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Five Books That Changed My Life

I have been an avid reader pretty much my whole life – as a kid, I loved reading so much I trained myself to hold a fork with my left hand so I could eat and hold a book at the same time, much to the chagrin of my parents. I bulldozed through most of the books I read, enjoying the entertainment but not thinking about them too much once I turned the last page. 

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Every once in a while, though, a book stops you in your tracks and completely changes your life. It might sound silly to say, but some books are just so well-written, or apply to your own experiences so deeply, that they impact you in a very tangible way. Here are five books which have done that for me.

“walk two moons” by sharon creech

Walk Two Moons” is told from the perspective of a young teenager named Salamanca Hiddle. Sal is on a road trip with her grandparents to visit her mother, and on the way she tells them a story about a strange neighbor she once had named Phoebe. Phoebe started to receive strange notes on her doorstep that said things like “Don’t judge a man until you’ve walked two moons in his moccasins.” When Phoebe’s mother disappeared, she and Sal were determined to find out who was leaving the notes and whether they connected to her missing mother. As Sal tells this to her grandparents, she realizes that Phoebe’s story is very similar to her own.

I read “Walk Two Moons” for the first time at the request of my fourth grade teacher, and I fell in love with this book and the emotional roller coaster it takes you on. It’s a short read, as it’s technically a young adult book, but I’ve found it even more impactful as an adult than I did as a 9-year-old. One of the quotes from Phoebe’s messages, “In the course of a lifetime, what does it matter?” is something that I repeat to myself almost daily, even after twelve years.

“it’s kind of a funny story” by ned vizzini

It’s Kind of a Funny Story” is about a teenager named Craig Gilner who is struggling with severe depression. After a failed suicide attempt, Craig gets checked into a mental hospital with dozens of strange adults, all dealing with their own mental health crises. Although hesitant at first, Craig forms bonds with his fellow patients and begins to face the sources of his anxiety at the hospital. Through his time there, he learns he does want to keep living after all.

This book hit me way too hard as a teenager. As someone who has dealt with severe anxiety and depression before, I found myself sobbing along with Craig on more than one occasion. This was the first book I read about mental health that I could relate to, and the messages about wanting to live despite all the pain that comes with life are so impactful.

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“the bell jar” by sylvia plath

I’ve been a fan of Sylvia Plath’s poetry for years, so of course I had to read her only novel when I stumbled upon it in high school. “The Bell Jar” is about a college-aged woman named Esther who experiences severe mental health struggles in the 1950s. An insight into what mental healthcare looked like seventy years ago was so interesting to read about, especially as someone who has related to Esther’s plights. The book is also thought to be based directly on Plath’s life experiences, so reading it gives you a glimpse into her life and how it tragically came to an end.

I re-read “The Bell Jar” often because it is such an interesting and relevant story, even though it was published before my parents were born. The quote “I take a deep breath and listen to the deep brag of my heart – I am, I am, I am” will absolutely be tattooed on me one day. This book has left a lasting impact on my life.

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“the kite runner” by khaled hosseini

The Kite Runner” opens in 1970s Afghanistan, where a wealthy boy named Amir is friends with his family’s servant’s son Hassan. After a local kite-running competition, Hassan is assaulted, and Amir is ashamed that he did nothing to help his friend or stop the assaulters. Soon after, Amir and his father flee to America to avoid the incoming Taliban rule. As an adult, Amir receives news that he must return to Afghanistan to help Hassan’s family.

This book is a beautifully written tale of betrayal, redemption, and friendship. Hosseini’s other books about similar topics – “A Thousand Splendid Suns” and “And The Mountains Echoed” – are equally amazing, but “The Kite Runner” will always have a special place in my heart as the first of his books that I read. Fun fact: this was another book I was required to read in high school, and I’m pretty sure no one in my class made it through without crying.

“project hail mary” by andy weir

Project Hail Mary” opens with Ryland Grace waking up on a spaceship in a completely different solar system. He has no idea who he is, why he is in space, or what he is supposed to do, and no way to contact any other human being. Slowly, Ryland’s memory returns and he learns that he is in space to save Earth from extinction, and he is the only one who can complete the mission. To quote the blurb, “And with the clock ticking down and the nearest human being light years away, he’s got to do it all alone. Or does he?”

This. Book. 

“Project Hail Mary” might be the best book I have ever read. I picked it up after hearing dozens of online book reviewers rave about it, and I was not disappointed. In a one-of-a-kind sci-fi story, Weir makes incredibly touching commentary on the human experience in this book, and I found myself sobbing the whole way through. I can’t recommend it enough.

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The experience of having a book change your life may not happen often, but when it does, it’s so special. No two people will ever understand a piece of literature in the same way, so your experience with a book is completely unique. Don’t be afraid to pick up that book you aren’t quite sure about, or the one that’s covered in dust on your nightstand. Who knows? You could just be a few pages away from a life-altering experience.

Jordyn is a senior at CU Boulder and the Editor-in-Chief of HCCU. She loves hiking, reading, and playing with her silver lab puppy, and can usually be found exploring restaurants and bookstores around Boulder.