Community Reads

This study guide collection of novels, memoirs, poems, and more could help your community choose its next community reads pick or prepare for a thoughtful discussion. Read on to discover guides from a variety of outstanding writers, including Joy Harjo, James McBride, Harper Lee, Zora Neale Hurston, and Lois Lowry.

Publication year 2014Genre Autobiography / Memoir, NonfictionThemes Life/Time: Coming of Age, Identity: Race, Identity: Sexuality, Identity: Language, Emotions/Behavior: Memory, Society: ImmigrationTags LGBTQ, Gender / Feminism

A Cup of Water Under My Bed is Daisy Hernández’s 2014 coming-of-age story that centers the intersection of race, class, gender, and sexuality. The book received Lambda Literary’s Dr. Betty Berzon Emerging Writer Award in 2015. Hernández was also awarded the IPPY Award (Independent Publisher Book Award) for best coming-of-age memoir, and the book was a finalist for the Publishing Triangle Award. This memoir highlights the complicated dynamics that shape race, class, gender, and sexual... Read A Cup of Water Under My Bed Summary

Publication year 1993Genre Novel, FictionThemes Relationships: Friendship, Society: Education, Identity: RaceTags Historical Fiction, Race / Racism, African American Literature

A Lesson Before Dying, by Ernest J. Gaines, is an award-winning work of fiction published in 1993. It received the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction that same year. The story is arguably a work of historical fiction based on true accounts of young Black men on death row in Louisiana in the 1940s.Plot SummaryThe story opens in a courtroom in 1947 Louisiana, where a 21-year-old Black man named Jefferson, is accused of killing... Read A Lesson Before Dying Summary

Publication year 2020Genre Anthology/Varied Collection, NonfictionThemes Society: Community, Values/Ideas: Justice & Injustice, Emotions/Behavior: Determination / PerseveranceTags Climate Change, Science / Nature, Gender / Feminism, Women's Studies (Nonfiction)

Publication year 1998Genre Autobiography / Memoir, NonfictionThemes Natural World: Place, Relationships: Friendship, Natural World: Animals, Natural World: Flora/plants, Natural World: Environment, Natural World: Appearance & Reality, Society: CommunityTags Travel Literature, Humor, Science / Nature, Animals, Anthropology, History: U.S., Relationships, Politics / Government, Sports

A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail is a 1998 travel book by American-British author Bill Bryson. The book was a New York Times bestseller, and a 2014 Cable News Network (CNN) poll named it the funniest travel book ever written. In addition, it inspired the 2015 film A Walk in the Woods starring Robert Redford as Bryson, Nick Nolte as Stephen Katz (his primary hiking companion), and Emma Thompson as... Read A Walk in the Woods Summary

Publication year 1968Genre Novel, FictionThemes Values/Ideas: Good & Evil, Relationships: Friendship, Values/Ideas: Safety & Danger, Values/Ideas: Fate, Life/Time: Coming of AgeTags Fantasy, Coming of Age / Bildungsroman

First published in 1968, Ursula K. Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea follows Ged, a young man in training to be a wizard, as he embarks on a necessary journey of self-discovery and self-mastery. It is the first in a series of six novels aimed at young-adult readers. The novel has won numerous awards and is regarded as a classic of young adult fantasy literature. Set over the course of several years, the novel follows... Read A Wizard of Earthsea Summary

Publication year 2000Genre Novel, FictionThemes Values/Ideas: Literature, Emotions/Behavior: Memory, Life/Time: Coming of Age, Society: Politics & Government, Values/Ideas: Art, Values/Ideas: Safety & DangerTags Historical Fiction, Auto/Biographical Fiction, Chinese Literature

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress (2000) is a short, semi-autobiographical novel by Dai Sijie. The narrative is set during the Chinese Cultural Revolution and follows two teenage boys who are sent to a remote mountain village for re-education. The boys become close with the local tailor’s daughter and uncover a hidden stash of forbidden Western literature. The books introduce them to ideas, emotions, and freedoms they have never known, and awaken in the Little... Read Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress Summary

Publication year 2000Genre Novel, FictionThemes Relationships: Family, Emotions/Behavior: GriefTags Realistic Fiction, Children's Literature

Because of Winn-Dixie is a middle-grade novel by Kate DiCamillo published in 2000 by Candlewick Books. It follows main character Opal as she learns to love her new home in Naomi, Florida with the help of a stray dog named Winn-Dixie. Steeped in the traditions of Southern literature, the book won a Newbery Honor and a Parents’ Choice Gold Award, among other awards. Note on Edition: This guide uses the 2000 edition published by Candlewick Books... Read Because of Winn-Dixie Summary

Publication year 2020Genre Autobiography / Memoir, NonfictionThemes Values/Ideas: Equality, Society: Community, Society: Education, Society: Politics & Government, Identity: DisabilityTags Disability, Social Justice, History: U.S., Politics / Government

Publication year 2015Genre Novella, FictionTags Science-Fiction / Dystopian Fiction

Binti: The Complete Trilogy is a series of science fiction novellas written by Nnedi Okorafor, author of the Akata Witch series. First published in 2015, Binti has won multiple prestigious literary awards, including the 2016 Hugo Award, the 2015 Nebula Award, and the 2016 British Fantasy Award for Best Novella. The 2019 omnibus publication includes the three novellas Binti, Binti: Home, and Binti: The Night Masquerade, as well as the bonus inclusion of the debut... Read Binti Summary

