September 1, 2023 | ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT | By Zoe Smith
Instead of spending the last 12 weeks of summer at the beach or going on various vacations, I was staring at words, working at an internship as a copy editor, reading dozens upon dozens of manuscripts to the point I could feel my eyes beginning to bleed.
However, there were a few brief moments in time during the summer when I could put down the manuscripts and pick up a fun book to read. Books I was anticipating reading for quite some time. In those fleeting moments, I read some of the most soul-crushing and thought-provoking stories I had read in a long time.
A non-stop talked about book of 2023 is “iCarly” star Jennette McCurdy’s Memoir “I’m Glad My Mom Died.” An instant sensation with a title that packs a punch, McCurdy’s vulnerability knows no bounds. The memoir follows McCurdy from a young age when her mother decided for her that she would become a child actor.
McCurdy was willing to do anything to make her mother happy, so she didn’t question the hours upon hours of acting classes and the strict diet that came along with it. As long as her mother approved, McCurdy was willing to do it. It was always her mother’s dream to be a star, and she wasn’t afraid to project that onto her daughter.
McCurdy went into candid detail when her mother’s dream finally came true, and McCurdy booked her iconic role as Sam on “iCarly.” Throughout her teenage years, she struggled with fame and unhealthy relationships with certain producers and actors on the set. All the while, her mother was fighting her losing battle against cancer.
After her mother’s inevitable death, McCurdy was left to fend for herself in the whirlwind of fame that came along with the hit Nickelodeon show. McCurdy fell into addiction, anxiety, and eating disorders. “I’m Glad My Mom Died” is an inspiring story of resilience and the strength it takes to continue acting, discovering therapy, the help it can give her, and the joy that comes with taking agency over one’s own life.
The second novel to make it on this list is “Almond” by Sohn Won-Pyung, which left me staring off into space, grappling with the concept of complex emotions and how that defines our humanness. Translating to the original Korean version the story follows a young boy, Yunjae, who was born with a condition called Alexithymia, which makes it hard for him to feel any emotion at all. He lives with his mother and grandmother above a used bookstore that his mother owns. But after a tragic and violent accident, Yunjae is left all alone.
That is until he meets Gon, a rebellious recluse who starts as Yunjae’s enemy, but soon finds himself intrigued by Yunjae’s impassive calmness. Along with the unlikely friendship, Yunjae begins to open his life to more people and learns to step outside the box of vacant emotions, creating a beautiful story about the triumph of love, friendship, and the emotions that define us.
When his newfound friend, Gon, finds his life at risk, it is all up to Yunjae and whether he is ready to step outside the bounds he has always known to save his only friend. “Almond”is an easy read for any age. I read this book cover to cover in less than two days, desperate to unlock Sohn Won-Pyung’s psychology of being human. When I finished the short novel, the only thought on my mind was how not all beautiful writing has to be complex and hard to comprehend. Sometimes the most beautiful writing is simple for everyone to understand.
The second memoir and the final book to make it on this list is “Crying In H-Mart” which tells the story of Michelle Zauner, famously known by her musician stage name Japanese Breakfast. “Crying In H-Mart” is a story that powerfully weaves the intersectionality of being a woman and growing up biracial with a Korean mother.
Zauner shares her story of growing up in Eugene, Oregon, and the struggle of trying to find her place in a predominantly white city. Being one of the few Asian American students at her school, Zauner tries to grapple with her identity and the high expectations from her mother. Zauner is honest about her fraught relationship with her mother. Yet, this would come to a halt every other year for Zauner when she and her mother would travel to Seoul to visit family. They would both put aside their differences while indulging in local food.
However, when Zauner’s mother is diagnosed with cancer, Zauner uses her Korean identity to rebuild their mother-daughter relationship. Both in her illness and after her death, Zauner feels her mother’s presence through food and cooking. A New York Times bestseller, “Crying In H-Mart” is an unforgettable, gut-wrenching memoir about loss, and how in tragedy, she found herself embracing her Korean identity rather than pushing it away.