I need a fluffy hug of a book
December 19, 2017 7:13 AM   Subscribe

I tutor twin 15 year old girls who are sophomores in high school. They're fantastic readers and writers, but are struggling a bit in English class right now because the books they're reading are just so dark and depressing. (Such as The Kite Runner, Night, and The Handmaid's Tale.) They were even in tears telling me how hard it is to read such emotionally grueling books every day and not be able to get a break. So I'm looking for book suggestions to give them that will be a lighthearted, optimistic, happy, warm, fuzzy, cuddly read - the complete opposite of what they're reading now.

They're both very into anime and K-pop and fandoms and fan fiction. They're part of the Gay Straight Alliance at their school and one of them just came out as bi, so queer reads would be especially welcome. Girl crush books especially! They also really enjoy gender bending and androgyny . They have a tight-knit group of like-minded friends who text each other supportive loving messages every day, so books that evoke that kind of feeling would also be very welcome.

They're very advanced readers so adult books are completely fine; it doesn't have to be all YA lit. But I'd like to avoid tragedy and awful circumstances that the protagonist has to fight to overcome.

Basically I want them to walk away from these book suggestions feeling light and refreshed and excited to read again.

Thanks for any ideas!
posted by Neely O'Hara to Media & Arts (53 answers total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
I really liked This One Summer. It has some tougher "growing up" themes, but it is not on the same level of Night or Handmaid.

The oft-recommended Nimona is a good one.
posted by oflinkey at 7:23 AM on December 19, 2017 [3 favorites]

Just as calibration, is there something that they have read in the past which you would consider a good example of this kind of story? I ask because I'm not sure where "novelistic conflict" crosses the line into "awful circumstances that the protagonist has to fight to overcome", other than of course the extreme and unambiguous examples that they're being asked to read in school.
posted by inconstant at 7:29 AM on December 19, 2017

Un Lun Dun

Hitchhiker's Guide gets a recommend for ages 15+

The Graveyard Book, and Stardust also by Gaiman.
posted by oflinkey at 7:31 AM on December 19, 2017 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Some YA:

Scarlett Epstein Hates It Here is a fun story about the real life of a BNF (big name fan) in a fanfiction community. I enjoyed it a lot; it's a little bittersweet in places, but not dark. I also liked Simon Vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda. It felt very much like "a hug in a book".
posted by Ziggy500 at 7:31 AM on December 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

E.K. Johnston's That Inevitable Victorian Thing? I will second Un Lun Dun and Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda. Maybe something by Nina LaCour (The Disenchantments, Everything Leads to You especially).
posted by leesh at 7:34 AM on December 19, 2017

Best answer: I was coming here to say Simon Vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda as well-- it is a pure delight. Plus, it gets you ready for the movie to come out next year!
posted by a fiendish thingy at 7:35 AM on December 19, 2017 [2 favorites]

Cold Comfort Farm, by Stella Gibbons. Making fun of dour class reads is the entire point of that book, plus amazing adorable female protagonist.
posted by Rush-That-Speaks at 7:40 AM on December 19, 2017 [4 favorites]

Rainbow Rowell is made for this demographic. she's the kind of writer I would expect to find very hard to take but actually don't because she's quite good.
posted by queenofbithynia at 7:41 AM on December 19, 2017 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Ha, the two books I'd recommend are about twins but that is totally coincidental because I'd recommend them regardless!

Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl is so good. It is about a twin who goes off to college and online she is an internet-famous fanfic writer.

Jandy Nelson's I'll Give You the Sun is also about twins and has queer stuff going on and artsy stuff and it was super immersive to read, too.
posted by jillithd at 7:42 AM on December 19, 2017 [3 favorites]

What about Jane Austen? The movie Clueless was based on Emma, so that could be fun.
posted by FencingGal at 7:46 AM on December 19, 2017 [3 favorites]

Are they at a reading level to tackle classics? Jane Austen is not at all a "fluffy hug" of an author, but the focus on navigating familiar social dynamics, but in a comfortingly distant setting, makes for a very centering emotional experience, and a great escape from that intensive YA-dystopian focus on How The Problems Of Our Time Mean The World Is Doomed. Maybe Northanger Abbey, which is all about fandom, or Sense and Sensibility, which has some nice healthy coverage of techniques for managing your feelings?

Similarly, Fanny Burney's Evelina is a great read for the YA demographic.
posted by Bardolph at 7:50 AM on December 19, 2017 [2 favorites]

I seem to just keep on walking into book rec threads and shilling for the Chocolat series. But only because they're really good.

