Sometimes you just need a good cry. Maybe it’s been a tough week, or maybe you need to feel like you’re not alone in your troubles. Great memoirs connect you with a real person, a writer who has managed to survive some incredible circumstances in life. If you’ve been in dire need of a good cry, take a look at this list of new memoirs with heartbreaking and uplifting true stories, publishers’ descriptions included.
A Thousand Naked Strangers by Kevin Hazzard
A former paramedic’s visceral, poignant, and mordantly funny account of a decade spent on Atlanta’s mean streets saving lives and connecting with the drama and occasional beauty that lies inside catastrophe.
In the aftermath of 9/11 Kevin Hazzard felt that something was missing from his life — his days were too safe, too routine. A failed salesman turned local reporter, he wanted to test himself, see how he might respond to pressure and danger. He signed up for emergency medical training and became, at age 26, a newly minted EMT running calls in the worst sections of Atlanta. His life entered a different realm — one of blood, violence, and amazing grace.
Thoroughly intimidated at first and frequently terrified, he experienced on a nightly basis the adrenaline rush of walking into chaos. But in his downtime, Kevin reflected on how people’s facades drop away when catastrophe strikes. As his hours on the job piled up, he realized he was beginning to see into the truth of things. There is no pretense five beats into a chest compression, or in an alley next to a crack den, or on a dimly lit highway where cars have collided. Eventually, what had at first seemed impossible happened: Kevin acquired mastery. And in the process he was able to discern the professional differences between his freewheeling peers, what marked each — as he termed them — as “a tourist,” “true believer,” or “killer.”
Combining indelible scenes that remind us of life’s fragile beauty with laugh-out-loud moments that keep us smiling through the worst, A Thousand Naked Strangers is an absorbing read about one man’s journey of self-discovery — a trip that also teaches us about ourselves.
Boy Erased by Garrard Conley
A beautiful, raw, and compassionate memoir about identity, love, and understanding.
The son of a Baptist pastor and deeply embedded in church life in small town Arkansas, as a young man Garrard Conley was terrified and conflicted about his sexuality.
When Garrard was a 19-year-old college student, he was outed to his parents, and was forced to make a life-changing decision: either agree to attend a church-supported conversion therapy program that promised to “cure” him of homosexuality; or risk losing family, friends, and the God he had prayed to every day of his life. Through an institutionalized Twelve-Step Program heavy on Bible study, he was supposed to emerge heterosexual, ex-gay, cleansed of impure urges, and stronger in his faith in God for his brush with sin. Instead, even when faced with a harrowing and brutal journey, Garrard found the strength and understanding to break out in search of his true self and forgiveness.
By confronting his buried past and the burden of a life lived in shadow, Garrard traces the complex relationships among family, faith, and community. At times heart-breaking, at times triumphant, this memoir is a testament to love that survives despite all odds.
Bare Bones by Bobby Bones
A touching, funny, heart-wrenching, and triumphant memoir from one of the biggest names in radio, the host of The Bobby Bones Show, one of the most listened-to drive time morning radio shows in the nation.
Growing up poor in Mountain Pine, Arkansas, with a young, addicted mom, Bobby Estell fell in love with country music. Abandoned by his father at the age of five, Bobby saw the radio as his way out — a dream that came true in college when he went on air at the Henderson State University campus station broadcasting as Bobby Bones, while simultaneously starting The Bobby Bones Show at 105.9 KLAZ. Bobby’s passions were pop, country music, and comedy, and he blended the three to become a tastemaker in the country music industry, heard by millions daily. Bobby broke the format of standard country radio, mixing country and pop with entertainment news and information, and has interviewed some of the biggest names in the business, including Luke Bryan, Taylor Swift, Blake Shelton, Tim McGraw, Lady Antebellum, and Jason Aldean.
Yet despite the glamour, fame, and money, Bobby has never forgotten his roots, the mom and grandmother who raised him, the work ethic he embraced which saved him and encouraged him to explore the world, and the good values that shaped him. In this funny, poignant memoir told in Bobby’s distinctive patter, he takes fans on a tour of his road to radio. Bobby doesn’t shy away from the curves he continues to navigate — including his obsessive-compulsive disorder — on his journey to find the happiness of a healthy family.
Funny and tender, raw and honest, Bare Bones is pure Bobby Bones — surprising, entertaining, inspiring, and authentic.
