In no particular order:
Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury
This was totally creepy and utterly profound at the same time. AND it featured circus freaks and carnies—bonus!
Dandelion Wine, by Ray Bradbury
The story of a boy who suddenly realized he was ALIVE is a lesson those of us who have dried up or been defeated could use now and again. The way Bradbury’s prose excitedly tumbles over itself is a poetic voice I can only aspire to.
Angels and Insects, by A.S. Byatt
Elegant and spare, Byatt undresses polite society, but she uses a fascinating background of entomology—the study of insect life—to question, with parallels and contrasts, whether human behaviour is really so strange after all.
A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens
I honestly reread this every Christmas. I’m quite bah humbug myself having slaved in retail too many holidays to retain any shiny veneer. But this gem is truly about that elusive “true spirit” of Christmas, the spirit that should be a year-long affair: optimism, kindness, family, and compassion for the poor. Throwing in the truly atmospheric ghosts was a stroke of genius. Dickens wrote endless pages in every novel, yet his humble shortest is the masterpiece.
As for Me and My House, by Sinclair Ross
A Saving Grace, by Lorna Crozier
Long before Reservation Road hit the big screen, there was this humble volume: As for Me and My House, still lost in the wheat fields of the Canadian prairies. The 1941 storyline is very different—desolate prairie farming and churches in Canada, not the insipid vacuum of American suburbia. And the turn of events is not the same. But the parallels are there: a woman’s dissatisfaction and how it comes between her and her man, and the surprisingly still-unspeakable topic of how being nature’s ready made womb is not always a frigging miracle of beauty and joy. I always thought, men have war, women have pregnancy to refill the wars, and that’s pretty much the grim side of the meaning of life. Crozier’s A Saving Grace is a collection of poems by “Mrs. Bentley” from the novel. She takes the heart from the story and forms a new one. Stunning.
Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson
I’ll forever lament that this was made into an okay movie that took a lifetime of my perceptions of the characters and their world and reduced that to someone else’s cheesy vision. This very special children’s book is not too young for adults. I’ve read a lot of books on grief, but this tiny fiction jewel is by far the best of all of them. It also touches tenderly on growing up outside of gender/class/social expectations, loving freely, non-conformity, imperfect family relationships, and the true meaning of spiritual faith. It is heroic and devastating. It takes no time at all to read, and changes you forever.
Jacob Have I Loved, by Katherine Paterson
I won’t mention every single Paterson book, but Jacob Have I Loved might get a place on my list of top fiction, ever, not just novellas. Forget Gossip Girls and R. L. Stine—this story is mature and deep, probing into the thick confusion of the poison of jealousy. “Caroline was so sure, so present, so easy, so light and gold, while I was all gray and shadow…” the narrator tells us. But Paterson doesn’t give the pat answers of a breezy teen love story; she examines that unspoken truth that some siblings are loved more and/or have better luck than the other, and what if you’re that other one? She treats depression like a real emotion in real people, and never veers into the “after school special” feeling. The harsh conclusion? You have to find your own way anyway, even with the crippling disappointments of life. But when you do, you might find some insight into the darkest emotions of yourself, and others around you. It’s not just me who has saved this book from my teen years: The New York Times called it a “novel of special brilliance.”
Gentlehands, by M.E. Kerr
This slim, unassuming little book first appears to be the classic “blue collar teen boy with zits longs for rich beach brat” storyline. But its poetry surprises you from the beginning, and soon you’re deep inside Buddy’s traumatic summer. It’s no easy task to make a book about finding out your Granddad is a Nazi war criminal so subtle and beautiful. Kerr manages because she avoids the temptation to overwrite at every turn, and lets us feel the stark, spare anger of the boy instead. She avoids over-sentimentalizing his relationship with his grandfather without reducing its power. I can still recall vividly the scene where he teaches young Buddy that it’s better to have one very good belt than a few junky ones, even if your companions are loaded. His confusion and fury feels like being sucker-punched. I always knew I wanted to be a writer, but this is one of those books I read as a teenager that removed any shreds of doubt. I hope I’ll be able to tell a story so vividly one day.
Demian, by Herman Hesse
I confess that much of Hesse’s existential metaphysics and pursuit of enlightenment among monsters went way over my head or else bored me to tears. But nothing has ever captured the profound charisma that some people have, and how it can put a spell over another, like this extremely intense short novel. “I not only noticed that it was a boy’s face but a man’s; I also felt or saw that it was not entirely the face of a man either, but had something feminine about it, too…neither old nor young, but somehow a thousand years old, somehow timeless, bearing the scars of an entirely different history than we knew; animals could look like that, or trees, or planets…he was like an animal or like a spirit or like a picture, he was different, unimaginably different from the rest of us.”
Lorette C. Luzajic is the author of The Astronaut’s Wife: Poems of Eros and Thanatos, and Weird Monologues for a Rainy Life. Find her HERE.