The best stories are the ones that grab you, shake you up and linger with you forever. You know the type; you might want to forget them but you can't. What do they have in common? Voice. And the blunt, resolute voice is the most compelling. Its starkness, honesty and courage make the story too powerful to forget. Here are three stories told through three distinct voices that, I guarantee, will creep under your skin and stay there.
By Patricia McCormick, paperback, 263 pages, Hyperion Book CH , list price: $8.99
The child. Lakshmi is a Nepalese girl in a deplorably realistic story. Believing she is going to work as a maid to support her family, Lakshmi arrives at the grotesquely named "Happiness House," a brothel in India. The matron who buys her ensures that the girl is beaten and drugged into submission. Lakshmi's horrifying story is told in stark, first-person verse, leaving room for the reader's emotion to fill in the blanks. She resolves to survive her hell so she can buy back her freedom. When she realizes that will never happen, only the kindness of a young street vendor — and her desperate, tentative belief in one man's promise — can save her. While it's fiction, the author interviewed women forced into prostitution in India and Nepal, which is likely what makes this gut-wrenching story so vivid and believable.
Love In The Driest Season: A Family Memoir
By Neely Tucker, paperback, 288 pages, Three Rivers Press, list price: $14
The father. Neely Tucker, an American journalist, narrates a brutally frank account of his efforts, along with his African-American wife, Vita, to adopt a child. While fostering a Zimbabwean baby who almost dies, the couple decides to adopt her — with Vita doing most of the caring as Neely travels the continent. They face a rollercoaster of messages from the Zimbabwean government, as the paperwork drags on, season after season. Meanwhile, increasing anti-American feelings threaten not only the adoption, but also their lives. Tucker honestly relates the stresses on their marriage — as newlyweds, as a biracial couple in Zimbabwe, as spouses sometimes needing more support from each other than either could provide. The gripping, fast-paced account is set against a ticking clock as they try to save the child they love before the country erupts into chaos which, incidentally, happens just after they leave — all three of them.
The Book Thief
By Markus Zusak, paperback, 576 pages, Alfred A. Knopf, list price: $12.99
And finally, Death. How do you ratchet up the gruesome backdrop of a story set in Nazi Germany? Have it narrated by Death himself. And for another twist? Make Death vulnerable. He may speak matter-of-factly about his job. But there's a chink in his armor: He's tired and overworked. He's making mistakes, letting himself get attached to people, like the girl he calls "the book thief," who steals words to create beauty, despite the horror around her. There is poignancy and spirit among the characters living in this sadistic time that even Death himself begrudgingly admires. Death may be eerie, morose and pessimistic, yet he has moments of levity and light. He is at his best when, like us, he is overcome by the sheer power and goodness of the human spirit.
Kathryn Erskine is the author of Mockingbird, Quaking, and Ibhubesi: The Lion. She lives in Virginia with her husband, two children and dog Maxine.
Three Books... is edited and produced by Ellen Silva. Editorial and production assistance from Hannah Levintova.