Publication year 2009Genre Novel, FictionThemes Society: Immigration, Values/Ideas: Religion & Spirituality, Relationships: SiblingsTags Historical Fiction, Health / Medicine, African Literature

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese was published in 2009. Verghese, an Indian American doctor born in Ethiopia, interrupted his medical career to attend the University of Iowa’s Writing Workshop and wrote two memoirs before publishing this novel. The book is notable for its incorporation of medical knowledge and its intimate portrayal of the lives of medical doctors. The novel spans several decades, weaving a deeply personal story with the complex 20th-century history of Ethiopia... Read Cutting for Stone Summary

Publication year 1993Genre Autobiography / Memoir, NonfictionThemes Values/Ideas: Justice & Injustice, Values/Ideas: Religion & Spirituality, Life/Time: Mortality & Death, Society: Politics & GovernmentTags Social Justice, Crime / Legal, Incarceration

Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States is a memoir originally published in 1993 by Sister Helen Prejean. In the book, Prejean, a Catholic nun with the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Medaille (now the Congregation of Saint Joseph), describes her ministry to death-row inmates Elmo Patrick Sonnier and Robert Lee Willie in Louisiana in the early 1980s. Her experience with Sonnier, who was ultimately put to death... Read Dead Man Walking Summary

Publication year 2014Genre Novel, FictionThemes Identity: Femininity, Identity: Race, Emotions/Behavior: Shame & Pride

Celeste Ng is an American writer whose parents emigrated to the United States from Hong Kong in the late 1960s. She was raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Shaker Heights, Ohio. Her debut novel Everything I Never Told You achieved both commercial and critical success, becoming a New York Times best-seller as well as Amazon’s Best Book of the Year in 2014 and a New York Times Notable Book of 2014.In his New York Times review... Read Everything I Never Told You Summary

Publication year 2021Genre Book, NonfictionThemes Society: War, Values/Ideas: Justice & Injustice, Values/Ideas: Equality, Society: ImmigrationTags WWII / World War II, History: World, Military / War, History: U.S., History: European, Grief / Death

Publication year 2019Genre Graphic Memoir , NonfictionThemes Relationships: Family, Identity: Race, Relationships: Daughters & Sons, Relationships: Friendship, Relationships: Mothers, Relationships: Siblings, Relationships: Marriage, Relationships: Fathers, Society: Community, Emotions/Behavior: Memory, Life/Time: The Future, Emotions/Behavior: Fear, Emotions/Behavior: Conflict, Emotions/Behavior: LonelinessTags Race / Racism, Politics / Government, September 11 Attacks, Relationships, LGBTQ, Grief / Death, Parenting, Social Justice, Immigration / Refugee

Publication year 2009Genre Book, NonfictionThemes Values/Ideas: Equality, Values/Ideas: Justice & Injustice, Society: CommunityTags Gender / Feminism, Social Justice, Women's Studies (Nonfiction), Diversity

In their 2009 nonfiction book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, husband-and-wife journalist team Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn document what they consider the paramount moral challenge of the 21st century: the oppression of women and girls. The book was an international bestseller, inspired a four-part PBS documentary of the same name, and launched the Half the Sky movement.Like many journalists, when Kristof and WuDunn first began their careers, they... Read Half the Sky Summary

Publication year 2009Genre Novel, FictionThemes Relationships: Fathers, Values/Ideas: Loyalty & Betrayal, Values/Ideas: MusicTags WWII / World War II, Historical Fiction, Psychological Fiction

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford is a historical novel published in 2009. The story follows Henry Lee at two pivotal stages in his life—in 1942, when he is a 12-year-old with a crush on a Japanese girl, and in 1986, when he is recently widowed. The book, Ford’s debut novel, spent 130 weeks atop the New York Times Best-Seller List and won the 2010 Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature... Read Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet Summary

Publication year 2019Genre Novel, FictionThemes Relationships: Family, Identity: Indigenous, Values/Ideas: Truth & Lies, Values/Ideas: Justice & Injustice, Life/Time: Coming of AgeTags Realistic Fiction, Parenting

Publication year 1969Genre Autobiography / Memoir, NonfictionThemes Identity: Race, Values/Ideas: Literature, Life/Time: Coming of AgeTags African American Literature, Creative Nonfiction, Trauma / Abuse / Violence, Race / Racism

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings is an autobiographical novel by Maya Angelou. Angelou discusses the struggles of growing up African American in the 1950s. The novel has themes of overcoming adversity and trauma, both used as a general metaphor for the struggle against racism. Angelou wrote the novel as a challenge to create literature out of an autobiography, and what emerged is a classic that is still revered today.The novel begins on a... Read I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings Summary

Publication year 2015Genre Autobiography / Memoir, NonfictionThemes Society: Class, Values/Ideas: Justice & InjusticeTags Immigration / Refugee, Korean Literature

Publication year 2000Genre Biography, NonfictionThemes Natural World: Animals, Emotions/Behavior: Determination / Perseverance, Society: EconomicsTags History: U.S., Action / Adventure

While many know the story of the sinking of the Titanic, fewer have heard the story of the Essex, a whaling ship that was sunk after being repeatedly rammed by an enormous whale during a whaling expedition in 1820. At one time, however, the story of the Essex was the most famous story of maritime tragedy in the United States, even inspiring certain aspects of Herman Melville’s novel Moby-Dick. Nathaniel Philbrick’s account of the journey... Read In the Heart of the Sea Summary

