Books + Comics

Lands of Limbo

Stories about being stuck, lost, or left behind.

the ethics of ambiguityThe Ethics of Ambiguity
Simone de Beauvoir
1947, Citadel

Simone de Beauvoir is most famous for writing The Second Sex, a book that became a cornerstone of feminism. But she did so much more than that: She wrote novels, plays, and philosophy books rivaling those of Jean-Paul Sartre, her longtime lover. The Ethics of Ambiguity is my favorite book of hers. It’s a super smart, easy to understand introduction to French existentialism in which she’s basically like, “Life is dumb but you have a responsibility to not act a fool,” and, “Even if shit sucks and has no purpose, you have free will so that is a beautiful enough reason to live.” She’s also like, “Don’t oppress others, assholes!” (NOTE: ALL QUOTATIONS LIBERALLY PARAPHRASED.) A lot of my friends and fellow Rookies read Buddhist works when they’re feeling confused or unmoored. That has never worked for me, but for some reason The Ethics of Ambiguity always has. —Julianne

my misspent youthMy Misspent Youth
Meghan Daum
2001, Open City Books

I picked up this book based on its title alone, because lately I’ve been feeling like I have definitely misspent some youth, among other things (no regrets though, YOLO!). Despite my current bummed-out attitude, this is not a bummer book. This is a book about everyday experiences like online dating, money, and true feelings for carpets, dolls, and flight attendants. I immediately related to it, and I started looking at things in my life a little differently. Sure, the title essay—about the dream of living in New York and the (financial) reasons one often needs to leave—maybe hit a little too close to home, but I think even without all my current existential malarkeys, I would still be as happy as I am now that this gem of a book and I found each other. —Laia

the bell jarThe Bell Jar
Sylvia Plath
1963, Heinemann

The Bell Jar is the story of the Esther Greenwood. On the surface, she has a dream life, but inside she’s dealing with depression and mental illness. When I read this book, I was dealing with the death of a family member, and it helped me in a huge way because it articulated aspects of depression that had been too mysterious and scary for me to understand. It empathizes with mental illness instead of tossing it aside as a weakness or a fault. It also conveys the endless doubt that comes with depression: doubt in the people around you, doubt in the future, and doubt in your own identity and perseverance. Sylvia Plath‘s personal life and tragic suicide will always be tied to The Bell Jar, but her writing is universal. I cried A LOT while I read it because of how well I recognized Esther’s sense of being lost and detached. It made me feel like someone really understood. —Lucy

the leftoversThe Leftovers
Tom Perrotta
2011, St. Martin’s Press

This story deals with the horrible, lonely, unavoidably selfish question that EVERYONE faces sooner or later: Why did someone else get picked and not ME? In The Leftovers, however, everyone on the planet is reckoning with this question at the same time. A lot of people completely unravel (a cult that requires vows of silence and chain-smoking becomes very popular), some people get angry (family tensions, especially, are OUT OF CONTROL), and a few realize they might actually be better off alone, even if that means they aren’t “chosen ones” or whatever. This all probably sounds extremely serious, and it is to an extent, but it made me laugh out loud several times (the author is the same guy who wrote Election, and the humor in The Leftovers is similarly dark and deadpan). Read this if you’re feeling abandoned, snubbed, or otherwise left behind but don’t want to wallow in it. —Lena

we were liarsWe Were Liars
E. Lockhart
2014, Delacorte Press

“Welcome to the beautiful Sinclair family. No one is a criminal. No one is an addict. No one is a failure.” These are the first things Cady Sinclair tells the reader in We Were Liars, letting you know right away that she’s either lying or hiding some pretty rank dirty laundry. The well-to-do Sinclair family “summers” on a private island off the coast of Massachusetts, where Cady spends most of her time with a crew of cousins close to her age. When Cady is 15, something terrible happens on the island that she can’t quite remember. Two years later, she spends the summer trying to piece together what her family isn’t telling her. This book has everything I want from a summer read: a gorgeous setting that I can imagine I’m vacationing in; flawed, unreliable, sometimes infuriating characters; and a twisty-turny psychological mystery that is impossible to put down. —Stephanie

woolgatheringWoolgathering
Patti Smith
1992, Hanuman Books

Woolgathering is a beautiful li’l book of poems, prose, and photographs by Patti Smith. I am a really big Patti fan, and I love that this collection gives me such sweet and tender peeks into her thoughts and memories. Patti reflects on growing up in Pennsylvania and New Jersey and recounts stories about her mother, who taught Patti how to pray, and imagines memories of her grandmothers, neither of whom she met. Pick this book up when you’re feeling a little delicate and need a reminder that there is magic hidden in the world. —Shriya

stuck in the middleStuck in the Middle: 17 Comics From an Unpleasant Age
Ariel Schrag (editor)
2007, Viking

