Between the World and Me
Alex: At one point in Ta-Nehisi Coates’s powerful new book, he writes:
“I would not have you descend into your own dream. I would have you be a conscious citizen of this terrible and beautiful world.”
This statement encapsulates both the thesis and the experience of reading Between the World and Me. The book is written as an essayistic address to his teenaged son, as Coates grapples with America’s history of racism, his own experiences growing up black in this country, and the most recent displays of police violence against the black community—so often directed at boys barely older than his son. It’s a hard look at the violent paradigms upon which our society is based, and it’s painful to read—such a harsh light shining on that reality is blinding. But for so emotionally and intellectually renting a book, I couldn’t bear to put it down. Coates writes these brutal truths poetically, celebrating the beauty of the black body even as he describes all the ways that it is threatened and destroyed. There are no simple solutions in this book, nor any empty promises of hope for a better future. But maybe that’s not what we, as a society, need right now, so much as a voice to offer us the questions, to spark our own wrestling journey towards some answer—to be made conscious of the terror and the beauty.
Long Life: Essays and Other Writings
Lara: Mary Oliver makes me want to cry, but not for the typical reasons. And it might be the same for you, too—if you’re the type to find solace in nature, if you like to linger in the sun’s last light, or stretch your toes in the sand. Oliver’s Long Life: Essays and Other Writings reminds you to do this, and understand everything else that matters. She’ll get under your skin with her essays that read like poems and her authentic meditations on life. Oliver has a way of finding the entire universe in nature and linking it to the rest of life, which by comparison seems trivial, even false. She’ll shine light on the beauty most of us don’t see, like the wind that “… hardly touches us,” and illuminate threads that connect us. Some of her musings sting, like the brevity of a dog’s life (and its related, searing heartbreak). Most everything in Long Life will make you want to head outside, or even go inward, and find joy in what matters, like “… the way the wild wrens sang like they hadn’t a penny in the bank, the way the flowers were dressed in nothing but light.”
The Beginning of Everything
Ashley: If you’re trying to keep your Paper Towns high going after the theatrical release, then you should stop reading this immediately and go read The Beginning of Everything. Actually, before you go, take heed of the “everyone gets a tragedy” warning on the cover, and think about how Schneider’s breakout hit is titled “Severed Heads, Broken Hearts” in the UK. But, then again, as a John Green fan you’re well-equipped to handle these tragedies.
Ezra Faulkner believes everyone experiences a tragic event that alters everything that happens afterwards. For Ezra, it’s a car crash at the end of his junior year that destroys his tennis career, severs his friendships, and takes away any popularity points he’d scored. For his friend Toby, it was catching the severed head of a young boy decapitated on a roller coaster in Disneyland in the seventh grade (and you thought the severing was metaphorical!). While Toby’s tragedy put a wedge between him and Ezra, Ezra’s brings them together again, along with new girl Cassidy (a more tame version of Margo from Paper Towns). Despite all these sad events, The Beginning of Everything is full of charming contemporary YA wit that will make you laugh way more often than cry.
Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness
Lyndsey: Susannah Cahalan’s gripping memoir, Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness, is one of few books that have truly shocked me. I was instantly hooked as I followed twenty-four-year-old Cahalan through a series of seemingly inconsequential events—bug bites, a messy apartment, stress at work, and insecurities about a new relationship—that take her from a successful young journalist at a New York City newspaper to a violent and psychotic person in a matter of days.
Through her own scattered accounts, irrational notes, family member diary entries, and hospital room video footage, Cahalan attempts to reconnect the broken memories from the month when her mind and her body betrayed her. It’s frightening to watch her life unravel on each page as she recounts episodes of paranoia, rage, insomnia, seizures, and amnesia, but I found myself fighting with her as she desperately sought out answers and a diagnosis.
Clive Barker’s The Thief of Always
Joey: In Clive Barker’s The Thief of Always, young Harvey is whisked away by a magical creature to a perfect holiday home where he can escape the boredom of the grey beast of February. Every room is filled with things to delight a young child: ancient relics, aircraft, robots, dinosaurs, and delicious food, while each day is an idyllic jaunt through the year, with each season occurring in rapid succession—Halloween in the evening, Thanksgiving for dinner, and Christmas at night. But Harvey starts to notice a creeping darkness beneath the perfect façade.
This adaptation really highlights Barker’s talent for creating eerie monstrosities. The denizens of the home are grotesquely exaggerated: Rictus’ smile stretches so wide it hangs off either side of his face, and Carna’s skeletal form embodies fear itself. Yet, despite this healthy helping of Barker’s trademark horror, The Thief of Always is an excellent all-ages educational lesson. What ultimately saves Harvey from the terrible Mr. Hood’s holiday house is his own propensity to question and discover. In this battle against evil, his most powerful weapons are his kindness and his mind.