I've always been a reader, and I always return to the books that shaped me into the woman I am today. These novels are what I reach for when I'm sad, happy, scared, nervous, tired, bored, lonely, and every emotion in-between. In the best of times and the worst of times, books are my guides and my companions. There's simply no doubt that I am who I am today because of the books I've read.
It's amazing how many books inspired me because they featured strong women who worked hard to accomplish their goals. When you see someone you with whom you identify doing something incredible in a book, it's unbelievably empowering. This is why the We Need Diverse Books mission is so important — because everyone deserves to be able to feel that connection. When you are able to see yourself in a hero, you begin to believe that you can achieve great things, too.
As I write this, I feel like Danny Ocean in Ocean's Eleven — assembling a team of my closest friends from far and wide. Some of these books, I read in elementary school; others, I read just last year. But each and every one of them has made its own special impact on my life my worldview. This list is personal to me, and as you read it, I challenge you to think about your own list. What books have shaped you into who you are today? The answers may surprise you.
1. Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce
When I first read Tamora Pierce's books, I was blown away. Here were girls, like me, defying everyone who said they couldn't do what boys could do. These books definitely helped me feel more comfortable with non-traditional gender roles. Plus, there's an amazing scene where Alanna gets her period. I read this as a nine-year-old girl, and it was amazing seeing a lion-hearted character going through the same things I was about to face.
2. Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
This book may seem far too current to include on this list, but even though I only read it a year ago, it has made a huge impact on me. I love Roxane Gay's message in her introduction: to be a feminist, you don't have to be perfect.
3. The Schwa Was Here by Neal Shusterman
I first read this book in middle school, and I have read it a thousand times since then. Not only is it full of exactly my kind of free-wheeling humor, but this story about a boy who is "functionally invisible" really made me think about how I treat people. Because of this book, I strive to really see everyone around me and be kind to them.
4. Native Guard by Natasha Trethewey
This book really inspired me when I first began writing my own poetry. Trethewey's writing is powerful and playful and introspective in a very special way. This collection meditates on the idea of place tied into identity, and I come back to Trethewey's ideas while shaping my own writing.
5. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
The title of this book comes from Anne Lamott's father. When her brother was younger and competing in a school project about birds, her father told him: don't try to do everything all at once, just take it "bird by bird." That simple idea — taking something "bird by bird" — is my mantra when I'm overwhelmed.
6. Totally Joe by James Howe
I was absolutely obsessed with this book in the eighth grade. Each one of the chapters is devoted to a letter of the alphabet (e.g. "A is for Addie"), and each paints a portrait of Joe, a quirky teen who is gay and trying to navigate his way through school, bullies, and coming out. I identified with Joe's "weirdness" and admired his bravery; he was always himself, even when it was hard.
7. The Separation (Animorphs #32) by K.A. Applegate
Hear me out on this one: I love The Animorphs series. Everyone I know is incredibly sick of hearing me talk about it. But these action-packed books made biology and environmentalism seem cool when I was a kid. Plus, these books got me hooked on science fiction, a genre that would become incredibly important to me later in life.
This particular The Animorphs book centered on Rachel, who showed off the two sides of her personality and proved that women can be tough and sensitive at the same time.