It’s Okay to Laugh by Nora McInerny Purmort
Twenty-seven-year-old Nora McInerny Purmort bounced from boyfriend to dopey “boyfriend” until she met Aaron — a charismatic art director and comic-book nerd who once made Nora laugh so hard she pulled a muscle. When Aaron was diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer, they refused to let it limit their love. They got engaged on Aaron’s hospital bed and had a baby boy while he was on chemo. In the period that followed, Nora and Aaron packed 50 years of marriage into the three they got, spending their time on what really matters: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, each other, and Beyoncé. A few months later, Aaron died in Nora’s arms. The obituary they wrote during Aaron’s hospice care revealing his true identity as Spider-Man touched the nation. With It’s Okay to Laugh, Nora puts a young, fresh twist on the subjects of mortality and resilience. What does it actually mean to live your “one wild and precious life” to the fullest? How can a joyful marriage contain more sickness than health? How do you keep going when life kicks you in the junk? In this deeply felt and deeply funny memoir, Nora gives her readers a true gift — permission to struggle, permission to laugh, permission to tell the truth and know that everything will be okay. It’s Okay to Laugh is a love letter to life, in all its messy glory; it reads like a conversation with a close friend, and leaves a trail of glitter in its wake.
This book is for people who have been through some shit.
This is for people who aren’t sure if they’re saying or doing the right thing (you’re not, but nobody is). This is for people who had their life turned upside down and just learned to live that way. For people who have laughed at a funeral or cried in a grocery store. This is for everyone who wondered what exactly they’re supposed to be doing with their one wild and precious life. I don’t actually have the answer, but if you find out, will you text me?
An Abbreviated Life by Ariel Leve
Ariel Leve grew up in Manhattan with an eccentric mother she describes as “a poet, an artist, a self-appointed troublemaker and attention seeker.” Leve learned to become her own parent, taking care of herself and her mother’s needs. There would be uncontrolled, impulsive rages followed with denial, disavowed responsibility, and then extreme outpourings of affection. How does a child learn to feel safe in this topsy-turvy world of conditional love?
Leve captures the chaos and lasting impact of a child’s life under siege and explores how the coping mechanisms she developed to survive later incapacitated her as an adult. There were material comforts, but no emotional safety, except for summer visits to her father’s home in South East Asia — an escape that was terminated after he attempted to gain custody. Following the death of a loving caretaker, a succession of replacements raised Leve — relationships which resulted in intense attachment and loss. It was not until decades later, when Leve moved to other side of the world, that she could begin to emancipate herself from the past. In a relationship with a man who has children, caring for them yields a clarity of what was missing.
In telling her haunting story, Leve seeks to understand the effects of chronic psychological maltreatment on a child’s developing brain, and to discover how to build a life for herself that she never dreamed possible: An unabbreviated life.
The Girl Who Escaped ISIS by Farida Khalaf and Andrea C. Hoffmann
A young Yazidi woman was living a normal, sheltered life in northern Iraq during the summer of 2014 when her entire world was upended: Her village was attacked by ISIS. All of the men in her town were killed and the women were taken into slavery.
This is Farida Khalaf’s story.
In unprecedented detail, Farida describes her world as it was — at 19, she was living at home with her brothers and parents, finishing her schooling and looking forward to becoming a math teacher — and the hell it became. Held in a slave market in Syria and sold into the homes of several ISIS soldiers, she stubbornly attempts resistance at every turn. Farida is ultimately brought to an ISIS training camp in the middle of the desert, where she plots an against-all-odds escape for herself and five other girls.
A riveting firsthand account of life in captivity and a courageous flight to freedom, this astonishing memoir is also Farida’s way of bearing witness, and of ensuring that ISIS does not succeed in crushing her spirit. Her bravery, resilience, and hope in the face of unimaginable violence will fascinate and inspire.
Look at You Now by Liz Pryor
In 1979, Liz Pryor is a 17-year-old girl from a good family in the wealthy Chicago suburbs. Halfway through her senior year of high school, she discovers that she is pregnant — a fact her parents are determined to keep a secret from her friends, siblings, and community forever. One snowy January day, after driving across three states, her mother drops her off at what Liz thinks is a Catholic home for unwed mothers — but which is, in truth, a locked government-run facility for delinquent and impoverished pregnant teenage girls.
In the cement-block residence, Liz is alone and terrified, a fish out of water — a girl from a privileged, sheltered background living amid tough, street-savvy girls who come from the foster care system or juvenile detention. But over the next six months, isolated and in involuntary hiding from everyone she knows, Liz develops a surprising bond with the other girls and begins to question everything she once held true. Told with tenderness, humor, and an open heart, Look at You Now is a deeply moving story about the most vulnerable moments in our lives — and how a willingness to trust ourselves can permanently change who we are and how we see the world.
Avalanche by Julia Leigh
In this brave and lucid account, Julia Leigh broaches a challenging life event often left undiscussed: how the struggle to have a child can take an agonizing toll. Leigh’s experience at the vanguard of medical science is acutely rendered, physically and emotionally, transmitting what it feels like to so desperately wish for a child while knowing that the odds are stacked against you. From the daily shots she puts herself through at home, to hopes raised and dashed, and finally to the decision to stop treatment, Avalanche bears witness to Leigh’s raw desire, suffering, strength, and, in the end, transformation — a shift to a different kind of love. The reader looks behind the scenes of a clinic and discovers how things really work: Reality is a far cry from the slick marketing of the billion-dollar infertility industry. As for so many women, Leigh’s treatment failed, but her ghost child lingers in memory.
