Guest Post by Lauren Clark author of Stardust Summer
Favorite Comfort Reads
I've been reading since I was about four years old, so choosing only a few comfort reads is a serious and difficult task! There are so many authors that I love and admire—and I'm eclectic in my genre tastes—one week it's Chick Lit, the next, it might be Thrillers.
I do love Sophie Kinsella...she's so funny! I adore Jennifer Weiner and Emily Giffin, as well as Lisa See, Abraham Verghese, and Michelle Richmond. I think Stephen King is brilliant, though I'm not a horror fan.The Green Mile is so moving and haunting, as is one of his short stories, which was eventually made into The Shawshank Redemption movie.
My top three comfort reads would have to be The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult, and Janet Fitch's White Oleander.
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
This story is set in 1959 and involves an overzealous Baptist preacher who leads his wife and four daughters on a missionary trip deep into the heart of the Congo. The journey and events are narrated by the five female members of the family, each with her own personality and perspective. The daughters, among them, a drama queen, a daddy's girl, an adventurer, and a disabled observer, paint a sometimes frightening picture of their father's fascination with saving souls, as well as the wild, wonderful environment that they come to accept as their temporary home.
For me, the story was an amazingly-detailed undertaking from a character perspective. It's a tough job to develop and separate so many personalities distinctly and clearly. I most enjoyed the five year old Ruth May's voice. She was, in many ways, the mostunfiltered and careful observer of life in the Congo. Kingsolver is a brilliant storyteller, and was able to deftly weave in facts and figures about the region without making the story feel like a dry, cardboard history lesson. For a beginning author like myself, this novel provided much to learn about conflict, tension, and setting, as well as a fabulous exploration of the themes of man versus man, man versus nature, and good versus evil.
My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult
From the back cover of the novel: My Sister’s Keeperexamines what it means to be a good parent, a good sister, a good person. Is it morally correct to do whatever it takes to save a child’s life, even if that means infringing upon the rights of another?
By age thirteen, Anna has undergone countless surgeries, transfusions, and shots so that her older sister, Kate, can somehow fight the leukemia that hasplagued her since childhood. Anna was conceived as a bone marrow match for Kate—a life and a role that she has never challenged...until now. Anna makes a decision that for most would be unthinkable, a decision that will tear her family apart and have perhaps fatal consequences for the sister she loves.
As one of my top comfort read authors, Jodi Picoult continues to amaze me with the controversial, sometimes shocking, but always well-written and researched novels. I've enjoyed most of her novels, including Nineteen Minutes, The Pact, and Lone Wolf. For me, My Sister's Keeper stands apart because Picoult (like Kingsolver) captures the multiple-perspective narration perfectly. The book follows Anna's story most closely, but readers are able to feel the angst, fear, and emotion generated from each of her family members. As a beginning author, the story provided an excellent template for exploring a hyper-sensitive medical issue and demonstrating the ripple effects it makes on an entire family. Picoult also does an excellent job building story tension, and dropping subtle clues along the way that hint at, but that don't give away the surprise twist ending (it made me gasp and cry!).
White Oleander by Janet Fitch
White Oleander explores the life of a teenage girl in Los Angeles forced into foster-care system when her headstrong mother kills her boyfriend. The story's protagonist, Astrid, is sent from one foster home to another with disastrous consequences. Janet Finch takes her readers into a sinister world of pain and uncertainty. Her skillful prose nails the despondency and anguish of children uprooted from established homes and thrust into becoming wards of the state.
For a beginning author, Janet Fitch's novel is an amazing template from which to explore mother-daughter relationships, a girl's coming of age, and the incredible cruelty that exists in this world. Fitch's writing is lovely and detailed, careful enough to make you see the characters in action, smell the fear and anxiety, and make your heart wrench at Astrid's plight in life. The ending of the story does bring closure, though it's not neatly wrapped up with ribbons and bows. Fitch develops Astrid from a damaged, angry child into a woman with unshakeable pluck and determination. The author also does an exquisite job with an ending that seems real and genuine—a lesson any writer would do well to emulate.
“I know what you are learning to endure. There is nothing to be done. Make sure nothing is wasted. Take notes. Remember it all, every insult, every tear. Tattoo it on the inside of your mind. In life, knowledge of poisons is essential."