I’m Katya Cengel Author Of Straitjackets and Lunch Money: A 10-year-old in a Psychosomatic Ward
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The best books of 2023

This list is part of the best books of 2023.

We've asked 1,201 authors and super readers for their 3 favorite reads of the year.

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My favorite read in 2023…

Book cover of No Heaven for Good Boys

Katya Cengel Why did I love this book?

While this book is a work of fiction, it is based on a real issue, young boys in West Africa forced by their Quaranic teachers to beg. That I learned something while also entertaining myself made this book one of my favorites.

Although the topic is dark, the main character, Ibrahimah, is equal parts hilarious, adorable, and annoying – in other words, your typical six-year-old. I couldn’t wait to read what misadventure would befall Ibrahimah next while at the same time not wanting to finish and have to say goodbye.

A touching story that tackles difficult issues in a way that is both whimsical and brutal, a powerful combination. Now when I see street children in Africa and elsewhere I am reminded of Ibrahimah and his friends. 

By Keisha Bush,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked No Heaven for Good Boys as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NEW YORK TIMES EDITORS’ CHOICE • Set in Senegal, this modern-day Oliver Twist is a meditation on the power of love and the strength that can emerge when we have no other choice but to survive.

“I loved this book because it is a story about generations of parents and children saving one another with a love so powerful that it transcends distance, time, and reason.”—Ann Napolitano, New York Times bestselling author of Dear Edward

Six-year-old Ibrahimah loves snatching pastries from his mother’s kitchen, harvesting string beans with his father, and searching for sea glass with his sisters. But when…

My 2nd favorite read in 2023…

Like Water and Other Stories

By Olga Zilberbourg,

Book cover of Like Water and Other Stories

Katya Cengel Why did I love this book?

Having lived in the former Soviet Union earlier this century I enjoyed the author’s inclusion of stories set in Russia as well as the United States.

The characters in the stories are outsiders in the cities where they live as well as in their own lives (on occasion), a feeling that I believe many of us experience at some point. The beauty of short stories is how they offer a window into a different world that is foreign and yet comfortingly familiar at the same time.

The world in these stories is both mundane office scenes and family visits and surreal with babies being shipped to New York for publication. 

By Olga Zilberbourg,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Like Water and Other Stories as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Fiction. California Interest. Short Stories. With settings that range from the Cuban Missile Crisis and Soviet-era Perestroika to present-day San Francisco, LIKE WATER AND OTHER STORIES, the first English-language collection from Leningrad-born author Olga Zilberbourg, looks at family and childrearing in ways both unsettling and tender, and characters who grapple with complicated legacies--of state, parentage, displacement, and identity. LIKE WATER is a unique portrayal of motherhood, of immigration and adaptation, and an inside account of life in the Soviet Union and its dissolution. Zilberbourg's stories investigate how motherhood reshapes the sense of self--and in ways that are often bewildering--against an…

My 3rd favorite read in 2023…

Book cover of Everything/Nothing/Someone: A Memoir

Katya Cengel Why did I love this book?

I was attracted to this memoir because it examines an issue I explore in my own memoir, childhood mental illness.

For a memoir to work readers need to be able to trust the author, in Everything/Nothing/Someone that trust is earned early on by Alice’s brutal honesty. The reader may not always like or understand Alice, but they will believe her, which says a lot because some of the things recounted here are so awful as to be almost unbelievable. Alice tackles her troubles not with self-pity but with an eye at understanding.

Her memoir is an exploration of creativity, madness, family relations, and how we all manage to find our way in this wonderfully crazy world. 

By Alice Carriere,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Everything/Nothing/Someone as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

* New York Times Editor’s Choice * Indie Next Pick * B&N Most Anticipated * Amazon Best of the Month * Kirkus 20 Most Anticipated Books of Fall * GMA End of Summer Reading Pick * PW Top 10 Memoir of Fall *

Compared to Girl, Interrupted and The Bell Jar, this celebrated memoir, one of the most notable literary debuts of 2023, tells of a young woman’s coming-of-age in the bohemian ’90s, as her adolescence gives way to a struggle with dissociative disorder.

Alice Carrière tells the story of her unconventional upbringing in Greenwich Village as the daughter of…

Plus, check out my book…

Straitjackets and Lunch Money: A 10-year-old in a Psychosomatic Ward

By Katya Cengel,

Book cover of Straitjackets and Lunch Money: A 10-year-old in a Psychosomatic Ward

What is my book about?

Katya Cengel became patient number 090 71 51 at the Roth Psychosomatic Unit at Children's Hospital at Stanford in 1986. She was 10 years old. Overwhelmed by feelings of abandonment, worthlessness, and anger at having to care for her depressed father, she wanted out. She found it the only way she knows how – by starving herself.

Thirty years later Katya, now a journalist, discovers her young age was not the only thing that made her hospital stay unusual. The idea of psychosomatic units themselves, where patients have dual medical and psychological diagnoses, was a revolutionary one, since largely fallen out of favor. Katya documents this, tracking down the doctors, psychologists, and counselors who once cared for her.

I read 15 books this year.