Clean Read Recommendations
Recently I participated in an interview with Mouna Kacem. She wanted my views on “clean reads,” or books that eschew explicit sex, gratuitous violence, and foul language. If you want to read the article, click here: http://goodcompanylit.com/…/3d-flip…/issue-2-adventure/
I provided a several book recommendations, which I decided to share with you here.
If you want to purchase these books, click on my Amazon affiliate links. I will get a small compensation for recommending these books at no cost to you!
First, a couple of contemporary books both for adults and young adult readers.
The Help by Kathryn Stockton
Kathryn Stockton’s The Help, turned into an iconic film, is
the story of a young, white woman, Skeeter Phelen who returns to her US southern
home after college to pursue her dream of becoming a writer. When asked to
write book about Black maids, her views about what life is like transforms. Her
Black interviewees open her eyes about the normative intricacies of prejudice
and structural racism that were invisible to her. She and the women develop
bonds of friendship that they never realized were possible.
My Amazon affiliate link for paperback version of The Help is:
My Amazon affiliate link for the Kindle version of The Help is:
The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees is a coming-of-age
story dealing once again with a white girl’s confrontation with the US South
during the Civil Rights era. The story’s protagonist, Lily Owens lives with her
abusive father, alone, since her mother died in a gun accident when she was
four. Finding no solace at home she decides to travel with her Black maid,
after she encountered legal troubles with local white people, to her hometown
in North Carolina. There they meet with three Black bee keeping sisters, August,
May, and June, who invite the two to live with them. Lily learns how to make
the sisters’ Black Madonna honey. She also falls for May’s son, a young Black
man who wishes to be a lawyer but is entangled in legal trouble that ends tragically.
Eventually, Lily discovers how her slain mother’s life was interconnected to
these three women. As the title indicates, bees and honey do some heavy
symbolic lifting in this novel: the power of community and the connection
My Amazon affiliate link for the Kindle version of The Secret
Life of Bees is:
My Amazon affiliate link for the Paperback version of The Secret
Life of Bees is:
Hoot by Carl Hiaasen
Marketed as a
young adult novel, Hoot has enough story to engage the adult reader,
as is often the case with Newberry award winning books. Roy Eberhardt, the
protagonist is a middle schooler who is the quintessential “new boy” at school,
moving from Montana to Florida. Early on he makes an enemy of the school bully,
but befriends a Beatrice Leap, a soccer player and the “running boy,” a
mysterious kid who does not seem to have a home. The three try to save a nest
of burrowing owls, whose habitat is set to be destroyed by a pancake franchise.
Progress or the environment? You decide what is more important.
My Amazon affiliate link for the Kindle edition of Hoot is:
My Amazon affiliate link for the paperback edition of Hoot is:
Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
This wonderful book, marketed as a young adult novel, will appeal
to readers of all ages. Characterization, plot, and setting are all superb. The
protagonist, Billy, through hard work, acquires two Redbone hound pups deep in
the throes of the Great Depression. His home, the Ozarks are particularly
impacted. He names them Old Dan and Little Ann. He starts training them to hunt
racoons and finds that the combination of Old Dan’s courage and Little Ann’s
intelligence make them a formidable hunting pair. With the support of his
family, especially his grandfather, Billy enters a coon hunting contest where
he competes against well-equipped adult hunters. Find out what happens by
reading the book. Love, fidelity, family, and determination are major themes in
the gem of a book.
My Amazon affiliate link for the Kindle edition of Where the Red Fern Grows is:
My Amazon affiliate link for the paperback edition of Where the Red Fern Grows is:
Later in the interview, Mouna expressed a concern that some writers have: if they feel if they write clean, they will not get sales or fame. Well… if you have been writing for a lifetime, you know that sales and fame from your writing are hard to come by, clean or not. However, writing clean should not be the first issue you consider. When you start writing, you should consider what your book’s building blocks are. Think of your theme, plot, characters, and setting. One consideration is whether you want a plot driven or character driven novel. Plot driven novels are typically exciting adventure type novels, with complex plot twists and turns that force the characters to react. Science fiction and fantasy novels, often have plot driven stories. Character driven novels describe the characters’ inner worlds as they move through the story narrative. The focus is on their inner conflicts and struggles as they grow through the story.
Here are two recommendations for (relatively) clean reads for a plot driven and character driven story.
The Maze Runner by James Dasher
James Dasher’s The Maze Runner is a young adult plot-driven novel transformed into an international best-selling film series. The protagonist, Thomas, wakes up in an elevator that brings him to the Glade. There he meets two boys who operate the Glade, and eventually many others, who arrive by elevator once a week. They are charged with running the “Maze,” a labyrinth of concrete covered in ivy. Inside are the mysterious “Grievers,” whose motives remain murky, but somehow linked to the boys’ solving the maze. Eventually much of the mystery is revealed through many plot twists, action, and conflict. Like many adventure novels, however, there is violence, and several boys are killed, so be warned. However, if you are tempted to write a plot driven novel, this book is one to study.