Terry Pratchett's Tiffany Aching series would fit the bill as well. Bet they can't stop at one.
posted by flabdablet at 7:50 AM on December 19, 2017 [10 favorites]

oh, and Pamela Dean's Juniper, Gentian, and Rosemary -- it is somewhat flawed, unlike the rest of Dean's work, but really fascinating and about girls' friendships in a big thematic way. and it is about the kind of girl that your students seem to be. it was written about "contemporary" teens some time ago, so it has moments that are both heavily dated and with that researched kind of feel that you get sometimes in books by adults. but in spite of that it is extremely brilliant. it's about time travel and the devil and stuff. no blood and agony, high friendship stakes, happy ending.

the main protagonist is a bit younger than 15 but it's not a kid's book, so maybe it evens out.

& I Capture the Castle, that's a teen girl classic in the way that the best literary classics are. bittersweet and not straightforwardly fluffy but a comfort read for lots of people in spite of having real depth and subtlety.
posted by queenofbithynia at 7:52 AM on December 19, 2017 [5 favorites]

Wise Children by Angela Carter is my go-to hug of a read and also features many sets of twins, including the narrator. Comedy/farce, wonderfully written.
posted by corvine at 7:55 AM on December 19, 2017

With Fangirl, the follow up Carry On is the most delightful thing and I think would hit their likes perfectly
posted by hapaxes.legomenon at 8:02 AM on December 19, 2017 [4 favorites]

Fried green tomatoes at the whistle stop cafe
posted by brujita at 8:04 AM on December 19, 2017 [6 favorites]

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers ticks a lot of these boxes.
posted by platitudipus at 8:04 AM on December 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

I was going to recommend Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. I also liked Eleanor and Park a lot, but it's a bit grim.

I love I Capture the Castle, which seems like it's going to be your conventional romantic plot, but ultimately what the protagonist finds is not a boyfriend but her vocation as a writer. It's got a really charming voice, and it has a great sense of time and place.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:07 AM on December 19, 2017 [4 favorites]

When I was their age I loved Jeanette Winterson's happier work (not Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, for example, or her newer memoir), but maybe there's a new queerly beloved Winterson-esque writer these days?

I really loved Station Eleven, which is a post-apocalyptic dystopia that's intense at first, and then just lovely. It's nice to read dystopiae written by women; they're texturally so different. This one, for example, basically skips all the violence. The main character knows there was a time in which terrible things happened, and yet she doesn't remember it and it's alright.

Also Diana Wynne Jones. Her YA work aimed at younger readers is just as good as the stuff for older folks. Also definitely Kelly Link. Why didn't I think of her sooner? Kelly Link for a thousand years.

Also not to snark on other recommendations, but how I'd love for Neil Gaiman to run his course and be done with. I'm tired of hapless young men who get to be the hero only thanks to constant handholding and peptalks along the way.
posted by tapir-whorf at 8:08 AM on December 19, 2017 [2 favorites]

But a warning about Fangirl: the protagonist is a fandom-obsessed college freshman who is struggling with the fact that she and her twin sister have grown apart in college. It may seem a little on-the-nose for your fandom-obsessed twin readers.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:10 AM on December 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

I suggest this often but I love Happy All the Time by Laurie Colwin and I first read it around that age. It's sort of romantic fluff in some ways but it's sufficiently literary to be enjoyable and it just makes me feel good. I find it to be a very soothing book to read.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 8:13 AM on December 19, 2017 [2 favorites]

The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue is a fluffy queer marshmallow of a historical romantic romp.
posted by missrachael at 8:14 AM on December 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

Ali Smith's How to Be Both is a charming little book, half of which is about a high-school-age girl recovering from the death of her mother and falling in love for the first time (with another girl), the other half of which is about a gender-bending Renaissance painter. There's sadness, obviously, but it's really very sweet. The structure is somewhat experimental, but at a level that would be a good challenge for bright high-school readers.
posted by praemunire at 8:18 AM on December 19, 2017

I really dug Tales of the City when I was about that age. The first book is pretty light, very queer, very funny, and very quick to read -- it was serialised in an alt-weekly in the 70s, so each chapter's about a newspaper column-length. Plus is a perfect time capsule of its era in a way that I think a teenager of today will be highly amused by.
posted by Diablevert at 8:19 AM on December 19, 2017 [2 favorites]

Agatha Christie's The Man in the Brown Suit is a great classic read with Anne as the protagonist who, rather than get married to some old guy that only likes her for her "little waist", goes on an adventure to South Africa tracking down a murder mystery. She makes friends with a middle aged woman and they have a great time figuring things out together while buying ridiculously large wooden animal souvenirs.
posted by jillithd at 8:19 AM on December 19, 2017 [3 favorites]

I like to go to YA fantasy to scratch this itch.

