Books have always been places of safety for me, places where I can try out what it’s like to be someone else for a time, or go anywhere in the world, or open my heart to new ways of thinking. Because I write novels about broken people who find hope in the midst of difficult circumstances, it may come as no surprise that the books I enjoy the most embrace that same theme. Here are five books, in particular, that have changed my life, as recently as last month!
Christy by Catherine Marshall
Oh, the memories of Cutter Gap, Tennessee! Naive and idealistic like Christy, I became her as she learned about the unlikely beauty of the residents’ primitive lives, as well as the hardships of trying to teach them and care for their physical needs. I still remember reading about the typhoid epidemic as if I’d read it yesterday! The struggle of the characters—including Christy—with their faith was raw and real, something I had never encountered before in Christian fiction. Even now, I adore reading about small-town, mountain life in the eastern United States.
Reflections from the North Country by Sigurd F. Olson
I read this book over 25 years ago while on a combination dogsledding and camping trip in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. One of the most important environmentalists of the 20th century, Olson opened my heart to the way words could be used to describe nature with the same urgency and disarming wonder I felt while physically immersed in it. The importance of spending solitude in nature, learning from it, caring for it, and discovering the essence of God within it are themes Olson covers with breathtaking and compelling prose that challenges me still today.
The Gift of Pain by Philip Yancey and Dr. Paul Brand
A chaplain at the hospital where I worked handed this book to me years ago, and I could not be more grateful. As a nurse, I am all too familiar with pain. What I did not know was that some people are not able to feel pain because of a condition called Hansen’s Disease, also known as leprosy. Damage to nerve endings that renders patients unable to feel pain—not the disease itself—is what causes life-threatening injuries. Yancey and Brand took me on a journey exploring why pain is absolutely necessary in our lives. This book helped me find hope and reconcile life-numbing tragedies into experiences God could help me use for good in the lives of others.
Abba’s Child by Brennan Manning
I read this book in the midst of one of the most difficult and shameful seasons of my life. Through Manning’s words, I realized for the first time that God is not only big enough to handle my anger and disappointment, He wants me to come to Him with all of that. Moreover, it helped me realize my brokenness makes me even more beloved to Him, and that I don’t have to hide because of it. “In a futile attempt to erase our past, we deprive the community of our healing gift. If we conceal our wounds out of fear and shame, our inner darkness can neither be illuminated nor become a light for others,” writes Manning. That’s life-changing, indeed!
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
I didn’t think I was racist, but then I read this book. Not only did Thomas’s writing cause me to become Starr, she also caused me to become Maya and Hailey, Khalil’s mother, Starr’s father, and so many others. Because of this book, I understand for the first time what W.E.B. DuBois calls The Veil that separates whites and blacks in our country, and my heart is utterly broken because of it. Some people are shying away from this book because it does have raw language. But it’s real. It has changed my life. And this list of five books that have changed my life would not be accurate without it.
Amy K. Sorrells, Author of Then Sings My Soul
1904, Chudniv, Ukraine. Playing hide-and-seek in bucolic fields of sunflowers, young Jakob never imagines the horrific secrets he will carry as he and his brother escape through genocide-ridden Eastern Europe.
1994, South Haven, Michigan. At age 94, time is running out for any hope that Jakob can be free from his burden of guilt.
When Jakob’s wife dies, he and his daughter, Nel, are forced to face the realities of his worsening dementia—including a near-naked, midnight jaunt down the middle of main street—as well as emerging shadows Nel had no idea lay beneath her father’s beloved, curmudgeonly ways.
While Nel navigates the restoration and sale of Jakob’s dilapidated lake house, her high school sweetheart shows up in town, along with unexpected correspondence from Ukraine. And when she discovers a mysterious gemstone in Jakob’s old lapidary room, Jakob’s condition worsens as he begins having flashbacks about his baby sister from nearly a century past.
As father and daughter race against time to discover the truth behind Jackob’s fragmented memories, the God they have both been running from shows that he redeems not only broken years, but also the future.
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