This week’s topic — courtesy of the Broke and the Bookish — is wonderful, because it doesn’t specify which emotion you felt when reading the book, and it doesn’t necessarily mean you even adored — or hated — the book in question. I’ve limited my selections to books that touched me deeply because of my own grief. I was trying not to highlight books I’ve written about before, but that’s just impossible with a topic like this!
By way of explanation, I should explain that my mother died on October 2, 2008. I’ve read all the following since then, making me particularly more vulnerable to books about orphans, grieving or dying protagonists.:
1. “Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour” by Morgan Matson: One of the major themes of the book is that Amy’s father dies and it totally unhinges the three remaining members of her immediate family in different ways. Without her grief, her paralyzing fear of driving, there would be no need for Roger to be on the cross-country road trip. I loved how each of them dealt with some personal pain (hers grief, his heartache) but they managed to open up as the miles ticked by and their adventure blossomed into something much more.
2. “Before I Die” by Jenny Downham: I write about my love of this book frequently (I’m a bit obsessed with it, especially now that I know there’s a film adaptation coming out next year starring Dakota Fanning, Jeremy Irvine, and Kaya Scodelario), because it stays with you long after you’re done with the heartbreaking, tearjerking final page. Having seen my mother live — and die — with cancer, I was glued to this tale of a dying 16-year-old who knows how to live and love until her last breath.
3. “The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak: I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. I read this book while camping with my family of five. At some point throughout the long weekend, each of my kids — not to mention my Boy Scout of a husband who was left to do nearly everything by himself — asked me why I was crying. I used up an entire travel-container of tissues reading about Liesel and Rudy and Death himself.
4. “Daughter of Smoke and Bone” by Laini Taylor: I just finished this book on Saturday, within minutes of my sister Diana, who lives several states away. We couldn’t stop gushing about it, because it’s one of those novels you finish and immediately want to start reading again. I’m not a big fantasy lover, but there is something so poetic, personal, lyrical about Taylor’s writing that I was instantly taken with, and the orphaned protagonist, Karou (and isn’t that a lovely name?) is so layered and beautiful. And while I promised myself to stay away from “angel” books, Akiva was just the antidote I needed to the sleazy lust-driven angels in other supernatural YA books.
5. “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” by J.K. Rowling: What — isn’t everyone going to feature this epic on their list? I think it would be impossible to read the final “Harry Potter” installment and not have a “strong emotional” response. Even those who hate the Epilogue (in fan-fiction terms, that’s EWE for Epilogue, What Epilogue?) will agree Rowling capped her series with the most emotional tome of the lot. It’s not just the deaths that get to me, although they were so difficult to get past; it’s everything from Hermione obliviating her parents to Ron screaming “HERMIONE!!!” in Malfoy Manor. I don’t think anyone could read “Deathly Hallows” and not be moved.
6. “How to Save a Life” by Sara Zarr: I recently read this book on NetGalley, and it was phenomenal. It was so refreshing to read an intimate coming-of-age book when the trend nowadays is three-to-seven-book paranormal/dystopian/fantasy franchises. I know some readers don’t care for multiple point-of-view stories, but Zarr handles it perfectly, switching between two teenage girls who are worlds apart — one a pregnant survivor of abuse who preys on the sympathy of others with her loveliness, the other a caustic fatherless punk-chick who can’t come to terms with her grief. They’re both so real and flawed — unlikeable at times, even — but you can’t help but love and respect them.
7. “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins: (I just wrote this a couple of week ago) I spent all of last Christmas holiday reading the three “Hunger Games” books, and although I’ve reread parts of all three novels, there’s nothing like the first time you learn about the Districts, the Tributes, the backstory to Katniss and Peeta’s relationship. You read the books again to absorb the tiniest of details, but the first time is breathtaking, shocking, unrepeatable.
8. “If I Stay” by Gayle Forman: I love Mia, but my heart belongs to Adam. He’s the one who pulls Mia out of her slow decision to join her family in death, and every scene he’s in should be a reminder to young women everywhere that the right guy would do the same for you. The right guy will warm your hands when they’re cold, tell you that you don’t need to change a thing about yourself, remind you why you have a gift so big and magical it needs to be shared with the world. Between Adam and Mia’s recollections about her amazing family, it was such an emotional read.
9. “Jellicoe Road” by Melina Marchetta: Speaking of emotional reads, my friends at YA Crush can attest to the fact that Marchetta’s novels are simply gorgeous. The girls are fierce and fragile and so full of love; the guys — oh the guys. If you haven’t fallen in love with “Jonah effing Griggs” (as Tee would say), you should immediately buy this book. It’s two stories, both beautiful and heartbreaking, woven into one. You may not even “get” what’s happening at first, but that’s OK, just keep reading and I promise you’ll think it’s divine.
10. “The Sky Is Everywhere” by Jandy Nelson: I honestly think this is one of the most underrated YA novels of 2010. I don’t understand why I don’t read more about Lennie and Joe (or Nelson). I loved how total Lennie’s grief for her sister was, how it shaped and colored everything she did — and how it made her do uncharacteristic, infuriating things I won’t mention for fear of ruining the book. When she and Joe are together, it’s like their musical souls sing to each other — a lot like Mia and Adam.
Bonus picks: I read these and found myself wanting to hurl (either the books or the contents of my stomach).
“Breaking Dawn” by Stephenie Meyer: It’s not that I didn’t enjoy the “Twilight” books, because I did; I even dragged Diana to the nearest Barnes & Noble with a midnight release party for “Breaking Dawn.” I consider myself a “Twilight trilogist” of sorts. I can’t stand the final book except for a handful of sequences and the chapter dedicated to Jacob. I thought the author broke some fundamental truths about her own universe, and in the end didn’t require her protagonist to sacrifice ANY thing to have her happy ending, and I have a huge problem with that. Not to mention that Renesmee’s birth has to be the grossest birth scene ever put to paper (and I’ve had three kids without drugs, so I’m not squeamish!). Flame me all you want, but I really wish the franchise had ended with the best, not the worst of the saga. Despite all this, I can’t wait to see the last two movies!
“Hush Hush” by Becca Fitzpatrick: This is one of the few book series I chose not to continue. I barely made it to the end. I didn’t mind the protagonist Nora so much (although I couldn’t even remember her name and had to look it up), but I do remember Patch the angel. He was, pardon my French, a douchebag. I don’t say that word mildly, but I found him to be a complete jerk who just wants to get it on with Nora. Innuendo and lust are to be expected in YA, but for some reason, it just seemed so full on that the actual romance, the feelings behind the hormones weren’t there. Plus, I couldn’t get into the backstory, which will probably sound ludicrous since I just sang the praises of “Daughter of Smoke and Bone,” which weaves rather complicated heavenly worlds with ours, but that’s the difference a fabulous writer makes.