When I have a bad day, and Netflix just isn’t doing it for me, and the Spotify playlists aren’t hitting right either…there’s always one thing to come back to — books! So here are 10 of my favorite pick-me-up reads for when I need something that’ll reach in to my heart and give me a big hug that’ll leave me feeling warm and cozy!
- The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J Klune
The House in the Cerulean Sea is a quirky and heartwarming contemporary fantasy that follows the journey of Linus Baker, a case worker for the Department in Charge of Magical Youth, as he befriends an oddball group of magical children on a mysterious island and falls for their kindhearted caretaker, Arthur.
The novel is shaped by Klune’s endearing cast of characters with both unique magical powers and sympathetic back stories, who find family and acceptance with one another. The novel is a grown-up version of The Secret of Platform 13, mixed with a lighter and more grounded Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.
The House in the Cerulean Sea reminds me of freshly-baked cookies and the warmth that only comes from being cozily tucked up in your favorite blanket. The book swirls you into Linus’ journey and as the story unfolds it’s impossible not to fall in love with the children right along with him. The House in the Cerulean Sea is an amazing feel-good read that reminds you of just how precious and joyful it is to find your family where you least expect it, as well as how wonderful it is to be cherished for yourself exactly as you are.
2. You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson
You Should See Me in a Crown is the queer prom rom-com YA contemporary of my dreams that I hope every queer teen gets to read some day. But you definitely don’t have to be a teenager to fall in love with this book. Liz Lighty goes from band kid to prom court member in her small, predominately white, Midwestern town in this YA adventure of high school highs and lows, first love, and finding the strength to be brave and be yourself.
Liz is an amazing protagonist, and reading her story is such a joy. She faces a lot as a Black, queer girl in the Midwest, but her story is ultimately about finding joy and finding happiness within her identities. The romance is tender and swoon worthy, the drama is as high-school as it can be, and the Prom itself is as epic and glorious as any high schooler dreams.
You Should See Me in a Crown is going to leave you smiling and wanting to put on that early 2000s throwback playlist, I promise. (CW: racism, slight mentions of homophobia, anxiety/panic attacks)
3. I’ll Be the One by Lyla Lee
I’ll Be the One follows the story of Skye Shin, a fat, bisexual, Korean girl from California who is in a competition to be the world’s next K-Pop star.
Though this book has some heavier topics in it (CW: racism, homophobia, fatphobia), it’s definitely still a book that will leave you smiling and in a good mood. The competition is fierce, but Skye is fiercer and her journey is an amazing and definitely an enjoyable ride.
There’s a cute love interest and romance (looking at you, Henry Cho), all the mentions of Beyoncé and BTS you could want, and one badass girl who isn’t interested in listening to whether or not her Mom or the world thinks she can be the first plus-sized K-pop star. If this isn’t enough to convince you that reading this book will make you want to get up and dance, just put on some K-pop playlists while you read and I guarantee you’ll end up bopping and smiling along.
4. Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
I really owe McQuiston for this one, because they served up one amazing meal of hilariousness, epic love, and one (1) spot-on bisexual awakening. I think at this point, RW&RB is pretty frequently recommended, but this book still remains one of my trusted will-make-me-happy-to-read-it books, so on this list it goes!
This book is perfect for you if: you think the British monarchy is trash; you like rivals to lovers, you want to laugh out loud, you hate turkeys, you want to feel better about the world, and you want to read a “I’ll cross oceans for you” epic romance. In other words, Prince Henry of the British monarchy and Alex Claremont-Diaz son of the U.S President fall in love and it’s world-ending, sometimes angsty as hell, sometimes sexy, and always wonderful.
CW: homophobia, forced outing, drug abuse /addiction (mentioned), death (parental, mentioned), depression, anxiety/panic attack.
5. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz
Okay, so we’re going to acknowledge this book as the slightly out of the box pick for a list of book recs to cheer you up on your bad days…not because this books isn’t absolutely amazing and also beloved…just because it’s gonna hurt you along the way. I’m not saying I’m a masochist….but…sometimes the books that hurt me and make me Feel All The Things are just therapeutic. I don’t make the rules.
So, if you’re okay with being put through the emotional wringer (while knowing there WILL be a good payoff), this lyrical novel is gonna be right for you. The novel is so fiercely tender and vulnerable, and the writing is absolutely magical; the story follows two Mexican-American teenage boys in the late eighties as they form an unshakeable bond and struggle with their identities. This book is absolutely an achingly beautiful love story, but it is even more so about friendship, family, and personal growth and acceptance.
It’s also a good time to read (or re-read) this book, because it was recently announced that a long-awaited sequel, Aristotle and Dante Dive Into the Waters of the World, will be out October 12th, 2021!
