COLUMN: Samantha’s November Book-It List


Art by: Lily Cohen ('20)

Samantha Roehl shares her favorite books for the month.

Hello and welcome to the inaugural post of my monthly book column here on Eastside Online! 

You might be thinking, “Hey Samantha, why should I care about your book recommendations?” 

That’s a good question. 

This is probably the part where I should say something convincing like “because I’ve read over 100 books in 2019” or “because deconstructing literature is what I do for fun.” 

But I’m not going to say that. Instead, I’m going to point out that I have no reason to steer you wrong. In all honesty, the best possible outcome of this would be someone stopping me in the hallway and telling me that they really liked a book I recommended. I genuinely just want more people to talk about literature, especially literature I enjoy, because I’m narcissistic like that. 

On that note, I’m going to introduce the books I’m recommending in November. These books heavily feature found family and self-growth (or otherwise remind me of autumn).


A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab 

Courtesy of:
“A Darker Shade of Magic” by V.E. Schwab


A Darker Shade of Magic takes place in three parallel Londons — Grey London, aka real-life London in 1819; Red London, a London full of magic and home to our main character, Kell; and White London, a London slowly starving to death from lack of magic. 

And, of course, there’s Black London. (That is, there was Black London.) 

I thought I didn’t like high fantasy. But it turns out that I just read some bad high fantasy when I was a kid and subsequently wrote off the entire genre. Which is my way of saying that a) apparently I like high fantasy and b) A Darker Shade of Magic is the book that made me realize that I apparently like high fantasy. 

It doesn’t hurt that V. E. Schwab’s characters are amazing. Kell, an Antari with access to blood magic, is jaded but also so deeply wants to help people. Delilah Bard, a thief from Grey London, joins the fray when she robs Kell and then convinces him to take her to Red London. 

The characters, worlds, and stories are all so well developed that even though the book is huge (think Goblet of Fire size) I could not put it down. 


Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser 

Courtesy of:
“Prairie Fires” by Caroline Fraser.


The Little House on the Prairie books were a staple of my childhood. They follow a fictionalized account of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s childhood on the American frontier, a childhood full of corn-husk dolls and packing up and moving West. 

Prairie Fires tells the real story of Laura Ingalls Wilder — a story of loss and struggling and hard work that never quite seemed to pay off. But it also deconstructs the history of colonization that is associated with the classic Little House books. 

If you haven’t actually read Wilder’s books and you’re not a history buff, this book may not be for you. But if you fall into one of the aforementioned categories, this book is an absolute must. 


Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Courtesy of:
“Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood” by Benjamin Alire Saenz.


Sammy Santos comes of age in a barrio at the edge of a small town in New Mexico. During his senior year he finds both love and loss as the book takes place during the Vietnam War. The book tells a compelling, human, sometimes heartbreaking story about the effect the war had on a generation of teens. 

Sáenz’s writing is so visceral and raw that after reading one of his books, I immediately went to the library and took out all of his other books. His writing is the kind that sticks in your mind long after the books have been shelved or dropped in a return bin. Any book by Sáenz is sure to have amazing found family, stunning writing, and touching commentary on growing up Mexican-American.   


Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt


Courtesy of:
“Hold Me Like a Breath” by Tiffany Schmidt.


This novel follows the story of Penelope Landlow, a girl with an autoimmune disorder who also happens to be the only daughter of a crime family. And aforementioned crime family in charge of black market organ transplants. If that doesn’t hook you on the story, I don’t know what will. 

(Even cooler, the author lives in Pennsylvania and it’s possible to find her at NJ book events!) 


Carry On and Wayward Son by Rainbow Rowell

Courtesy of:
“Rainbow Rowell” by Wayward Son


Simon Snow, the chosen one, is convinced his roommate is a vampire. And he would probably be able to prove it, except Baz didn’t show up to Watford School of Magicks for their last year of school. Also, there happens to be a monster wearing Simon’s face and stealing magic, but that’s just semantics. 

I first read Carry On in middle school, back when it was supposed to be a stand-alone novel, and I really enjoyed it. I read the second book, Wayward Son, this year when it came out for nostalgia’s sake. I didn’t expect to enjoy it much but it was genuinely one of the most fun, heart wrenching books I’ve read this year. It was a wild ride from start to finish (Get it? Because they’re on a road trip in Wayward Son?). But both books have so much heart and are really fun to read. 

(Long story short, Carry On is basically a queer Harry Potter.)