Six Uplifting Books to Read If You’ve Had a Really Bad Year

Originally published on Bookish.com, our sister company.

Eva Woods spent a lot of time thinking about the concept of happiness when writing her new novel, Something Like Happy. The book tells the story of two women who are seeking joy in the midst of sadness, heartbreak, and tragedy. Like many of us readers, Woods turns to books when she’s feeling low. Here, she shares some of her favorite uplifting titles.

My new book, Something Like Happy, is the story of two unlikely friends who’ve hit crisis points in their lives and decide to see if the #100HappyDays social media challenge can make a difference when you’ve truly reached rock-bottom. At times of hardship in my own life, there are certain soothing, feel-good books I like to reach for as a comfort and aid. It’s not about escapism so much as facing the sadness head on and realizing there is happiness on the other side. Here are my go-to happy reads.

Saint Maybe

Saint Maybe is a beautiful, quirky story of how a family manages not to break after a terrible tragedy, but bends and adapts instead, welcoming in new members and sharing the love. It’s a wonderful tale of guilt and sadness giving way to hope and joy. I cried my eyes out when reading it. The Accidental Tourist is another great Anne Tyler book about loss and hope.

Rachel’s Holiday

This is a book about addiction, self-destructiveness, denial, and pain, but it’s written with humor, lightness, and love. The author draws on her own experiences with addiction, and the book pulls off an incredibly clever feat of unreliable narration, all while celebrating family, friends, and forgiveness. As comforting as a big bubble bath.

The Secret Garden

In the darkest times, sometimes only children’s books will do. This classic story of two lonely, neglected cousins in a spooky house has it all:  mystery, sadness, joy, and an uplifting ending that sees the barren garden (both literal and metaphorical) return to life. Angry, spoiled orphan Mary Lennox is a heroine we can all relate to.

Eat, Pray, Love

A bit of a cliché this one, but I’ve read it several times at crisis moments, turning to it again after my own divorce and finding it uncannily resonant. If you ever need permission to go a little wild and let yourself be sad and crazy and eat a lot of ice cream, this book gives it, with warmth and understanding.

Between Silk and Cyanide

I recently read this riveting memoir of life in the Special Operations Executive during World War II, and I highly recommend it if you ever need reminding of just how brave and noble we can be in the face of great tyranny. It’s also very funny and really brings home the fact that the people behind these amazing feats were just humans like the rest of us, complete with office squabbles, black market tea, love affairs, etc.

A God in Ruins

I love all of Kate Atkinson’s books (Case Histories is another favorite), but this tale of a wartime pilot had me in tears, thinking about the impact of our lives on others. Again, there’s lots of stirring wartime bravery and suffering, and it’s told with a fascinating structure that really makes you think about what we leave behind.

Eva Woods was born in Ireland but now resides in London and has published two women’s fiction novels with Mira UK and also writes crime fiction for Hodder UK as Claire McGowan. In addition to writing novels, she teaches creative writing and has written for GlamourYou magazine, the Guardian, the Dublin Herald, and more. Something Like Happy marks her North American debut.

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