Chosen by Laurie Halse Anderson
Laurie Halse Anderson is the author of the groundbreaking 1999 young-adult novel Speak, about a teenager who shuts down after being raped by an upperclassman. Shout, Anderson’s new memoir-in-verse, revisits the real-life trauma that inspired it.
The Opposite of Fate by Amy Tan (2003). I avoided reading memoirs while I was writing Shout so I could focus on my own truth. But as soon as I turned in the manuscript, I started devouring them. Reading Tan’s memoir-in-essays is like taking a hike in the mountains with her. She skillfully threads connections between her family’s past, her own life, and her stories, enchanting and delighting the reader.
Hunger by Roxane Gay (2017). This is the most important, riveting book I’ve read in the past decade. The first time I read Gay’s account of her gang rape at age 12 and its life-defining aftermath, it was with my eyes. Then I reread it with my ears. Gay reads the audiobook herself; her voice adds another layer of power to the narrative.
Educated by Tara Westover (2018). Westover’s parents raised their children in rural isolation, the shifting boundaries of their world determined by her survivalist father’s mental illness. The tension between family loyalty and her desire for an education broke my heart. Westover’s determination and sensitivity left me awestruck. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (2014). Woodson is the master of evoking place and time with just a few words. In Brown Girl Dreaming, winner of the 2014 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, she brings the South Carolina and New York City of her childhood to life vividly and uses them as the backdrops of her coming of age during the 1960s and ’70s.
How to Write an Autobiographical Novel by Alexander Chee (2018). Carved from heart and bone, this exquisitely written collection of essays braids together stories of identity and the hunger to write. The essays Chee includes here about confronting the childhood sexual abuse he endured should be read by everyone.
Ordinary Hazards by Nikki Grimes (due out in October). Acclaimed poet and young-adult novelist Grimes focuses her gaze on her New York City childhood in this memoir written in verse. Her powerful story, told with the music of poetry and the blade of truth, will help your heart grow. Make sure you have Kleenex at hand when you read it. ■