The best books on surviving childhood adversity and the resilience of our human spirit

Why am I passionate about this?

I grew up in a family where my father’s physical disability (M.S.) was the focus. He soon became bedridden when I was still young and being an only child with a mother struggling with depression, I became the primary caregiver. My parents were always loving and caring and that got us through the tough times but other tools such as writing stories from a very early age became my coping mechanism. I could bring anything to life in my imagination and then on paper. Later I became a Clinical Counsellor, now over 40 years in practice. It seemed like a natural career choice for me as I love to hear other people’s stories. 


I wrote...

When I Became Invisible

By Maret Johanson,

Book cover of When I Became Invisible

What is my book about?

Life for young Molly and her parents in a sleepy rural town is idyllic—until Nell begins working for them as a farmhand. The fifteen-year-old brings with her a troubled home life that she desperately tries to keep secret—until it’s too late. As their lives intertwine, suspicions and resentment begin to tear the young family apart. A decision to try to right a wrong leads to tragic consequences for all of them. No one sees what’s coming.

 Insightfully told from the perspectives of four characters, who grapple to put the shattered pieces of their lives back together again, it’s impossible not to be deeply affected by… When I Became Invisible.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Ordinary Grace

Maret Johanson Why did I love this book?

This story takes place over the summer of 1961 written in the voice of the narrator reflecting back 30 years to when he was 13 years old. I loved the way it took me back to that era, a time when summers as a child were spent outdoors with minimal adult supervision. Adventure, discovery, and imagination were at one’s fingertips. A tragedy occurs that summer and the family struggles to make sense of it. I was struck by how well the contrasting characters of this family and small town were portrayed. There was the minister father, a rebellious mother, a younger brother struggling with an impediment, and a cast of interesting small-town characters that the child encounters. There was an undertone of spiritualism and questioning of one’s own beliefs and values when the inconceivable happens. It stirred up a range of emotions and questions in my own mind. Ultimately it left me with a feeling of peace.

By William Kent Krueger,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Ordinary Grace as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
WINNER OF THE 2014 EDGAR AWARD FOR BEST NOVEL
WINNER OF THE 2014 DILYS AWARD
A SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL BEST BOOK OF 2013

From New York Times bestselling author William Kent Krueger, a brilliant new novel about a young man, a small town, and murder in the summer of 1961.

"That was it. That was all of it. A grace so ordinary there was no reason at all to remember it. Yet I have never across the forty years since it was spoken forgotten a single word."

New Bremen, Minnesota, 1961. The Twins were playing their…


Book cover of The Goldfinch

Maret Johanson Why did I love this book?

I feel that this author is an absolutely brilliant writer. This book took her 10 years to complete and nothing was missed. The first scene in the book left me mesmerized. I felt like I lived through the tragic terrorist attack that the young protagonist survives and his mother does not. It then becomes an epic 700-page saga meticulously narrated as he journeys through people and places in his quest to survive. Throughout it all he holds onto a painting that keeps him connected to his mother but draws him into the interesting but scary world of the underground. I was drawn in from start to finish.

By Donna Tartt,

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked The Goldfinch as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 2014 Aged thirteen, Theo Decker, son of a devoted mother and a reckless, largely absent father, survives an accident that otherwise tears his life apart. Alone and rudderless in New York, he is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. He is tormented by an unbearable longing for his mother, and down the years clings to the thing that most reminds him of her: a small, strangely captivating painting that ultimately draws him into the criminal underworld. As he grows up, Theo learns to glide between the drawing rooms of the…


Book cover of The Glass Castle

Maret Johanson Why did I love this book?

What inspired me to read this memoir is how a child with her 3 siblings was able to live through a nomadic life of poverty, sometimes living in cardboard boxes, and still maintain a positive outlook on her family and ending up in a successful career in her adult life. Despite the extremely dysfunctional parents who prioritized their own ways of coping, the father with alcohol binges and the mother with her art, at the cost of their children’s welfare, their strong connection and commitment to one another prevailed. I think the answer is that despite their struggles the sense of family and unconditional love was there. Building the family a glass house someday was the father’s dream and it inspired a beacon of hope for the future for everyone. When old enough to leave, the author did so to save herself but she never turned her back on her parents, right to the end.

