As a person who writes about books (and a former bookseller) I have definitely honed and fine-tuned my book recommending skills to near perfection over the years. I’ve got my best handsells in my back pocket for anyone looking for something they might have missed in YA fantasy, or one of the all-time best, must-read contemporaries. I’ve got book comparisons for days, from adult to middle grade, fiction to non-fiction, and tons of “If You Like This, Read That” lists under my belt. Introducing someone to a book that you know they will love, one that might become one of their favorite books of all-time is one of the most fun and rewarding parts of being part of the bookish community.
But what’s harder is to make those unexpected book recommendations; the books that, on the surface, might have nothing in common but in actuality would make ideal reading combinations for various reasons, from themes to settings, characters and atmosphere. If you can get someone who loves young adult to pick up a modern classic, or someone who is a literary fiction reader to grab a graphic novel… well, then you’ve helped broaden someone’s reading horizons and open them up to more of the great lit out there. Below are seven unexpected and unconventional pairings that, with an open mind, will make for some seriously awesome reading experiences.
1. ‘The Bell Jar’ by Sylvia Plath and ‘Ten Girls To Watch’ by Charity Shumway
On the surface, you might think that a revered modern classic like The Bell Jar and an entry into the chick lit genre like Ten Girls To Watch would have nothing in common… and for the most part you’d be right. The Bell Jar is set in the 1950s and explores the dangers of women’s inequality and female disillusionment, along with the realities of mental health, all set on the glittering backdrop of the glamorous world of magazines. But that’s where Ten Girls To Watch comes in.
It also frames New York City and the publishing world as its backdrop, and follows another young woman trying to make it on her own. It even utilizes a magazine contest much like the one Plath herself once won and subsequently used as her inspiration for The Bell Jar. But here we get an uplifting tale of woman power, with diverse portrayals of those fierce and bright, lost and problematic, but overall supportive and supported, both by each other and themselves. It is interesting to compare these two portrayals of femininity, young professionals, and the different ways our lives can go when faced with adversity.
2. ‘Up To This Pointe’ by Jennifer Longo and ‘Everything I Never Told You’ by Celest Ng
Up To This Pointe is a modern day YA about a girl whose lifelong dream to become a professional ballerina goes up in smoke… so she follows in her famous adventuring ancestor’s footsteps and decides to leave home for six months to live in the dark of Antarctica. Everything I Never Told You is literary fiction, the portrait of a mixed-raced family in a small town in the 1970s. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee, and her parents are determined that she will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue. But when Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together is destroyed, tumbling them into chaos.
So, what do they have in common? Well, they are both about family, and the lies we tell each other. They are about the weight of expectations, and how we tell ourselves what we need to in order to survive. They are about young women and the obsession with perfection, and what happens when they discover that it can never be reached, and how that changes their lives forever.