Readers everywhere know the struggle of having a pile of books waiting to be read — a “TBR” list — but lacking motivation when the time to flip past that front page comes. That’s why Jenna Bush Hager is inviting readers everywhere to join her in 2023 to try to read every single day, whether you finish a paragraph or the entire book, with “Streaking with Jenna.” Keep track of your progress with a printable calendar.
Sometimes the most daunting task can be choosing the right book — and Read With Jenna is a great place to start. “Sam” by Allegra Goodman is Jenna’s book club pick for January. This novel follows a young girl named Sam starting at the age of 7 through adolescence.
“Although it is a story of one girl, it will take all readers back to their own youth. I fell into this novel and read it in one sitting. Sam is the ideal book for all readers: those of you who read with us every month or those whose resolution is to read more,” Jenna tells TODAY.com.
Author Allegra Goodman is aware of just how unique a novel “Sam” is, with its ability to appeal to such a wide audience.
“People have said to me, ‘What genre is this? Mystery, suspense, romance?’ And I say, ‘Well, it’s a coming-of-age story, so it’s all (of) the above. It’s about a girl becoming human. She’s turning into a human being. It’s a very simple premise. And it’s also sort of the biggest thing that you can write about,” Goodman says.
Goodman shared with TODAY a list of other books that take unique, engaging approaches to the well-known bildungsroman, which make good literary companions to "Sam." Many of the stories follow children who are forced to grow up too soon, and all feature sympathetic protagonists and bold portrayals of unconventional families.
'Salvage the Bones' by Jesmyn Ward
“Salvage the Bones” by Jesmyn Ward is a novel ripe with terror, but not the kind crafted with jump scares and shadows in the dark. Instead, “Salvage the Bones” is a harrowing account of young siblings struggling through rural poverty. Ward is unafraid to dive into brutal travesties and heart-breaking realities. The novel follows pregnant teenager Esch through her life in a coastal town in Mississippi as pressures build both in her family life and in looming Hurricane Katrina. Her father is a selfish alcoholic who leaves Esch and her three brothers to fend for themselves, leading Skeetah to scrounge for scraps of food for his dying puppy litter and Randall and Junior to seek shelter with a less-than-ideal family. This novel is a story of a struggling family who has the odds stacked against them, told through surprisingly poetic and beautiful language.
"Anywhere but Here" by Mona Simpson
“Anywhere But Here” by Mona Simpson is another story that deals with complex family relationships. Adele is traveling West with her daughter Ann on a whim (and the last legs of her ex-husband’s credit card). The characters are thoughtfully constructed and intriguing, pulling the reader into a psychologically troubling mother-daughter duo. Adele’s willingness to sacrifice Ann’s childhood in pursuit of child stardom forces readers to question just how dark a relationship must become in order to justify leaving it behind.
'This Boy's Life' by Tobias Wolff
This next pick is yet another insightful look at the intricate dynamics of family life, though this story is a memoir. Tobias Wolff writes about himself as a younger Toby, one who is separated from his father and brother by his parents’ divorce and forced to live with his mother and often-cruel stepfather. Wolff writes young Toby with such conviction that the reader is invited to forget the genre of this book and instead follow a vivid, rebellious character on a gorgeously written yet ultimately heartbreaking journey.
'Crying in H Mart' by Michelle Zauner
As if this roundup’s theme of heart-wrenching books exploring fragmented families wasn’t clear enough, we bring you “Crying in H Mart.” Michelle Zauner’s voice is honest and addictive in this much-discussed memoir. Michelle reflects on her childhood, a time when she struggled to reconcile with her Korean heritage as one of the few Asian American kids at school. Bogged down by her mother’s expectations of perfection, it isn’t until Michelle’s mother reveals a terminal cancer diagnosis that she is able to explore the truth in both her identity and her relationship with her mother.
'Educated' by Tara Westover
“Educated” by Tara Westover is yet another book will tempt a fiction-lover to try out a memoir. Author Westover is born to survivalists in the mountains. Her family is intent on taking care of themselves, which would explain why young Westover never stepped foot inside a classroom. Most importantly, her family is always prepared for what is waiting ahead of them: the end of the world.