Everything from two orphans in love to eating painful memories away to escaping an American culture crisis
Summer is coming to an end and you’ve just bought your new textbooks. You might think reading books for your own pleasure is something you’ll have to put on hold for the semester. But midterms are still long away, and you might be able to squeeze one more book onto your summer reads list. Here are a few recommendations.
The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O’Neill
Montreal-born novelist Heather O’Neill tells a spellbinding story in her newly released novel, The Lonely Hearts Hotel. You might have read O’Neill’s previous work, such as her award-winning Lullabies for Little Criminals.
This time around, O’Neill delivers another majestic tale, unlike any of her previous novels. In fact, this story’s lively characters with distinct personalities make this book unlike any I’ve ever read before. The tale takes place in Montreal during the 1910s. O’Neill references specific areas of our city, which will give Montreal readers vivid imagery of the scenery. The 1910s are a dark time in this novel, a time when kids are frequently abandoned at orphanages and poverty floods the city.
Amidst that, The Lonely Hearts Hotel is a love story about two gifted orphans named Pierrot and Rose. They fall in love at an orphanage where they share their unique talents—Pierrot was born a gifted musician, and Rose is a charismatic performer who can make anyone laugh with her flamboyant and courageous personality. Their talents and unconditional love for each other allow them to dream big. Among other aspirations, they want to create and direct the most extraordinary circus show the world has ever seen.
However, separated as teenagers during the Great Depression, they both spend their early adulthood dabbling with addiction, extreme poverty and theft in order to survive. It’s when Rose and Pierrot reunite after years of longing for each other that their childhood dreams become reality once again.
The two main characters come to life beyond O’Neill’s written words. Pierrot and Rose’s personalities are so lively their souls will haunt you and remain with you weeks after you finish this book.
Favourite quote: “There was something so generous about her personality, like a man on a winning streak in a casino. She tossed her personality out onto the table recklessly like poker chips.”
Hunger by Roxane Gay
If you are a fan of raw and honest memoirs, American writer Roxane Gay, delivers just that in her own personal life story, Hunger. In this memoir, Gay shares the truth about her body and her hunger. Having struggled with obesity and eating disorders since she was a teenager. From the very first page, she makes it loud and clear: “This story of my body is not a story of triumph. This is not a weight-loss memoir.” Instead, Hunger is about a secret she kept for far too long, a secret that fueled her food addiction.
The devastating act of violence committed against her at the age of 12 becomes a turning point in her life. As she reveals what happened, the imagery is hurtful. You can feel the sharp pain and emotional scars through her words. Gay has written a number of renown books, such as Bad Feminist, however, she mentions that this book was the hardest thing she has ever written. The courage she needed to be this honest with herself and everybody else is outstanding, refreshing and exceptionally inspiring.
I’m sure many people can relate to this memoir in one way or another. Hunger is so human, so vulnerable—it makes you want to personally thank Gay for having the courage to write it. Many people face challenges, but not many would be able to speak about them as openly as Gay does.
Favourite quote: “I ate and ate and ate in the hopes that if I made myself big, my body would be safe. I buried the girl I had been because she ran into all kinds of trouble. I tried to erase every memory of her, but she is still there, somewhere….”
Hillbilly Elegy by J.D, Vance
J.D. Vance offers a compassionate, discerning sociological memoir of the white underclass that influenced last year’s American election results. Hillbilly Elegy is his own personal analysis of a culture in crisis—that of poor white Americans living in the southern part of Appalachia, in states such as Kentucky, Ohio and Alabama.
Vance, a former marine and Yale Law School graduate made it out of his poor neighborhood successfully. However, he is a rare case. As he reveals, Vance lived through a series of tormented events as a child growing up in a poor community in Jacksonville, Ky.As a child, he moved with his family to Middletown, Ohio, a place where most residents from Jacksonville fled to in order to escape poverty and disintegration. Living through domestic violence and decades of chaos, Vance didn’t want to follow the route of the white working-class life. Instead, his goal was to pursue a higher education.
According to Vance, he watched some of his friends from back home blossom into successful adults while others fell victim to the worst of Middletown’s pitfalls—premature parenthood, drugs and incarceration. As Vance writes, “what separates the successful with the unsuccessful are the expectations that they had for their own lives.”
Vance talks about his family’s struggles and how he managed to pursue a higher education in a place where people could not even keep or find a decent job. This memoir reflects how societal expectations have the potential to affect the trajectory of your life.
Favourite quote: “There’s something powerful about realizing that you undersold yourself. That somehow your mind confused lack of effort for inability.”