We all have a lot to be grateful for in our lives. But writers (and readers, to be honest), in particular, often owe a debt to a particular book—one that shaped them, as a reader, as writer, as a human being. So this Thanksgiving, BN Teen asked 14 of your favorite authors to share the one book they’re most thankful for.
The Monstrumologist Series, by Rick Yancey
All things considered, it’s a weird book for me to adore—a male doctor and the orphaned son of his old assistant hunting and studying monsters in the 19th century. These days, I’m more likely to pick up books about women, by women. But this series was the first one I read where I recognized myself on the page—the weird, obsessive ups and downs of my own bipolar disorder are on full display in the titular character. Each book in the series is dark and haunting and macabre, and I revisit them every time the mood strikes–which, knowing my moods, is quite often.
—Heidi Heilig, author of The Girl From Everywhere and The Ship Beyond Time
Winter’s Bone, by Daniel Woodrell
I saw myself in this book, but it was more than just seeing myself in Ree—the no nonsense, seventeen-year-old caretaker of her family who must find her missing father. It was also that that the writer knew the world I’d grown up in and found it beautiful and worth writing about, in language that reflected its truth. The opening scene, for one example, is something I’d known entirely—the snow, the wind, the meat, the coyotes—and when I read it for the first time, I put the book down and cried. For me, that book gave me permission to write about my world in the way I’d always seen it. Dark, terrible, and full of life.
—by Sarah Nicole Lemon, author of Done Dirt Cheap and Valley Girls
Boy Meets Boy, by David Levithan
I’m thankful for David Levithan’s Boy Meets Boy, a book that expanded the kind of stories about queer people that were possible to publish, and that helped usher in an era of wildly diverse LGBTQ reads. Even though our books are very different, I’m not sure my career would’ve been possible without Boy Meets Boy or that I would’ve been able to imagine telling the kinds of stories I tell. We’ve come a long way and the road still had some potholes ahead of us, but David Levithan’s book gave this journey a power boost.
—Alex London, author of Proxy and Guardian
Legacy, by Susan Kay
The book I’m most thankful for is Legacy by Susan Kay. I can actually say this book changed my life. I picked it up as a seventh grader and could not put it down. I tore through it, and then read it again. It was a novel about Queen Elizabeth I from her birth to her death, and it was just such a compelling, gripping story it ignited an interest in me that I’d never had before—an intellectual fascination with an era of history. I reread Legacy maybe forty times over the years. I read everything else I could find about Elizabeth I, both fiction and nonfiction (though I never found Legacy’s equal). I read about everyone else in her life, all the people in the Tudor era, and my interest branched into a generalized fascination with European history. Then with time, I became interested in other eras, other places, and eventually I majored in history. Now, I write science fiction set in the future, but I find myself writing of a Galactic Empire, with scheming courtiers in an era of a deep and abiding ideological divide. Sound familiar? It will if you read Legacy! (And of course, read The Diabolic, too!)
—S.J. Kincaid, author of The Empress, the second book in the Diabolic series
Girl, Interrupted, by Susanna Kaysen
When I was a teenager, young adult fiction didn’t really exist, except for a few squeaky clean series featuring middle-class, suburban white girls who didn’t have a whole lot to worry about. I couldn’t find books about young people struggling with the kinds of things I was struggling with. Girl, Interrupted was the first book I read where I really saw a portrayal of mental illness, trauma, and being a girl in danger that felt true. It helped me feel less alone, and it sparked in me the idea that through writing, I could turn my pain into something beautiful and ultimately helpful to others who feel the same way.
—Amy Reed, author of The Nowhere Girls and Beautiful
Interpreter of Maladies, by Jhumpa Lahiri
I read this book in high school and it transported me. I believe it was the first book on my shelf written by an Indian-American and it allowed me to believe that someday I could make a book as well.
—Nidhi Chanani, author of Pashmina
A Little Princess, by Frances Hodgson Burnett
A Little Princes by Frances Hodgson Burnett is one of the most evocative expressions of softness as strength that I have ever encountered. It taught me that not even the cruelest of hands can snatch your dignity if you hold it fast and hold it close, so long as you are armed with fire in your eyes and courage in your heart. Its a much older book than many of the others listed, but it belongs to a rich history of middle-grade classic stories that showcase the rich ferocity of girlhood. Stories like The Snow Queen and Anne of Green Gables, where girls are pushed to the limits of their endurance, yet with their very last breaths shake their small fists before the might of an endless black sky. The savage fury of that teaches me the meaning of awe over and over again.
