Ghost by Jason Reynolds (208 pp, Atheneum, 2017). Fiction. Running—that’s all Ghost (real name Castle Cranshaw) has ever known. But Ghost has been running for the wrong reasons—it all started with running away from his father, who, when Ghost was a very little boy, chased him and his mother through their apartment, then down the street, with a loaded gun, aiming to kill. Since then, Ghost has been the one causing problems—and running away from them—until he meets Coach, an ex-Olympic Medalist who sees something in Ghost: crazy natural talent. If Ghost can stay on track, literally and figuratively, he could be the best sprinter in the city. Can Ghost harness his raw talent for speed, or will his past finally catch up to him? Ages 10 and up.
Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka (320 pp, Graphix, 2018). Nonfiction. In kindergarten, Jarrett Krosoczka’s teacher asks him to draw his family, with a mommy and a daddy. But Jarrett’s family is much more complicated than that. His mom is an addict, in and out of rehab, and in and out of Jarrett’s life. His father is a mystery—Jarrett doesn’t know where to find him, or even what his name is. Jarrett lives with his grandparents—two very loud, very loving, very opinionated people. Jarrett goes through his childhood trying to make his non-normal life as normal as possible, finding a way to express himself through drawing even as so little is being said to him about what’s going on. Only as a teenager can Jarrett begin to piece together the truth of his family, reckoning with his mother and tracking down his father. Hey, Kiddo is a profoundly important memoir about growing up in a family grappling with addiction, and finding the art that helps you survive. Ages 12 and up.
Merci Suárez Changes Gears by Meg Medina (368 pp, Candlewick, 2018). Fiction. Merci Suárez knew that sixth grade would be different, but she had no idea just how different. For starters, Merci has never been like the other kids at her private school in Florida, because she and her older brother, Roli, are scholarship students. They don’t have a big house or a fancy boat, and they have to do extra community service to make up for their free tuition. So when bossy Edna Santos sets her sights on the new boy who happens to be Merci’s school-assigned Sunshine Buddy, Merci becomes the target of Edna’s jealousy. Things aren’t going well at home, either: Merci’s grandfather has been acting strangely lately—forgetting important things, falling from his bike, and getting angry over nothing. No one in her family will tell Merci what’s going on, so she’s left to her own worries, while also feeling all on her own at school. This coming-of-age tale full of humor and wisdom gets to the heart of the confusion and constant change that defines middle school—and the steadfast connection that defines family. Ages 9-12.
Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo (288 pp, Candlewick, 2016). Fiction. Raymie Clarke has come to realize that everything, absolutely everything, depends on her. And she has a plan. If Raymie can win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition, then her father, who left town two days ago with a dental hygienist, will see Raymie’s picture in the paper and (maybe) come home. To win, not only does Raymie have to do good deeds and learn how to twirl a baton; she also has to contend with the wispy, frequently fainting Louisiana Elefante, who has a show-business background, and the fiery, stubborn Beverly Tapinski, who’s determined to sabotage the contest. But as the competition approaches, loneliness, loss, and unanswerable questions draw the three girls into an unlikely friendship—and challenge each of them to come to the rescue in unexpected ways. Ages 10 and up.
Restart by Gordon Korman (256 pp, Scholastic, 2018). Chase’s memory just went out the window. Chase doesn’t remember falling off the roof. He doesn’t remember hitting his head. He doesn’t, in fact, remember anything. He wakes up in a hospital room and suddenly has to learn his whole life all over again . . . starting with his own name. He knows he’s Chase. But who is Chase? When he gets back to school, he sees that different kids have very different reactions to his return. Some kids treat him like a hero. Some kids are clearly afraid of him. One girl in particular is so angry with him that she pours her frozen yogurt on his head the first chance she gets. Pretty soon, it’s not only a question of who Chase is—it’s a question of who he was . . . and who he’s going to be. Restart is the spectacular story of a kid with a messy past who has to figure out what it means to get a clean start. Ages 9-14.
The Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay Moore (304 pp, Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2017). It’s Christmas Eve in Harlem, but twelve-year-old Lolly Rachpaul and his mom aren’t celebrating. They’re still reeling from his older brother’s death in a gang-related shooting just a few months earlier. Then Lolly’s mother’s girlfriend brings him a gift that will change everything: two enormous bags filled with Legos. Lolly’s always loved Legos, and he prides himself on following the kit instructions exactly. Now, faced with a pile of building blocks and no instructions, Lolly must find his own way forward. His path isn’t clear—and the pressure to join a “crew,” as his brother did, is always there. When Lolly and his friend are beaten up and robbed, joining a crew almost seems like the safe choice. But building a fantastical Lego city at the community center provides Lolly with an escape—and an unexpected bridge back to the world. David Barclay Moore paints a powerful portrait of a boy teetering on the edge—of adolescence, of grief, of violence—and shows how Lolly’s inventive spirit helps him build a life with firm foundations and open doors. Ages 10 and up.
Unclaimed Baggage by Jen Doll (384 pp, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2018). Fiction. Doris―a lone liberal in a conservative small town―has mostly kept to herself since the terrible waterslide incident a few years ago. Nell had to leave behind her best friends, perfect life, and too-good-to-be-true boyfriend in Chicago to move to Alabama. Grant was the star quarterback and epitome of “Mr. Popular” whose drinking problem has all but destroyed his life. What do these three have in common? A summer job working in a store called Unclaimed Baggage cataloging and selling other people’s lost luggage. Together they find that through friendship, they can unpack some of their own emotional baggage and move on into the future. Ages 12-18.
What I Leave Behind by Alison McGhee (208 pp, Atheneum, 2018). Fiction. Sixteen-year-old Will spends most of his days the same way: Working at the Dollar Only store, trying to replicate his late father’s famous cornbread recipe, and walking the streets of Los Angeles. Will started walking after his father committed suicide, and three years later he hasn’t stopped. But there are some places Will can’t walk by, like the bridge where his father died, and his childhood friend Playa’s house. When Will learns Playa was raped at a party—a party where he believes he could have stopped the worst from happening if he hadn’t left early—it spurs Will to stop being complacent and do some good in the world. He begins to leave small gifts for everyone in his life, from Superman the homeless guy he passes on his way to work, to the Little Butterfly Dude he walks by on the way home, to Playa herself. And it is through those acts of kindness that Will is finally able to push past his own trauma and truly begin to live his life again. Oh, and discover the truth about that cornbread. Ages 14-18.
Adult + Advanced Readers
The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World by Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu (384 pp, Avery, 2016). Nonfiction. Nobel Peace Prize Laureates His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu have survived more than fifty years of exile and the soul-crushing violence of oppression. Despite their hardships—or, as they would say, because of them—they are two of the most joyful people on the planet. In April 2015, Archbishop Tutu traveled to the Dalai Lama’s home in Dharamsala, India, to celebrate His Holiness’s eightieth birthday and to create what they hoped would be a gift for others. They looked back on their long lives to answer a single burning question: How do we find joy in the face of life’s inevitable suffering? In this unique collaboration, they offer us the reflection of real lives filled with pain and turmoil in the midst of which they have been able to discover a level of peace, of courage, and of joy to which we can all aspire in our own lives.
Educated by Tara Westover (352 pp, Random House, 2018). Nonfiction. Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, Tara Westover was seventeen the first time she set foot in a classroom. Her family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education, and no one to intervene when one of Tara’s older brothers became violent. When another brother got himself into college, Tara decided to try a new kind of life. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge University. Only then would she wonder if she’d traveled too far, if there was still a way home.
Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman (352 pp, Pamela Dorman Books, 2017). Fiction. Meet Eleanor Oliphant: She struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she’s thinking. Nothing is missing in her carefully timetabled life of avoiding social interactions, where weekends are punctuated by frozen pizza, vodka, and phone chats with Mummy. But everything changes when Eleanor meets Raymond, the bumbling and deeply unhygienic IT guy from her office. When she and Raymond together save Sammy, an elderly gentleman who has fallen on the sidewalk, the three become the kinds of friends who rescue one another from the lives of isolation they have each been living. And it is Raymond’s big heart that will ultimately help Eleanor find the way to repair her own profoundly damaged one.
