The best books with hope about people who show moral courage in the face of traumatic or painful life circumstances

Why am I passionate about this?

I am an ethicist—a scholar and professor who thinks and writes about “right” and “wrong” in terms of human behaviors, actions, and relationships, especially where technology is involved. I went into this field because my first pregnancy was a baby girl named Zoe whose brain never developed (anencephaly). When I tried to do what I thought was right, arranging to have her organs donated, some thought it was wrong, and my efforts ultimately failed. In working through my grief, I wrote a SF novel about one woman’s struggles and strength in the face of a frightening use of technology. Books about enduring personal struggles with integrity remind me that this is part of life. 


I wrote...

Waiting in the Silence

By Rosalyn W. Berne,

Book cover of Waiting in the Silence

What is my book about?

After the Great Storms hit North America, VISHNEW emerged in seven localities on Earth. One of those was the island of Nantucket. Female fertility rates have plummeted worldwide and sperm counts have dropped precipitously; human reproduction protocols are being enforced. Waiting in the Silence narrates the tale of Oriana, an island resident whose pregnancy is of interest to island authorities. Under the watchful eye of VISHNEW, Oriana has been accused of stealing genetic material and using it for self-impregnation. At stake is the fate of Oriana’s unborn child, and her reproductive agency. Oriana’s mother is gone. Her father is grieving. Where can she turn for help? The way we learn, who we love, and how we bring children into the world are all of concern as the novel unfolds. 

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Educated: A Memoir

Rosalyn W. Berne Why did I love this book?

I didn’t know what to expect when I began reading Educated, and what I got was totally unexpected. This book touched a nerve and then put balm on the pain. Parts of it were too close for comfort around family trauma. Balancing family obligations with personal needs and self-care is something I struggle with and apparently something this author struggled with as well. I thought I had challenges and difficulties in my life but my goodness; how did she ever emerge from her life circumstances with such wisdom and integrity? I have been reassured by this wonderful (though painful) memoir, that what she did, I can do too!

By Tara Westover,

Why should I read it?

24 authors picked Educated as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

THE MULTI-MILLION COPY BESTSELLER

Selected as a book of the year by AMAZON, THE TIMES, SUNDAY TIMES, GUARDIAN, NEW YORK TIMES, ECONOMIST, NEW STATESMAN, VOGUE, IRISH TIMES, IRISH EXAMINER and RED MAGAZINE

'One of the best books I have ever read . . . unbelievably moving' Elizabeth Day
'An extraordinary story, beautifully told' Louise O'Neill
'A memoir to stand alongside the classics . . . compelling and joyous' Sunday Times

Tara Westover grew up preparing for the end of the world. She was never put in school, never taken to the doctor. She did not even have a birth certificate…


Book cover of Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood

Rosalyn W. Berne Why did I love this book?

Trevor Noah is the funniest living comedian, and he is brilliant. Who would ever guess that his childhood was filled with so much trauma? Being set in Apartheid South Africa, I was able to keep a personal distance from the story. But it still touched and inspired me, perhaps because my own children are mixed race and had they been born there, I’d not have been allowed to marry or live with their father. Unimaginable. This autobiographical accounting of Trevor’s tormented life is a testimony to his inner strength. An average person from his background might be in prison or dead. But not Trevor. The question is why he made it through with such integrity and heart. He gives a lot of credit to his mother and I appreciate that.

By Trevor Noah,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked Born a Crime as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

WINNER OF THE THURBER PRIZE

The compelling, inspiring, (often comic) coming-of-age story of Trevor Noah, set during the twilight of apartheid and the tumultuous days of freedom that followed.

One of the comedy world's brightest new voices, Trevor Noah is a light-footed but sharp-minded observer of the absurdities of politics, race and identity, sharing jokes and insights drawn from the wealth of experience acquired in his relatively young life. As host of the US hit show The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, he provides viewers around the globe with their nightly dose of biting satire, but here Noah turns his…


Book cover of A Tale for the Time Being

Rosalyn W. Berne Why did I love this book?

I think it’s the struggles and painful experiences of the 16-year-old character Nao, that kept my attention throughout this twisty-turning book. The author takes you right into Nao’s young mind. Why is it that no matter where you are in the world, being a teenager comes with such difficulty? Nao’s life was brutal on all counts, except for her relationship with her great-grandmother, Jiko, a Buddhist nun living in a remote monastery. The Japanese cultural context of this book is quite fascinating, and offers much to learn. On a personal level, I could relate to the loving, rather extraordinary relationship between Nao and her quite elderly great-grandmother. (I cherished my grandmother during my rocky teenage years!) It’s probably because of Jiko that Nao was able to handle her life. 