—K. Ancrum, author of The Wicker King
The Lion, The Witch And the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis
I remember the first time I read The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. I fell deeply in love with the imagery; of the snow falling, of Aslan laid
out on the stone table, of children fleeing the blitz. There was such brutality, faith and beauty captured all within that one children’s novel. The famous light post, for me, stands for more than just the gateway to Narnia; it was the gateway to my own imagination.
—Colleen Oakes, author of the Queen of Hearts series
The Feminist Utopia Project: 57 Visions of a Wildly Better Future, by Alexandra Brodsky and Rachel Lauder Nalebuff
In an age where many distrust trust logic, facts, and reality, where many have seemingly lost moral truths about the essence of humanity, the nature of love, and integrity of the human spirit, I often find myself struggling with how to respond, how to act, and how to maintain hope for better. The book that I am most grateful for this year is the Feminist Utopia Project: Fifty-seven Visions of a Wildly Better Future edited by Alexandra Brodsky, editor of Feministing.com, and Rachel Kauder Nalebuff, playwright and anthologist, which presents the diverse visions of writers, poets, artists, lawyers, doctors, and more—all women who grapple with how to enact positive change in the world. From new economies to more equitable models of education and government, the writers explore how to create spaces that are more just, where empathy, conflict resolution, safety of body and mind, and self-determination are valued. It is a book that I can pick up at any moment when I am feeling overwhelmed and need to hear the voices of the many women who are all committed to hope, who believe that, if we work for it, we will be able to realize a new and better world.
—E. Katherine Kottaras, author of The Best Possible Answer and How to Be Brave
A Separate Peace, by John Knowles
Forget about being forced to read it in high school, or whether or not Gene was in love with Finny. I am grateful to Knowles for teaching a master class in unreliable narration, characterization, and killer suspense. (That mock trial though!)
—Kim Savage, author of Beautiful Broken Girls and After the Woods
Sometimes a Great Notion, by Ken Kesey
As an adoptee with older parents, my childhood was unique to me, and I grew up fairly sheltered in a home that felt splintered. In ninth grade, Ken Kesey’s Sometimes a Great Notion changed my perception of “family.” The book is about a tightknit clan of Oregon loggers and is a deep relationship study. Whereas the four members of my family harbored in place in our separate quarters, the Stampers are open and in-your-face, and while not exactly harmonious, they do communicate. Their bottom-line philosophy is “family is everything.” Beyond plot, the storytelling is intricate, detailed, and rich with character. Told in multiple viewpoints, each with a signature style, it has inspired my own writing, which relies heavily on character and narrative weave. Fair warning: this book is not an easy read, and will challenge the most accomplished bookworms. My suggestion is to explore it more than once, and don’t try to hurry through. Some journeys are meant to be tarried.
—Ellen Hopkins, author of The You I’ve Never Known
The Diary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank
I’m thankful for so many books, particularly those I read as a young adult, but the one that always stands out in my mind is Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl. I first read this book when I was thirteen, the same age Anne Frank was when she first started writing her diary. I remember being so emotionally affected, and feeling such a kinship with her, because, while on the one hand she was telling a tragic story of survival, on the other she was very much an ordinary teenager going through many of the same pains of adolescence that I was—we both even had older sisters named Margot! It was one of the first books I remember reading as a young person and immediately feeling as though her voice seemed to reach out across time and space, connecting me and my life to those people and their struggles. Anne Frank’s words teach us so much about humanity, compassion, love, hate, family, and hope—messages that are more relevant today than ever. This was the first book that made me understand, not only the power of words, but the importance of storytelling.