Publication year 1997Genre Book, NonfictionThemes Values/Ideas: Safety & Danger, Emotions/Behavior: Determination / Perseverance, Natural World: Place, Emotions/Behavior: Guilt, Life/Time: Mortality & DeathTags Travel Literature, Action / Adventure, Sports, Drama / Tragedy, Natural Disaster

Into Thin Air is American is authored by professional mountain climber Jon Krakauer. It is a personal account of attempting to ascend Mount Everest, prompted by an assignment from Outside magazine to cover the commercial development of the communities at the mountain’s base. Krakauer’s climbing attempt, which was fatal for several, became the deadliest expedition ever on the mountain. In the book, he reflects on his experience, reporting it as truthfully as possible.Krakauer recalls being... Read Into Thin Air Summary

Publication year 2014Genre Book, NonfictionThemes Identity: Race, Values/Ideas: Justice & Injustice, Values/Ideas: MusicTags History: U.S., Crime / Legal

Part memoir, part exhortation for much-needed reform to the American criminal justice system, Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy is a heartrending and inspirational call to arms written by the activist lawyer who founded the Equal Justice Initiative, an Alabama-based organization responsible for freeing or reducing the sentences of scores of wrongfully convicted individuals. Stevenson’s memoir weaves together personal stories from his years as a lawyer with strong statements against racial and legal injustice, drawing a clear... Read Just Mercy Summary

Publication year 2015Genre Novel, FictionThemes Natural World: Food, Relationships: Family, Emotions/Behavior: Determination / PerseveranceTags Food

Kitchens of the Great Midwest (2015) by J. Ryan Stradal is an immersive novel delving into the rich heritage and lifestyles of Midwestern Americans who are descendants of Norwegian immigrants navigating the challenges of the Dakota prairies and open country. The narrative unfolds as they forge a living, experience love, endure financial setbacks, and persevere in an unforgiving territory. This culinary journey serves as a window into the heart of the Midwest, capturing traditions like... Read Kitchens of the Great Midwest Summary

Publication year 2016Genre Autobiography / Memoir, NonfictionTags Science / Nature, Technology

Professor Hope Jahren’s 2016 memoir, Lab Girl, chronicles the author’s life and experience as a geobiologist. The memoir contains three parts, each spanning a major period in Jahren’s life. Autobiographical chapters are followed by brief, lyrical chapters examining various plants and their habits. These chapters on plants contain extensive use of personification, relating plant experience to that of humans.Part 1, “Roots and Leaves,” spans Jahren’s childhood to her first teaching job.The author grows up in... Read Lab Girl Summary

Publication year 2003Genre Biography, NonfictionThemes Values/Ideas: Equality, Society: Class, Society: EconomicsTags Health / Medicine, Science / Nature, Social Justice

Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World is a 2003 nonfiction book by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Tracy Kidder. It is an expansion of “The Good Doctor,” a 2000 article for The New Yorker and the winner of the 2004 Lettre Ulysses Award for the Art of Reportage. The book profiles Dr. Paul Edward Farmer, co-founder of Partners in Health, as he treats patients in Haiti and... Read Mountains Beyond Mountains Summary

Publication year 1918Genre Novel, FictionThemes Emotions/Behavior: Memory, Life/Time: Coming of Age, Society: ImmigrationTags American Literature, Classic Fiction, Historical Fiction

IntroductionMy Ántonia, first published in 1918, is the third novel in what reviewers sometimes refer to as “The Prairie Trilogy” or “The Great Plains Trilogy” by celebrated American author Willa Cather (1873-1947). The other two books, O Pioneers! (1913) and The Song of the Lark (1915) also feature strong female characters from immigrant families in a Great Plains setting but are otherwise unrelated. My Ántonia is considered one of Cather’s most outstanding novels for its... Read My Antonia Summary

Publication year 2003Genre Novel, Fiction

Tobias Wolff’s novel Old School was published in 2003. It is a work of literary fiction that can also be considered a roman à clef, as it is a thinly veiled account of Wolff’s own experience in prep school. Old School was a finalist for the 2004 Pen/Faulkner Award and the National Book Critics Circle Prize for Fiction.Plot SummaryOld School follows the unnamed narrator’s plight at a prestigious New England prep school in the early... Read Old School Summary

Publication year 1962Genre Novel, FictionThemes Identity: Mental Health, Values/Ideas: Justice & Injustice, Values/Ideas: Power & GreedTags American Literature, Classic Fiction, Psychological Fiction, Mental Illness, Trauma / Abuse / Violence, Health / Medicine, Relationships

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is a historical fiction novel by Ken Kesey, published in 1962. Kesey drew on his experiences working in a veterans’ hospital to develop a critique of then-current psychiatric practices. The novel’s central conflict between a domineering nurse and an unruly patient can also be read as an allegory for the emerging culture wars of the 1960s. The novel was adapted into a Broadway play one year after its publication... Read One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest Summary

Publication year 2016Genre Book, NonfictionThemes Emotions/Behavior: Determination / PerseveranceTags Business / Economics, Psychology, Self Help, Leadership/Organization/Management

Publication year 1938Genre Play, FictionThemes Life/Time: Mortality & Death, Society: Community, Relationships: Family, Emotions/Behavior: LoveTags American Literature, Classic Fiction, Play: Drama, Coming of Age / Bildungsroman

Our Town (1938) is a three-act play written by American playwright Thornton Wilder. Wilder served in both World War I and World War II and wrote honestly about life in America. He wrote several plays but considered Our Town to be his best work. It was performed for the first time in Princeton, New Jersey, in 1938. Wilder received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for Our Town, and the play is widely considered to be... Read Our Town Summary

