Julieverse Reads: Books with Courageous Characters Who Learn to Celebrate Who Their Selves

This week’s installment of Julieverse Reads shares some of author Jennifer Handford’s favorite books that celebrate the process of learning who you are, and celebrating your self. The Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award winning author of Daughters for a Time published her third novel, The Light of Hidden Flowers, today, November 10, 2015. Congratulations, Jennifer! 

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There’s no hiding my personality when it comes to the types of books I read. I like serious—often gloomy—historically accurate accounts of individual struggles. I love stories of redemption, overcoming hardships, of finding light in darkness. I like a good cry when I read. I avoid fluff. My latest book, The Light of Hidden Flowers, explores what it means to find out who we truly are, to reveal bravery we didn’t know existed, to reach for strength even though doing so requires a long stretch. Here are some of my favorite books about courage, bravery, finding oneself.

back when we were grown-ups

Back When We Were Grownups by Anne Tyler

I dare you not to love Rebecca Davitch, a woman who wakes up one morning to discover she has become the wrong person. A widow, she has turned into the unappreciated cornerstone of her family and has forgotten that she could have a life independent of them. Her courage and determination to turn her own life around, to dust off her old self and venture out into new territory, is a heartwarming journey—and you’ll cheer her on the entire way.

A Thousand Spendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

The story centers on two women, Mariam and Laila, brought together under harrowing conditions in Kabul. Mariam, who sought love from her parents and never found it, was eventually married off. Laila, smart and hopeful until war disrupts her young life, landed in the home of Mariam and her husband. Coexisting in an abusive household, the women forge an unlikely bond of love and self-sacrifice.

Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

As a journalist in 2002, Julia Jarmond is given the assignment of reporting on the 1942 Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup of French Jews. She discovers that her husband’s family has a tie to this atrocity, and she is determined to find out the fate of Sarah, a young girl who was torn from her family and home during the roundup. The process of investigating and the ultimate discovery change Julia’s life profoundly.

The Middle Place by Kelly Corrigan

The Middle Place by Kelly Corrigan

In this memoir, Corrigan tells the story of her battle with breast cancer while her father fights his battle with late-stage cancer. Corrigan is every woman. She’s a wife, mother, and daughter. She loves fiercely and deeply, and when everything is on the line, she finds the courage to take care of herself and her family. Corrigan tells her story with unflagging honesty, making it all the more extraordinary.

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell: The thing I love about this book is the opposite of what made it into a popular movie. The movie depicts spoiled Scarlet and her love/hate relationship with Rhett Butler. But in the thick of the book—when Scarlett is desperate to leave burning Atlanta to return to Tara—Rhett abandons her to go it alone through woods thick with Yankees. When Scarlett arrives at Tara, she finds that her mother has died, her father suffers from dementia, and her sisters are sick with typhoid fever. This is when Scarlett finds her strength to care for all those in her charge and meet the daily host of unthinkable challenges.

the things they carried

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

This amazing book reads like a novel but is actually a collection of short stories, fictionalized accounts based on true events in Vietnam. I love this book because it shows that being courageous isn’t about a soldier’s bravery at a certain time—it’s about carrying the burden of what one saw, did, endured, for a lifetime. This book is truth-telling at its best.

orphan train by Christina Baker Kline

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

Teenage orphan Molly Ayer stumbles into an unlikely friendship with an elderly woman. As Molly assists Vivian in sorting through her belongings, she learns of the orphan trains on which Vivian once rode in an effort to become adopted or employed. I found this piece of history both fascinating and devastating—and I rooted for young Vivian every step of the way.

run don't walk: The Curious and Courageous Life Inside Walter Reed Army Hospital Center

Run, Don’t Walk: The Curious and Courageous Life Inside Walter Reed Army Medical Center by Adele Levine

For six years, Adele Levine worked as a physical therapist with U.S. soldiers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq. Working with amputees, day in and day out, Levine relied on her sense of humor to control the grief she felt. Although she struggled to distance herself, we see how she became the job. I am hugely patriotic and also have the highest regard for health- are professionals who care for our soldiers and help them recover. This book exposes a slice of life most of us will never see.

The Blue Orchard by Jackson Taylor

The Blue Orchard by Jackson Taylor

With the Great Depression looming, eighth grader Verna Krone must leave school and become a maid. The working conditions are poor, and Verna is robbed of her childhood. As an adult, she becomes a nurse and goes to work for a doctor who performs illegal surgeries under the radar of the law. The author weaves fascinating historical context and characters to care deeply for into an unusual story.

Family Pictures by Sue Miller

Family Pictures by Sue Miller

Peek into the life of the Eberhardt family in 1948. Parents, five healthy children, and one autistic child in an age when little was known about autism. As with every Sue Miller novel, this one is character driven—and intimate to the point that it’s as though the reader is invading the protagonist’s thoughts. The experience is like looking through the window into complicated family life.

The poisonwood bible

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

In this ambitious epic journey, we meet the Price family: Nathan and his wife and four daughters. The Prices have left Bethlehem, Georgia, and settled in the Belgian Congo, to preach the word of the Lord. The story is told by the women, and it won’t take you long to choose a “favorite,” as their voices are distinct. The subject matter and politics of this book are worthy of dissertations, but none of that mattered to me. I simply loved the development of the characters and the depth with which Kingsolver reveals them. This is a beautifully written and fully rendered book.

light of hidden flowers


Jennifer Handford was born in Phoenix, Arizona, where she lived until she moved to Oregon for college and graduate school. After graduation, she moved to Washington, D.C., and has lived in the Virginia/Washington, D.C., area for fifteen years. 

Jennifer is married and has three daughters. Her first novel, Daughters for a Time, was awarded one of three first place prizes in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest. Jennifer’s third novel, The Light of Hidden Flowers, is now available for purchase.

Jennifer on twitter | facebook | website

Look for a second installment of Jennifer’s list, focusing on books with incredibly couragous characters, written for teens but adored by all, in a December installment of Julieverse Reads. 

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A curation of books whose main characters learn bravery, courage and the art of celebrating one's self. Must add these books to my reading list


mom of 3 and wife living in the Philadelphia suburbs, Julie is a former elementary school teacher and a Public Relations manager. She is the owner/editor of Julieverse, a merchandiser with Chloe + Isabel (jewelryverse.com) and founder VlogMom and Splash Creative Media. A marketing strategist and freelance education and parenting writer by trade, Julie attempts to carve out time to enjoy playing with her kids, PTO, cooking and exercise.

© 2015, Julie Meyers Pron. All rights reserved.

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