Edited by the cartoonist Ariel Schrag, this book was my bible from late elementary school through eighth grade. It compiles 17 comics about middle school by some of my favorite comics artists, including Schrag, Joe Matt, and Daniel Clowes. I recently rediscovered it, which I’m thankful for because it reminds me that adolescence sucks for everyone sometimes. —Britney

the graveyard bookThe Graveyard Book
Neil Gaiman
2008, Harper Collins/Bloomsbury

The Graveyard Book is about a boy named Bod, which is short for Nobody. Bod is adopted by ghosts in a graveyard after his parents are murdered. He’s not quite human, but not quite a ghost, either. He can slip through mausoleum walls, but unlike his spirit pals, he needs things like food. As Bod grows up, he starts to explore the world outside the cemetery—until old family enemies catch up to him, leading to an epic fight for survival. If you’re a fantasy-lover like me, The Graveyard Book is a perfect fix when you want a quick but engaging read (it’s meant for younger readers but is fun at any age). —Rachael

cat's cradleCat’s Cradle
Kurt Vonnegut
1963, Holt, Rinehart and Winston

Cat’s Cradle is a force to be reckoned with because it fits millions of details and foils into one novel. The eccentric Hoenikker family is at the heart of the story, which is narrated by an everyday dude named John, who happens to meet them while doing research on atomic warfare. The Hoenikker patriarch is a deranged scientist who helped create the atom bomb, one of the sons is next in line to rule a hilariously corrupt nation, and the whole clan is holding on to one of the universe’s greatest secrets. Their family dynamics were unbelievable throughout the book, but the disaster that unfolds near the story’s end is what really had me screaming, “What the EFF?!” –Chanel

this side of salvationThis Side of Salvation
Jeri Smith-Ready
2014, Simon Pulse

When David sneaks back into his house after a post-prom party, the best night of his life quickly becomes the most bizarre. He finds his parents’ pajamas in their bed, completely empty of parents. They were part of a religious group that believed a version of the Rapture would come that night, and as far as David can tell, it did. This Side of Salvation is not really a book about religion, though. It’s about grief and loss and the way we rebuild our lives in the wake of tragedy. David isn’t only trying to figure out what happened to his parents—he’s trying to put himself and his family back together again, and with the help of an awesome, multidimensional cast of characters that bring laughter, perspective, and depth to the story. This is easily my favorite book of the year. —Stephanie

every dayEvery Day
David Levithan
2012, Knopf Books for Young Readers

Every Day follows A, a genderless being with no physical attachment. They wake up each morning in a completely different person’s body, and with an equally different life. They are used to this constantly changing existence—until they meet Rhiannon, the girlfriend of a boy whose body they’re inhabiting at the time. Even when A switches to a new body, they can’t forget that girl,and they go to great lengths to find her. In any other context, this would be a completely clichéd (and possibly very creepy) plot point, but in this book, it’s thrilling. When the identity of the main character is so unpredictable, almost anything could happen! —Britney

absentAbsent
Katie Williams
2013, Chronicle Books

In Absent, 17-year-old Paige dies from a tragic fall and finds herself haunting her high school. She’s helplessly stuck as her sort-of-boyfriend moves on to other girls and her best friend claims that Paige jumped on purpose. Paige becomes obsessed with clearing her name, and discovers that she has the ability to possess people. With that power, she launches a campaign to destroy the reputations of the people who started the suicide rumors, only to end up—even as a ghost!—in a tangled web of secrets. At its core, Absent is really about surviving high school. Anyone who has gone through that will identify with Paige’s predicament. —Rachael ♦

7 Comments

  • Dessi July 18th, 2014 8:30 AM

    I love this! It’s such a perfect collection of books. The Bell Jar will forever stand out to me as something special. And maybe this article is the little push I need for reading some of Kurt Vonnegut’s work.
    If you’re into writing, feel free to contact me as I’m looking for people to join my writing team for my new website – dazzledmag.weebly.com (which will be changed to dazzledmag.com soon).

  • Vlada July 18th, 2014 1:59 PM

    This list is excellent. I’m currently reading “we were liars” and enjoying it and I’ve read “The Graveyard Book” and liked it.
    I think I’ll add Simone de Beauvoir work to my TBR, so thank you rookiemag… again

    PS: This is my blog btw http://speakingofvlada.blogspot.com.es/

  • Erin. July 18th, 2014 2:01 PM

    This is perfect! Thanks for mentioning The Ethics of Ambiguity, Julianne, it sounds really interesting and basically the thing I should be reading right now.

  • HollyMargaret July 18th, 2014 3:18 PM

    So glad you included Simone de Beauvoir!! She is my favourite feminist icon and I wish she would appear more often on Rookie!!

  • honorarygilmoregal July 18th, 2014 8:11 PM

    We Were Liars is such a good book!

  • Whatsername July 18th, 2014 11:27 PM

    The Graveyard Book and Everyday are SUCH GOOD BOOKS.

  • Maddy July 22nd, 2014 8:41 PM

    I want to read ALL OF THESE BOOKS NOW

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