The Tiffany Aching books are so good! And there's a bit of adult material as the series goes on (the main character is the regional witch, and so deals with midwife-y kinds of things like births and deaths), but they are so empowering and uplifting and funny. Other books by Terry Pratchett are also a good time, but there are so many that it's difficult to know where to start.

I also really enjoy books by Tamora Pierce specifically because they are anchored by female protagonists. The heroines are knights and mages and spies and overcome all sorts of intrigue, but they have healthy, loving friends and family and happy endings. And a very sensible, modern take on the range of human sexuality. The books set in Tortall would probably be most age-appropriate. A little young, maybe, on the reading complexity scale, but I am an adult and enjoyed them.

I also liked Malinda Lo's take on the Cinderella story (Ash), which tackles bisexuality in a very positive way. Robin McKinley also does interesting adaptations of fairy tales.

The Wren series by Sherwood Smith is another "plucky girl saves the day" set of books. Again, maybe a little young, but I reread them as an adult and loved them.

Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones was a lot of fun, plus then you can watch the Ghibli film adaptation.

And finally, in a twist for a book that ISN'T YA Fantasy or starring a woman/girl, have they read The Martian? I loved it, I found it so fun, and it's what Mr. Bowtiesarecool described as his favorite genre of "smart people solving problems effectively." Nobody's cruel to anyone else, it's just a bunch of smart people solving practical problems.
posted by bowtiesarecool at 8:20 AM on December 19, 2017 [6 favorites]

Seconding Terry Pratchett. The Color of Magic and Equal Rites to start, jumping ahead with Tiffany Aching with The Wee Free Men.
posted by TrishaU at 8:21 AM on December 19, 2017 [2 favorites]

(Not to be contradictory-- but while I loooooooved Fangirl, I did not find it to be remotely fluffy. The main character is coping with an anxiety disorder, her father is bipolar and she struggles with trying to be a child who repeatedly ends up as caretaker for a parent, and there are a lot of themes of rejection and being manipulated that make it an excellent book, but I found it to be something of a stressful read, moreso than I ever expected. YMMV.)

I remembered another series that I might recommend-- the Airhead series by Meg Cabot is very fun and silly but exciting, about a teen nerd who is in a TERRIBLE ACCIDENT and has her brain implanted in the body of a supermodel and then has to pretend to be a supermodel (while solving a mystery about a global conspiracy!).
posted by a fiendish thingy at 8:55 AM on December 19, 2017

SuperMutant Magic Academy is one of the smartest, funniest, most truth telling comics set in a school for super-hero mutant teens. It's a series of short strips and it's absolutely hilarious, clever, and fantastic. Written and drawn by Jillian Tamaki, one of the very best and thoughtful cartoonists around right now. It's feminist, smart, queer-celebrating, and can be joyfully reread over and over.
posted by quince at 9:09 AM on December 19, 2017

Oh, gosh, I just read something that sounds perfect for them but perhaps not quite as fluffy hug as you are thinking right now... I am going to mention it anyway because while it has a few rough moments, the ending is super queer and super happy.

Audrey Coulthurst's Of Fire and Stars is about two princesses uncovering an international conspiracy and falling in love. There's a fun magic system, one of the princesses is a badass horse trainer and the other is an awesome diplomat, being queer is totally normal and not a big deal in the setting, and it's just real nice. However, members of one main character's family are assassinated, so there are some upsetting moments. The characters react with action and compassion for each other, and the book does not feel dark overall even though it deals with serious events. It's definitely heaps lighter than what they're reading right now.
posted by snorkmaiden at 9:14 AM on December 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

Katherine Addison's The Goblin Emperor is a super sweet adult fantasy with YA appeal. The worldbuilding is charming and the characters are immensely likeable.

Ellen Kushner's Swordspoint is a wacky, melodramatic romp of a genre novel with queer characters. Most of the characters are antiheroes or villains, but it is an essentially light read. The sequels are also wonderful.

Jaclyn Dolamore writes very cozy, domestic YA fantasy. Magic Under Glass is probably her best work.

Jaida Jones and Danielle Bennett's Havemercy (and sequels) is light fantasy fluff with queer romance.

I wish I had more recommendations featuring queer female characters! The best I've got is the webcomic O Human Star, which features a teen girl who is trans and another teen who identifies as bigender / genderfluid.
posted by toastedcheese at 9:46 AM on December 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

I see a few recs for Simon vs... which is great, and is about to be a movie, but I would recommend even more strongly The Upside of Unrequited, also by Becky Albertalli. It is the definition of a fluffy hug book, happens to be about twins, one of whom is queer. It was my favorite YA book of the year.

