The best books with characters on an unplanned or obsessively-planned journey

Who am I?

I'm a wife, mother, writer—and the mother of a disabled non-verbal thirty-three-year-old man. I'm also Black and a Christian, both of which can be problematic to many readers. I write fantasy and mainstream stories, Christian and non-Christian. Some fantasy readers have certain fears, stereotypes, and expectations of fantasy books written by minorities. Others have those same fears, stereotypes, and expectations of books written by Christian writers. I'm very good at accommodating my readers. For the most part, my readers never feel as if they’re being preached at or lectured. Some aren’t even aware that I'm Black or a Christian, even though my concernsimperialism, injustice, spirituality, ethnicity, disability, and feminismare throughout my stories.


I wrote...

The Constant Tower

By Carole McDonnell,

Book cover of The Constant Tower

What is my book about?

Imagine a world where the night flings its denizens to parts unknown if said denizen is outside unsheltered. One side of the planet is always cold and in total darkness, the other is fertile and in total light. Then, imagine, Psal, my protagonist. Lame in one leg with bad health – a disease akin to polio—he’s born into a clan that is eugenic in the extreme. He was only spared because his father, King Nahas, went against the clan’s edict and allowed him to live.

Psal has pluck, but on the whole, he’s also pretty tetchy. His technologically-advanced tribe treats him with disrespect and—his world being as it isPsal cannot go on a journey. Well…not unless he gets some help from other clans.

The books I picked & why

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Mio, My Son

By Astrid Lindgren, Ilon Wikland (illustrator),

Book cover of Mio, My Son

Why this book?

This is a fairy tale. I’ll state this upfront because at first glance, it’s a bit of a hard read. And why is it a hard read? Becauseto me, anyway—it feels like wish-fulfillment fantasy on steroids. It’s like the rantings of a terribly abused boy. Of course, much fictionespecially fairytales which is this book’s genre—is wish fulfillment. But the story feels very uncomfortable. Mio is so over-the-top happy about having been transported into the kingdom of his father the king that one feels as if one is listening to a pitiful delusion.  I found myself reading the book with two minds. One mind kept saying, “Dive into the reverie and joy of a boy who has found his dead father in a faraway land and who discovers that he’s important to the world.” And simultaneously, my other mind was thinking, “Oh my heavens! This little boy needed so much love. Was this story recorded at a mental hospital?” It’s very imaginative and beautiful and I suspect that a parent reading this story will feel a sadness about the story while the child being read to will feel something else entirely. But the parent will leave the reading session thinking about the need children have for love.

Mio, My Son

By Astrid Lindgren, Ilon Wikland (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Mio, My Son as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Oliver and the Seawigs

By Philip Reeve, Sarah McIntyre (illustrator),

Book cover of Oliver and the Seawigs

Why this book?

This book had me cracking up. I would recommend this book for kids aged seven to ten but I also think adults would love reading it. Oliver is the child of adventurers who now want to settle down. Well, the itch to adventure is still pretty powerful. So, of course, off they go again. Oliver has to find them so he too goes off to search for them. On his journey, he meets some other creatures, including a mermaid, an albatross, a depressed island, and some very obnoxious weeds. I’m being super non-spoilery and vague here because I want you to happen upon the silly puns and wordplay by yourself. I will also resist the urge to tell you what sea wigs are. 

What I like about this story is that Oliver is a normal kid. His sense of adventure came about second-hand, and he had no great urge to go on a journey. But his mother and dad had created an open-minded and open-hearted kid who takes in the wounded, eccentric, and rejected beings he meets as his found family. When the world needed him to be adventurous, he simply did what came naturally. It’s really quite sweet. Yes, they save the world from the evil bad guy but what I love is that our hero is the way he is because of his parents. It gives us parents hope that something good in us will rub off on our children. I love this book.

Oliver and the Seawigs

By Philip Reeve, Sarah McIntyre (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Oliver and the Seawigs as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A lively, gorgeously illustrated story from Dynamic Duo, Reeve and McIntyre! Along with his new friends, a grumpy old albatross, a short-sighted mermaid, and a friendly island called Cliff, Oliver goes off in search of his missing parents. But before he can put his rescue plan into action there's the evil Stacey de Lacey and an army of greasy, green sea monkeys to contend with . . .

Charlotte Sometimes

By Penelope Farmer,

Book cover of Charlotte Sometimes

Why this book?