Release date: July 28
Black Lotus by Sil Lai Abrams
A unique and exquisitely wrought story of one multiracial woman’s journey to discover and embrace herself in a family that sought to deny her black heritage, Sil Lai Abrams shares her story in Black Lotus — an account that will undoubtedly ignite conversation on race, racial identity, and the human experience.
Author and activist Sil Lai Abrams was born to a Chinese immigrant mother and a white American father. Out of her family, Sil Lai was the only one with a tousle of wild curls and brown skin. When she asked about her darker complexion, she was given vague answers. At 14, the man she knew her entire life as her birth-father divulged that Abrams was not his biological child, but instead the daughter of a man of African descent who didn’t know she existed.
This shocking news sparked a quest for healing that would take her down the painful road to reclaim her identity despite the overt racism in her community and her own internalized racism and self-hatred. Abrams struggled with depression, abuse, and an addiction that nearly destroyed her. But eventually she would leave behind the shame over her birthright and move toward a celebration of her blackness.
In Black Lotus, Abrams takes you on her odyssey filled with extreme highs and lows and the complexities of not only the black experience, but also the human one. This vivid story reexamines everything you think you know about racial identity while affirming the ability of the human spirit to triumph over tragedy. Ultimately, Black Lotus shines a light on the transformative power of truth and self-acceptance, and the importance of defining your personal identity on your own terms.
Release date: August 2
The Hero’s Body by William Giraldi
At just 47 years old, William Giraldi’s father was killed in a horrific motorcycle crash while racing on a country road. This tragedy, which forever altered the young Giraldi and devastated his family, provides the pulse for The Hero’s Body. In the tradition of Andre Dubus III’s Townie, this is a deep-seeing investigation into two generations of men from the working-class town of Manville, New Jersey, including Giraldi’s own forays into obsessive bodybuilding as a teenager desperate to be worthy of his family’s pitiless, exacting codes of manhood. Lauded by the New Yorker for his “unrelenting, perfectly paced prose,” Giraldi writes here with daring, searing honesty about the fragility and might of the American male. An unflinching memoir of luminous sorrow, a son’s tale of a lost father and the ancient family strictures of extreme masculinity, The Hero’s Body is a work of lasting beauty by one of our most fearless writers.
Release date: August 9
Catching Homelessness by Josephine Ensign
At the beginning of the homelessness epidemic in the 1980s, Josephine Ensign was a young, white, Southern, Christian wife, mother, and nurse running a new medical clinic for the homeless in the heart of the South. Through her work and intense relationships with patients and co-workers, her worldview was shattered, and after losing her job, family, and house, she became homeless herself. She reconstructed her life with altered views on homelessness — and on the health care system. In Catching Homelessness, Ensign reflects on how this work has changed her and how her work has changed through the experience of being homeless — providing a piercing look at the homelessness industry, nursing, and our country’s health care safety net.
Release date: August 9
Counting the Days While My Mind Slips Away by Ben Utecht and Mark Tabb
After five major concussions, NFL tight-end Ben Utecht of the Indianapolis Colts and Cincinnati Bengals is losing his memories. This is his powerful and emotional love letter to his wife and daughters — whom he someday may not recognize — and an inspiring message for all to live every moment fully.
Ben Utecht has accumulated a vast treasure of memories: Tossing a football in the yard with his father, meeting his wife, with whom he’d build a loving partnership and bring four beautiful daughters into the world, writing and performing music, catching touchdown passes from quarterback Peyton Manning, and playing a Super Bowl Championship watched by 93 million people.
But the game he has built his living on, the game he fell in love with as a child, is taking its toll in a devastating way. After at least five major concussions — and an untold number of micro-concussions — Ben suffered multiple mild traumatic brain injuries that have erased important memories. Knowing that his wife and daughters could someday be beyond his reach and desperate for them to understand how much he loves them, he recorded his memories for them to hold on to after his essential self is gone.
Counting the Days While My Mind Slips Away chronicles his remarkable journey from his early days throwing a football back and forth with his father to speaking about the long-term effects of concussions before Congress, and how his faith keeps him strong and grounded as he looks toward an uncertain future. Ben recounts the experiences that have shaped his life and imparts the lessons he’s learned along the way. Emotionally powerful, inspiring, and uplifting, Ben’s story will captivate and encourage you to make the most of every day and treasure all of your memories.
Release date: August 23
Which of these will you read? Share in the comments!
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