When one finds oneself at the precipice of adulthood six-feet tall with frizzy red hair, a prom date half her size (no really, his folks made him stand on a chair to take our photo before the dance), and a letterman's jacket for throwing shot put, things can get emotional — fast. Such was my case in high school. Scratch every teen film you've ever seen — Breakfast Club, 10 Things I Hate About You, Easy A — none of these girls come close to embodying the everyday spazz that was me at age 16. And while watching movies starring Hollywood's idea of an awkward teen girl helped a bit, nothing was quite as therapeutic as reading. You see, when you trip up (yes UP) the stairs on your way to freshman English and an upperclassman points and laughs at you, causing everyone in the hallway to join in, sometimes you need to go home, open a sappy book, and have a good cry. Today, 13 years after high school, I still find myself reaching for emotional literature. Here are my favorite teenage ugly sob books, and a few newer tomes I've teared up to this year.
Jerry Spinelli (2000)
This adorable book introduced the manic pixie dream girl before Zach Braff had even considered such a character. Stargirl is an eccentric 10th grader at Mica Area High School in Arizona. She dances to a ukulele, sends birthday cards to strangers, and comforts a hurt player on the opposing team during a playoff basketball game. She's an original and everything my 16-year-old self wanted to me. The sad part? The school eventually rejects her individuality, and she's ostracized. Cue tears.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Betty Smith (1943)
This book takes place in a Brooklyn tenement starting in 1912 as we follow Francie Nolan, an 11-year-old attempting to navigate life in poverty. Her father's an alcoholic, and her mother's the harsh breadwinner. Life isn't so great. In fact there are chapters that are unbearably sad. But there's also hope as Francie escapes her own reality by reading. The book not only uncovers the era, but shows that the feelings and dreams of a little girl at the turn of the century are very similar to those today.
Anne of Green Gables
Lucy Maud Montgomery (1908)
There was a good portion of my youth when I wished nothing more than to be transported to Avonlea. But I confess, I didn't read this book, I read the script — an adaptation my mom used to direct the play at our community theater. And if the book doesn't put a lump in your throat, the play certainly will, specifically at the end when Anne's old adopted caretaker Matthew Cuthbert is dying and says to the persnickety carrot top, "I never wanted a boy. I wanted you from the first day. I love my little girl. I'm so proud of you." You will bawl your eyes out.
Number the Stars
Lois Lowry (1989)
This Newbery Medal winner is a must for any young reader. It takes place in Copenhagen during the Holocaust as the main character Annemarie Johansen's family takes in a Ellen Rosen, a Jew. The most heart-wrenching part of the book occurs when Peter, a Dutch resistance fighter and Annemarie's dead older sister's fiance, writes a letter prior to his death: "He had written a letter to them from prison the night before he was shot. It had said simply that he loved them, that he was not afraid, and that he was proud to have done what he could for his country and for the sake of all free people." If that doesn't put the trivial hiccups of high school (or any age) into perspective, I don't know what will.
This year's tear-jerkers
When I First Held You: 22 Critically Acclaimed Writers Talk About the Triumphs, Challenges, and Transformative Experience of Fatherhood
I gave this book to my Dad for Father's Day. He read it, loved it, and immediately mailed it back to me to read. Each chapter is written by a well-known contemporary author such as Dennis Lehane, Benjamin Percy, and Justin Cronin. Each write what it's like to be a father, and the results are as funny as they are devastating. My favorite chapter by Chris Bachelder who discusses his desire for his daughters to talk less. In the end he realizes just how quiet his home will be when they're grown and gone, which pondering my own papa, made me a sniveling mess.
The Boys in the Boat
Daniel James Brown (2014 CK)
The year is 1936 and nine American men are in the running to take home gold in rowing at the Berlin Olympics. All of them were from the University of Washington. As a fellow Washingtonian that alone piqued my interest. But it's the tale of these men — namely Joe Rantz, who was basically abandoned by his family at age 15 at the beginning of the Great Depression — that makes this tale haunting and heroic.
The Invention of Wings
Sue Monk Kidd (2014)
Sue Monk Kidd, of Secret Life of Bees fame, chose to set this story not only in Charleston, but about two of the city's most famous women — Sarah and Angelina Grimké. Not only is it a compelling fictionalization of the two abolitionists, but a tragic tale of the life of one slave, Hetty. In the story Hetty (a.k.a. "Handful") lives a life of repetitious servitude punctuated by terror as when it's discovered that she can read. For the infraction, Hetty is whipped. Her belief that she may some day be free saves her. The fact that freedom is a near impossible dream makes this a book a gut puncher.