Also, really fun was Kristin Cashore's new book, Jane, Unlimited, which is a multi-genre almost choose-your-own-adventure type story with a Doctor Who loving bisexual protagonist.
posted by tangosnail at 9:56 AM on December 19, 2017

I have read an essay by Margaret Atwood about what she thought happened after the Handmaid's Tale ended, and that she thought the Gilead government fell. It made the book feel less dire. But I can't find it. But there's this, which might give some less depressing perspective. I might let their teacher know that the reading assignments are having such a reaction.

How about some classics? Charlotte's Web, Anne of Green Gables, To Kill a Mockingbird, Danny, the Champion of the World(and other Roald Dahl), The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Little Women, Wind in the Willows, Secret Garden, Mary Poppins (she's quite tart in the books), for starters.

They are a good age for T.H. White: The Once and Future King, including The Sword in the Stone and The Book of Merlyn. It would be wonderful to be the person who introduces them to The Hobbit and The Princess Bride.
posted by theora55 at 10:06 AM on December 19, 2017 [4 favorites]

I read a lot of Patricia Wrede and Robin McKinley books at that age. I don't recall any queer relationships or gender bending, unfortunately. But they had heroines who weren't just Strong Female Lead (TM). And the good guys gals always won.
posted by Emmy Rae at 10:10 AM on December 19, 2017 [3 favorites]

The Ear, The Eye, and The Arm was a cool book (Nancy Farmer). I don't remember it well enough to know if it was super problematic or something. But I read it a bunch of times and was always fascinated by her vision of both the future and the past.

I'm realizing how few non cishet characters I was exposed to as a young reader!
posted by Emmy Rae at 10:14 AM on December 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

I don't recall any queer relationships or gender bending, unfortunately.

Well, in McKinley's Outlaws of Sherwood two female characters crossdress (one longterm) for different reasons, and there is a male bard who is straight, but whose willowy beauty and preference for music over violence is initially perplexing to some of the characters. And the biggest, burliest member of the band thieves [spoiler] falls in love with one of them while she's still pretending to be a boy.

And in Rose Daughter one of the sisters is portrayed as "masculine"-- muscled, only interested in sports and hunting, beats all the men at everything. (Still straight, though.)

Neither is quite up to the mark of what you're looking for, maybe, but McKinley tends to push back against the most restrictive forms of gender roles and compulsory heterosexuality, at least.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 10:25 AM on December 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

I liked This One Summer, but I would recommend Emiko, Superstar instead as a bit lighter.
posted by gudrun at 10:40 AM on December 19, 2017

I wonder if the oft-recommended Ann Leckie's Ancillary Justice (and sequels) would be a good match? The first book isn't light-hearted exactly, but it's a ton of fun, and the series becomes cuddlier as it goes on. It's also all sorts of queer/androgynous/gender-bendy.
posted by esker at 10:53 AM on December 19, 2017 [3 favorites]

There are two fun superhero series lately -- CB Lee Not Your Sidekick and Sarah Kuhn's Heroine Complex. Kristin Cashore, maybe. Maybe Becky Chambers or Daniel O'Malley.
posted by jeather at 12:44 PM on December 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

If you are willing to go the graphic novel route Lumberjanes is great! Super fun and upbeat.
posted by edbles at 1:23 PM on December 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Oooh, please have them read Maurene Goo! One of her books is about kdrama.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:04 PM on December 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

EM Forster? I first read A Room with a View around that age and it's comforting while also being meaningful, and is fundamentally optimistic.

P.G. Wodehouse novels are much easier to find in the states now than they used to be, and the characters live in a perpetual 1920s froth, it's delicious.
posted by basalganglia at 3:08 PM on December 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

Diana Wynne Jones, Terry Pratchett and Meg Cabot, just to reprise what's already offered.
Margaret Haddix Peterson is compelling, and the Peter Pan books by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson were popular at my library a few years ago. HItchhiker's Guide, The Martian Chronicles, I agree with The Once and Future King, and Tolkien, as well. Margaret Atwood is depressing, and I don't think teens need to be depressed. I read a lot of Wodehouse at that age, and mysteries, because there's an ending with a solution - there's enough apprehension when you're young, you don't need to read stuff that will make it worse. Teens coming into my bookshop (15 years ago, I admit) loved all Piers Anthony (Xanth series), Terry Brooks, and Elizabeth Moon's Sheepfarmer's Daughter. I think Fantasy and Science Fiction and mysteries are very good for teens.
posted by Enid Lareg at 4:54 PM on December 19, 2017

If they do digital and not just print - when I need a light happy read, I go to fanfic. scifigrl47's Avengers series (serieses?) Tales of the Bots and Toasterverse (not what it's formerly named but what everyone calls it) and related Case Files are both excellent, full of hilarious points (toasterverse is called that because of the sentient toaster Tony Stark built) and great character development.

