The best books for when you’re grieving and need more than platitudes

Who am I?

When I sold the manuscript that became The Way Back from Broken, my editor asked why I wrote it. I said, “I wrote a book about the two things I’m an expert in: grief and canoeing.” It took me ten years to find my own way back from being broken after the death of my daughter. Along that difficult and heartbreaking trail, I came to loathe people who said things like “Time heals all wounds” or “It was meant to be.” I craved those brave few who spoke and wrote with deep authenticity about how grief and loss force us to reconsider everything we’ve ever known about the world. 


I wrote...

The Way Back from Broken

By Amber J. Keyser,

Book cover of The Way Back from Broken

What is my book about?

Rakmen’s baby sister died in his arms, his parents are on the verge of divorce, and he’s flunking out of high school. The only place he fits is at Promise House, otherwise known as support group central. Not that he wants to be there. Talking doesn’t bring back the dead. When he’s shipped off to the Canadian wilderness with ten-year-old Jacey, another member of the support group, and her mom, his summer goes from bad to worse. He can’t imagine how eight weeks of canoeing and camping could be anything but awful. Yet the vast and unforgiving backcountry just might give Rakmen a chance to find the way back from broken... if he’s brave enough to grab it. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Carry Home: Lessons from the American Wilderness

Amber J. Keyser Why did I love this book?

This memoir spoke to my heart. When Gary Ferguson’s wife dies in a canoeing accident in northern Ontario, he turns to the wilderness they both loved for comfort. As he journeys to the remote places where he and his wife had shared many adventures, he leans into the natural world to learn from its cycles how to move through the landscape of loss. There are many paths through grief, but like Ferguson, I turned to the wilderness to find my way again.

By Gary Ferguson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The nature writing of Gary Ferguson arises out of intimate experience. He trekked 500 miles through Yellowstone to write Walking Down the Wild and spent a season in the field at a wilderness therapy program for Shouting at the Sky. He journeyed 250 miles on foot for Hawks Rest and followed through the seasons the first fourteen wolves released into Yellowstone National Park for The Yellowstone Wolves. But nothing could prepare him for the experience he details in his new book.

The Carry Home is both a moving celebration of the outdoor life shared between Ferguson and his wife Jane,…


Book cover of Getting Near to Baby

Amber J. Keyser Why did I love this book?

This award-winning, middle grade novel begins with Willa Jo and her little sister refusing to come down off their Aunt Patty’s roof. Drawn to get as close to the sky as possible, they stay up, wrestling with the recent death of their sibling. I read this book shortly after my baby died, and it gets everything right about the confusion, the magical thinking, the incomprehensible behavior of those who don’t know grief, and especially, the inability to understand a world that has, in an instant, been so dramatically altered. 

By Audrey Couloumbis,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Getting Near to Baby as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 10, 11, 12, and 13.

What is this book about?

A Southern charmer for fans of Newbery Honor book Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage


Audrey Couloumbis's masterful debut novel brings to mind Karen Hesse, Katherine Paterson, and Betsy Byars's The Summer of the Swans—it is a story you will never forget. 


Willa Jo and Little Sister are up on the roof at Aunt Patty’s house. Willa Jo went up to watch the sunrise, and Little Sister followed, like she always does. But by mid-morning, they are still up on that roof, and soon it’s clear it wasn’t just the sunrise that brought them there. 


The trouble is, coming down…


Book cover of Song for Sarah: A Mother's Journey Through Grief and Beyond

Amber J. Keyser Why did I love this book?

After my daughter died, I wrote her hundreds and hundreds of letters. Sometimes it felt like she was the only one who could understand me. Other times, as I struggled to put one foot in front of the other, living up to what my dead daughter might have wanted for me was what kept me going. I was still deep in my grief when I first read Song for Sarah, a memoir composed of D’Arcy’s letters to her own lost child. A dear friend asked me how I could possibly read about another mother’s grief when I was so lost in my own. The answer, simply, was that D’Arcy made me feel seen. 

By Paula D'Arcy,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Song for Sarah as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

More a diary than a manual on handling grief, D'Arcy's collection of letters written before and after the loss of her daughter reflects upon her search for strength and hope through years of anguish. With a combination of profound reflection and sincere stories, these letters express how the deepest sorrow can be transformed into a unique sense of comfort and peace. Filled with practical yet literary writing, this collection reveals the discovery of healing is available to anyone enduring the sorrow of a lost loved one. Written in a tender, personal tone and drawing from direct experience, it is an…


Book cover of Orbiting Jupiter

Amber J. Keyser Why did I love this book?

