Amber Lanahan

The end and beginning of the year remind us of the important roles that reading and storytelling have in our everyday lives. Literature lights up our worlds by providing a refuge from life online and IRL, while also daring us to dream bigger, connect more meaningfully, and be unafraid to be the narrators of our own stories.

Whether you’re looking to fulfill a resolution to read more, or in search of a stimulating mental vacation, these texts are sure to inspire and entertain.

The Woman In Me by Britney Spears

Two years after the conclusion of a 13-year conservatorship under her father, Jaime Spears, Britney Spears has now shared her story in her own words. From an unplanned pregnancy with former boyfriend, Justin Timberlake, to the loss of her autonomy and career at the hands of her family, this memoir offers readers an opportunity to take a step into a life that was manipulated in front of the public’s eyes for years.

Beneath the glitter of stardom and the flashing of paparazzi, this memoir reveals the dark underbelly of life for this 2000s icon. The shocking revelation of an unplanned pregnancy with then-beau Justin Timberlake serves as an amuse-bouche to the roller coaster of emotions Spears takes her readers through as she shares her story. Spears details the grueling battle for custody of her two boys with ex Kevin Federline and its transition into a conservatorship so chilling that the words, “I’m Britney Spears now” send shivers down the spine.

For many fans and witnesses to the whirlwind of Spears’ career, this memoir has reopened the book of unanswered questions behind the star’s silence through endless houndings of paparazzi, the cruelty of the press, and filling in the blanks with her own words.

Readers will agree that by the end of this book, the opportunity for Spears to speak her truth without fear of retaliation has been long overdue.

Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions by Valeria Luiselli

A book whose words and stories have maintained their relevance to the ongoing discussions surrounding immigration since its 2017 release, “Tell Me How It Ends” highlights the struggles faced by the millions traversing across nations and informing the reader on the strains felt by the immigration system in their attempts to achieve naturalization within the U.S.

This profound essay is a compilation of stories written by Luiselli during her period as a language interpreter for undocumented children and teens from Central and South America as they arrive unattended to the United States.

One such example is the journey of 16-year old Manu Lopez, a young man who was forced to flee his home in Honduras due to the ongoing gang war between MS-13 and Barrio 18. Stuck between the recruitment of one gang while having his life threatened by the other, Manu reaches out to a family member living in the U.S. to seek asylum from the violence.

After persevering through the enduring journey to the U.S. with the aid of a coyote, a hired individual who assists in guiding immigrants across the border, Manu makes it into the country. This moment of relief finds itself immediately cut a few lines later as the reader comes to discover that Manu has found himself facing the very gang violence he’d attempted to flee at his local high school.

“Tell Me How It Ends” is a piece of literature that offers a ray of hope for things to come despite the harsh reality the individuals face within the pages. The story’s vivid account of the history between nations assists in illuminating the reasoning behind such movements.

Pretty Boys are Poisonous by Megan Fox

This first book of poetry written by the movie starlet, “Pretty Boys are Poisonous,” is a collection of poems that speaks to a man unseen but known by all of us, whose words and actions have seeped into the speaker like venom. Fox allows the once “blocked” throat chakra to unleash years of repressed emotions through the use of sassy quips and biting remarks to the subject of the piece.

In her poem ‘I would die for y- oh, j/k lol’ Fox addresses the famous love tragedy of Romeo and Juliet. Within it, she speaks of the detachment faced by a Juliet who shares a bed with a now emotionally and physically disconnected Romeo who’d “rather read Twitter in bed.” The expressed frustrations of the speaker put an image into the reader’s mind of Juliet sitting up in bed typing her grievances towards her lover into the notes app of her phone while an oblivious, or perhaps disinterested, Romeo sleeps with his back to her at her side.

Within her book of poems, Fox looks back on her experiences with the men throughout her life, letting the raw, unfiltered details of their cruel intensity pour onto the page while addressing the trauma left in their wake. Much like the gradient on the cover, the reader finds themselves sinking into the narrative written within the pages and feeling what it costs when one sacrifices pieces of oneself to appease those one loves, no matter how unworthy they are of the sacrifice.

Thirty Talks Weird Love by Alessandra Narváez Varela

In this book by UTEP professor and writer, 13-year-old Anamaria comes face to face with a woman claiming to be her 30-year-old self from the future. The novel takes place in the city of Juarez during a period where cases of young women and girls being spirited off the streets is an unfortunate, yet familiar, occurrence.

For Anamaria, whose biggest concern in her day-to-day life is being a perfect student and daughter, the introduction of Thirty is a mystery she never would’ve anticipated. Offering cryptic wisdom to our young protagonist, Thirty expresses that Anamaria addresses the unconscious anxieties that have started to make their way to the surface through thoughts of self-harm.

For Anamaria, this would mean having to look inward at the underlying cause of her stress and take into consideration why the idea of self-harm appears more appealing than facing the demons of her mind.

All while an unknown threat looms over one of Anamaria’s inner circle.

Varela’s use of prose and imagery throughout the text enhances the narrative of the piece as the reader is privy to the ongoing mental state of our protagonist through her writings.

“Thirty Talks Weird Love” is a work that offers an enlightened perspective for readers of all ages, whether they be a teen looking for the wisdom of their future selves or thirty-somethings hoping to go back to the innocence of their youth.