College First is Addams Family fanfic, focused on Wednesday as a single parent.

I can also happily second the recommendtation of CB Lee's "Not Your Sidekick" and its sequel, "Not Your Villain."
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 5:11 PM on December 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Queens of Geek is about fandom, has queer (including bisexual) characters, and is charming. Link!
posted by Threeve at 6:02 PM on December 19, 2017

I remember having the same complaint about my sophomore English class in high school, a long time ago in a state (probably) far far away. I wonder what it is with sophomore English. I’m a voracious reader now, but I still don’t like dystopias. I remember turning mostly to nonfiction, especially popular science, for my reading material around that time. That might be an option for them.
posted by Anne Neville at 6:05 PM on December 19, 2017

Are mystery books something they might like? Most of those, especially series mysteries, at least have a happy ending. If medieval mysteries are something they might like, I like the Cadfael books, Paul Doherty’s Brother Athelstan books, and Susanna Gregory’s Matthew Bartholomew series.

I’m not into romance novels, but maybe they might like some? That’s another genre that usually has happy endings.
posted by Anne Neville at 6:13 PM on December 19, 2017

James Allan Gardner, Expendable. If you can find it. Amazingly good writing, about an outcast among outcasts, in a way. Excellent SciFi, and the beginning of an increasingly complex series starring heroine Festina Ramos.
posted by Enid Lareg at 6:14 PM on December 19, 2017

I really recommend the Cecelia and Kate books; they're epistolary and just a lot of fun. Set in an alternative steampunk Victorian England and they're very heteronormative, but they do feature a tightly wound group of friends, conflict that is fairly easily resolved, and lots of chewy world building, and they're the book equivalent of a pot of hot chocolate. So highly recommended.

On the other hand, if you want queer characters in your steampunk, you want Gail Carringer's sprawling steampunk Victorian England masterpiece. There's a YA series - the Finishing School books - that's just delightful, the adult series (which came first publication wise but which is in the middle time wise), and then the Custard Protocol books, which are more adult reading level but feature a teenage cast. The characters run into hard situations, as you do, but especially the Finishing School books end happily, they're not nearly as grim-dark as the books you named, and there's gay werewolves and gender bending scientists and canonically gay characters who get stories in the spin off novellas and I love these books so much.

Finally, I really recommend the Seanan McGuire Incryptid series. It's going to get darker (she's said something on Twitter like "we're coming up on the dark heart of my candy cotton universe"), but for now, they're still (fairly) light. McGuire is deliciously geeky, and her universe is full of pop cultures references, cousins who play video games with each other, poly people and queer people and brown people and strong female characters and people who look and sound like the people I know and love. The most recent, Magic for Nothing, features my favorite character of the whole series (Antimony, former roller derby skater and new high school graduate who is trying to figure out what's next), but you have to read the whole series to know what's going on.

I am basically the girls you're tutoring, just twice their age and minus the k-pop, and McGuire is the only author who I automatically preorder everything she writes, but some of the other series are a lot heavier; the October Daye books are fantastic, but you can't call them light reading (there's way too much sadness and betrayal right now, but they're so good)...
posted by joycehealy at 6:50 PM on December 19, 2017

joycehealy beat me to recommending Gail Carriger, her books are just plain fun.
posted by BoscosMom at 7:30 PM on December 19, 2017

I recommend Steve Kluger's My Most Excellent Year. I loved it so much after I first read it I went and bought a copy in hardcover and in digital. It's YA novel about three teens and it's about falling in love, finding your passion, and finding family. It's been a reliable comfort read for me.

I also recommend Kluger's adult romance novel Almost Like Being in Love about two teenage boys who fall in love in high school but drift apart during college. Flash forward twenty years and one of the guys decides he wants to reconnect with his first love. Hijinks ensue.

I also love Kluger's The Last Days of Summer.
posted by Constance Mirabella at 9:36 PM on December 19, 2017

In preparation for the movie adaptation coming out next year, maybe A Wrinkle in Time?
posted by DrAstroZoom at 9:12 AM on December 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

All The Birds in the Sky!! It's apocalypse fiction for optimists! It is lovely and magic and has a happy ending!! It is romantic and kookie!
posted by latkes at 10:21 PM on December 20, 2017

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