COLUMN: Samantha’s May Book-It List


Art by: Lily Cohen ('20)

Samantha Roehl shares her favorite books for the month.

When I started the Book-It List, I did not expect senior year to end this way. (For those who don’t know, New Jersey’s governor announced yesterday that in-person school would be cancelled for the rest of the year.)

I had a really hard time writing this list. It feels like fluffy stories, such as book recommendations, don’t have as much of a place as they used to. How important can five books be when New Jersey has almost 8,000 deaths from COVID-19?

But the truth is that books have always been an escape for me. I hope that these can do the same for you.

“Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe” by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

“Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe” (which I usually lovingly refer to as “Ari and Dante”) is one of the best books I’ve ever read. Narrated by Aristotle, a teenage boy growing up in El Paso, Texas during the 1980s, we follow his coming-of-age alongside his burgeoning friendship with Dante. The prose is beautiful and immersive, even as the story takes a slow, gentle pace.

“The Hazel Wood” by Melissa Albert

Alice and her mother have always been trailed by bad luck. At seventeen, Alice has never had a permanent home, too busy fleeing from the most recent catastrophe. But when Alice’s grandmother, author of a cult-classic fairytale book so dark it puts the Brothers Grimm to shame, dies, Alice learns it can get much worse.

Complete with a deliciously terrifying fantasy world and storytelling that turns normal fairytale (and young adult) tropes on their head, “The Hazel Wood” is a must read.

“Outwitting History” by Aaron Lansky

I have to be honest — this is one of those books I only read because my mom handed it to me and told me to. (Thanks mom!) This memoir follows Aaron Lansky’s process of founding the Yiddish Book Center, keeping millions of Yiddish books from being thrown out or otherwise destroyed. A touching story about Jewish heritage and the written word, “Outwitting History” is a great nonfiction book.

“The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek” by Kim Michele Richardson
Set in 1930s Kentucky, Cussy Mary is one of the last Blue People. (Which is a real thing — the Fugate family, also known as the “Blue Fugates,” were notable for their blue-tinted skin, caused by a recessive gene.) Cussy, nicknamed “Bluet,” joins the Pack Horse Library Project and delivers books to the impoverished people of Eastern Kentucky.
Throughout the book, Cussy acts as a confidant and a friend to the people on her book route, even as she faces discrimination, sexism and the harsh reality of the Great Depression.

“A Thousand Beginnings and Endings” edited by Ellen Oh and Elsie Chapman
An anthology of reimagined East and South Asian mythology and folklore, “A Thousand Beginnings and Endings” is a whimsical and enchanting short story collection. My favorite stories from the anthology — Daughter of the Sun by Shveta Thakrar, The Smile by Aisha Saeed and Olivia’s Table by Alyssa Wong — are some of my all-time-favorite short stories.

Stay safe and keep reading, Samantha.