Spring break is approaching, and I am excited to have an entire week away from school and student employment. That said, I am not so excited about the mental battle that is trying to get myself to actually relax. Lately, every time I finally get to wind down and read (which is one of my favorite pastimes), my brain starts panicking — making my free time feel more like existential crisis time.
If this is relatable to you, I have some spring break book recommendations that might actually keep your mind busy enough to effectively distract you from the inherent anxiety of being a constantly productive member of society. So, buckle up: these three books are some of my most intense and memorable reads of 2022.
“Pet” by Akwaeke Emezi
My first recommendation is the TikTok-acclaimed speculative fiction book “Pet” by Akwaeke Emezi. Not only does this book employ a critical perspective of the “monsters” within our contemporary society (personifying them as literal creatures of darkness), but it also reads like one large metaphor — and when all of the pieces finally connect, the “aha” moment it elicits is unbelievably satisfying.
Not only does Emezi get readers thinking about the implications of art as a medium for restorative social justice in “Pet,” but they also provide a refreshing perspective on young minds, and the benefits of pushing younger generations to think for themselves while also grappling with new ways of understanding their own identities and previously-accepted notions of social normality.
Main protagonist Jam is met, for instance, with the all-too-familiar responsibility of addressing the issues that the grown-ups in her life are refusing to acknowledge and talk about (the idea being that the adults, including Jam’s parents, believe there are no more “monsters” in her hometown of Lucille).
I find Emezi’s approach to a coming-of-age story interesting, as it is less about escaping the perversion of society, and more about addressing it head on, refusing to accept idle ignorance as a realistic option. If you’re someone who enjoys themes surrounding the concept of knowledge as power, “Pet” is the perfect read for you!
“Grown” by Tiffany D. Jackson
Although “Grown” kept me deeply absorbed for its 300+ pages, it is not an easy read. It describes — more viscerally and overtly than I’ve ever seen before — the hidden horrors of celebrity idolization, especially when it comes to big-name celebrities “outliving” serious allegations due to having a loyal fanbase and far-reaching cultural footprint.
While reading “Grown,” I felt myself growing more and more disturbed (for the obvious reason of it being a book about a rising teenage star being put in very dangerous and traumatic situations) while also staying heavily engrossed throughout.
This is the kind of story that keeps you constantly on edge due to its unpredictable plot twists and general air of uncertaintiy. Like the main protagonist Enchanted, the shocking turn of events has the ability to make you feel paranoid and even somewhat delusional the more you read.
Jackson does an incredible job of putting readers in the same headspace as her characters. I have never read a book that had me as emotionally invested as “Grown” did. I even went back and listented to the audiobook of it last month, because my first read-through of it over the summer was truly an experience to remember.
“Conversations with Friends” by Sally Rooney
It would not be a successful list of book recommendations if I failed to include something by Sally Rooney. A trend in the contemporary fiction genre that I enjoy and that every single one of Rooney’s stories upholds is that of the “modern fairy tale,” a story that takes place in a contemporary setting but promotes an illusory and highly romantic outlook on modern life.
In “Conversations with Friends,” Rooney employs her eerie ability to intoxicate her readers through an idealized version of reality. While I felt frustrated by main protagonist Frances and the precarious, often one-sided relationship she has with her best friend and ex-girlfriend Bobbi, I was also in love with the baffling and envy-inducing semantics of her tiny world.
What I wouldn’t give to experience, momentarily, the rare phenomenon of being the kind of quiet and reserved that Frances is, aling with the same ability to express myself openly to the people I love, even when I make poor choices. That gift she has of being embraced in spite of her flaws is satisfying to witness.
Putting this book down and leaving its romanticized version of reality is admittedly a major bummer, but I would do anything to read “Conversations with Friends” again for the first time… so you should read it, too!
“Conversations with Friends”, “Pet”, and “Grown”. Photo by Lillian Davis.