1. The Little Prince by Antonie De Sanit-Exupéry – I first read this book when I was in the fifth grade. Compared to everything else I’d read prior to this book, I found that the story was a bit on the ‘dark’ side in some parts, which I liked. Despite the fantastic plot of a little boy who comes from a tiny, far-away planet, it was the first book that felt real to me. The characters felt so alive and full of emotions that I’d never seen in the children’s books I’d read before.
I couldn’t help but fall in love with the prince because for once I wasn’t reading about some perfect prince who saves a perfect princess. I was reading about a kid—not unlike myself at the time—who sometimes felt sad, lonely, and even a little hopeless. I thought it was beautiful, even back that, that the prince wanted so desperately to please his rose and return to her despite how badly she treated him. It was new for me to read about a character who was so blinded by innocence and so ruled by his heart that he couldn’t see the injustice in the way he was being treated by his rose. He loved the rose despite her bossiness, arrogance, and severity, and, in turn, taught me the importance of unconditional love and devotion. The prince was loyal to a fault, but that’s what made him so charming and original—his unwavering love for the rose who didn’t deserve his affections.
The Little Prince touched my heart and opened my imagination to stories that consisted of more that just the tried and true ‘happily ever afters’. It taught me that heroes come in all shapes and sizes as well as the importance of ‘journey’ over ‘destination’. It is for these reasons that The Little Prince will always have a special place in my heart and on my shelf.
2. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain – Now, I know a lot of us were forced to read this book in elementary school, but I actually read this of my own accord after my mother gave me her copy from when she was a girl. Admittedly, being a kid, I was a bit shocked by the language, but once I got over it I really began to see the genius of the book. Huck was a kid who wanted to follow the rules but had a really hard time doing it. He wanted to do the ‘right thing’ by doing as his guardians asked. He wanted to adopt the moralities set by society … but he couldn’t—and that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I think Huck is so awesome.
There’s one part in the book that really sticks out in my mind, even though it’s been years since I read it. The part I’m thinking of is when Huck contemplates turning Jim in (his runaway slave friend). He writes a letter and intends on delivering it to the people who owned Jim to disclose his whereabouts, reasoning that doing so was the ‘right thing’ to do. Huck wanted so badly to be a good boy who the widows could be proud of, and he wanted to stop doing ‘bad things’ (like harboring fugitive slaves, for instance). He tried to convince himself that it was the correct course of action, but in the end, and, despite everything society tried to instill in him, he says what I feel is one of the most powerful lines in the book: “All right, then, I’ll go to Hell.” And he rips up the letter and vows that his attempts at reformation are over. He finally decides to follow his heart instead of conforming to the ideals of society. Hallelujah and aaaaamen!
Huck is such an amazing character and he is a perfect example of how a person can overcome hate despite what they’ve been taught. Huckleberry Finn, regardless of his crassness, will eternally be one of my all-time favorite characters from a novel—I mean, come on, that quote alone should have won Twain some sort award!
3. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle – Like Huckleberry Finn, my very first copy of this book was a hand-me-down from my mother. I usually don’t like books with heavy Christian themes (which is why Narnia didn’t make this list), but this has such a lovely message, I couldn’t pass it up. First off, the concept is so unique, even in today’s world where everything is an over-sexualized copy or remake of something else. A Wrinkle in Time isn’t about sparkling vampires, or dystopian societies, or even traditional ‘romance’. It’s about love in its purest forms—the love of family, friends, and self.
I loved Meg from the moment I first started reading the book. She was awkward, shy, and unsure of herself—kind of like me when I was a kid. Charles Wallace was the first boy genius I’d ever encountered in a book, and he’s the reason I adore them to this day—almost any book with super intelligent kids (Artemis Fowl and A Series of Unfortunate Events for instance) I have a hard time putting down. And Calvin is just so charming in a ‘boy next door’ kind of way—I remember having the biggest crush on him when I first read the book.
In the end, I loved that the story hinged on the truth that love is stronger than hate, and it can conquer nearly anything if one only allows it into their heart. That was the first time I’d ever seen that concept done in a book without romantic love being involved—for that matter, it was the first time I’d ever seen the book reach its end without some sort of physical confrontation. The struggle in this book was all internal. In a world filled with action-sequences and super heroes, we may forget that inner struggle is at times more difficult to overcome than physical struggle. A Wrinkle in Time demonstrates this concept and executes it in the most lovely way I’ve ever seen in a novel.
4. Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie – Growing up, I saw many versions of Peter Pan and they never really resonated with me. Sure, they entertained me, but I really didn’t get the fuss about never growing up. The concept didn’t seem all that scary. After all, grown up women were beautiful, so I was really looking forward to getting older and becoming one of those said beautiful women.