I love time travel stories. Stories where protagonists swap lives with other people are so much about acculturation and “passing.” Dislocation, confusion, etc. aside, the main issue is to not be found out. In the story, Charlotte is not always herself. Sometimes she’s in a boarding school in the fifties and sometimes she’s back in time at the same boarding school in the First World War. So we’re dealing with a borrowed life here. The life that Charlotte sometimes borrows belongs to Clare. Charlotte has very little in common with Clare. And even less knowledge of how establishments like this worked back in the day. Some quick learning and imitative skills are needed if she is not to be caught. For instance, she has to deduce what others expect and require of her. But she also has to not lose herself in all this pretense. 

When I came to the US from Jamaica in the West Indies, I had a lot of things to sort out. What were the hip slangs that American teenagers use? What should I not say if I didn’t want to seem ridiculous and stupid? Maybe coming to America as a teenager has had a permanent effect on me. I still have something of an immigrant cultural disorientation. Of course the flip side of that disorientation is that I’ve developed a skill of putting myself in someone else’s shoes. For better or worse.

Charlotte Sometimes

By Penelope Farmer,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Charlotte Sometimes as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

It is Charlotte's first night at boarding school, and as she's settling down to sleep, she sees the corner of the new building from her window.

But when she wakes up, instead of the building there is a huge, dark cedar tree, and the girl in the next bed is not the girl who slept there last night.

Somehow, Charlotte has slipped back forty years to 1918 and has swapped places with a girl called Clare.

Charlotte and Clare swap places ever night until one day Charlotte becomes trapped in 1918 and must find a way to return to her…


The Man Who Lived in Inner Space

By Arnold Federbush,

Book cover of The Man Who Lived in Inner Space

Why this book?

As a kid, I accidentally memorized the first three or four paragraphs of Edgar Allen Poe’s "The Tell-Tale Heart". My memory is not as great as it used to be but my love for odd, tragic figures still remains. I love this book. It’s rhapsodic, mesmerizing, and spellbinding. It’s also bitter and obsessive. Give me a bitter character and I am hooked. The protagonist Colin is crippled and very cynical about humanity. He finds a seal on the shore and identifies with it. Perhaps because it’s clumsy on land but so graceful in water. His obsession with the seal made me somewhat uncomfortable but maybe that’s just my mind working overtime. After a while, his obsession leads him to become obsessed with living underwater. This is where the seal lives, this is where his true family lives. Now, not all disabled charactersmercifully—are vaguely psychotic. And imagination is a double-side medication, so to speak. It heals and it can hurt. There are certain moments in this story where our hero’s internal journeys are dangerous but the rhapsodic merging of obsession and science fiction creates a tense psychological fantasy that makes the desire to escape and to go on a journey so dang palpably tragic. This is a beautiful read and a hard read.

The Man Who Lived in Inner Space

By Arnold Federbush,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Man Who Lived in Inner Space as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly

By Sun-mi Hwang, Nomoco (illustrator), Chi-Young Kim (translator)

Book cover of The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly

Why this book?

The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly is a fable, and as with all good fables, you’re going to find yourself commiserating with an animal. Sprout is a hen who is past her childbearing years. There is no rooster around. Well, there’s one. But he’s got a partner. Childlessness is an unplanned journey for some, and the book shows the grief that many people in this situation might deal with. Just as we’re feeling there is absolutely no hope for our infertile, partner-less, hen, she ends up becoming a mother. But now another unplanned journey pops up. Well, decisions and sacrifices have to be made. 

There are so many reasons why I like this book. After my son was born, I was suddenly on an unplanned journey. I didn’t expect my son to be sickly and developmentally delayed and even now I still pray for a miracle for him. The main character in this story expected life to be different. For the most part, we take it for granted that we will have children, especially healthy ones. The book is also about coming to terms with old age as a woman. I’m 62. Not old age, of course, but old enough to realize that some will assign a woman of a certain age to cronehood.

This is a Korean book and I read it in translation. I know a bit about Korean culture but I’m sure I missed a few cultural illusions about the lives of childless women in patriarchal cultures.

The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly

By Sun-mi Hwang, Nomoco (illustrator), Chi-Young Kim (translator)

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A TOP TEN INDIE PUBLISHERS' FICTION BESTSELLER FOR 2014

AN INDEPENDENT BOOK OF THE YEAR 2014 PICK

A WATERSTONES BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR 2014 PICK

A BOOKSELLER BOOK OF THE YEAR 2014 PICK

This is the story of a hen named Sprout. No longer content to lay eggs on command only to have them carted off to the market, she glimpses her future every morning through the barn doors, where the other animals roam free, and comes up with a plan to escape into the wild-and to hatch an egg of her own. An anthem for individuality and motherhood,…


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