The best books on surviving trauma through the magic of imagination

Sophie Johannis Author Of Traces
By Sophie Johannis

Who am I?

My first memories are of my brother’s death. Maybe that’s why I’ve always wanted to understand the connection between memory and identity. At 17, when I was writing the very first draft of Traces, I was also bandaging my friends’ suicide attempts. I’ve volunteered as a writing tutor for refugees and autistic students, visitor on the closed ward of a psychiatric hospital, advocate for the LGBTQIA+ community (of which I am a member), and celebrant for bereavement ceremonies. As an educator, YA/NA novelist, and poet, I know that nobody can heal unless they feel safe and seen, which is why I believe so strongly in trauma-informed communication and radical acceptance.


I wrote...

Traces

By Sophie Johannis,

Book cover of Traces

What is my book about?

Traces is a trust story. Shadow-quiet Cole must rely on hyper-sensitive Aiden to understand his past and escape the pursuers threatening his life—Aiden, whose wild imagination defies the limits of conventional telepathy. But retracing the trauma Cole’s wounded mind fails to remember, Aiden finds that empathic bonds are always two-way streets.

A poetic blend of YA fantasy and psychological fiction, Traces will resonate with readers whose hearts have been wounded—through abuse or neglect, through discrimination, through loss and loneliness. I wrote Traces to tell these people (including myself): You are not alone. Many of the readers who already love Traces are neurodivergent like its protagonists (Cole, for example, is autistic) or suffer from anxiety and C-PTSD.

The books I picked & why

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The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma

By Bessel Van Der Kolk,

Book cover of The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma

Why this book?

In The Body Keeps the Score, van der Kolk explains the lifelong impact of trauma on the mind and body, then introduces various therapeutic approaches to help survivors carry the crushing weight of their past. This book is a lifeline for survivors, validating their fragmented memories and reassuring them that their trauma responses are biological necessities rather than personal failures. As a writer, I love that many of the therapeutic approaches described in the book harness the power of imagination to reprocess traumatic memories—a transformative process of healing that’s nothing short of magical.

The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma

By Bessel Van Der Kolk,

Why should I read it?

9 authors picked The Body Keeps the Score as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

#1 New York Times bestseller

"Essential reading for anyone interested in understanding and treating traumatic stress and the scope of its impact on society." -Alexander McFarlane, Director of the Centre for Traumatic Stress Studies

A pioneering researcher transforms our understanding of trauma and offers a bold new paradigm for healing in this New York Times bestseller

Trauma is a fact of life. Veterans and their families deal with the painful aftermath of combat; one in five Americans has been molested; one in four grew up with alcoholics; one in three couples have engaged in physical violence. Dr. Bessel van der…


Legendborn

By Tracy Deonn,

Book cover of Legendborn

Why this book?

In this YA fantasy novel, sixteen-year-old Bree discovers a secret society whose members derive magic from their Arthurian heritage—and who might have played a role in her mother’s death. From racist microaggressions to the intergenerational trauma of enslaved people and their descendants, Bree‘s identity as a Black girl is central to the book‘s magic. Legendborn is perfect for readers who love YA but have grown tired of formulaic novels. As a writer of YA and NA fantasy, I consider this book a poster child for my genre done right, embracing some beloved tropes while delving into the reality of trauma and loss in atypically profound ways.

Legendborn

By Tracy Deonn,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

An Instant New York Times Bestseller!
Winner of the Coretta Scott King - John Steptoe for New Talent Author Award

Filled with mystery and an intriguingly rich magic system, Tracy Deonn’s YA contemporary fantasy reinvents the King Arthur legend and “braids together Southern folk traditions and Black Girl Magic into a searing modern tale of grief, power, and self-discovery” (Dhonielle Clayton, New York Times bestselling author of The Belles).

After her mother dies in an accident, sixteen-year-old Bree Matthews wants nothing to do with her family memories or childhood home. A residential program for bright high schoolers at UNC–Chapel Hill…


The Way of Kings: Book One of the Stormlight Archive

By Brandon Sanderson,

Book cover of The Way of Kings: Book One of the Stormlight Archive

Why this book?

Sanderson is famous for his complex inter-series world building, but I personally love The Way of Kings for an entirely different reason: the realistic way Sanderson writes traumatized characters. A brick of a book, TWoK is narrated from various points of view, the most compelling one being that of Kaladin, a young enslaved surgeon racked by survivor‘s guilt. Kal has my respect because he keeps fighting for a future in which he might actually succeed at protecting his loved ones. If that’s not a truly magical feat of imagination trumping a torturous reality, I don’t know what is.

The Way of Kings: Book One of the Stormlight Archive

By Brandon Sanderson,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Way of Kings as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From #1 New York Times bestselling author Brandon Sanderson, The Way of Kings, Book One of the Stormlight Archive begins an incredible new saga of epic proportion.

Roshar is a world of stone and storms. Uncanny tempests of incredible power sweep across the rocky terrain so frequently that they have shaped ecology and civilization alike. Animals hide in shells, trees pull in branches, and grass retracts into the soilless ground. Cities are built only where the topography offers shelter.

It has been centuries since the fall of the ten consecrated orders known as the Knights Radiant, but their Shardblades and…


The Book Thief

By Markus Zusak,

Book cover of The Book Thief

Why this book?

Being German myself, I’ve always had a particular interest in learning about life during World War II. Of all the books I’ve read on the subject, The Book Thief stands out as one of the most compelling. Liesel, the protagonist, is a German girl who builds a unique bond with Max, a young Jewish man Liesel’s foster parents are hiding in their basement. The power of imagination plays a central role in this novel as Liesel connects with Max through stories. The novel is narrated by Death himself, whose unique perspective makes it a read as magical as it is moving.

The Book Thief

By Markus Zusak,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'Life affirming, triumphant and tragic . . . masterfully told. . . but also a wonderful page-turner' Guardian
'Brilliant and hugely ambitious' New York Times
'Extraordinary' Telegraph
___

HERE IS A SMALL FACT - YOU ARE GOING TO DIE

1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier.
Liesel, a nine-year-old girl, is living with a foster family on Himmel Street. Her parents have been taken away to a concentration camp. Liesel steals books. This is her story and the story of the inhabitants of her street when the bombs begin to fall.

SOME IMPORTANT…


The Madness Vase

By Andrea Gibson,

Book cover of The Madness Vase

Why this book?

Andrea Gibson’s spoken word poems are gut-wrenching testaments to the power of vulnerability and tenderness, weaving anecdotes into fervent pleas for empathy, connection, and social justice. The magic of their pieces lies in the both/and of beauty and pain, unflinchingly facing trauma while clinging to hope. This collection’s strongest poems include “Ashes” (about a gay soldier burned to death) and “Somewhere, a Carpenter” (about the artist’s love for their grandmother). If you want to be truly spellbound, look for the recorded versions of these poems—I’ve attended two of Gibson’s live performances and had goosebumps all over and/or tears streaming down my face from start to finish.

The Madness Vase

By Andrea Gibson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Madness Vase as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

These poems’ topics range from hate crimes to playgrounds, from international conflict to hometowns, from falling in love to the desperation of loneliness. Gibson’s work seizes us by the collar and hauls us inside some of her darkest moments, then releases us out the other side.


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