Born in New York in 1961, American author Laurie Halse Anderson has been a vital voice in young adult literature since penning 1999’s groundbreaking novel Speak. Celebrated for her candid and nuanced depictions of adolescence and difficult subject matter, her work’s been recognized with many accolades, including the Margaret A. Edwards Award, which recognizes an author’s significant and lasting contribution to the YA genre.
Anderson began her writing career as a freelance journalist in the early ’90s, before trying her hand at children’s literature and young adult novels. While she published her first children’s book Ndito Runs in 1996, it was her second novel, Speak, that garnered widespread critical acclaim and commercial success. Winner of the prestigious Michael L. Printz Award and a finalist for the National Book Award, the novel tells the story of a teen girl’s experience with rape and its aftermath, exploring themes of trauma, isolation, and resilience. It’s been translated into 35 languages and was adapted into a 2004 film starring Kristen Stewart.
Since then, Anderson’s written over 30 books that tackle difficult topics – such as sexual violence, self-harm, eating disorders, slavery, and epidemics – with honesty and emotional depth. Notable work includes Wintergirls, Chains, Fever 1793, and Shout, a memoir in verse about her own experiences with sexual assault. Alongside her writing, she’s also a sought-after speaker, known for her passionate advocacy against censorship (Speak is a stalwart on banned and challenged book lists) and for children’s and women’s rights.
Sharing six of her all-time favorite memoirs in a reading list for The Week, Anderson included heart-rending work by Roxane Gay, Tara Westover, and Alexander Chee. Explore her recommendations below, and complement with the bookshelves of Judy Blume, John Green, and Nicholas Sparks.
Laurie Halse Anderson’s Reading List
“I avoided reading memoirs while I was writing Shout so I could focus on my own truth. But as soon as I turned in the manuscript, I started devouring them. Reading Tan’s memoir-in-essays is like taking a hike in the mountains with her. She skillfully threads connections between her family’s past, her own life, and her stories, enchanting and delighting the reader.” -LHA
“This is the most important, riveting book I’ve read in the past decade. The first time I read Gay’s account of her gang rape at age 12 and its life-defining aftermath, it was with my eyes. Then I reread it with my ears. Gay reads the audiobook herself; her voice adds another layer of power to the narrative.” -LHA
“Westover’s parents raised their children in rural isolation, the shifting boundaries of their world determined by her survivalist father’s mental illness. The tension between family loyalty and her desire for an education broke my heart. Westover’s determination and sensitivity left me awestruck.” -LHA
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
“Woodson is the master of evoking place and time with just a few words. In Brown Girl Dreaming, winner of the 2014 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, she brings the South Carolina and New York City of her childhood to life vividly and uses them as the backdrops of her coming of age during the 1960s and ’70s.” -LHA
“Carved from heart and bone, this exquisitely written collection of essays braids together stories of identity and the hunger to write. The essays Chee includes here about confronting the childhood sexual abuse he endured should be read by everyone.” -LHA
Ordinary Hazards by Nikki Grimes
“Acclaimed poet and young-adult novelist Grimes focuses her gaze on her New York City childhood in this memoir written in verse. Her powerful story, told with the music of poetry and the blade of truth, will help your heart grow. Make sure you have Kleenex at hand when you read it.” -LHA
(via The Week; photo by Randy Fontanilla)
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