Everyone loves a good book that makes them feel things. Even if you aren’t a big reader, when approaching a book as a young person, we are far more inclined to keep picking it up if it engages our emotion. Especially as a college student, where so much of our reading is done with scholarly articles and research-heavy material.
In the last decade alone, there have been an innumerable amount of fictional novels published which have captivated readers and caught the attention of the public. Among those novels, so many of them have tugged at readers heartstrings and brought about the feeling of raw sentiment.
Ranging in topic, setting, time period and even forms of narration, there are five books that immediately come to mind when thinking about books that are sure to give student readers a break from the facts and statistics and keep us on the edge of their feelings.
1 – Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
Set in New York City immediately following the tragic attacks that occured on 9/11, the story follows the life of 9-year-old Oskar Schell. Oskar is a unique little boy who struggles with unnamed mental health issues that allow him to see the world and his life in a different way.
After his beloved father, Thomas, is killed in the World Trade Center, Oskar discovers a vase with a mysterious key in Thomas’ closet. This prompts him to go on a year-long search across the entire city to discover the lock that matches the key, hoping to unlock information about his deceased father.
Narrated by his grandmother, his estranged grandfather and Oskar himself, the book captures the joys and the sorrows that each of the characters embody as they navigate their lives and the tragedies they are living through.
As a result of the stunning plotline as well as the shifting first person narrations, review sites such as publishersweekly.com have marked this book “a book of outstanding quality.” The quality, in this case, allows readers to feel emotionally engaged as they accompany Oskar on his journey for discovery and peace.
2 – The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Without a doubt one of the most necessary and relevant novels of this decade, this novel tackles the topic of police brutality and racism by telling the story of a 16-year-old girl named Starr.
While driving home from a party with her friend one night, a white police officer pulls the two black teens over, including Starr’s friend, Khalil, who is asked to step out of the car. While standing, Khalil leans his head in the window and is immediately shot by the officer, killing him right in front of Starr’s eyes.
After witnessing such trauma at the hands of racism, Starr is forced to make a choice: try to process her pain and remain hidden as the neighborhood riots on behalf of Khalil or use her voice and her position to speak out, gain justice and try to end the cycle of violently racist police behavior in America.
As readers delve into this novel, not only do they accompany Starr on the heartbreaking journey of healing and growth, but they are actively challenged to stand up against prejudice and violence, regardless of their race or identity.
3 – The Book Thief by Marcus Zusac
There is certainly no way to avoid feeling raw or vulnerable when reading a tale that is literally narrated by Death.
Set in Nazi Germany in the depths of World War II, Liesel Meminger, the protagonist of the story, is a young girl attempting to navigate the world while the world around her is filled with nothing but hatred and fear.
As she grows, she begins to realize the difficulties that come with maturing, particularly as her innocence is lost to the horrors that surround her.
Determined to hold onto any power that she can, she takes to learning how to read and write, sneaking out after Nazi book burnings to see what she can salvage from the flames.
Every word of this 584 paged novel keeps readers hanging on and rooting for Liesel to survive as Death keeps its eyes on everyone. While it is not for the faint of heart, this book is an incredibly potent story of light and dark and how sometimes the smallest beings can be the strongest.
4 – Mockingbird by Katheryne Erskyne
If you are really looking to feel a lot, there is no book more suited for the task than one that has so many elements which evoke emotion.
Caitlin is a 10-year-old girl living with Asperger’s, which manifests itself in ways such as her fascinations with dictionary definitions and sketching.
Further complicating her story is the loss of her older brother Devon, who was shot and killed in a school shooting, which was based on real events that took place at Virginia Tech in 2007.
Struggling to move forward and be understood by the people around her, Caitlin works with a counselor who gives her skills on how to approach people with words such as “empathy.”
Through her discoveries, Caitlin is eventually able to provide healing to others who are hurting after the tragedy, including her own father and other kids at school who have suffered loss.
With so many emotional topics explored throughout the story, readers are left feeling just as vulnerable and exposed as Caitlin, all while learning the importance of sympathy and closure right along with her.
5 – Diary of an Oxygen Thief by Anonymous
With a book that opens with the line, “I liked hurting girls,” readers are immediately made aware that they are in for an experience that will make them feel something.
Revolving around a young alcoholic who literally gets pleasure from baiting women to fall in love with him and then breaking their hearts and wrecking them emotionally. This blunt, crude novel is only for those who are up for laughing, crying, raging and understanding all at once.
While the book isn’t all that long, only coming in at 160 pages, it is packed with a rollercoaster-like experience a damaged person who is satisfied by damaging others, with the self awareness to know that he is a pretty bad person doing pretty bad things.
Although the experiences of the narrator are relatively extreme, his vile actions will hook every reader in and get them to examine their own lives and all of the people they have touched, loved and gotten to loven them.
Ali Kochik is a second-year student majoring in English writings track with a minor in journalism. AK908461@wcupa.edu