My Amazon affiliate link for the Kindle version of The Maze Runner is:
My Amazon affiliate link for the Paperback version of The Maze Runner is:
Note: The Maze Runner is a series. I am giving you links for the first book in the series.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeymoon
A clean fiction example of a character driven story is Gail Honeymoon’s Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. Eleanor is a woman who finds it hard to interact with others. She prefers her own company, interacts with her mother daily, and speaks bluntly, which others interpret as rudeness. Circumstances push her into a platonic relationship with Raymond, her company IT person, and he nudges her out of her solitude. Eleanor has strange character quirks. Readers will love her or hate her, but they will never forget her. If you are looking for ways to write strong and memorable characters, this book is certainly worth a read.
My Amazon affiliate link for the Kindle version of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is:
My Amazon affiliate link for the Paperback version of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is:
Mouna and I discussed clean reads that deal with Islamic themes. Books and stories, regardless of religion and culture, are moved forward by conflict and tension. Sometimes that conflict comes in the form of a non-practicing Muslim character who pushes a protagonist away from the deen. I provided an excellent example of such a book.
Minaret by Laila Aboulela
Laila Aboulela’s critically acclaimed, Minaret, opens with our protagonist, Najwa, living the carefree life of an upper-class university student in Khartoum. Then, the unthinkable happens. The country is swept up in a military coup and her father is tried and executed. She flees to the UK with her mother and twin brother Omar. Unfortunately, Najwa’s mother passes, and Omar is jailed for drug addiction, leaving Najwa alone. Once privileged, she is forced to do housework for her aunt. She falls for a young communist, Anwar, who she knew at university. He is the antagonist who leads her to the Jahiliyah. Eventually, Najwa finds solace and community in Islam. She puts on the hijab and becomes a regular at the masjid. Although older, she falls for Tamer, a devoted 19-year-old Muslim. Their relationship is complicated, and you will have to read the book to discover what happens. This book is mostly a clean read, but Najwa does go through some trying, un-Islamic experiences. The book also has a non-linear narrative, which makes it interesting, like solving a puzzle. I was so impressed with this book that I had it as an optional reading assignment for students in my race and ethnicity classes.
My Amazon affiliate link for the Kindle version of Minaret is:
My Amazon affiliate link for the Paperback version of Minaret is:
What discussion of clean reads would be complete without a romance. And if you look back in time at many of the classic romance novels, you will discover that the sex experienced between the main characters (if at all) is implied. One of the great epic romances, Gone with the Wind is a case in point.
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind is a sweeping historical saga that takes the reader from the antebellum US South, to the 1870s and is at its heart a romance. A classic in US literature, the book is critiqued today for its stereotypical views of Black people and the loyal slave, so be forewarned. Scarlett is a headstrong young southern belle who is consumed by her love for Ashley Wilkes. Early in the novel, we learn that Ashely is betrothed to his cousin Melanie Hamilton. Scarlett is crushed and secretly jealous of Melanie, who only shows her love and kindness. Eventually she meets the true love of her life, Rhett Butler, a deeply flawed man who sees her faults and loves her because of them. This love story occurs against the backdrop of the US Civil War, and Scarlett’s life as the daughter of a plantation owner is destroyed. The book chronicles her many efforts to survive despite the serious setbacks she faces. And as a side note, my mother, an avid reader, recommended this book to me when I was a teenager.
My Amazon affiliate link for the Kindle version of Gone with the Wind is:
My Amazon affiliate link for the Paperback version of Gone with the Wind is:
Finally, Mouna asked if there was a book that I read that is NOT a “clean read,” and I confessed to an Outlander obsession.
Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
And since I mentioned it in my interview with Mouna (what inspired this blog post), here is the link to the book that started me writing my historical fiction novel and clean read, Coming Home: Outlander. Warning, this is NOT clean fiction. However, you obtain a deep dive into the social and historical history of 18th century Scotland. And, if you are like me, you will become captivated by Diana Gabaldon’s unique writing style. She breaks one writing “rule” after another (like sprinkling adverbs throughout her prose) yet manages to create characters and plot twists that you will never forget. For at least a year afterwards, I couldn’t read anyone else’s prose because of her influence on me. Further, I consider her my muse for my novel Coming Home. She wrote an essay about writing historical fiction that inspired me to finally write the novel I always dreamed of writing.
My Amazon affiliate link for the Kindle edition of Outlander is:
My Amazon affiliate link for the Paperback edition of Outlander is: