No, I’m not referring to the Barefoot Contessa’s chocolate ganache cupcakes – as amazing as they taste. I’m talking about books that bring on a good cry, like Alice Hoffman’s Incantation, a riveting, intense tale that manages to infuse utter despair with elements of hope. Set during the Spanish Inquisition, this historical novel follows a 16-year old girl as she uncovers the secrets her family has kept about their faith for generations and hauntingly reveals how the ignorance, prejudice and malice of others can destroy the lives of innocent people. Or Jenny Han’s The Summer I Turned Pretty, a coming of age story about a teenage girl that blends family dynamics, friendship, and romance with the stress and strain of a terminal illness, deftly contrasting a lazy summer vacation setting against the unfair realities of life.
In A Brief Chapter in My Impossible Life by Dana Reinhardt, a beloved adopted teen struggles with identity, family and faith after meeting her birth mother, who is dying of cancer. Allen Zadoff’s Food, Girls, and Other Things I Can’t Have, expertly portrays the pain and frustration suffered by an obese teenage boy as he navigates the mine field of high school with a sense of humor and a sense of hope – along with a few tears.
Angst is often found in young adult novels, but in some books there is a point in the story where these difficult, trying circumstances cross over into something that touches us deeply and that’s when it’s time to reach for the tissue box. Occasionally the author builds the emotional tension so skillfully you don’t even realize that you are crying. Over a book. Really?
Oh, yes. Try reading Hanging on to Max by Margaret Bechard with dry eyes or Angela Johnson’s The First Part Last. These stories focus on two teenage boys facing tough choices as they deal with the heartbreaking consequences of unexpected fatherhood. All of these books have a rare power to connect with readers on a basic emotional level. Despite the sadness they evoke, they leave you feeling satisfied, and dare I say happy, that you’ve invested the time to read the novel. And almost as good as you feel eating those ganache cupcakes!