Publication year 2009Genre Biography, NonfictionThemes Relationships: Teams, Society: Immigration, Emotions/Behavior: Determination / Perseverance, Society: Community, Society: Politics & GovernmentTags Sports, Sociology, Inspirational

Outcasts United: An American Town, a Refugee Team, and One Woman’s Quest to Make a Difference (2007) is the second book by former New York Times journalist Warren St. John. It follows one season with the Fugees, a soccer team for refugee boys in Clarkston, Georgia. Weaving personal stories with local and international histories, St. John demonstrates The Value of Organized Sports for Young People and the systemic injustices preventing refugees from equal participation in... Read Outcasts United Summary

Publication year 1817Genre Novel, FictionThemes Emotions/Behavior: Love, Emotions/Behavior: Shame & Pride, Identity: GenderTags Romance, British Literature, Victorian Period, Romanticism / Romantic Period, Classic Fiction, Class

Persuasion is the last novel completed by Jane Austen (1775-1817) before her death. Written between the years 1815-1816 and published posthumously, the Regency-era novel centers on the engagements and marriages of a small circle of middle-class families, with particular attention to the social and private lives of women. Echoing character dynamics found throughout Austen’s works, the romantic protagonists must confront the nature of their individual pride before fully realizing their relationship. This guide references the... Read Persuasion Summary

Publication year 1999Genre Novel, FictionThemes Relationships: Mothers, Relationships: Family

Kent Haruf's Plainsong was published in 1999 and addresses such powerful themes as community, acceptance and loneliness, as well as the effects of isolation on the individual. The novel focuses on several storylines and takes place in the high plains of eastern Colorado. The characters face daunting trials and tribulations, and many of their paths cross with one another. In Holt, Colorado, Tom Guthrie readies his young children, Ike and Bobby, for school and checks... Read Plainsong Summary

Publication year 2012Genre Book, NonfictionThemes Emotions/Behavior: Conflict, Emotions/Behavior: Shame & Pride, Relationships: Teams, Self Discovery, Society: Community, Society: Education, Values/Ideas: Win & LoseTags Self Help, Psychology, Sociology, Education, Leadership/Organization/Management, Parenting

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking is a nonfiction book by Susan Cain, published in 2012. It is considered part of the psychology and self-help genres. The book made several bestseller lists, including those of the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and National Public Radio. It also was voted the best nonfiction book of 2012 by the Goodreads Choice Awards and has been translated... Read Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking Summary

Publication year 2003Genre Autobiography / Memoir, NonfictionThemes Values/Ideas: Literature, Society: War, Self Discovery, Society: Politics & GovernmentTags Gender / Feminism, History: Middle Eastern, Politics / Government

Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books is a memoir by Iranian American author Azar Nafisi, first released to widespread critical and popular acclaim in 2003. The memoir recalls Nafisi’s experiences living and teaching in Iran after the 1979 revolution that created the Islamic Republic of Iran, until her eventual exile in the United States in 1997. At the center of the memoir is Nafisi’s account of a secret book club she hosted during... Read Reading Lolita in Tehran Summary

Publication year 2015Genre Book, NonfictionThemes Relationships: Friendship, Relationships: Family, Values/Ideas: Science & Technology, Society: EducationTags Psychology, Technology, Relationships, Parenting

Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age (2015) is a non-fiction work by Sherry Turkle. A clinical psychologist and professor of Social Studies of Science and Technology at MIT, Turkle specializes in human-technology interaction and has decades of experience writing on technology’s problematic effects on human connection. In Reclaiming Conversation, the book’s premise is in the title: Turkle believes that technology has detrimentally taken over human conversation and that we ought to... Read Reclaiming Conversation Summary

Publication year 2019Genre Novel, FictionThemes Values/Ideas: MusicTags Historical Fiction

Jacqueline Woodson’s 2019 Red at the Bone is a work of fiction that centers on the coming together of two dissimilar families because of a teen pregnancy. Highly acclaimed and award-winning author Woodson offers a counternarrative to the familiar tale of teenage pregnancy while considering how identity intersects with class, race, sexuality, gender, and history. This study guide was created with the aid of the Riverhead Books 2019 hardback edition. Plot SummaryThe novel opens 80... Read Red at the Bone Summary

Publication year 2014Genre Novel, FictionThemes Emotions/Behavior: Love, Identity: Gender, Identity: RaceTags Historical Fiction, Southern Literature, African American Literature, Race / Racism

Publication year 1997Genre Novella, FictionThemes Society: CommunityTags Realistic Fiction, Children's Literature, Diversity

Paul Fleischman’s multi-perspective young adult novella Seedfolks presents a modern parable for community-building over 13 chapters, each narrated by a different character in monologue. Fleischman first published the work in 1997; the 2002 HarperCollins edition, which this study guide references, includes the author’s note “From seeds to Seedfolks.” Son of children’s book writer Sid Fleischman, Paul Fleischman began his career as a writer in college. Inspired by folklore, music, and verse, Fleischman soon found success... Read Seedfolks Summary

Publication year 2011Genre Novel, FictionThemes Relationships: Marriage

Silver Sparrow, written by Tayari Jones and published in 2011, is a family drama set in 1980s Atlanta. The novel was a Women’s National Book Association 2011 Great Group Read and was chosen as one of the top 10 books of the year by Library Journal. Plot Summary Silver Sparrow revolves around Dana Lynn Yarboro and Chaurisse Witherspoon, who are half-sisters, although only Dana knows this.  Dana, 16, narrates the first half of the novel. Dana has... Read Silver Sparrow Summary

