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Jez

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone

Therapist Lori Gottlieb invites us into her office in her engaging memoir, Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed (2019). She balances the book with snapshots of her journey to becoming a therapist (making many career pit stops along the way), sessions with her clients, and the very personal interactions she has with her own therapist. Among the patients who left the strongest impression on Gottlieb are a high-powered TV writer, an elderly woman battling her past mistakes, a 20-something who constantly chooses the wrong men, and a newlywed just diagnosed with a deadly cancer, all of whose stories are at turns heartbreaking and hopeful.

What I found most interesting was the author's experience of being a therapist who is also in therapy, which allows the reader to see the interactions from both sides of the couch, noting that even when someone spends their whole career discussing emotional issues, they can be blind to some of their own struggles. This beautiful memoir is highly recommended for both those looking for an uplifting story and those who want a good cry.


Jennifer

Where Am I Now?

Did you enjoy Matilda, Mrs. Doubtfire, or the remake of Miracle on 34th Street? These 90s films feature a delightful performance by the adorable Mara Wilson. She's all grown up now, and has written an engaging series of essays. In Where Am I Now?True Stories of Girlhood and Accidental Fame (2016), Wilson covers her childhood in the spotlight (both good and bad), her struggles with OCD and depression, and coming of age as an aspiring storyteller in New York City.

Don't let the childhood stardom fool you. Wilson pursued the creative arts (both performing and writing) in high school and in college at NYU. She is a gifted writer and experienced storyteller, and those talents shine throughout her memoir. It is full of heart, featuring both heartbreaking and humorous stories.

Listen to her memoir via Overdrive. Watch a video with Mara on mental health for Project UROK. 



Jez

Becoming by Michelle Obama (2018)

Despite being published late in the year, Michelle Obama's Becoming was the bestselling book of 2018 and once you start reading, it's not hard to see why. Obama's first book is everything you could want from a memoir by the former First Lady. Starting well before her time in the White House, Obama describes her life living on the Southside of Chicago and having to work hard from a very young age in order to get ahead in her education, including testing into an elite school. Going through her early adulthood, readers learn about Obama's humanitarian efforts in various positions to help underprivileged students get a better education and fair chance in life, a value she carries into her life in Washington.

Perhaps the reason most readers will pick up this book is to read about the 2008, 2012, and 2016 presidential elections and President Obama's terms in office. Michelle Obama does an excellent job of showing both the political and personal sides of life in the White House and having to navigate the nebulous position of a First Lady. Beautifully written and deeply personal, Becoming is the memoir to read this year. I highly recommend picking up the audiobook, read by the author, who could easily have a second career in audiobook narration if she chose.



Denise

The Sun Does Shine by Anthony Ray Hinton (2018)

An unforgettable, haunting, and especially inspirational memoir by Anthony "Ray" Hinton, an innocent man who spent almost 30 years in solitary confinement on death row. What makes The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row so powerful is his enduring faith, hope, and compassion while living in the depths of "hell."

His friendships, family, and capacity to forgive are on display in this compelling work. His best friend, Lester, visited him every week for 30 years! Ray adopted the other death row inmates as his new family. He brought inspiration, laughter, and faith to them, and started a book club, which encouraged many of them to read.

Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, eventually became Ray's lawyer and was instrumental in getting his release. I especially appreciate Stevenson's quote: "I believe that each of us is more than the worst thing we've ever done." Listen to his TED Talk to get an inspiring and personal glimpse into his motivation for his life work. 

There are many disturbing and heartbreaking elements to this story as well – deep-seated racism and discrimination, inhumane treatment of prisoners, and our damaged, and often corrupt, judicial system, to name a few. However, Hinton's positive inspiration definitely outweighs the negative details. I highly recommend this book, which was also one of Oprah's Book Club Picks.




Heather

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah (2016)

Trevor Noah has a gift for storytelling (which makes it no surprise that he is now a comedian). I would have liked this book more if it were told in chronological order, but ultimately, I assume the order in which it is presented goes back to the fact that he's a comedian and likely thinks anecdotally vs. chronologically. That said, Noah tells such fascinating stories of his childhood, teen years, and young adult life, all while intertwining the cultural setting of South Africa while he was growing up. I highly recommend the audio to fully appreciate both the variety of languages Noah references and the emotion and humor in his storytelling.

Check out Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood and other titles on this year's 2019 Lincoln Award (PDF): Illinois Teen Readers' Choice nominee list.

Kathy

Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover (2018)

educatedTara Westover’s Educated is the fascinating true story of a young woman raised in a survivalist family in the southern mountains of Idaho. Throughout her childhood, Tara’s father uses end-of-days fear, isolation, and the threat of eternal damnation to maintain control over his family. Every decision the family makes is informed by their father’s religious doctrine, so formal education is out of the question. Tara’s interest in the outside world combined with a desire to escape a life of working in the family’s scrapyard leads her to challenge her father’s ideas and, eventually, the lifestyle her family leads.

This compelling book is at times both heartbreaking and horrifying, but Westover’s matter-of-fact style of storytelling makes the reader feel right at home in this extreme, unfamiliar world.

