We just completed our second year of Book Club at my church. The invitation to join goes out to all parish members, but, not surprisingly, only women have responded so far. We are a group of about 20 women who meet on the second Wednesday of each month from September through May. Participation varies from about 8 to 18, depending on the season. We meet for a brown-bag lunch at noon to catch up with news of each other, then easily transition to discussion of the book. Conversations are lively and satisfying even as we differ in our opinions of the books. We have read 18 books so far; I would like to share five of my favorite reads from the past two years.
Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Brian Stevenson (2015)
Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system. Just Mercy is at once an unforgettable account of an idealistic, gifted young lawyer’s coming of age, a moving window into the lives of those he has defended, and an inspiring argument for compassion in the pursuit of true justice.
The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd (2014)
Hetty “Handful” Grimke, an urban slave in early nineteenth century Charleston, yearns for life beyond the suffocating walls that enclose her within the wealthy Grimke household. The Grimke’s daughter, Sarah, has known from an early age she is meant to do something large in the world, but she is hemmed in by the limits imposed on women. Inspired by the historical figure of Sarah Grimke, Kidd goes beyond the record to flesh out the rich interior lives of all of her characters, both real and invented.
The Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline (2013)
Penobscot Indian Molly Ayer is close to “aging out” out of the foster care system. A community service position helping an elderly woman clean out her home is the only thing keeping Molly out of juvenile detention and worse. As she helps Vivian sort through her possessions and memories, Molly learns that she and Vivian aren’t as different as they seem to be. A young Irish immigrant orphaned in New York City, Vivian was put on a train to the Midwest with hundreds of other children whose destinies would be determined by luck and chance.
The Same Sky by Amanda Eyre Ward (2015)
Alice and her husband, Jake, own a barbecue restaurant in Austin, Texas. Hardworking and popular in their community, they have a loving marriage and thriving business, but Alice still feels that something is missing. Carla is a strong-willed young girl who’s had to grow up fast in Honduras, acting as caretaker to her six-year-old brother Junior. When Carla’s grandmother dies and violence in the city escalates, Carla takes fate into her own hands—and with Junior, she joins the thousands of children making their way across Mexico to America, facing great peril for the chance at a better life.
The Light of the World: A Memoir by Elizabeth Alexander (2016)
Elizabeth Alexander finds herself at an existential crossroads after the sudden death of her husband. Channeling her poetic sensibilities into a rich, lucid price, Alexander tells a love story that is, itself, a story of loss. As she reflects on the beauty of her married life, the trauma resulting from her husband’s death, and the solace found in caring for her two teenage sons, Alexander universalizes a very personal quest for meaning and acceptance in the wake of loss. The Light of the World is at once an endlessly compelling memoir and a deeply felt meditation on the blessings of love, family, art, and community.
By telling the stories of specific individuals, these five books opened my eyes to worlds I knew only in general terms: discrimination in the U. S. legal system, slavery and the work of abolitionists, orphaned immigrants on a train, present-day immigrants on a train, and the sudden death of a beloved spouse. Each one moved me emotionally and has had a great impact on my spiritual journey and how I now read the news. If you are looking for something to read this summer, you can’t go wrong with any of these books. They are not necessarily light beach reading, but worth the time you spend with them.
Q. If you read any of these books already, what was your reaction to them?