Publication year 2015Genre Book, NonfictionThemes Emotions/Behavior: Shame & Pride, Values/Ideas: Science & Technology, Values/Ideas: Justice & InjusticeTags Psychology, Sociology, Journalism, Technology

Publication year 2018Genre Book, NonfictionThemes Values/Ideas: Justice & InjusticeTags Race / Racism, Black Lives Matter

So You Want to Talk About Race is a 2018 non-fiction book written by Ijeoma Oluo, an American author of Nigerian descent whose columns and news articles on race have appeared in The Guardian, The Stranger, and Jezebel, among other places. This guide refers to the first edition published in 2018 by Seal Press. The title gestures to the discourse that is necessary to combat racial oppression in the United States. The book made Bustle’s... Read So You Want to Talk About Race Summary

Publication year 2014Genre Novel, FictionThemes Emotions/Behavior: MemoryTags Music, Science-Fiction / Dystopian Fiction

Published in 2014, Station Eleven is the fourth novel by Emily St. John Mandel. The book won the Arthur C. Clarke Award in 2015, as well as the Toronto Book Award, and was shortlisted or nominated for several others. Set in a post-apocalyptic future where a flu outbreak decimates the world’s population, the book is sometimes categorized as science fiction, although it does not feature any fictional technology; its protagonists’ dramatic involvement also qualifies it... Read Station Eleven Summary

Publication year 2021Genre Novel, FictionThemes Society: Community, Relationships: Friendship, Identity: Race, Life/Time: Coming of Age, Society: Class, Values/Ideas: Equality, Values/Ideas: Justice & InjusticeTags Realistic Fiction, Social Justice

Publication year 1876Genre Novel, FictionThemes Life/Time: Coming of Age, Emotions/Behavior: courage, Life/Time: Childhood & YouthTags Action / Adventure, American Literature, Classic Fiction, Historical Fiction

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is an 1876 novel by Mark Twain written for both youth and adult readers. It is a story about Tom Sawyer, a boy from the fictional town of St. Petersburg, Missouri. Tom lives a life of constant adventure, drama, self-aggrandizement, and self-inflicted woes as he comes of age. The novel is equal parts comical and poignant, dark and light, and is one of Twain’s many odes to the pleasures and... Read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer Summary

Publication year 1920Genre Novel, FictionThemes Society: Class, Society: Community, Relationships: Family, Life/Time: The Past, Emotions/Behavior: Love, Identity: Gender, Life/Time: MidlifeTags Classic Fiction, Historical Fiction, Class, Love / Sexuality, Gilded Age, American Literature, Gender / Feminism

American writer Edith Wharton’s Pulitzer-Prize winning novel The Age Of Innocence (1920) was a post-armistice reflection on the 1870s New York society of her youth. Wharton, an American who lived abroad in Paris, was already the successful author of other novels, including The House of Mirth (1905) and Ethan Frome (1911). In a The New York Times article, Elif Batuman reflects that “eventually, each classic tells two stories: its own, and the story of all... Read The Age of Innocence Summary

Publication year 2007Genre Novel, FictionThemes Society: Immigration, Identity: Race, Life/Time: The PastTags Realistic Fiction, Immigration / Refugee, History: African

Dinaw Mengestu’s 2007 debut novel, The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears, is a NYT Notable Book, a recipient of the Guardian First Book Award, and the LA Times Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction. Originally published in the UK under the title Children of the Revolution, the story takes place across three days in the life of Sepha Stephanos, an Ethiopian refugee living in Washington, DC. In his New York Times review of the book... Read The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears Summary

Publication year 2013Genre Biography, NonfictionThemes Relationships: TeamsTags History: U.S., History: European, Sports

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics is a work of narrative nonfiction written by Daniel James Brown and published in 2013. The book became a New York Times bestseller and won several awards, including the American Library Association’s Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction. The book also inspired a PBS documentary titled The Boys of ’36.Content Warning: The source material references the... Read The Boys in the Boat Summary

Publication year 2020Genre Novel, FictionThemes Society: Politics & Government, Relationships: Siblings, Life/Time: Coming of Age, Society: Class, Society: Economics, Values/Ideas: Justice & Injustice, Values/Ideas: Power & GreedTags Historical Fiction, Coming of Age / Bildungsroman

Publication year 1996Genre Autobiography / Memoir, NonfictionThemes Identity: Race, Values/Ideas: Religion & Spirituality, Society: ClassTags Coming of Age / Bildungsroman, Race / Racism, Civil Rights / Jim Crow, Religion / Spirituality, Parenting, African American Literature, Great Depression, American Literature

The Color of Water is a nonfiction autobiography published in 1996 by the American author and musician James McBride. Subtitled A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother, The Color of Water chronicles the author’s challenges growing up in the 1960s and 1970s as a child with a white Jewish mother and Black father. Interspersed with the author’s recollections are interview transcripts describing his mother’s abusive upbringing as an Orthodox Jewish woman living in the... Read The Color of Water Summary

Publication year 2003Genre Novel, FictionThemes Identity: Disability, Values/Ideas: Safety & DangerTags Mystery / Crime Fiction, Coming of Age / Bildungsroman, Animals, Disability, British Literature