By Ruth Ozeki,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked A Tale for the Time Being as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A brilliant, unforgettable novel from bestselling author Ruth Ozeki, author of The Book of Form and Emptiness

Finalist for the Booker Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award

"A time being is someone who lives in time, and that means you, and me, and every one of us who is, or was, or ever will be."

In Tokyo, sixteen-year-old Nao has decided there's only one escape from her aching loneliness and her classmates' bullying. But before she ends it all, Nao first plans to document the life of her great grandmother, a Buddhist nun who's lived more than a…


Book cover of Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest

Rosalyn W. Berne Why did I love this book?

I read this for myself and now assign it to my students as an example of how even if we stumble in our ethics, we can stand up again and lay claim to our values. I appreciate that Suzanne Simard was transformed by the forest. And managed to trust what the forest was teaching, and follow her intuition, despite pressure to doubt herself and her insights. She shares about being a cancer patient and that journey alone was harrowing. Simard is a hero to me and because of this book I have rediscovered trees and learned to love them. Just as important, Simard inspires me to trust my inner voice and the lessons I am gleaning from nature, even in the face of being doubted and dismissed for unconventional thinking. 

By Suzanne Simard,

Why should I read it?

14 authors picked Finding the Mother Tree as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NEW YORK TIMES BEST SELLER • From the world's leading forest ecologist who forever changed how people view trees and their connections to one another and to other living things in the forest—a moving, deeply personal journey of discovery

“Finding the Mother Tree reminds us that the world is a web of stories, connecting us to one another. [The book] carries the stories of trees, fungi, soil and bears--and of a human being listening in on the conversation. The interplay of personal narrative, scientific insights and the amazing revelations about the life of the forest make a compelling story.”—Robin Wall…


Book cover of Parable of the Sower

Rosalyn W. Berne Why did I love this book?

This book was uncomfortable to read, and disturbing. I nearly stopped reading it all together. But past the first half, I became engrossed. Wouldn’t it be nice if, in life, actions were clearly right or simply wrong, such as murder. In actuality, life can be complicated and ethics are sometimes grey, not at all black and white. In this book, what counts as morality is perplexing. In fact, the moral integrity of Lauren, the main character, comes into question. Hers is a crumbling world of anguish, suffering, and loss, where all that matters is survival. Even though I found it difficult to digest, I recommend this book because it masterfully explores whether it’s possible to be a person of integrity in a world that has fallen into total chaos. 

By Octavia E. Butler,

Why should I read it?

23 authors picked Parable of the Sower as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The extraordinary, prescient NEW YORK TIMES-bestselling novel.

'If there is one thing scarier than a dystopian novel about the future, it's one written in the past that has already begun to come true. This is what makes Parable of the Sower even more impressive than it was when first published' GLORIA STEINEM

'Unnervingly prescient and wise' YAA GYASI

--

We are coming apart. We're a rope, breaking, a single strand at a time.

America is a place of chaos, where violence rules and only the rich and powerful are safe. Lauren Olamina, a young woman with the extraordinary power to…


You might also like...

The Pianist's Only Daughter: A Memoir

By Kathryn Betts Adams,

Book cover of The Pianist's Only Daughter: A Memoir

Kathryn Betts Adams

New book alert!

What is my book about?

The Pianist's Only Daughter is a frank, humorous, and heartbreaking exploration of aging in an aging expert's own family.

Social worker and gerontologist Kathryn Betts Adams spent decades negotiating evolving family dynamics with her colorful and talented parents: her mother, an English scholar and poet, and her father, a pianist and music professor. Their vivid emotional lives, marital instability, and eventual divorce provided the backdrop for her 1960s and ‘70s Midwestern youth.

Nearly thirty years after they divorce, Adams' newly single father flies in to woo his ex-wife, now retired and diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Their daughter watches in disbelief as they reconcile and decide to live together again. She steps in to become her parents' eldercare manager when her mother’s condition worsens, facing old family dynamics and disappointing limitations to available services. Throughout, she attempts to help her parents maintain their humanity in their final years.

The Pianist's Only Daughter: A Memoir

By Kathryn Betts Adams,

What is this book about?

Grounded in insights about mental health, health and aging, The Pianist’s Only Daughter: A Memoir presents a frank and loving exploration of aging in an aging expert's own family.

Social worker and gerontologist Kathryn Betts Adams spent decades negotiating evolving family dynamics with her colorful and talented parents: her English scholar and poet mother and her pianist father. Their vivid emotional lives, marital instability, and eventual divorce provided the backdrop for her 1960s and ‘70s Midwestern youth.

Nearly thirty years after they divorce, Adams' father finds himself single and flies in to woo his ex-wife, now retired and diagnosed with…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in trees, Idaho, and dystopian?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about trees, Idaho, and dystopian.

Trees Explore 49 books about trees
Idaho Explore 21 books about Idaho
Dystopian Explore 555 books about dystopian