The Julieverse Reads series is fast becoming a go-to resource for book clubs and book lovers across the internet. This week, I’m excited to share author Laura Nicole Diamond’s list of unforgettable books and characters for book clubs. Laura’s debut novel, Shelter Us, was published in paperback this summer. With a laundry list of recommendations, Library Journal says of Shelter Us, “Recommended for book groups interested in discussing issues relating to women, the loss of a child, and family relationships, with homelessness as a secondary issue.” (This post includes affiliate links. Thank you!)
With so many wonderful books and a finite amount of time for reading, I want to read books that make their mark on my soul. I want to read books that will teach me about myself, help me find my way, to understand people and what motivates them. Here are five books that have stayed with me long after I finished the last word, breathless and changed.
Sometimes it is a book I had been afraid to pick up that makes the biggest impact. When The Lovely Bones became a national sensation, yet its subject matter – the murder of a teenage girl – kept me from picking it up for a long time. I finally decided to, and was grateful I finally did. The characters of the Salmon family became part of my world view, my emotional memory. I expanded as a person having read it. As with my debut novel, I want to tell other readers, “Don’t be afraid, this story will uplift you, you will come to love this family.”
Set in the past in Tehran and the present in Los Angeles, this beautiful novel includes ghosts driving trucks, disappearing bodies, women growing wings, and a 14-month human gestation. Yet author Gina B. Nahai has said that she doesn’t think of her writing as “magical realism,” because these tales are part of her family lore that have been sworn to as the honest truth. This different cultural world view prompted me to reconsider my Western certitude of what I know to be “true” and to allow room to consider the inexplicable as also true. (editor’s note: only $.99 on Kindle at the time of publishing!)
This historical fiction about a child in the south given a slave as a birthday gift, who grows up to become a leader of abolition, not only is great story-telling, but provokes questions of timeless importance: What allows some people able to see absolute truth when the culture they belong to does not? How, for example, does a white Southern child know slavery is evil, when every adult in her life disputes this, smooths her brow, shushes her heart, and tells her she is wrong? Are rebels born or made? Here is a brilliant study of a girl who must abandon everything she knows – her home and family – because of her absolute faith in her own sense of right and wrong.
Mitchard’s debut novel was Oprah’s first Book Club selection, despite its terrifying subject – abduction of a child. What propelled us to read about this all too plausible tragedy? Mitchard’s spare, compelling writing draws us in to care about these people, and what will happen to them. The child’s disappearance provokes anguish, self-blame, marital trauma, and family devastation. We read to know how this family will survive this trauma, and to gain insight into how we might survive the smaller but equally important daily traumas that involve being human, and being in a family.
A toddler accidentally drowns in a backyard pond while under the supervision of Alice, the next door neighbor responsible for watching her and her own children one afternoon, and her life and her family are torn apart. Publisher’s Weekly called A Map of the World, ”A piercing picture of domestic relationships under the pressure of calamitous circumstances, it poignantly addresses the capricious turns of fate and the unyielding grip of regret.” I read this novel soon after it was published in 1999, and sixteen years later I still feel the impact of that fateful moment in Alice’s life, the regret and the repercussions. Why did this story stay with me so deeply that I’m including it in this list, separated in time by hundreds of other books I have read? Perhaps because reading about the most dramatic and painful elements of the human experience helps me understand my own emotions and fundamentally what it is to be human.
Laura Nicole Diamond’s debut novel, Shelter Us, is a 2015 Southern California Independent Booksellers Award Fiction Finalist, and nominated for the American Library Association’s Sophie Brody Medal for Jewish Literature. She is the editor of Deliver Me: True Confessions of Motherhood. Visit her at www.LauraNicoleDiamond.com, on Facebook and on twitter.
© 2015, Julie Meyers Pron. All rights reserved.