In the novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Christopher Boone, a brilliant teenage boy with Autism, sets out to solve the murder of his neighbor’s dog. Written by Mark Haddon and published in 2003, the book has become a prize-winning bestseller translated into three-dozen languages. Already considered a classic, the work has been adapted as a stage play and is performed internationally. The e-book edition is the basis for this study... Read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time Summary

Publication year 1886Genre Novella, FictionThemes Life/Time: Mortality & Death, Relationships: Family, Values/Ideas: Religion & SpiritualityTags Classic Fiction, Christian literature, Psychological Fiction, Realistic Fiction, Philosophy, Grief / Death, Religion / Spirituality, Russian Literature

The Death of Ivan Ilyich (1886) is a fictional novella by the Russian author Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910). The story raises questions about what is important in life through Tolstoy’s observation of social interaction and individual priorities.Tolstoy was born into aristocracy and was popular at a time when Russia was under the autocratic rule of Tsar Nicholas II, the last Russian emperor of the Romanov Dynasty. Tolstoy, whose best-known works are War and Peace (1867) and... Read The Death of Ivan Ilyich Summary

Publication year 1993Genre Novel, FictionTags Science-Fiction / Dystopian Fiction, Children's Literature

The Giver is a work of young adult fiction. It is the first installment in The Giver Quartet, which also includes Gathering Blue (2000), Messenger (2004), and Son (2012). Author Lois Lowry received a 1994 Newbery Medal for her dystopian novel, although the text, with themes considered possibly too dark for the reader's age group, was challenged throughout the 1990s. The Giver takes place in the future, in a carefully-designed community that is extremely safe... Read The Giver Summary

Publication year 2008Genre Novel, FictionThemes Values/Ideas: Literature, Society: War, Relationships: FriendshipTags Historical Fiction, Romance, WWII / World War II

Written in epistolary form, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a historical novel set during the German Occupation of the English Channel Islands during World War II (WWII). The novel was co-written by Mary Ann Shaffer, an editor, librarian, and bookshop clerk, and her niece, Annie Barrows, author of the Ivy and Bean children’s books series. Shaffer began writing the novel, but when she was diagnosed with cancer she requested Barrows’s help... Read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society Summary

Publication year 1985Genre Novel, FictionTags Gender / Feminism, Science-Fiction / Dystopian Fiction

First published in 1985, Margaret Atwood’s sixth novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, has received numerous accolades and prizes and remains widely critically celebrated. Set in what used to be the United States but is now a repressive theocracy called the Republic of Gilead, it is narrated by the protagonist, Offred, who recounts her daily experiences intercut with memories of her life before the revolution and during her training to become a “Handmaid.”Handmaids are fertile women who... Read The Handmaid's Tale Summary

Publication year 1940Genre Novel, FictionThemes Relationships: Marriage, Society: Community, Society: ClassTags Classic Fiction, Historical Fiction, Victorian Period, British Literature

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (1940) is a Southern Gothic novel written by Carson McCullers, one of the most prominent American literary voices of the 20th century. Set in a small unnamed town, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter captures the spiritual isolation and loneliness of five ordinary people in the deep American South in the 1930s. McCullers is known for her contributions to the development of the Southern Gothic subgenre, and her novels... Read The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter Summary

Publication year 1984Genre Novella, FictionThemes Identity: FemininityTags Coming of Age / Bildungsroman, Gender / Feminism, Immigration / Refugee, American Literature

Sandra Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street is an internationally acclaimed novel, first published in 1984. The story of Esperanza Cordero is told through stunning vignettes that chronicle the life of a young Latina woman growing up in the Hispanic quarter of Chicago. Heralded as an important voice in representing an underserved community, the novel won the American Book Award in 1985. It has since become an integral part of school curriculum across the country... Read The House on Mango Street Summary

Publication year 2010Genre Biography, NonfictionTags History: U.S., Health / Medicine

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot is a non-fiction book that tells the story of Lacks and her HeLa cells, or the immortal cell line that doctors retrieved from her cervical cancer cells. Crown Publishing Group published the book in 2010, and it won a National Academies Communication Award the following year. This guide refers to the Crown 2010 first edition. Henrietta Lacks was a black American woman who died of cancer... Read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Summary

Publication year 1937Genre Novel, FictionThemes Identity: RaceTags Gender / Feminism, Modern Classic Fiction, Coming of Age / Bildungsroman, Historical Fiction, African American Literature, American Literature

Zora Neale Hurston, a writer and anthropologist associated with the Harlem Renaissance, published her second and most famous novel Their Eyes Were Watching God in 1937. Set in Central and South Florida, the novel follows protagonist Janie Crawford’s evolution from impressionable, idealistic girl to self-confident woman. Famed for her work as an ethnographer and an author, Hurston chronicled contemporary issues in the Black community with honesty. While somewhat unrecognized in her time, Hurston’s writing came... Read Their Eyes Were Watching God Summary

Publication year 2011Genre Novel, FictionThemes Emotions/Behavior: Love, Relationships: Family, Emotions/Behavior: Forgiveness, Society: Community, Life/Time: Childhood & Youth, Emotions/Behavior: GuiltTags Parenting, Coming of Age / Bildungsroman, Realistic Fiction

The Language of Flowers (2011) is the debut novel of Vanessa Diffenbaugh. This fictional story follows Victoria Jones, a foster care child who is legally emancipated at the age of 18 and communicates primarily through the language of flowers. Diffenbaugh was inspired by the informational text Language of Flowers by Kate Greenway, which outlined the use of secret messages delivered via bouquet during the Victorian Era. Diffenbaugh studied creative writing and education at Stanford University... Read The Language of Flowers Summary

