Books That Challenge Us To Do Better & Be Better

Putting together a list of my favorite and most recommended books is never easy. In fact, it’s nearly impossible. With so many talented seasoned and debut authors releasing new titles daily, it’s beyond challenging to select only a handful of favorites. So know that this list is not exclusive. These are not the only excellent and essential books to read during your holiday break (or at any other time in the year). But these are some of the books published in 2018 that I love dearly.

These are the books that come up most often in conversations because the authors have bravely and fiercely shed light on important truths. These writers, through their dazzling, lyrical, and honest prose, encourage us all to do better and be better—for ourselves and for one another. 

If you’re looking for a chunky novel or intimate memoir to cozy up with this holiday season, pick up one (or all) of these wonderful reads. Each one is written by a woman or person of color, and each one is a gift to the literary community. Happy reading!

1. Becoming

Author | Michelle Obama

Celebrated as a work of deep reflection and mesmerizing storytelling, Michelle Obama’s 448-page memoir is one of the books we’re most eager to curl up with over the holidays. Anticipate personal anecdotes about Obama’s early life on the South Side of Chicago, as well as an honest account of motherhood and becoming the first African-American to serve as First Lady in the United States White House. Intimate, warm, and inspiring, Becoming is memorable for all of the best reasons.

Reviews | “Becoming, is described by her publisher as “unusually intimate”…Obama’s memoir will no doubt continue to shine a light on her life in unexpected ways…One million copies of Becoming will be donated to educational nonprofit First Book, an organization that supplies reading materials to children from low-income families.” – Vanity Fair

Price | $20

2. There There

Author | Tommy Orange

There There is the first novel from Native American author Tommy Orange, and we hope it won’t be the last. Commended by fellow author Omar El Akkad for capturing heartbreaking truths and writing about what it “means to inhabit a land both yours and stolen from you, to simultaneously contend with the weight of belonging and unbelonging,” Orange has written a devastating tale about urban Native American lives that will not soon be forgotten. We can’t wait for you to get your hands on a copy.

Reviews | “A gripping deep dive into urban indigenous community in California: an astonishing literary debut!” – Margaret Atwood

Price | $18

3. I’m Still Here

Author | Austin Channing Brown

One of the most talked-about books of 2018, I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness tackles some of today’s most pertinent topics, including intersections of racial justice, faith, and black womanhood. A powerful and essential read, Austin Channing Brown’s memoir soared to the top of bestseller lists within weeks of its release, and she is already being described as a leading new voice on racial justice. If you haven’t devoured it already, put this book at the top of your reading list.

Reviews | “Devastating, beautiful, and haunting…Austin’s crystal clear voice will move you, push you, and break your heart.” – Jen Hatmaker

Price | $17

4. I Am, I Am, I Am

Author | Maggie O’Farrell

From Northern Irish writer Maggie O’Farrell comes one of my absolute favorite reads of 2018: I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death. Described as a memoir with a difference and one that confronts life’s fragility, this memoir about O’Farrell’s near-death experiences is fast-paced, addictive, and surprising. With each turn of the page, I found myself loving O’Farrell’s voice that much more. I may just reread it over the holiday break.

Reviews | “I have never read a book about death that has made me feel so alive. A heart-stopping, addictive read.” – Tracy Chevalier

Price | $16

5. The Water Cure

Author | Sophie Mackintosh

For fiction lovers and fans of The Handmaid’s Tale, Sophie Mackintosh’s debut novel, The Water Cure, is a dystopian tale for the century. Set on an unnamed island where three sisters are raised to believe they are not safe in their bodies, The Water Cure is a haunting page-turner perfect for cozying up with this winter. While not available on Amazon in the USA until early January, Mackintosh’s novel is available in the UK and can be found on third-party book sites, including Kindle.

Reviews | “Otherworldly, brutal and poetic: a feminist fable set by the sea, a female Lord of the Flies. It transported me, savaged me, filled me with hope and fear. It felt like a book I’d been waiting to read for a long time.” – Emma Jane Unsworth

Price | $17

6. And Now We Have Everything

Author | Meaghan O’Connell

Whether or not you’re a mother, there is something to be loved and appreciated about Meaghan O’Connell’s debut memoir about becoming an accidental mother in her twenties. Expect exceptional writing, fierce honesty, and emotive stories that explore topics like imposter syndrome and identity — just keep a box of tissues nearby, this one has been said to move readers in the most unexpected and beautiful ways.

Reviews | “Smart, funny, and true in all the best ways, this book made me ache with recognition.” – Cheryl Strayed

Price | $17

7. The Line Becomes a River

Author | Francisco Cantú

A timely, moving, and heartbreaking memoir by a third-generation Mexican-American who served as a Border Patrol Agent, The Line Becomes a River is the perfect marriage of captivating stories and excellent writing. Achieving what only the most talented and brave authors are able to do, Cantú forgoes political rhetoric by sharing raw truths and real stories from both sides of the line. He does not argue for this or that in his New York Times bestseller; instead, he shares what he experiences and what he sees.

Reviews | “Stunningly good. Beautiful, smart, raw, sad, poetic and humane… It’s the best thing I’ve read for ages.” – James Rebanks

Price | $21

8. Heart Berries

Author | Terese Marie Mailhot

Everyone should read this collection of essays over the holidays, but I am especially excited to share it with lovers of poetry and lyrical prose. When I first read Heart Berries this past summer, I had no idea that I would find myself, months later, still bewitched by the words. A debut and New York Time’s bestseller by First Nation Canadian author Terese Marie Mailhot, this one needs to be read for its excellent writing, as well as its haunting stories that will most certainly imprint themselves on your soul.

Reviews | Heart Berries by Terese Mailhot is an astounding memoir in essays. Here is a wound. Here is need, naked and unapologetic. Here is a mountain woman, towering in words great and small… What Mailhot has accomplished in this exquisite book is brilliance both raw and refined.” – Roxane Gay

Price | $15

9. Darius the Great is Not Okay

Author | Adib Khorram

Attention lovers of YA fiction, we’ve found the perfect book to get lost in over the holidays. Fantastically written by Kansas-City based and Iranian-American author, Adib Khorram, Darius the Great is Not Okay is one of the most astonishing debut novels of 2018. It’s also a book that addresses essential topics. Loneliness, identity, queer-relationships, depression, father-son relationships, and harmful expectations for how boys should deal with (or not deal with) their emotions are all themes layered throughout the narrative. We can hardly contain our praise for this one—go read it!

Reviews | “Darius the Great is Not Okay brings Iran alive, with sounds and smells and imagery, and you’ll tearfully be rooting for Darius as he struggles with this mental health, identity, and his place in the world.” – Bustle

Price | $12

10. All You Can Ever Know

Author | Nicole Chung

A dazzling memoir about an adopted Korean girl growing up with White parents in a sheltered corner of America, All You Can Ever Know is a brave retelling of Nicole Chung’s life-story. Bursting with hard truths and words that pierce your soul, readers are taken on a journey in search of lost identity and cultural roots. Read it to learn, to cry, to be moved, and to change. Chung’s story is one you’ll want to visit again and again and again.

Reviews | “This book moved me to my very core. . . . [All You Can Ever Know] should be required reading for anyone who has ever had, wanted, or found a family―which is to say, everyone.” – Celeste Ng

Price | $17


Kayti Christian, a staff writer for The Good Trade, is a storyteller, creator, activist, and avid traveler hailing from Colorado, now living in London. With 30+ stamps in her passport, she is passionate about responsible tourism and is always looking for new ways to be a more conscious traveler. She is currently pursuing her MA in Creative Nonfiction Writing at City, University of London.