When it comes to reading, I'm a bit of a masochist. What I mean is that I love books that break my heart just a little. I'm talking about the stories that simultaneously crush your soul and renew your faith in the world. (Sappy chick-lit does not fall into this category.) What I'm referring to are books that turn something on inside you and make you feel like the world certainly can't move forward until everyone reads them.
Here's a handful of books that stand out because they ripped my heart out. And I liked it.:
Me Before You by Jojo Moyes Don't be fooled by the thin description on the book jacket, which paints a vague picture. Me Before You is about the unlikely bond that grows between a lost young woman and her paralyzed employer (a once-upon-a-time playboy who is now bound to a wheelchair). At its core, this coming-of-age story is about what happens when parallel lives converge in the most unexpected of ways. The context is heavy -- love, loss, disability, healing -- but at it's core, the dominant message revolves around adapting to life when it veers into a direction you could never have imagined. It'll also ruin you emotionally for a good couple of days.
The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh When Victoria is abandoned by her mother as a baby, it plants the rotten seed that she is unworthy of love. In the years that follow, she bounces between foster homes and homelessness, with everything leading up to one pivotal regret that changes the course of her life forever. Our Victoria is enamored by flowers, which can be used to communicate everything from mistrust to friendship to doubt. When you get down to it, this book is about what makes any of us deserve being loved.
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt Don't be intimidated by the frightening heft of The Goldfinch (a whopping 771 pages). This book is so emotionally wrecking and beautiful; you'll be up to the wee hours with it. The Goldfinch follows the life of Theo Decker, an adolescent who loses his mother in a terrorist attack within the first pages. The event changes the trajectory of his life, leading him into the sordid, underground world of art theft, gunfire and gangsters. (P.S. Boris, who is Theo's best pal, is maybe my favorite character of all time -- a loveable, endearing scam artist who you can't help but root for.)
Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok Jean Kwok invites you into the life of Kimberly Chang, a Chinese youth who emigrates to 1980s Brooklyn with her mother. The two are quickly recruited to work in a seedy sweatshop with other Chinese Americans fighting to earn a living. Horrifying working conditions and poverty dominate their life. By day, Kimberly painfully tries to find her place in American culture, but is soon captivated by a boy she meets in the factory. It's a fish-out-of-water tale about loyalty, obligation and selflessness. Straddling two worlds, she must make the choice between what she wants and what she believes is best for her struggling family. A quick read, Girl in Translation is all at once lovely and heartbreaking.
The Shoemaker's Wife by Adriana Trigiani The Shoemaker's Wife is a generational, back-and-forth love story between Enza and Ciro (two Italian immigrants from the same town near the Northern Alps). The pair first comes together back home after a family tragedy leaves Enza both wounded and hungry for a better life. What follows is a series of near misses as each one finds their own way in America. Set against the backdrop of the First World War, the tale is about familial ties, rebirth and the terrifying thrill that comes with starting over. The Shoemaker's Wife is a period piece rich with the grittiness and glamour of a young New York City (not to mention a steamy love affair).