It’s rare that I post more than book reviews and promo posts here, but I’m looking to change that! Recently, I’ve gotten into watching BookTube videos (particularly my friend Katie’s channel), and going forward, I’ll be participating in things like Monthly Recommendations and Top 5 Wednesdays!
Top 5 Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Lainey. You get a new topic every Wednesday, and you list your Top 5 books related to that topic. If you’d like to take part, join the Goodreads group, and add your name to the list of bloggers & booktubers!
This week, I’ll be talking about books with hard topics. I never set out to read books with heavy subject matter, but they seem to find me anyway. In fact, I’ve read so many that picking only five seems a bit challenging to me at the moment. Let’s see how this goes!
1. Firsts by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn
Firsts is a YA novel which deals with a lot of hard topics–divorce and parental abandonment, sexual abuse, and psychological damage. On the face of it, our protagonist, Mercedes Ayres, is not a good person at all. She sleeps with virgin boys who already have girlfriends, justifying this by saying she wants to make sure no girl has to suffer through a horrible first time…the way she did. This sounds crazy and horrible, and it is, but not for the reasons you expect. The more you learn about Mercedes’ past, the more you realize how damaged she is.
Books like this are important because it makes you think long and hard about people who are, on the surface, making horrible decisions. There was a time in my life that, had I come across a girl like Mercedes, I probably would have just judged her and that would be that. Instead, through Firsts, I entered into the mind of someone who was clearly doing something so incredibly wrong…and found the heart of someone who was hurting and in desperate need of love. We all need to remember that everyone has a story, and everyone is fighting a battle we know nothing about. This book is a fantastic reminder.
2. The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult
The Storyteller is an adult novel by Jodi Picoult. I don’t mention a genre because it’s one of those books that seems to defy classification. Part women’s fiction, part historical fiction, part psychological thriller, it follows two different storylines which intersect with Sage Singer, a young woman struggling to find her place after the death of her mother in the wreck that disfigured her. She befriends Josef Weber, an aged German man from her grief group. Just as she gets comfortable with his companionship, he shares with her a horrifying secret and asks of her a horrifying favor. He was a Nazi during World War II. Since Sage is the descendant of a Holocaust survivor, he wants her to hear his confession, give him pardon, and then take his life.
Per her usual, Ms. Picoult tackles an unfathomable amount of difficult topics here, including brainwashing, mental conditioning, the Holocaust, euthanasia, and other ethical dilemmas. If you’ve read any of her books before, you won’t be disappointed by her signature calculated plot twist at the end–its execution is flawless. This is a hard book to read, due to the graphic nature of both Josef’s and Sage’s grandmother’s account of the war and the Holocaust, but it’s important to knuckle down and read even fictional accounts of these monstrosities. We need to remember what mankind is capable of, so our mistakes will not be repeated.
3. The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra
This is actually a collection of connected short stories, rather than a novel, but it definitely deserves a slot on this list. Set alternately in St. Petersburg, war torn Chechnya, and a small Arctic nickel mining town in Siberia, these stories explore oppression, censorship, family, death, and hardship during the reign of the Soviet Union and after its fall in the nineties.
I think this collection is important for the same reason I gave for the last two items on the list. Dystopian fiction might be all the rage these days, and I think overall that’s a good thing, but we need to remember that stories like these aren’t just made up as entertaining what-ifs. These things have actually happened, and they deserve to be remembered.
4. Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen
Lock and Key is not my favorite Sarah Dessen novel, but there are definitely some hard topics in this YA novel that are dealt with grace and composure. 17 year old Ruby Cooper is used to taking care of herself and her mother, a chronically unemployed drug addict and alcoholic. When her mother finally abandons her for good, child protective services places her with her older sister, Cora, whom Ruby has always assumed willingly abandoned her when she went off to college.
This book deals with homelessness, addiction, abuse, psychological trauma, and reconciliation. It’s not easy or pleasant to read, which is probably why it isn’t my favorite Dessen, but it’s definitely a book that will stick with you. As someone who was blessed with an imperfect but above all loving and caring family, it was eye-opening to see how often that is not the case.
I hope you enjoyed this week’s T5W! I’ll see you next time.