This young adult novel is a love song from a teenage father to the child he’s never met. He yearns toward her. He wrestles with the consequences of his past decisions. He wants a future that he can never have. I can’t tell you how much I saw myself, a middle-aged mom, in delinquent protagonist Jack. This book is real and visceral and doesn’t pull any punches, but the most important thing it does is remind us that the twin of grief is love. 

By Gary D. Schmidt,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Orbiting Jupiter as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 12, 13, 14, and 15.

What is this book about?

Longlisted for the Carnegie Medal.
A heartbreaking story, narrated by twelve-year-old Jack, whose family is caring for fourteen-year-old Joseph. Joseph is misunderstood. He was incarcerated for trying to kill a teacher. Or so the rumours say. But Jack and his family see something others in town don't want to.
What's more, Joseph has a daughter he's never seen. The two boys go on a journey through the bitter Maine winter to help Joseph find his baby - no matter the cost.


Book cover of The Year of Magical Thinking

Amber J. Keyser Why did I love this book?

In the space of a few weeks, Didion suffered the near-fatal, catastrophic illness of her only child and the sudden death of her husband of forty years. In this memoir, which won the National Book Award for Nonfiction in 2005, Didion reveals the mind-shattering effects of sudden grief. She never shies away from the ugly truths of loss. Instead, she writes her way into and through her pain. This is exactly what I did, and knowing that Didion had done it too, made all the difference.

By Joan Didion,

Why should I read it?

13 authors picked The Year of Magical Thinking as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From one of America's iconic writers, a portrait of a marriage and a life - in good times and bad - that will speak to anyone who has ever loved a husband or wife or child. A stunning book of electric honesty and passion.

Several days before Christmas 2003, John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion saw their only daughter, Quintana, fall ill. At first they thought it was flu, then pneumonia, then complete sceptic shock. She was put into an induced coma and placed on life support. Days later - the night before New Year's Eve -the Dunnes were just…


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Traumatization and Its Aftermath: A Systemic Approach to Understanding and Treating Trauma Disorders

By Antonieta Contreras,

Book cover of Traumatization and Its Aftermath: A Systemic Approach to Understanding and Treating Trauma Disorders

Antonieta Contreras Author Of Traumatization and Its Aftermath: A Systemic Approach to Understanding and Treating Trauma Disorders

New book alert!

Who am I?

As a trauma therapist and dedicated researcher, I love uncovering valuable insights within lesser-known books. There are hidden gems, free from the pressure of commercial success, crafted by authors deeply committed to research, understanding, and the art of writing itself. Their dedication resonates with me, as I believe in the profound value of information and the power of critical thinking. Through my own book, Traumatization and Its Aftermath, I aim to emphasize that psychological concepts often lose their depth in translation and my mission is spreading awareness and fostering a deeper understanding of trauma and its intricate facets. With that idea in mind, I chose these five titles. 

Antonieta's book list on uncovering the human experience and exploring the depths of trauma

What is my book about?

A fresh take on the difference between trauma and hardship in order to help accurately spot the difference and avoid over-generalizations.

The book integrates the latest findings in brain science, child development, psycho-social context, theory, and clinical experiences to make the case that trauma is much more than a cluster of symptoms to be tamed, but instead best understood as development gone off course, away from growth and towards (only) survival.

This book prompts a profound shift in perception, inviting to view trauma as an intricate and diverse experience, a point of view that ultimately leads to sharper treatment and, hopefully, more healing. It encourages a transition from asking, "What happened to you?" to the deeper question, "What is your relationship with what happened to you?"

Traumatization and Its Aftermath: A Systemic Approach to Understanding and Treating Trauma Disorders

By Antonieta Contreras,

What is this book about?

The book is comprehensive, bold, and practical-a much-needed resource for the assessment and treatment of trauma. Instead of the traditional focus on the overall importance of healing, Traumatization and its Aftermath decodes why some people don't heal as easily as others, analyzes the various failures of diagnosis, and explains how to make therapeutic interventions truly effective.

This book offers a systemic deep dive into traumatization that clarifies myths and misinformation about the entire spectrum of trauma and provides both clinicians and non-clinicians with the right level of validation, preventive measures, conceptualization methodology, assessment tools, and healing facts that have not…


5 book lists we think you will like!

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