Sam Chelton, Sarah Doyle, and Guy Grieve
Do you like to hike, camp, or do anything that involves hanging out outside of established civilization for a little while? Same! That is why you should pick up this book, which serves as a great beginner’s guide to getting out there. Knowing how to pitch a tent and light a fire are some of the more obvious skills you’d look to have, but dude, do you know how to treat a snakebite, or how to remove leeches from your body? You probably should. I say so, because I bought this book immediately after VERY, VERY STUPIDLY embarking on a hike through rural country with a half-full water bottle, no cell phone, no map, on an 88F degree day. I got very lost through some country named for its abundance of rattlesnakes, and realized I should probably know the game before I just jump in it. Great for: Those of us who maybe grew up in a city, or never went through Girl Scouts, or never had parents that took them camping…but still feel the call of the wild. Awoooooooo! —Dylan
The Giving Tree
1964, Harper & Row
This is one of the childhood books that I try to avoid reading now, because just thinking about this truly sad, yet lovely story automatically activates the sprinklers behind my eyeballs. The Giving Tree follows a boy’s lifelong relationship with a tree that gives her everything to him, simply because she loves him. Divided into the stages of a person’s life, Silverstein’s tale sums up the careless attitudes we have toward the natural world, and shows what happens to our relationships with those who love us as we grow older. It’s pretty heart-crumbling to see this in the form of the tree’s friendship with the boy. This is probably the first book I ever knew, but even though it’s styled as a children’s book, regardless of your age The Giving Tree will shock you with its truthfulness and relevance. —Alyson
Your Invitation to a Modest Breakfast
2012, Fence Books
Hannah Gamble’s first collection of poetry, (named after one of her own poems) makes poetry fun. I feel like an elementary school English teacher saying that, but it’s true. These are the kinds of poems that you can just hang out with and enjoy reading, because Hannah Gamble’s brain is incredible and the best images will pop into your head. Once I heard Hannah read at a poetry event and afterwards the talked about how she writes poems that are fun to read out loud. You can tell that this collection relishes existing. Her works are so lively, but there’s something strangely unsettling about them that doesn’t let you swallow so easy—like the poem “Growing a Bear” which I’m still chewing over two years later. Your Invitation to A Modest Breakfast is deceptively frank but genuinely inviting, and has some great sexual imagery that will leave you amused, and disturbed for long after. —Tova
All the Rage
2015, St. Martin’s Griffin
On pages 80–81 of All the Rage the main character, Romy, looks out at a field and remembers watching a weak calf collapse and die. The farmhands dragged it off, but the mother cow continued calling to it. “Sometimes I feel something like that, between my mom and me. That I’m the daughter she keeps calling for so long after she’s gone.” I sobbed my eyes out reading that because never before had a writer tapped into exactly what I’d felt at 16—like the girl I was had died, I didn’t know how to relate to the people who were mourning her, I only knew I had to armor myself.
In the second chapter, Romy armors herself with perfectly applied red nail polish and lipstick. In the first chapter, we learn what she’s armoring herself against. A year earlier, she went to a party with Kellan Turner, a popular senior she had an enormous crush on. At the party, Kellan raped Romy, but when the truth slips out, the town intimidates her into silence—after all, he’s the son of their small town’s sheriff, while she’s daughter of the town drunk. Romy loses all of her friends and regularly endures gossip and evil pranks, like having her underwear stolen from her gym locker. The only solace she finds is at her waitressing job in a neighboring town where people don’t know about her past. But then there’s another party, and Romy wakes up on the roadside, her blouse unbuttoned, no memory of how she got there or what happened. Her former best friend Penny, who also has ties to Kellan, is missing. Now Romy has to decide if she is going to speak up and fight back despite being vilified.
All the Rage is a powerful portrait of rape culture. It illustrates the insidious nature of victim blaming and communities that insulate their golden boys, as well as the many emotions that survivors cycle through. This story doesn’t hold back, at all, taking you directly into the maelstrom of being a teenage girl. —Stephanie
I Was Not Born
2014, Alkaline Paperback
“How to trust a body that has betrayed you,” Julia Cohen writes in I Was Not Born, a small book containing beautiful meditations on illness and our relationships to the bodies that demand our trust while constantly failing us. The illness that the poems tackle is not identified, and so many of the poems, like “I cannot name it, it lives”, grapple with what it means to be sick with something unknown, and how that affects one’s growth as a human and a woman. The poems challenge the author’s origins—questioning what it means to be born—and her intimate relationships with others. Cohen uses interesting and innovative forms: Some chapters are titled after numbered therapy sessions (“Therapy Session #7 Continued”), and contain prose-y poetic dialogues between the author and the therapist. This collection, like all great books, gave me permission to expand my idea of which parts of our lives can be poetry, and what forms can contain it. —Tova
The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl
2006, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
In the 1930s, the United States was struck by one of the biggest ecological and economic disasters in its history. Even though the soil wasn’t suited to cultivation, the states within the Great Plains had been plowed to death to grow wheat during the World Wars. Afterwards, the financial crisis of the Great Depression hit, and so did almost a decade of drought. The resulting catastrophe—largely man-made but helped along by nature—was the Dust Bowl, which displaced an estimated 3.5 million people and brought “black blizzards” of dust across the Great Plains states so terrible that some politicians suggested that we write off that land and let it become a desert.
In this heartbreaking but compulsively readable narrative, Timothy Egan weaves together interviews, diary entries, and photos to tell the stories of the farming families who weathered these storms, the dreams that lured them to the area (dreams that were sometimes sold to them by companies), what they endured (abject poverty, starvation, homes literally filled with dirt), and what they lost (their land, their livelihood, and many, many loved ones to dust pneumonia). These are unforgettable stories that bear an eerie similarity to current events like the recession and the California drought. —Stephanie
1994, Grove Press
Janey, a 12-year-old New Zealander, is the center of Kirsty Gunn’s suspenseful psychological thriller. She spends her days exploring the surroundings of her family’s lake house with her little brother Jim, and her nights attempting to find her place in her parents’ sexy adult underworld. While Janey’s alcoholic parents focus on everything but their children, Janey serves as Jim’s mother figure. After a while, Janey becomes entangled in adult drama that is too tragic to escape. Kirsty Gunn’s Rain captures the ennui of summer, while seducing us with dark secrets and scandal. If you’re like me and can’t get enough of Janey’s moody world, you can watch the movie and get the extraordinary soundtrack, too. —Jamia ♦