Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye. As a white child and teenager living in an overwhelmingly white community I honestly hadn’t thought about racism very much before picking up this book. What surprised me the most about this story is how much Pecola (and other characters) internalized the hate. Without giving away spoilers the last few pages are particularly chilling.
Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. The most memorable scene in this book happens when Francie and her brother play in the dirt before going to a health clinic for vaccinations. Their mother was far too poor to pay for a babysitter while she worked so there was no one around to get them cleaned up before the appointment. The nurse who assists with their check-up is described as someone who came from a similarly disadvantaged background and is ashamed of it.
When the doctor sees how dirty they are he complains to the nurse about neglectful poor parents who obviously don’t care about their kids . She agrees with him, adding that water is free and soap is cheap.
I couldn’t fault the doctor for not knowing what the lives of his patients were actually like but it was a shock to think that someone who grew up in that environment would forget (or pretend to forget?)
C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce. When I was a Christian this book introduced me to perspectives on hell, redemption and free will that I’d never heard of before. It was eye-opening to learn that not only is there disagreement within that faith over these things but that people were arguing about it 50 years ago. (And 500, 1000, 2000 years ago!)
Velma Wallis, Two Old Women. This is the first (and so far only) book I’ve ever read in which two old women are heroes instead of people in need of rescue.
John Steinbeck, The Pearl. My freshman English teacher introduced me to this book and I rooted for Kino, Juana and little Coyotito from the beginning, sure that somehow they’d emerge from the climax unscathed. When the story didn’t end up where I thought I should I began rewriting it in my head.It was the first time I realized that the words printed on a page don’t have to be the only future for beloved characters.
What books have changed your worldview?