—Amber Smith, author of The Last to Let Go and The Way I Used to Be
The Giver, by Lois Lowry
If I’m being honest, the book I’m most thankful for changes from day to day. Sometimes it’s the first book that gripped me, the one that made me stay awake reading deep into the night. Other times it’s the book where I first saw myself reflected on the page. Today, I’m thankful for The Giver, the book that made me a writer. As a 10-year-old, I was completely and utterly captivated by it. It was the first time I’d come across a world that was so bleak, so rigid and restrictive, and yet there was something so familiar about Jonas’s struggle with loneliness, his desire to break free, his questions about morality. For as much as I loved the book, though, I was equally unsatisfied with the ambiguous ending. My life changed the day the teacher who had recommended the book to me told me to write my own ending. “I don’t know how,” I said. “Just write what happens next,” she told me. I did, and I’ve been writing what happens next ever since.
—Sarah Everett, author of Everyone We’ve Been
The Hero and the Crown, by Robin McKinley
By the time I discovered this beautiful novel, I had already read and loved other fantasy classics—Chronicles of Narnia, Prydain Chronicles, The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings—but they all had male leads. It was an incredibly empowering experience to immerse myself in the story of a young woman: the fiery-haired Aerin, the daughter of a king, who is feared and ostracized by her people. When the last of the great dragons, Maur, is terrorizing her kingdom, she sets off alone, her only defense an ointment to protect her against fire. he dreams of a man named Luthe, whose magic can heal her, and seeks him out, leading to some poignant scenes which I loved. I still cherish The Hero and the Crown as the first book that introduced me to a heroine who takes action, takes charge, and risks all.
—Elly Blake, author of Frostblood and Fireblood
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, by Frank L. Baum
I loved The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (the first book in a series of 14) by Frank L. Baum. Thanks to the movie (it lost the Academy Award for best picture in 1939, which went to Gone With the Wind), the story is a cultural icon, but to a little Chinese American girl growing up in a mostly white suburb in Southern California, it was everything! I felt like Dorothy, yearning for an escape to a more magical place than what I thought was my pretty humdrum existence, and feeling vastly relieved when I returned safely to home at the book’s end. I loved Baum’s whimsical imaginings (a tree which grows picnic baskets!) as well as his idealized notions of how the world could be (in Oz, prisons are beautiful libraries).
—Stacey Lee, author of The Secret of a Heart Note, Under a Painted Sky and Outrun the Moon
Orleans, by Sherri L. Smith
Orleans may seem like an unusual book for a Thanksgiving feature, because it’s an extremely grim story—it’s set in an apocalyptic future Gulf Coast, devastated by hurricanes and disease and now quarantined from the “Outer States”—but Orleans made me think, a lot, and I’m immensely grateful to it for that. Its hero, a teenage girl named Fen de la Guerre, is still vivid in my mind years after reading. Fen has already survived so much in her short life, and now she’s fighting to save a newborn baby from the world she was unlucky enough to be born into. It’s a gripping and astonishing story of adventure and survival, and it’s also a book that made me think about privilege in ways I’d never understood before. I’m grateful to Sherri Smith for writing it, and I’m grateful every day that I read it.
—Robin Talley, author of Our Own Private Universe, As I Descended, Lies We Tell Ourselves and What We Left Behind
Krik? Krak!, by Edwidge Danticat
—Ibi Zoboi, author of American Street
Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, by Judy Blume
One of the first books I purchased with my own money was Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. Blown away by the on-page real talk like menstruation, bra sizes, faith, and kissing, I ended the book in tears and raced back to the beginning—this time armed with a highlighter. I am incredibly grateful to Judy Blume for giving me characters to connect with as a young girl, and as a writer, for teaching me to never shy away from tough topics.
—Brenda Rufener, author of Where I Live
The Diary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank
Discovering The Diary of Anne Frank in my public library at age nine was the best thing that could have happened to me as a reader, a writer, and most of all as a person. Anne’s beautiful spirit showed me the best of humanity, while her astounding bravery and strength taught me the meaning of resilience. In a world run by men, Anne Frank shows us all the power of a young girl’s words and perspective. It wasn’t long after I started reading the book that I began writing a diary of my own, using those early years and pages to develop my voice. The Diary of Anne Frank was the formative book of my childhood, and I’m so grateful to have found it that day in the library.
—Alexandra Monir, author of The Final Six
Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer
Books I read and loved before it made me want to write a novel, but Twilight was the one that actually made me sit down and do it. It was also the book that introduced YA to me, and the one that really changed up the publishing industry so that YA is what it is today. I would not be a published author if it weren’t for Twilight.
—Elsie Chapman, author of the Dualed series and Along the Indigo