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  • December 2010
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Good books that are hard to read

This year I’ve come across 3 books that were hard to put down but hard to get through.  Not because of the writing, but because the subject matter was sad, even brutal, and the author made the story so heartbreaking and real that I sometimes had to compose myself before going on. 

If you, like me, appreciate these good but hard to read type of novels from time to time, then I have some recommendations for you.    They’re not for every teen, and that’s reflected in the marketing (but more about that later)–just consider this my caveat–there’s nothing truly explicit about these books, but they are about the bad things that happen in life.

If I Stay by Gayle Forman


     In some ways this seems like a plot constructed just to make the reader cry.  A tearjerker, if you will.  But it has more complexity than that term implies, and a protagonist with a genuine, vulnerable heart that makes the story impossible to put down.

One snowy day in Oregon, Mia and her family go for a drive to visit friends.  And then, suddenly, Mia is outside of her body and nothing will ever be the same.  The novel follows her over the course of a day while she witnesses what goes on in the hospital, thinks about particularly poignant moments in her life, and realizes that she has to decide whether to stay or go.

I spent the whole time reading this with a lump in my throat–maybe because I had an unfortunate second-hand look at a tragic death this summer, but also because Gayle Forman does a great job and writes vividly.



Room by Emma Donoghue

  It’s one of Library Journal’s Top Ten Books of the Year!  Also: “shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, has won the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize …and the Hughes & Hughes Irish Novel of the Year, …chosen as a Notable Book of 2011 by the NEW YORK TIMES, the GLOBE AND MAIL.”  (quoted from Donoghue’s website).

You may have noticed that Room is an “adult” novel, in that it is being marketed for adults.  But it has a lot in common with books that are marketed for teens–fast pace, inventive point of view, and a journey of discovery. 

It’s narrated by a five-year old, Jack, who lives with his very young mother in a room, or Room, as he calls it. And why not? he’s never lived anywhere else, and he’s never seen the outside world.  There is only Room, and Bed, and Television, that shows what’s happening on different planets.  There’s also a man who comes in from Outer Space and visits his Mom. 

You catch on to what the situation really is faster than Jack does–and it is his voice that keeps this story from being entirely terrible and gloomy.  In fact, it’s as lively and smart and full of wonder as Jack is.  With an undertone of dread.

Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan

This has won the Printz Award, which, as you may know, “exemplifies literary excellence in young adult literature”.  Its author, Margo Lanagan, didn’t write it to be marketed to a certain age range, and there’s been a lot of discussion among librarians about whether it has enough “teen appeal” or whether it just happens to involve a lot of teen characters.

You can be the judge of that.  All I know is that I loved it.

It’s a reimagining of a fairy tale (Rose Red and Snow White) and is set in a fairytale world (and a world within a world).  Liga suffers abuse from her father, and then, when he dies, abuse from boys in her town.  Life, in fact, is so hard that she doesn’t want to live any more.  Instead, she is granted her own perfect world, where she raises two daughters.  But the real world starts leaking through. 

Like any good fairytale it has truly terrible parts, and dread, and heartbreak, and also real goodness and moments of sharp relief & comfort.  It’s a really enveloping tale, but not for the faint of heart, and told in appropriately fantastical dialect:

“…Liga had not wanted to encounter any more such as them, with their needling eyes–and no man, either, taking care to look away, that the sight of her did not taint him or make him laugh, or whatever it was they feared. …So she mustered all these things in her mind against the flarings of curiosity that afflicted her, …Everything was as it should be on the road, with the wheelruts and the hoofclefts gleaming with the night’s rainshowers, the oak with the cut branches that looked like a popeyed old scawcraw, and the scattering of wildflowers either side.”


What are your hard to read books?

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