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Need A Book? Here Are Some That Made Readers Feel Like They Belong In The World

By Heidi Stevens Chicago Tribune

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Chicago Tribune Columnist Heidi Stevens asked some of her loyal readers to share their all-time favorite books. The choices are eclectic and each respondent explains why their book affected them so deeply.

Chicago Tribune

Inspired by an 11-year-old girl's award-winning essay, I invited you, dear readers, to tell me the book that first made you feel like you belong.

Audrey Hall, the girl who kicked this whole thing off, chose "Blended" by Sharon Draper.

"Every week Isabella has to change houses," Audrey wrote in her essay for the New York City Public Library contest.

"Sometimes I have go to my dad's house on the weekends too. In the text it states, 'Every Monday I wake up in a different bed than the week before,' and it also said, 'Some judge who had never even met me split me in half.'

"Isabella's mom is white and her dad is black," Audrey wrote. "Guess what? My mom is also white and my dad is black too. That makes me multiracial or mixed. In the book it stated on page 39: 'But the world can not see the inside of a person. What the world can see is color.'"

Here are some of yours (edited for length). A peek at the insides.

"The Namesake," Jhumpa Lahiri: "I grew up as a first-generation child of European parents (Croatian and Italian) and the book really summed up nicely the experience of having a 'home' life and an 'American' life. We spoke Croatian at home and ate mainly European-inspired foods, which meant I jumped on any chance to eat American junk food! I brought weird lunches to school (liver sausage sandwiches and napolitanke, Croatian wafer cookies). My mom had an accent (which I loved and always wished I had), and she sometimes got English words wrong. My parents only wore dressy clothes, never jeans, T-shirts or gym shoes. We spent some summers in Europe (which I hated, because I was away from my friends). We were 'forced' to speak Croatian in public (how embarrassing!) Now that I'm an adult I embrace all of these things. (A summer in Europe? Yes, please!) And I'm grateful that my parents insisted on making their cultures a part of our life. I even learned to speak Italian as an adult and love the fact that I'm trilingual. Also, I got a Facebook message from a former grade school classmate who said her favorite memory of me was eating those Croatian wafer cookies my mom used to pack in my lunch!" -Lidia Varesco Racoma

"Breathing Lessons," Anne Tyler: "I was reading that in the midst of my marriage gone awry. All my thoughts before reading the book were that it was me, something I didn't understand about marriage and its tedious, boring, constant struggle for happiness. While the couple was on a road trip and these thoughts were consuming the wife, I felt a relationship with her. This was me. I shall never forget how it enlightened me and spurred me to take action." -Francine Hunter

"Breakfast of Champions," Kurt Vonnegut: "Partly because it touched on some of the same doubts that had been secretly stirring in me for years, doubts about my faith, my country, myself. It assured me that others had such doubts, too, that I was not alone. Also, quite unlike the often intimidatingly sophisticated prose of writers such as Henry James or the admirably erudite William F. Buckley, Vonnegut spoke in ostensibly careless, juvenile, even at times vulgar language, using words and lines that betrayed no pretense of trying to improve the minds of his readers. He met them where they were, even at the humblest level, plumbing common frustrations, anxieties and griefs with the insight of a poet, but in language that a sixth grader could understand. In this manner, the book seemed to say, 'Do you sometimes question the value of your heritage? Feel perplexed at the world? Lost? Bewildered? If so, don't think that's because you're stupid. To the contrary, you're in good company.'" -Michael W. Drwiega

"The Miseducation Of Cameron Post," Emily M. Danforth: "I read a few lesbian books when I was a teenager, trying to understand myself through them. There's the impossibly sad 'Rubyfruit Jungle' and many other painful stories. This was a common theme. And then I read 'The Miseducation Of Cameron Post.' Cam's story is sad sometimes too, but she is lively, humorous and self-aware from a young age, without too much inner-conflict. Her personality was so much like mine, sometimes I would have to snap the book shut and disentangle myself from her. I felt seen, and I accepted myself a little more for it." -Marielle Magnin

"Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret," Judy Blume: "I remember that my three biggest milestones and what would make me 'grown up,' but also worried me about adolescence, were shaving, wearing a bra and getting my period. Sounds ridiculous now, but hearing Margaret going through them too made me feel normal and not alone. I remember just absorbing all the words and turning pages. Margaret's voice was like my voice. And when I was done, even at a young age, it made me realize that books and words on pages can really be impactful and transport you into someone else's shoes or it can act as an escape. That's the magic of words put together in a certain order."- Benna Hermanson

"Charlotte's Web," E.B. White: "I'm a high school librarian in the Chicago suburbs. I'm also a champion of the underdog, the underprivileged and the unique. As a kid growing up in rural Pennsylvania I saw far too many animals used as property. These very animals that I felt a connection to, on a soul level, were being slaughtered. I begged to be a vegetarian. My meat-and-potatoes parents scoffed at my request and doubled down on the meat on my dinner plate. Fern was the first kindred spirit I met. She was out ridding the world of injustice before most kids were awake. She was awesome to me! I was, for so long, the lone vegetarian (later vegan) in the room. But knowing that other people would read the book and share my ideals was a comfort when nothing else was. Fern and I knew the value of life, all life. 'Charlotte's Web' still resonates with me and will always be my favorite book, the one that changed my life and let me know that I wasn't alone." -Cheri Price

"Motherless Daughters: The Legacy of Loss," Hope Edelman: "My mom died of breast cancer when I was 9. My brother and I were born to a father who was 57 at the time. When mom died he never remarried. I had no consistent female, woman, wife, mom, role model growing up. When I got married in my early 20s I couldn't understand why I wasn't like all the other young women. I didn't like fashion, makeup, gossip, mindless stuff in my opinion. I had no clue how to cook from scratch or how to clean and keep a house. I didn't think babies were particularly cute, although I went on to have two of my own, both of whom are now wonderful adults. One day I saw this book on TV and I bought it. Bam! From the first page, I get it now! It's not me! It was what happened to me. Such a heavy burden lifted, and I could finally understand. And to know that there are many more like me out there. I belonged to the motherless daughters club. I wasn't the only one. I can still feel the weight being lifted." -Gerri Vaughn

"Ramona and Her Father," Beverly Cleary: "I probably read it in third grade. Growing up, my father was often out of work. Beverly Cleary captured how much an event like that can take a family off balance. In 2010, when the movie based on Cleary's books, 'Ramona and Beezus,' debuted, the Great Recession was in full swing and many families dealt with that very same situation. Decades after that book was first published, her work has the ability to make children everywhere feel like they were less alone, and that is truly a gift." -Melanie Kalmar

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