 
 
 
 
Heather

Ugly by Robert Hoge (2016)

uglyhogeIn this real-life Wonder story, Robert Hoge describes his early life being born with not only a large tumor on his face affecting the placement of his facial features, but also legs which were underdeveloped. While he addresses some of the surgeries he underwent as baby up through high school, this autobiography centers around his family life and his determined spirit, despite challenges with his physical appearance and abilities along the way. I highly suggest the audiobook, read by the author himself.

Check out Ugly and other titles on this year's 2019 Bluestem nominee list targeted for grades 3-5.
Katie

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah (2016)

51v55l2fxflWhen I checked out Born a Crime, I knew vaguely that Trevor Noah was a comedian. I even remembered sharing a post of his on social media since I thought it was funny. Yet somehow, I did not expect to have to pull my car over to the shoulder to finish listening to one of Noah's stories. I was laughing so hard, I was crying.

And if that's not a ringing endorsement of an audiobook, I don't know what is.

I highly recommend listening to the audiobook version of this book because you hear Noah speaking the different South African languages with accuracy. And you get to hear Noah's voice imitation of his mother, among other people in his memoir.

Oh? And the story I had to pull over to finish on the road? I've been telling it to everyone, convincing them to read the book. If you do read Born a Crime, stop by the K&T desk upstairs and see if you can guess which story made me laugh so hard I cried.
Katie

Duran Duran, Imelda Marcos, and Me by Lorina Mapa (2017)

When Rina learns that her beloved father has passed away unexpectedly, she flies to Manila to attend his funeral. This graphic novel memoir is told in flashbacks as Rina recalls aspects of her childhood growing up in the Philippines.

Lorina Mapa skillfully illustrates emotion in her panels which change between grief and humor, always with love for her family, friends, and country. I laughed out loud more than once as I recalled some of my own memories of growing up -- who didn't have a pop culture inspired haircut that didn't quite work out? (Mine was the bangs from The Secret World of Alex Mack.)

I would recommend Duran Duran, Imelda Marcos, and Me for fans of Lucy Knisley, Ramsay Beyer, and Alison Bechdel.

 
 
Jennifer

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah (2016)

At turns heartwarming and heartbreaking, Trevor Noah’s candid memoir is a powerful, moving story of his life as a mixed race child growing up during apartheid. Told in vignettes, Born a Crime documents his relationship with his mother, his childhood and teenage antics, and his struggle to fit into a world that considered him a crime (at the time of his birth, interracial relationships were illegal).

Perhaps best known as the host of The Daily Show on Comedy Central, Noah does infuse humor into his stories, but this is not your typical comedian’s memoir. Listen to the audiobook: the author’s command of multiple languages and skill at impersonations shine in his engaging narration.
Joan

Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon's Journey into the Afterlife by Eben Alexander (2012)

Dr. Eben Alexander was close to death for a week. The memories from that week have changed his life and the way he thinks about life after death. In Proof of Heaven, Alexander pulls the reader into his drama and can cause a life changing shift in perspective. Listening to Alexander's own voice recount his experiences made it all the more powerful a message.
Jez

Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick (2016)

scrappyScrappy Little Nobody is everything I wanted out of Anna Kendrick’s first memoir: childhood stories, breaking into show business (on stage and on screen), behind-the-scenes memories, and funny anecdotes and asides. The stories range from unique and humorous—such as the time she and her brother went to NYC as young teens for an audition and her parents faxed over their credit card number to the hotel, promising that their children definitely weren’t unattended minors—to personal, as was the case with remembering her grandmother’s funeral.

Kendrick toes the line of “stars: they’re just like us!” presenting scenes from the Oscars, as well as a chapter on why she’ll never call herself a real adult. The author herself reads the audiobook and does so splendidly. This is a perfect read for fans of Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? or Felicia Day’s You’re Never Weird on the Internet.
Jez

Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun, and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rhimes (2015)

yearofyesA lot of things are going well for Shonda Rhimes—she is, after all, Shonda Rhimes, the woman who rules Thursday night, the woman behind shows like Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and How to Get Away with Murder. She gets invited to award ceremonies, presidential dinners, and talk shows—but as her sister points out one Thanksgiving, she never actually does any of these things. She gets invited and she talks about them, but Shonda never, ever says yes. Her sister’s words sit with her for months until suddenly she wakes up on her birthday and realizes she wants to finally do something. Shonda decides, for one year, she will start saying yes to everything that scares her.

Year of Yes is about that journey. It’s partially a memoir of her time in show business, but more than that, Year of Yes is about how saying “yes” changed her life, not just in that she was suddenly making college commencement speeches and losing weight, but also in how she began to think about the world and connect with her family. This short read makes for an excellent self-help book for anyone who has ever felt stuck in their lives and wanted to do more, but was never sure how. It’s encouraging, inspiring, and most of all, fun.
Nancy R.

Mrs. Kennedy and Me by Clint Hill (2012)

mrskennedyThis book is a wonderful accolade to Jacqueline Kennedy. Clint Hill's story is beautifully written as he relives the happiness and agony of his time spent as Mrs. Kennedy's secret service agent.

Watch Clint Hill discuss Mrs. Kennedy and Me on C-SPAN.

Mary

Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley (2013)

relishLucy Knisley’s graphic memoir about growing up with a mom who is a chef and a father who is a food-snob will trigger memories of favorite foods, of cooking successes and failures, and of times spent sharing meals (delicious and not so delicious) lovingly prepared by someone for us.

Relish is recommended for those who live to eat!