Everything Here Is Beautiful by Mira T. Lee (368 pp, Pamela Dorman Books, 2018). Two Chinese-American sisters—Miranda, the older, responsible one, always her younger sister’s protector; Lucia, the headstrong, unpredictable one, whose impulses are huge and, often, life changing. When Lucia starts hearing voices, it is Miranda who must find a way to reach her sister. Lucia impetuously plows ahead, but the bitter constant is that she is, in fact, mentally ill. Lucia lives life on a grand scale, until, inevitably, she crashes to earth. Miranda leaves her own self-contained life in Switzerland to rescue her sister again—but only Lucia can decide whether she wants to be saved. The bonds of sisterly devotion stretch across oceans—but what does it take to break them? Everything Here Is Beautiful is, at its heart, an immigrant story, and a young woman’s quest to find fulfillment and a life unconstrained by her illness. But it’s also an unforgettable, gut-wrenching story of the sacrifices we make to truly love someone—and when loyalty to one’s self must prevail over all.
Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao (320 pp, Flatiron Books, 2018). Fiction. Poornima and Savitha have three strikes against them: they are poor, they are ambitious, and they are girls. After her mother’s death, Poornima has very little kindness in her life. She is left to care for her siblings until her father can find her a suitable match. So when Savitha enters their household, Poornima is intrigued by the joyful, independent-minded girl. Suddenly their Indian village doesn’t feel quite so claustrophobic, and Poornima begins to imagine a life beyond arranged marriage. But when a devastating act of cruelty drives Savitha away, Poornima leaves behind everything she has ever known to find her friend. Her journey takes her into the darkest corners of India’s underworld, on a harrowing cross-continental journey, and eventually to an apartment complex in Seattle. Alternating between the girls’ perspectives as they face ruthless obstacles, Shobha Rao’s Girls Burn Brighter introduces two heroines who never lose the hope that burns within.
The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah (448 pp, St. Martin’s Press, 2018). Ernt Allbright, a former POW, comes home from the Vietnam war a changed and volatile man. When he loses yet another job, he makes an impulsive decision: he will move his family north, to Alaska, where they will live off the grid in America’s last true frontier. Thirteen-year-old Leni, a girl coming of age in a tumultuous time, caught in the riptide of her parents’ stormy relationship, dares to hope that a new land will lead to a better future for her family. Her mother, Cora, will do anything and go anywhere for the man she loves, even if means following him into the unknown. At first, Alaska seems to be the answer to their prayers. In a wild, remote corner of the state, they find a fiercely independent community of strong men and even stronger women. The long, sunlit days and the generosity of the locals make up for the Allbrights’ dwindling resources. But as winter approaches and darkness descends on Alaska, Ernt’s fragile mental state deteriorates and the family begins to fracture. Soon the perils outside pale in comparison to threats from within. In their small cabin, covered in snow, blanketed in eighteen hours of night, Leni and her mother learn the terrible truth: they are on their own. In the wild, there is no one to save them but themselves. In this unforgettable portrait of human frailty and resilience, Kristin Hannah reveals the indomitable character of the modern American pioneer.
Halsey Street by Naima Coster (336 pp, Little A, 2018). Fiction. Penelope Grand has scrapped her failed career as an artist in Pittsburgh and moved back to Brooklyn to keep an eye on her ailing father. She’s accepted that her future won’t be what she’d dreamed, but now, as gentrification has completely reshaped her old neighborhood, even her past is unrecognizable. Old haunts have been razed, and wealthy white strangers have replaced every familiar face in Bed-Stuy. Even her mother, Mirella, has abandoned the family to reclaim her roots in the Dominican Republic. That took courage. It’s also unforgivable. When Penelope moves into the attic apartment of the affluent Harpers, she thinks she’s found a semblance of family—and maybe even love. But her world is upended again when she receives a postcard from Mirella asking for reconciliation. As old wounds are reopened, and secrets revealed, a journey across an ocean of sacrifice and self-discovery begins. Mirella has one last chance to win back the heart of the daughter, and for Penelope, it’s time to break free of the past and start navigating her own life.
Hunger by Roxane Gay (320 pp, Harper Perennial, 2018). Nonfiction. In her phenomenally popular essays and long-running Tumblr blog, Roxane Gay has written with intimacy and sensitivity about food and body, using her own emotional and psychological struggles as a means of exploring our shared anxieties over pleasure, consumption, appearance, and health. In Hunger, she explores her past—including the devastating act of violence that acted as a turning point in her young life—and brings readers along on her journey to understand and ultimately save herself. With the bracing candor, vulnerability, and power that have made her one of the most admired writers of her generation, Roxane explores what it means to learn to take care of yourself: how to feed your hungers for delicious and satisfying food, a smaller and safer body, and a body that can love and be loved—in a time when the bigger you are, the smaller your world becomes.
