One of the things I love about reading is the ability to gain new perspectives and empathize with others, even when they’re fictional. I especially love books that let me safely experience things outside of my comfort zone. As a public librarian my path crosses with a wide variety of people, and while it can be easy to make assumptions, I read a few books this year that I felt gave me a new understanding of the people around me.
By Tara Westover
People come to the Library for a variety of reasons and with a variety of backgrounds. This book reminds me that, what at first glance can appear to be rudeness, laziness, or a lack of cleanliness, can be due to a variety of legitimate reasons I know nothing about. Tara Westover was born in the mountains of Idaho to survivalist parents and didn’t set foot in a classroom until she was 17-years-old. Attending college was different from any experience she’d ever had, and her unique past and limited understanding of the world, history, and social norms made her experiences and accomplishments all the more extraordinary. Sometimes truth can be stranger than fiction, and this powerful memoir is just that.
THE 57 BUS
By Dashka Slater
I’ve had the opportunity to take books to teens in juvenile detention, meeting several who dreamed of a life better than the one they were living. I’ve also met people with a variety of gender identities, struggling to figure out who they are. This book follows the lives of two teens in with similar struggles, something I’ve never dealt with, and found very eye opening. One day on the 57 bus, for no particular reason aside from thinking it could be funny, Richard set Sasha’s skirt on fire. He thought it would smolder a bit and surprise Sasha, like a practical joke, but instead it erupted in a ball of flames, severely burning Sasha’s body. It was treated as a hate crime since Sasha is agender, and Richard was facing life imprisonment. Using her background in journalism, Slater covers the lives and decisions of both teens leading up to the incident, and how both lives were heartbreakingly altered.
I met one of my favorite YouTubers this year and was amazed at how normal she was without a camera in hand. In an age of social media influencers it can be easy to idolize people and feel like you know them without actually meeting them. In this contemporary sci-fi novel, mysterious giant statues appear overnight around the world, and April May goes viral for being in a YouTube video about the first one. What does becoming an overnight celebrity do to a person? How does social media change our perception of reality? This book explores those questions in a way that feels genuine and personal, probably because the author is a social media influencer himself. If you follow someone who makes their living on social media, this book can be eye opening.
By Sarah Henning
If you’ve seen the Disney version of The Little Mermaid, odds are you have a pretty negative opinion of the Sea Witch. Henning spins the original Hans Christian Andersen tale a little differently, focusing on the origin of the Sea Witch, and only introducing the Little Mermaid at the very end where the original tale begins. It’s hard to not feel compassion for the Sea Witch when you understand her background and why she made the decision to take the Little Mermaids voice in exchange for legs. While Disney’s Sea Witch is an archetypal villain, Henning humanizes her and turns her into a sympathetic and multifaceted character that feels more realistic. If you want your perception of a fictional character to take a 180° turn, this is the book to do it.
Okay, I can’t say I’ve ever met a zombie, but if a zombie apocalypse were to ever happen, I want the zombies to be like the ones in WARM BODIES. The vast majority of the book is spent inside R’s head, listening to his internal dialogue and seeing the changed world through his eyes. It’s quite philosophical for a zombie book, which is why it’s on my list. R has no memories, no identity, and no pulse, but he has dreams. He doesn’t enjoy killing people; he enjoys riding escalators and listing to Frank Sinatra. When he decides to let one girl live and keep her safe from the undead, his life death will change forever. This is a funny, scary, and moving take on the classic Romeo and Juliet story.
So, if you want to expand your horizons this year, exercise your empathy, and perhaps get out of your comfort zone through the safety of a book, I would highly recommend any of these titles.