Publication year 1930Genre Novel, FictionThemes Emotions/Behavior: Conflict, Emotions/Behavior: courage, Emotions/Behavior: Apathy, Emotions/Behavior: Determination / Perseverance, Emotions/Behavior: Fear, Emotions/Behavior: Hate & Anger, Emotions/Behavior: Love, Emotions/Behavior: Memory, Emotions/Behavior: Revenge, Emotions/Behavior: Shame & Pride, Life/Time: Mortality & Death, Life/Time: The Past, Values/Ideas: Beauty, Values/Ideas: Justice & Injustice, Values/Ideas: Loyalty & Betrayal, Values/Ideas: Power & Greed, Values/Ideas: Safety & Danger, Values/Ideas: Truth & Lies, Values/Ideas: Trust & Doubt, Values/Ideas: Order & Chaos, Values/Ideas: Art, Values/Ideas: Good & Evil, Identity: Femininity, Identity: Gender, Identity: Masculinity, Natural World: Appearance & Reality, Society: Politics & Government, Society: Class, Society: Community, Society: ImmigrationTags Mystery / Crime Fiction, Horror / Thriller / Suspense Fiction, Roaring Twenties, Great Depression

Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon (1930) is a detective novel that was first serialized in the magazine Black Mask. As Hammett’s third novel, The Maltese Falcon includes the introduction of Sam Spade as the protagonist, a departure from the nameless Continental Op who narrated his previous stories. Spade’s hard exterior, cool detachment, and reliance on his own moral code would become staples of the hardboiled genre, and The Maltese Falcon has since been named one... Read The Maltese Falcon Summary

Publication year 2011Genre Novel, FictionThemes Emotions/Behavior: Hope, Emotions/Behavior: Determination / Perseverance, Relationships: Teams, Society: Community, Values/Ideas: Science & TechnologyTags Science-Fiction / Dystopian Fiction, Science / Nature

Andy Weir’s debut novel, The Martian, was originally published in 2011 as serialized blog posts; after its 2014 book publication, it was a New York Times bestseller. A software engineer and son of a physicist and an electrical engineer, Weir identifies himself in the book jacket biography as a “lifelong space nerd,” and the novel is notable for staying strictly within the bounds of existing scientific understanding. Set just over two decades beyond the novel’s... Read The Martian Summary

Publication year 2019Genre Book, NonfictionThemes Emotions/Behavior: Memory, Emotions/Behavior: courage, Emotions/Behavior: Determination / Perseverance, Emotions/Behavior: Fear, Emotions/Behavior: Grief, Identity: Race, Life/Time: Mortality & Death, Relationships: Family, Relationships: Teams, Society: Globalization, Society: Nation, Society: Politics & Government, Values/Ideas: Fate, Values/Ideas: Good & Evil, Values/Ideas: Order & Chaos, Values/Ideas: Religion & Spirituality, Values/Ideas: Safety & DangerTags History: U.S., Crime / Legal, September 11 Attacks

Publication year 2012Genre Book, NonfictionThemes Values/Ideas: Science & Technology, Values/Ideas: Power & Greed, Relationships: TeamsTags Psychology, Inspirational, Self Help

Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business investigates the science behind habit formation in the human brain. Drawing on corporate case studies and pioneering scientific experiments, Duhigg analyzes how individuals, organizations, and societies can use the knowledge of habit formation to change their behaviors. Published in 2012 by Random House, the nonfiction book has reached a broad public readership and landed on the New York Times... Read The Power of Habit Summary

Publication year 2013Genre Biography, NonfictionThemes Identity: Race, Values/Ideas: Equality, Values/Ideas: Justice & InjusticeTags History: U.S., Race / Racism, Politics / Government, Gender / Feminism, Social Justice

Publication year 2012Genre Novel, FictionThemes Relationships: Family, Relationships: Friendship

The Round House is a harrowing work of fiction evolving around the rape and near murder of Geraldine Coutts, a Native American woman on a North Dakota reservation. The events are told by Joe, Geraldine’s thirteen-year-old son. In the narrative, Joe and his father, Bazil, must piece together a series of flimsy clues to try to make sense of Geraldine’s attack. The story is fast-paced, and the riveting chapters are interspersed with the daily lives... Read The Round House Summary

Publication year 2021Genre Novel, FictionThemes Relationships: Family, Identity: Indigenous, Natural World: Flora/plants, Natural World: Environment, Self DiscoveryTags Historical Fiction, Science / Nature

Publication year 1989Genre Novel, FictionThemes Relationships: MothersTags Historical Fiction

Cynthia Ozick’s The Shawl is actually two separate (though interrelated) narratives: a short story set during the Holocaust, and a novella set roughly 40 years later in Miami, Florida. In the short story, also titled “The Shawl,” a young Jewish woman named Rosa Lublin is sent with her niece Stella and her infant daughter Magda to a concentration camp. Against all odds, Magda survives much longer than her mother expects, thanks largely to the shawl... Read The Shawl Summary

Publication year 1961Genre Novel, FictionThemes Values/Ideas: Loyalty & Betrayal, Society: Class, Emotions/Behavior: RevengeTags Allegory / Fable / Parable, Class, Existentialism, African Literature