Years passed and I grew up without giving Peter Pan a second thought. I was finally an adult with a job, an apartment, and a relationship, and it felt good. Back then, I didn’t think twice about being a kid again. Sure, being responsible and paying bills was a little overwhelming at times, but I was free and I was finally being treated like an adult.
In the course of three years I quit my job, moved to Utah, moved back to California, and found myself in an unfortunate situation. I had no job, no relationship, and I had to live with my family again. I had to hear them chastise me for the bad decisions I’d made—decisions which I have yet to live down in their eyes.
That’s when I found Peter. I read the book in a few hours—because I couldn’t put it down—and only after did I understand what all the fuss was about. Peter was right all along—growing up was scary! Reading that book made me long for the childhood that had long since abandoned me. It made me regret wanting to grow up so fast. It made me wish that there really was a Neverland.
Yes, Peter is a jerk on all accounts, but you can’t help but fall in love with his innocent charms. He’s selfish, and mean, and prideful, but he embraces childhood for all that it is, thus we forgive him for his otherwise unacceptable actions—he’s just a kid after all, he doesn’t know any better.
I don’t think one can grasp the true beauty and sadness of Peter Pan until they’re all grown up—until it’s too late. Barrie is right, all children grow up, and I think most of us wish that we were the exception to that rule—I know I do. This book may have been written for children, but there is also a very powerful message for adults too: yes, we all grow up, but if you retain a youthful heart, ‘Neverland’ will never be far away.
5. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne – I watched this movie as a kid and didn’t really like it all that much. However, when I read the book a couple years back, I fell in love with the story and it’s now my hands-down favorite book. First of all, it was a breath of fresh air to read something without romance being involved. Second, the characters were so vivid—they felt like they could have been real people.
Captain Nemo is what made this book amazing for me. He’s so intelligent that he engineered his own submarine, can speak several different languages fluently, and he’s a talented musician. The cherry on top of everything is that Captain Nemo isn’t a white guy, as one may assume—he’s Indian! I feel like for the time period this book was written (mid-19th century) an ethnic character was uncommon in western literature. Not only that, but Captain Nemo was the main focus of the plot even though it’s written from Professor Aronnax’s point of view.
Nemo is mysterious and carries a lot of emotional baggage which he keeps well hidden beneath a steely façade. He pretends to be callous and uncaring, yet he allows his ‘hostages’ free roam of his ship and treats them like guests. Nemo, despite him being a pirate and arguably the ‘villain’ of the story (granted I’m using the term ‘villain’ very loosely in this instance), is gentlemanly and even charming at times. Even when the Nautilus is being attacked by a giant squid, he maintains his composure while everyone else is freaking out—and rightfully so!
Nemo’s character inspired me to write more dynamic male characters who are intelligent and cunning while still maintain a sense of relatability. Although this was a relatively recent read for me, I think it’s going to remain my favorite book for a long while. What can I say? Captain Nemo’s a tough act for anyone to follow.
6. The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly – I only just read this book last summer, but it has definitely been added to the list of my all-time favorites. The fairy tale elements of this book really drew me in and kept me interested all the way to the end. From the very first line of the book I was hooked. I felt as if I was experiencing everything that David was first-hand. It was a moving experience that had me laughing, crying, and gasping right along with the main character.
I really connected with David and his struggles in the fantastic world he stumbles upon. The Crooked Man was an excellent and terrifying villain that, if I was younger, probably would have given me nightmares. The people David meets along his journey through the fairy tale land are all wonderful and charming in their own ways (Rolan’s story was my favorite and gave me all the feels). Although David is intelligent in his own right, his naivety gets him into so much trouble and sometimes has him trust the wrong people. Although David’s journey is wrought with trials that mirror his fears and insecurities, they transform him—a jealous, lonely, and frightened little boy—into a courageous, and honorable young man.
On the surface, this book is whimsical and reminiscent of all the fairy tales I grew up with, but, on a deeper level, this story is about self-discovery, letting go of the past, and overcoming the obstacles we place in our own paths. Reading this book inspired me to rewrite my first book (which was less than a month away from coming out at the time). The Book of Lost Things made me want to write something that inspired the feelings that I felt when reading that book.
I cried when I finished reading it, not because it ended sadly, but because I was sad that it was over. It felt like I had gained something and lost something at the same time—I don’t think a book has ever made me feel like that before. In any case, this book, like all the others on this list, changed my life and made it better.
There is still beauty in this world, my friends. If you ever find yourself doubting that, just open up a book and immerse yourself in its pages. There you will always find the brilliance of the human spirit.
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