At least according to a friend, the mother of eight smartypants kids, who texted the following request a week before Santa’s arrival
Simple enough assignment, yeah? Identify rated-G or PG novels I love—literature—for half a dozen unnaturally brilliant, high-achieving readers ranging in age from eleven to twenty-five, books that aren’t treacle or L’Engle, Robinson, or Cather (whom I’m sure they’ve already read). And yet.
I’ve read some dazzling works of fiction and nonfiction in the past year, all containing at least one scene of a “defiling” nature. I’m mature, I’m inured, but I wanted to honor her request and her kids are pretty great, so this book nerd was up to the challenge! I had to dig back in my archive, but here’s the list of G/PG-rated recommendations curated off the top of my head, according to age (all daughters, except for one):
- A, the newlywed electrical engineer: The most beautiful novel I’ve ever read about the beauty of marriage and lifelong friendships, Crossing to Safety, by Wallace Stegner
- M, pre-law college grad working on the Hill: Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi
- E, private-college class president: Deacon King Kong, by James McBride
- L, musical prodigy college sophomore, tends toward melancholy: Nothing to See Here, by Kevin Wilson
- G, high school senior (but maybe he’s stuck in my mind as 14): Black Swan Green, by David Mitchell, or The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, by Michael Chabon
- J, high school sophomore: Death Comes for the Archbishop or My Antonia, by Willa Cather (just in case, and I loved those books)
- The two littles, 11 and 13: Kate DiCamillo?
But then OH, I remembered, for everyone: The Water Dancer: A Novel, Ta-Nehisi Coates and The Murmur of Bees, by Sofia Segovia. I was late to The Water Dancer, which after Coates’s gorgeous epistolary memoir, Between The World and Me, I fell under his spell. Segovia’s novel, deftly translated by Simon Bruni, was equally enchanting but also eerily timely, pandemically speaking.
And how about you? What wholesome literature would you add to the list?