Welcome, my fellow mockingbirds – and also… Happy To Kill A Mockingbird Publication Day!
As you can tell by the title of this piece, you might be here to explore other titles that are meant to teach or improve one’s sense of empathy: to allow you to take a glimpse into someone else’s world or perspective – or as Atticus Finch would put it, “to climb into [someone else’s] skin and walk around in it.”
Whether you’re a lover of Harper Lee’s beloved timeless classic – as am I, as it is my second favorite classic novel behind F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby – or you’re just looking for empathy-promoting books to expand your worldview, you’ve come to the right place! So, with that being said, please enjoy this selection of five books fit for an audience of 13 years and older – basically fit for a YA target audience – so that you can not only grow to understand what others go through, but also grow to understand yourself.
1. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
I think Amazon’s book description just about sums it up: “Here is a book as joyous and painful, as mysterious and memorable, as childhood itself. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings captures the longing of lonely children, the brute insult of bigotry, and the wonder of words that can make the world right. Maya Angelou’s debut memoir is a modern American classic beloved worldwide.”
2. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, by John Boyne
Who doesn’t remember seeing the movie for this starring a young Asa Butterfield?? I sure do! Here’s Amazon with the summary…
“Berlin, 1942: When Bruno returns home from school one day, he discovers that his belongings are being packed in crates. His father has received a promotion and the family must move to a new house far, far away, where there is no one to play with and nothing to do. A tall fence stretches as far as the eye can see and cuts him off from the strange people in the distance.
“But Bruno longs to be an explorer and decides that there must be more to this desolate new place than meets the eye. While exploring his new environment, he meets another boy whose life and circumstances are very different from his own, and their meeting results in a friendship that has devastating consequences.”
3. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
This is probably my most favorite out of the whole bunch! And once you read it and see its 2012 movie adaptation, you’ll see why…
“Read the cult-favorite coming of age story that takes a sometimes heartbreaking, often hysterical, and always honest look at high school in all its glory. Also a major motion picture starring Logan Lerman and Emma Watson, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a funny, touching, and haunting modern classic.
“The critically acclaimed debut novel from Stephen Chbosky, Perks follows observant ‘wallflower’ Charlie as he charts a course through the strange world between adolescence and adulthood. First dates, family drama, and new friends. Sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Devastating loss, young love, and life on the fringes. Caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it, Charlie must learn to navigate those wild and poignant roller-coaster days known as growing up.”
4. A Very Large Expanse of Sea, by Tahereh Mafi
While I personally haven’t read this novel (yet), along with Maya Angelou’s memoir, it is one that I really should get on reading, and I know that once I do, I will never look back and won’t ever put down until it’s done. Here’s the Amazon summary…
“It’s 2002, a year after 9/11. It’s an extremely turbulent time politically, but especially so for someone like Shirin, a sixteen-year-old Muslim girl who’s tired of being stereotyped.
“Shirin is never surprised by how horrible people can be. She’s tired of the rude stares, the degrading comments—even the physical violence—she endures as a result of her race, her religion, and the hijab she wears every day. So she’s built up protective walls and refuses to let anyone close enough to hurt her. Instead, she drowns her frustrations in music and spends her afternoons break-dancing with her brother.
“But then she meets Ocean James. He’s the first person in forever who really seems to want to get to know Shirin. It terrifies her—they seem to come from two irreconcilable worlds—and Shirin has had her guard up for so long that she’s not sure she’ll ever be able to let it down.”
5. Night, by Elie Wiesel
Not sure about you, but I for one was assigned this book to read in my 10th grade English class and was ever so glad I did. (Fun fact: my English teacher at that time actually got to meet Elie Wiesel himself! And this was just a few years before he died in 2016, so I’m sure that she was extra glad to have met him before then.) Now, on with the summary…
“Night is Elie Wiesel’s masterpiece, a candid, horrific, and deeply poignant autobiographical account of his survival as a teenager in the Nazi death camps. This new translation by Marion Wiesel, Elie’s wife and frequent translator, presents this seminal memoir in the language and spirit truest to the author’s original intent. And in a substantive new preface, Elie reflects on the enduring importance of Night and his lifelong, passionate dedication to ensuring that the world never forgets man’s capacity for inhumanity to man.
“Night offers much more than a litany of the daily terrors, everyday perversions, and rampant sadism at Auschwitz and Buchenwald; it also eloquently addresses many of the philosophical as well as personal questions implicit in any serious consideration of what the Holocaust was, what it meant, and what its legacy is and will be.”
That’s it for this list? What’s your favorite story that promotes empathy for kids, teens, and/or adults to learn from? Whether from a book that came out only last year, or from one from a few decades ago or even almost a hundred years ago, empathy in literature – when done right – will always be a timeless lesson for all to learn…
Featured Image via CNN.com