My Culture

The 10 Books You Should Read Before Heading Back to School

If you want to learn more about the abortion debate:”Unplanned” by Abby Johnson
Book Synopsis: “Unplanned” is the true account of Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood clinic director turned pro-life advocate.

Reasons to Read: I had heard about Abby Johnson years ago but didn’t end up picking up her book until this year when news of the movie adaptation made waves on social media. While Abby’s autobiography isn’t the most stunning piece of literature I’ve ever read it’s so interesting and definitely an important modern story in our Church. Abby’s is a tale of heroism and the hardship — yet absolute peace — peace that occurs when you seek Truth.

If you want to learn more about a modern saint: “Saint John Paul the Great: His Five Loves” by Jason Evert
Book Synopsis: “Saint John Paul the Great: His Five Loves” tells the story of St. John Paul II’s life while breaking down the areas of life that were most important to this great saint.

Reasons to Read: I’ll be honest, this book took me a while to read. But, that’s OK. It’s one of those that you want to take your time with anyway. I loved how each chapter didn’t just talk about one of St. John Paul II’s great loves, but also served to tell the story of his incredible life. This book was written in an easy to understand way and so inspiring.

If you want to learn more about what it means to be a woman: “Go Bravely” by Emily Wilson
Book Synopsis: “Go Bravely” is a beautifully encouraging book about living life fully as a Christian woman in the midst of modern culture.

Reasons to Read: First of all, Emily is one of the most genuine women I have ever met. Her life absolutely mirrors her ministry in that it is honest, compassionate, and incredibly loving. “Go Bravely” is challenging but reads like I’m sitting across the table with Emily, sipping a cup of coffee, and conversing about life and faith.

If you want to learn more about what it means to be a man: “XY” by Joel Stepanek (Available online soon!)
Book Synopsis: XY explores man’s call to create, cultivate, and protect, highlighting Jesus as the ultimate example of manhood.

Reasons to Read: Joel understands what it means to be a man seeking God’s heart while juggling the difficulties of living out masculinity in today’s culture. He includes insightful and often amusing stories about his own journey, highlights vices and virtues that target the heart of a man in a unique way, and designates a section for prayers that promote continued spiritual growth.

If you desire to understand suffering: “Can You Drink the Cup?” By Henri Nouwen
Book Synopsis: Using the imagery of holding, lifting, and drinking from a cup, Henri Nouwen explores our call to support one another in both our joys and sufferings.

Reasons to Read: Henri Nouwen is hands-down a prolific spiritual writer. He offers unique insight into the spiritual life in all of his writings, most significantly in “Can You Drink the Cup?” Drawing from Jesus’ question to James and John — “Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” — Nouwen helps us understand suffering better in this world that is constantly full of suffering. Nouwen gives us not only a sense of consolation but also offers advice in responding to injustice.

If you love a good fantasy novel: “The Chronicles of Narnia” by C.S. Lewis
Book Synopsis: “The Chronicles of Narnia” is a fictional series that follows four siblings when they step through a magical wardrobe into Narnia: a world they could’ve never dreamed of.

Reasons to Read: Not only is this series beautifully written and easy to read, it is chalk-full of intrigue and rich with Christian symbolism. This is the perfect series to read along with someone else as there is a bunch of really good concepts to unpack. It is also the perfect summer read as there is loads of time to read through all seven books.

If you crave a summer rom-com: “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” by Jenny Han
Book Synopsis: “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” follows Laura Song through a hilarious journey of finding love in unlikely places and the power of healing, friendship, and family.

Reasons to Read: In short, I’d define this book as a “breath of fresh air.” It is a quintessential love story about a high school romance, yet deep and real and raw. The storyline is morally good yet not at all corny (!!) It is both honest and captivating. It is THE PERFECT beach/poolside summer read.

If you want to be challenged to understand racism: “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas
Book Synopsis: “The Hate U Give” follows Starr Carter as she navigates life after witnessing her friend get shot in an altercation with the police.

Reasons to Read: OK. This book. Hands down one of the most prolific Young Adult books about race and healing amidst cultural and social divides. It made headlines in 2017 when it stayed on the NY Times bestseller list for 121 weeks. I’ve written about it before, and I will write about it again. It is that good. The book welcomes you into Starr’s world while causing you to ask yourself real and profound questions about race and society. Starr’s character inspires me to be more courageous and more compassionate.

Editor’s Note: “The Hate U Give” contains explicit language and mature content, not appropriate for all teens. Ask a parent before reading.

If you enjoy historical fiction: “The Secret Life of Bees” by Sue Monk Kidd
Book Synopsis: Set in the south during a time of deep segregation, “The Secret Life of Bees” tells the story of 14-year-old Lily Owens as she runs away from her abusive father. On her journey, she meets three vibrant and deeply loving sisters who show her the beauty and power of being a woman.

Reasons to Read: While the Boatwright sisters don’t exactly display the balanced understanding of Mary as secondary to Christ, they do have a profound understanding of intercessory prayer. This book is one of my all-time favorites as it not only tells a beautiful story so well but also really touches on the transformative and healing power of motherhood. “The Secret Life of Bees” is a moving story about growing up and how the power of human connection can overcome any challenge.

If you love stories about an underdog: “Wonder” by R.J. Palacio
Book Synopsis: “Wonder” tells the story of August Pullman, a boy with facial differences, as he enters a mainstream school for the first time.

Reasons to Read: Guys. This is one of the most special books I’ve read in awhile. It covers such a difficult topic in a quirky and funny but honest and real way. It doesn’t stray away from talking about the hard stuff related to life’s difficulties but absolutely highlights the power of love, humor, and family. And as an added bonus: it’s such a quick read!

BONUS — If this convinced you, but you’re not a big reader or don’t have the time to read, fear not: Six of these ten books have been adapted into a movie!

Happy Reading (and watching)!

About the Author

Rachel Penate

I am a Wisconsin girl at heart who has a slight obsession with the band Switchfoot. When I was little I dreamed of becoming a professional figure skater, but instead found myself studying Education. Currently I reside in the great, yet terribly hot state of Arizona and am neither a figure skater or teacher - I joyfully serve the Church as Assistant to the Executive Vice President of Life Teen. When I'm not typing away at my desk, I'm spending time with my family, working out, or relaxing with my nose buried in a book. Follow me on Twitter @LT_RachelP or on Instagram @bookmamareviews.