A wondrous loser and a hope-inducing convict are among the rebellious characters who bring joy to the star of Death at
a Funeral and Avatar.
Go Tell It On The Mountain
By Paulo Coelho
This is a fable about a shepherd boy searching for the meaning of life. He thinks his goal is to get to a particular mountain and look for gold. During the journey, he comes to realize that meeting people, learning from them—that's the gold.
Why she chose it: My stepdad gave this book to me when I was a teenager. He was like, "You can read your Seventeen magazines, but also read something that's going to stay with you." My parents were the kind who would have a two-hour discussion about a book. My stepdad was adamant that my stepbrother and sisters and I read this one, and it was a topic of conversation at the dinner table. He thought it was important to remember the things you have in your life: love, family, humility.
Lucy is a Caribbean girl who travels to an unnamed North American city to work as an au pair for a very wealthy family. The story is set in the late '60s, when so many changes were happening and women were going through a very liberating time. Lucy is trying to find a home in this foreign society and also find her purpose.
Why she chose it:
My heritage is Caribbean, and I'd never read anything that really breaks down Caribbean culture politically, historically, socially, and in terms of gender. Lucy did that—it called out to me, to the kind of life I had and the kind of person I am. One thing I love about the book is how painfully honest Kincaid is about Lucy's issues with her mother. Lucy is fueled by pride and rebellion and pain, but the emotions guiding her at first aren't the ones driving her at the end of the story. She realizes she needs to make peace with the fact that no matter how far she might go in the world, she will never stop being her mother's daughter.
I read these four novellas when I was 11 or 12 years old. A lot of people know them already: "The Body" became the movie Stand By Me, and of course "Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption" was also adapted for the screen.
Why she chose it:
It's true that Stephen King writes about human psychology and digs into the darkness of it, but there's also a lot of beauty and liberation in his stories. "Shawshank Redemption" is my favorite. One character, Andy, never lost hope. Despair was all his fellow inmate, Red, had known. In the end, Red became infected by Andy's hope. This story has one of the most amazing endings. I cried for three days after I read it.
Zoë's Favorite Ending
"I find I am excited, so excited I can hardly hold the pencil in my trembling hand. I think it is the excitement that only a free man can feel, a free man starting a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain.
I hope Andy is down there.
I hope I can make it across the border.
I hope to see my friend and shake his hand.
I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams.
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
By Junot Díaz
Background: Oscar Wao is the lowest on the food chain: He is not white, he is not thin, he is not attractive, he is not completely American. Díaz is trying to put you in Oscar's place so you can understand his invisibility. Oscar falls for an older woman who's involved in a situation that can get him killed. Why does he risk it? Because she is the only person who really sees him.
Why she chose it:
Díaz talks about Dominicans and what makes us unique—especially the women. I grew up surrounded by Dominican women who were goddesses. My mother is the heroine of my life, and so are my grandmother and my great-grandmother. The women are the strongest, and Díaz caught that. I also think at certain points in your life, you feel utterly alone and completely invisible. You understand your own impotence, how there's sometimes nothing you can do about it. And that's Oscar.
No One Writes to the Colonel and Strange Pilgrims
By Gabriel García Márquez
These two collections of short stories have stayed with me—especially the story "The Trail of Your Blood in the Snow." It's about a young woman who's been educated and traveled to Europe. She comes home to a bright future. So what does she do? She falls in love and marries someone who's a disappointment to her family. The young man is passive, dependent on his young bride. On their European honeymoon, as they travel from Spain to France, she has a minor accident. Just when he becomes the husband she needs, she dies alone in a hospital. To me, this is the most gorgeous love story. The husband and wife truly loved each other, if just for a short time. It's a tale of a beautiful disaster.
Why she chose them: No One Writes to the Colonel has so many metaphors that I didn't have the maturity to understand when I first read it. But my stepfather is a journalist, and he took the time to explain to me that, for example, in the title story, the rooster stands for the sacrifice the Colonel makes in hope of a better future.