Hey everyone! So lately I’ve been trying to read books that somehow make me think differently about the world. It started by accident but now I’m kind of on a roll. And there have been a lot of books over the years that have made me realize things about the world that I didn’t know existed before. So I thought I’d share some of those books.
Many of these do not exactly have happy endings. I don’t think they’re meant to. They’re meant to show the realities of the world in a sometimes very harsh light. Some of these can be difficult to read. But all the same, I think it’s important that we know they exist.
So here we go!
Top Ten Eye-Opening Books
1. Stolen: A Letter to My Captor by Lucy Christopher
This was immediately the first book I thought of when I came up with this list. When Gemma is kidnapped, her life turns upside down. Ty, her kidnapper, is hot and fit and only wants Gemma’s love. (Which, you know, completely makes up for the fact that he’s kidnapped her and taken her to the Outback of Australia. NOT.) Gemma is put in a very uncomfortable situation and watching her process it…you can’t help but be moved by her struggle.
2. Endangered by Eliot Schrefer
It’s not very often I read books set in Africa–maybe because there aren’t as many as there are about other cultures? I don’t know. Sophie follows her mother to the Congo to help her work at a sanctuary for bonobos, but everything turns deadly the moment a violent coup tries to take over the government. Suddenly Sophie and her beloved bonobos are in danger, running for their lives through the jungles of the Congo and hiding from men who would kill both of them. It’s dangerous and real and definitely eye-opening about what has been happening in places like the Congo where the government is (was?) unsettled.
3. Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed
This is a very hard to story to read. For as much as I loved it, I will probably never read it again. Naila’s Pakistani family is very strict. When she falls for a boy before she’s allowed to start dating, her parents freak. They take her to Pakistan to reclaim her roots, but it’s there that Naila finds out her marriage has been arranged to a man she doesn’t know or care for. It’s a nightmare situation, but it’s a nightmare that some girls in the world are still facing. And it’s hard to know that this isn’t exactly fictional. (The author acknowledges that she pieced the story together from experiences of people she knows.)
4. Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
I love this book so much. Lina is a Lithuanian girl living in the dangerous time of 1941. Stolen from home with her family by Soviet soldiers, they are sent on a journey of thousands of miles to the Siberian tundra to work in gulags for a crime Lina doesn’t even know of. It’s a flip on the typical Holocaust story because, let’s be real, the Holocaust was not the first or the only event of its kind in history. And it’s important to acknowledge the others who also suffered similar fates.
5. Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman
I knew I wanted to put a Holocaust book on this list, and I thought this one was unconventional enough to fit the bill. The heroine is a perfect German girl named Gretchen, whose “uncle” Dolf is none other than Adolf Hitler. We’ve been taught forever that Hitler is a monster–but here’s a girl growing up within the Nazi Party and loves Hitler as family. It’s hard for us to read that, because it’s true that for many, Hitler was not the Demon we see him as now. He was fantastic with children, for example. It’s uncomfortable for us to acknowledge that. And Gretchen’s not blind–we do get to see what happens as Germany changes around her and not in good ways. I’m in no way trying to diminish the atrocities of the Holocaust–but I think sometimes we also need to see why so many Germans bought into (or pretended to buy into) what Hitler was preaching.
6. The Watch That Ends the Night by Allan Wolf
This is nothing short of beautiful. It’s a lyrical novel written from the perspective of various people–real and fictional–aboard the tragic Titanic. Each poem has its own style, depending on the narrator. It’s amazing how he pulls that off. But since it covers various classes from first to crew, and it covers many races, you get to see what happened from all different sides. Just when you thought you knew everything about the sinking…
7. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
I put a graphic novel on the list! Look at me go with all these different types of stories! Ok, so this is autobiographical. It’s Marjane’s story as she grew up in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution. It chronicles her youth there, her time in high school in Vienna growing up as something of a wild child, and her self-imposed exile from her homeland. It can be funny to read at times, but it’s also very real about struggles she went through. Revolutions aren’t exactly painless, no matter which side you’re on.
8. Sold by Patricia McCormick
Even though I didn’t exactly like this when I read it, I can’t deny that it’s important. Lakshmi lives in Nepal with her incredibly poor family. When rain washes out the crops that year, Lakshmi is sent away by her father, only to find out that she’s been sold into prostitution. It’s a brutal and horrific story, but it’s also something that girls around the world are dealing with every day. So as horrible as it is for us to read it, it’s even worse knowing that it’s not completely fiction.
9. Between the Notes by Sharon Huss Roat
I chose this one because I think it’s an important look at social class and stereotypes. When Ivy’s family loses everything, she’s forced to move to the poor side of town, even though she doesn’t want anyone at school to know that. And she’s forced to confront what she’s always thought about “those people”. It’s fascinating and you really do have to think as you read it: have I ever acted like Ivy?
10. Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
This is such an important book because it shows you the consequences of your choices and how they impact everyone around you. I remember reading this in the car on vacation and trying so hard not to cry. It’s emotional and poignant and moving. It’s such a valuable read.