In Every Moment We Are Still Alive by Tom Malmquist (240 pp, Melville House, 2018). Fiction. In Every Moment We Are Still Alive tells the story of a man whose world has come crashing down overnight: His long-time partner has developed an fatal illness, just as she is about to give birth to their first child … even as his father is diagnosed with cancer. Reeling in grief, Tom finds himself wrestling with endless paperwork and indecipherable diagnoses, familial misunderstandings and utter exhaustion while trying simply to comfort his loved ones as they begin to recede from him. But slowly, amidst the pain and fury, arises a story of resilience and hope, particularly when Tom finds himself having to take responsibility for the greatest gift of them all, his newborn daughter.
No Happy Endings by Nora McInerny (288 pp, Dey Street Books, available March 2019). Nonfiction. Life has a million different ways to kick you right in the chops. We lose love, lose jobs, lose our sense of self. For Nora McInerny, it was losing her husband, her father, and her unborn second child in one catastrophic year. But in the wake of loss, we get to assemble something new from whatever is left behind. Today, Nora is remarried and mothers four children aged 16 months to 16 years. No Happy Endings, filled with Nora’s hilarious meditations on her messy, wonderful, bittersweet life, is a book for people living life after life has fallen apart. It’s a book for people who know that they’re moving forward, not moving on. It’s a book for people who know life isn’t always happy, but it isn’t the end: there will be unimaginable joy and incomprehensible tragedy. As Nora reminds us, there will be no happy endings—but there will be new beginnings.
The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath by Leslie Jamison (544 pp, Little, Brown and Co, 2018). Nonfiction. With its deeply personal and seamless blend of memoir, cultural history, literary criticism, and reportage, The Recovering turns our understanding of the traditional addiction narrative on its head, demonstrating that the story of recovery can be every bit as electrifying as the train wreck itself. Leslie Jamison deftly excavates the stories we tell about addiction—both her own and others’—and examines what we want these stories to do and what happens when they fail us. All the while, she offers a fascinating look at the larger history of the recovery movement, and at the complicated bearing that race and class have on our understanding of who is criminal and who is ill. With enormous empathy and wisdom, Jamison has given us nothing less than the story of addiction and recovery in America writ large, a definitive and revelatory account that will resonate for years to come.
Rising Strong: How the Ability to Reset Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown (352 pp, Spiegel & Grau, 2015). Nonfiction. Living a brave life is not always easy: We are, inevitably, going to stumble and fall. It is the rise from falling that social scientist Brené Brown takes as her subject in Rising Strong. As a grounded theory researcher, Brown has listened as a range of people—from leaders in Fortune 500 companies and the military to artists, couples in long-term relationships, teachers, and parents—shared their stories of being brave, falling, and getting back up. She asked herself, What do these people with strong and loving relationships, leaders nurturing creativity, artists pushing innovation, and clergy walking with people through faith and mystery have in common? The answer was clear: They recognize the power of emotion and they’re not afraid to lean in to discomfort. Rising strong after a fall is how we cultivate wholeheartedness. It’s the process, Brown writes, that teaches us the most about who we are.
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens (384 pp, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2018). Fiction. For years, rumors of the “Marsh Girl” have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl. But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. When two young men from town become intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new life—until the unthinkable happens. Where the Crawdads Sing is at once an exquisite ode to the natural world, a heartbreaking coming-of-age story, and a surprising tale of possible murder. Owens reminds us that we are forever shaped by the children we once were, and that we are all subject to the beautiful and violent secrets that nature keeps.
Recommended Reading: Previous Themes
Looking for more book ideas? Check out the recommended reading lists for our previous Action Book Club themes:
Come Together – On unity, equity, and understanding in a divided world.
Everyday Heroes – On acts of bravery, character, and kindness that transform our world in ways big and small.
Many Voices – On diversity, our differences, and the similarities that connect us all.
Good Neighbors – On the power of community, kindness, and taking action where you live.