By Jeannette Walls,

Why should I read it?

21 authors picked The Glass Castle as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Now a major motion picture starring Brie Larson, Naomi Watts and Woody Harrelson.

This is a startling memoir of a successful journalist's journey from the deserted and dusty mining towns of the American Southwest, to an antique filled apartment on Park Avenue. Jeanette Walls narrates her nomadic and adventurous childhood with her dreaming, 'brilliant' but alcoholic parents.

At the age of seventeen she escapes on a Greyhound bus to New York with her older sister; her younger siblings follow later. After pursuing the education and civilisation her parents sought to escape, Jeanette eventually succeeds in her quest for the 'mundane,…


Book cover of Where the Crawdads Sing

Maret Johanson Why did I love this book?

What put me in awe of this novel was not only the survival story of a young girl left to her own defences in nature, but the descriptions of her experience of nature itself. The story took place in the marshes of the south and her daily life of gardening, fishing, laying by the river bank watching the stars, listening to the bird song, and collecting feathers took me there in a sleepy romantic way. Kya’s story of abandonment by her mother, then her siblings, and finally by her abusive father was tough to read. Her fear of a society that ridiculed her kept her living in isolation with only a few unlikely characters that she trusted enough to help her along the way. Her strength was inspirational as was her ultimate destiny.

By Delia Owens,

Why should I read it?

45 authors picked Where the Crawdads Sing as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

OVER 12 MILLION COPIES SOLD WORLDWIDE
NOW A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE
A NUMBER ONE NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

For years, rumours of the 'Marsh Girl' have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl. But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be…


Book cover of Before We Were Yours

Maret Johanson Why did I love this book?

This was a historical fiction based on a Tennessee Orphanage that captured children from impoverished families and then sold them to rich adoptees. The fairer the child the more profit there was to be made. It was hard to believe that this practice existed from 1925 to 1950. The extent of abuse the protagonist and her sisters experienced while at the home was harsh, including attempted escapes. Despite her efforts to stay together, the siblings were ultimately split up into different homes. Through miraculous events the story culminates in the reunification many years later making for an inspirational read.

By Lisa Wingate,

Why should I read it?

9 authors picked Before We Were Yours as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

THE BLOCKBUSTER HIT—Over two million copies sold! A New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, and Publishers Weekly Bestseller

“Poignant, engrossing.”—People • “Lisa Wingate takes an almost unthinkable chapter in our nation’s history and weaves a tale of enduring power.”—Paula McLain

Memphis, 1939. Twelve-year-old Rill Foss and her four younger siblings live a magical life aboard their family’s Mississippi River shantyboat. But when their father must rush their mother to the hospital one stormy night, Rill is left in charge—until strangers arrive in force. Wrenched from all that is familiar and thrown into a Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage,…


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Feral Maril & Her Little Brother Carol

By Leslie Tall Manning,

Book cover of Feral Maril & Her Little Brother Carol

Leslie Tall Manning Author Of Maggie's Dream

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Mentor Laugher Research nut Avid reader

Leslie's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Winner of the Literary Titan Book Award

Bright but unassuming Marilyn Jones has some grown-up decisions to make, especially after Mama goes to prison for drugs and larceny. With no one to take care of them, Marilyn and her younger, mentally challenged brother, Carol, get tossed into the foster care system. While shuffling from one home to another, Marilyn makes it her mission to find the Tan Man, a mysterious man from her babyhood she believes holds the key to her family’s happiness.

But Marilyn’s quest is halted when her daddy, an ex-con she has never met, is chosen by…

Feral Maril & Her Little Brother Carol

By Leslie Tall Manning,

What is this book about?

Bright but unassuming Marilyn Jones has some grown-up decisions to make, especially after Mama goes to prison for drugs and larceny. With no one to take care of them, Marilyn and her younger, mentally challenged brother, Carol, get tossed into the foster care system. While shuffling from one home to another, Marilyn makes it her mission to find the Tan Man, a mysterious man from her babyhood she believes holds the key to her family's happiness.

But Marilyn's quest is halted when her daddy, an ex-con she has never met, is chosen by the courts as the new guardian. Caleb…


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