CW: car accident, depression, homophobia, transphobic hate crime (death off page/past; mentioned), violence, some alcohol/drug use.
6. Heartstopper: Volume One by Alice Oseman
This series by Oseman has a special place in my heart for several reasons: one is that I read it for the first time while studying abroad in Scotland, and the other is that Nick was one of the first bisexual characters I read in a YA series and therefore holds a special place in my heart.
Heartstopper follows two British students (in whatever the American equivalent of High School is) as they become fast friends, and eventually more. Even if I didn’t already love this book for my stated reasons, I’d still think it’s impossible not to be charmed by these two. Charlie is a bit of an over-thinker and has been openly out for a year, and Nick is an absolute sweetheart who plays rugby who’s about to make some new discoveries about himself. Their friendship is beautiful and trusting, and once a relationship begins to bloom we’re treated to the best (most entertaining) scenes of gay panic and romantic relationship “firsts.”
Definitely a beautiful story to make you believe in love again, laugh at the trials of first-love and new relationships, and feel held in the beautiful queerness of the series as a whole. You can also even read the series free online on Webtoon, tumblr, and more! (CW for all volumes of the series: homophobia, eating disorder, references to past bullying, mention of self-harm in volume 3).
7. The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
I’m going to go ahead and assume you’re probably familiar with this series — but just in case — the Percy Jackson series follows Percy and his friends on a series of quests (misadventures) in a reimagined liminal world where the Greek myths are true and alive in our modern-day reality.
Now, it may have been a while since you’ve read a middle grade novel, but I think you’ll be surprised at just how much fun they still are to read — and you can’t get more classic than Percy Jackson. Reading this series is always a joy for me; it was a childhood favorite and the nostalgia that comes along while reading is the happy and comforting kind. I guarantee you’ll be laughing at the chapter titles and humming “Poker Face” in your head if you’ve seen the (unfortunately terrible) movie.
This book is sure to be a nice and gentle escape from reality for a while, an entertaining ride from start to finish, and though it won’t be for a while — maybe a good refresher before the Disney series comes out.
8. Haikyu!! Volume One by Haruichi Furudate
Full disclosure: Haikyuu is currently my favorite comfort show, so I’m definitely biased in my opinion on this…HOWEVER, I still think I’m right in saying that it’s absolutely impossible not to enjoy reading these volumes (and in turn, watching the anime). The story of Haikyuu follows Hinata Shoyo, the absolute best boy, as he chases his love of volleyball to the top, finds his best rival and teammate, and grows as a player.
The volumes (and, of course, the anime) are absolutely endearing, have great action-packed scenes, and are straight up an emotional roller coaster. Never did I think I would be 21 years old and crying about a fictional volleyball high school team. And yet.
You might be thinking you have no interest in reading about volleyball or any sport, but as the worst line ever uttered on television goes “That means you haven’t known the triumphs and defeats, the epic highs and lows of high school football.” (thank you, Riverdale) In this case, it’s volleyball, but as a non-sports fan myself, I guarantee that this series hooks you through character growth and astonishingly sweet and compelling friendships (some of which are arguably a little more than friendships…but I digress).
9. Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert
Though romance is probably my least-read genre of what I do read, I had to put at least one on this rec-list besides RW&RB for those of you that need a little extra love (and maybe steaminess) in your life. And, of course, it had to be one by the queen of romance herself, Talia Hibbert. Though this book is technically #2 in The Brown Sisters series, it can be read as a stand-alone since the books operate more as companion novels.
Take a Hint follows academic badass Danika Brown, a PhD student who ends up in a fake-dating situation (fake-dating trope fan, anyone?) with ex-rugby player Zafir Ansari. I think you can guess how it plays out from here: sparks fly, feelings are Aggressively Avoided (wait, what feelings? Dani doesn’t have feelings for Zafir??), and sooner than they know it realist Dani and grumpy-but-secretly-a-huge-romantic-softie Zaf have a lot more to figure out than just a fake-dating scheme and a thesis.
10. My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows
To top off the list, we’ve got one last rec that’s a quirky and fantastical historical fiction novel…with a few revisions. To be honest, it’s been a few years since I read this novel, but I remember laughing out loud while reading, and I think its special brand of absurdity is perfect for cheering anyone one up on a cloudy day.
My Lady Jane is a historical retelling of the “Nine Days Queen,” just with a few (quite a few) liberties taken in the retelling. For this Jane, her cousin Edward is preparing to take the throne while she focuses on books rather than romance, and ends up (begrudgingly) with a rather unusual fiancée.
Gifford, Jane’s betrothed, would be all but perfect, if he didn’t transform into a horse everyday from dawn to dusk. Trouble ensues for all three as conspiracies and coups and capers all are abound. All around an entertaining romp, an easy read, and sure to make you laugh.