The Thief and the Dogs is a 1961 surrealist, existentialist novel by Egyptian author Naguib Mahfouz. Mahfouz won the 1988 Nobel Prize for Literature and The Thief and the Dogs is considered one of his most celebrated works. The novel has been adapted for Egyptian television, and is the first novel written in Arabic to use the stream-of-consciousness style. Published nearly ten years after the Egyptian Revolution of 1952, the novel is also considered an... Read The Thief and the Dogs Summary

Publication year 1990Genre Short Story Collection, FictionThemes Society: WarTags Military / War, American Literature, Creative Nonfiction, Vietnam War

Published in 1990, The Things They Carried is a collection of interrelated short stories about the Vietnam War written by Tim O’Brien. The historical fiction collection has been hailed not only as an essential piece of literature about the Vietnam War, but as a workshop in fiction writing itself. It was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award and was a New York Times Book of the Century. It... Read The Things They Carried Summary

Publication year 2019Genre Autobiography / Memoir, NonfictionThemes Society: Community, Emotions/Behavior: MemoryTags Race / Racism, History: U.S., Class

The Yellow House is a nonfiction memoir published in 2019 by the American author Sarah M. Broom. In a narrative centered around her childhood home, “The Yellow House,” Broom chronicles the history of New Orleans through three generations of her family. The Yellow House won the 2019 National Book Award for Nonfiction and the National Book Critics Circle’s John Leonard Prize for best debut book.Plot SummaryIn 1961, Broom's mother, Ivory Mae, becomes a widow at the... Read The Yellow House Summary

Publication year 1960Genre Novel, FictionThemes Life/Time: Coming of AgeTags Modern Classic Fiction, Classic Fiction, Coming of Age / Bildungsroman, American Literature, Southern Gothic

To Kill a Mockingbird is a Pulitzer-Prize-winning novel written by Harper Lee and originally published in 1960. The book is widely regarded as an American classic and, until recently, was the only novel Lee had published. To Kill a Mockingbird was inspired by events and observations that took place in Lee’s hometown. Set in the Great Depression, from 1932 to 1935, the novel is narrated by a young girl named Scout, whose coming-of-age experiences closely mirror... Read To Kill a Mockingbird Summary

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Publication year 1992Genre Novel, FictionTags Chinese Literature, Asian Literature, History: Asian, Historical Fiction, Military / War

To Live (1992) by novelist Yu Hua traces the struggles of Fugui and his family. Told as a story within a story, an unknown narrator encounters Fugui, who proceeds to tell the story of his life. Instead of traditional chapters, the novel is broken into sections based off whether or not it’s the narrator talking or Fugui. The narrator’s sections are italicized and much shorter than Fugui’s longer, non-italicized sections. Spanning over four decades of... Read To Live Summary

Publication year 1880Genre Novel, FictionThemes Relationships: Family, Values/Ideas: Loyalty & Betrayal, Emotions/Behavior: Love, Identity: Gender, Life/Time: Coming of Age, Values/Ideas: Trust & DoubtTags Classic Fiction, Historical Fiction, American Literature

Washington Square is a novel by American author Henry James published in 1880. It is a novel of manners, which turns on individual choices amidst social constraints and expectations, a style typical of James. The novel focuses on the romance between Catherine Sloper, a wealthy young woman in line to inherit even more from her father, and Morris Townsend, a handsome, charming suitor who lacks money and a profession. Catherine’s relationship with her father, Dr... Read Washington Square Summary

Publication year 2013Genre Novel, FictionThemes Relationships: Family, Emotions/Behavior: Love, Natural World: Animals, Emotions/Behavior: MemoryTags Psychology, Incarceration, Animals, Relationships, Realistic Fiction

We Are All Completely Besides Ourselves is Karen Joy Fowler’s seventh novel. The book was first published in 2013. The following year, it won the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Fowler said that the book takes inspiration from a real 1930s experiment. In an interview with Carmen Maria Machado published in The American Reader, Fowler states that she believes that using animals for research purposes is wrong, and... Read We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves Summary

Publication year 1906Genre Novel, FictionThemes Life/Time: Coming of Age, Natural World: Animals, Natural World: Nurture v. NatureTags Animals, Classic Fiction, Historical Fiction, Action / Adventure

White Fang (1906) is a short novel by American author Jack London. The novel explores themes of survival, nature versus nurture, and improving oneself through discipline and adaptability. White Fang’s protagonist is a wild-born wolfdog named White Fang whose struggle for survival and eventual domestication comprise the novel’s narrative arc. London’s novel challenges humanity’s claim to superiority over nature and celebrates animals’ resilience, simple logic, and instinct. White Fang has been adapted into over a... Read White Fang Summary

Publication year 2012Genre Autobiography / Memoir, NonfictionThemes Emotions/Behavior: Forgiveness, Emotions/Behavior: Memory, Emotions/Behavior: Hate & Anger, Emotions/Behavior: Love, Emotions/Behavior: Shame & Pride, Emotions/Behavior: Fear, Emotions/Behavior: Grief, Emotions/Behavior: Determination / Perseverance, Emotions/Behavior: Conflict, Emotions/Behavior: Loneliness, Emotions/Behavior: Hope, Values/Ideas: Safety & Danger, Natural World: Environment, Natural World: Place, Relationships: MothersTags Grief / Death, Travel Literature, Relationships, Love / Sexuality

Publication year 2021Genre Novel, FictionThemes Values/Ideas: Power & GreedTags Historical Fiction, American Civil War, Race / Racism, Social Justice, Relationships, Trauma / Abuse / Violence