I’m not going to lie, it’s not been the easiest week. But we all have those times, right? I finally finished the book I was reading (The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett) and realized I needed a break from reading so many dismal stories. No matter how good they may be, they do start to impact my mood. When I need a break from the smart but sad, I have a short list of feel-good fiction that I can also count on to raise my mood. Here is a list of 10 uplifting, feel-good books when you need a break from literature’s typically sad or dismal stories.
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AP Lit Favorite: Anxious People by Fredrik Backman
This book only came out in 2019 and I’ve already read it twice. I buy it as a gift whenever I’m stumped for ideas, and so far 60% of my AP Lit class has read it for independent reading. This book is probably the most uplifting book I’ve ever read. What I love about Backman is that he manages to capture heart without being cliched. Anxious People tackles difficult subjects, including suicide, marital stress, and of course, anxiety. And yet, you’re left with the ultimate message that people are good, life is a gift, and sometimes a bit of humor can solve the most difficult problem.
Fun fact: Fredrik Backman specializes in heartwarming stories. His novel A Man Called Ove is also a popular and uplifting pick.
The Guilty Pleasure: Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan
This is my go-to guilty pleasure series. I love this story because it takes me to such an unknown but entertaining world. I know nothing about Singapore, traditional familial customs of Asia, or the lives of the super-rich, so I trust Kwan to tell me everything he knows (or made up). The salacious life of the Young family reminds me that money doesn’t solve every problem but in a way that still makes me laugh out loud. Best of all, this book was made into a trilogy, so if you love the first there’s two more to follow. There’s a pretty great movie out there too!
Honorable Mentions: First Blood by David Morell and Mary Higgins Clark’s books
The Read-in-one-sitting Book: Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
There’s nothing like a little agoraphobia to put your own life in focus. Where’d You Go, Bernadette is an epistolary novel (meaning it’s told through letters) about a loving but eccentric mother and her very normal daughter planning a very unlikely trip to Antarctica. While I did find the ending predictable, it’s one of those books that I read all the way through in one sitting and closed it with a smile on my face.
The Girlboss Memoir: Is Everyone Having Fun Without Me? & Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling
I’m a big fan of memoirs by female comedians, so it was hard to select just one from that genre to recommend. Above all, nothing has made me feel happier in my own insecurities than Mindy Kaling’s books. While you may know her best as Kelly from The Office, don’t forget she spends more time writing than acting. These books introduce you to her family life, her own dating insecurities, and window into her delightful mind.
Sophomore Favorite: Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
Trevor Noah’s memoir of growing up in apartheid-era South Africa to a single mother ends in domestic violence and is filled with loneliness and confusion…and it is truly hysterical. This uplifting book told by any other narrator would be bleak, almost bordering the tragic. However, Noah maintains a lighthearted tone and fills his book with a message of love and hope. It’s the most popular choice for independent reading with my sophomores because of its humor and heart.
Fun fact: If strong language is an issue for young readers, Trevor Noah released the book It’s Trevor Noah: Born a Crime for young readers. This can be given to students as young as 6th grade!
The Pride and Prejudice Homage: Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding
What’s better than Pride and Prejudice? Pride and Prejudice + drinking and swearing. Bridget Jones is a lovable disaster that makes me feel better about my own decisions when I suffer from verbal diarrhea, cheat on a diet, or struggle with my job. I also love the modern parallels to my favorite Austen text, obviously.
Honorable Mention: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith
The Odd Choice: World War Z by Max Brooks
This is a book about a zombie apocalypse, so it may seem out of place on this list. However, I love it because Brooks uses a biography-style point of view. He talks about the events of the Zombie Apocalypse, or World War Z, as if the events actually happen. Therefore, we get to learn about how folks all around the world struggle, suffer, and eventually conquer the undead. The end result is surprisingly fun and hopeful!
Fun fact: Max Brooks is the son of famous writer and director, Mel Brooks.
My Childhood Favorite: The Princess Bride by William Goldman
The Princess Bride has been one of my favorite movies since I was a child., but I didn’t know it was based on a real book until I found it at a garage sale when I was 12. I remember when I first realized that S. Morgenstern wasn’t real and that Goldman was just messing with me, which I found brilliant. I couldn’t believe it could ever measure up to the movie, but it did by the end. As the movie promises, this uplifting book offers fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, and miracles!
Fun fact: Actually, this one isn’t so fun. William Goldman set out to write a sequel to The Princess Bride called Buttercup’s Baby but struggled with writer’s block for decades with the novel. He died in 2018 with the project unfinished.
My “Chick Flick” Novel: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Annie Barrows by Mary Ann Shaffer
This is another epistolary novel, set in during World War II on the small English island of Guernsey. The Nazis occupied the island and its inhabitants had to learn to exist among them but operate covertly in their midst. I love the persona of the narrator who researches the heartwarming love stories of the island, all the while struggling with her own love life. Want a happy ending? You’ll get one!
Fun fact: Mary Ann Shaffer originally set out to research the wife of a famous polar explorer but got stranded in the Guernsey airport for an extended stay. She read so many stories about the German occupation on the island that it piqued her interest, so she switched gears and wrote this novel instead.
The Repeat Choice: The Harry Potter series by JK Rowling
Whenever my anxiety gets out of hand or the blues start feeling extended, I drop everything and return to Harry Potter. I’ve read this series five or six times and will forever be inspired by Rowling’s uplifting books. Although geared towards children, I take inspiration from the themes on a mother’s love and triumph through trauma as an adult.
Fun fact: My husband has read this series twice as often as me, which makes him insufferable when discussing anything Harry Potter-related. He always remembers it better than me.
This is just my go-to list, which I continue to cultivate each year. What are your favorite uplifting and feel-good books? Drop me a message to let me know and I’ll add it to my reading list!