A profound novel by Jodi Picoult that explores the ways in which the decisions we make shape us, nonfiction for fans of Lori Gottlieb’s Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, and a deep dive into how former generations, especially the Boomer generation, have set Millennials up for failure.
Learn more about these and all of our picks for the Best Books of the Month.
The Book of Two Ways by Jodi Picoult
How many of us have looked back on a decision that changed our lives and wondered: what if we had made a different choice? Picoult’s novel The Book of Two Ways digs into this very question and the result is incredibly thought-provoking. Dawn Edelstein was once a young grad student working on a dig in Egypt, in love with a fellow Egyptologist, and getting ever closer to proving a radical new theory about ancient Egyptians’ burial rituals for the road to the afterlife. Then a phone call from home changed everything. Fifteen years later, Dawn is married, with a teenage daughter, and working in Boston as a death doula, helping the dying prepare to leave this world in the best way possible. When Dawn has a near-death experience she is confronted with the question of whether the good life she has could have been a great one. Dawn doesn’t just ponder the question—she returns to Egypt, and the man she once loved, to see if she can find the answer. Picoult incorporates fascinating details about Egyptology into her novel—the title comes from an ancient Egyptian tome of the same name—bringing history and a universal connection into the story. The Book of Two Ways is a provocative exploration into monumental questions: about the life we are living, who we want to be with when we die, and whether it’s possible—and acceptable—to change our mind, return to the trailhead, and go another way. —Seira Wilson
Good Morning, Monster: A Therapist Shares Five Heroic Stories of Emotional Recovery by Catherine Gildiner
In reviewing her long career as a therapist, Dr. Catherine Gildiner was struck by the strength of spirit of her patients who struggled through each day despite being broken so many times by those who should have loved them. As Gildiner tells one of her patients, “To me, bravery isn’t a single act; it’s facing impossible odds every day to repeat the whole ordeal.” Throughout, Gildiner is filled with conviction and empathy for those she works with—making it easy to become utterly absorbed by their lives and her place in them. Among the five fascinating people Gildiner spotlights are a woman abandoned at age nine in a remote cabin, a man raised in one of Canada’s notorious residential schools for Indigenous children, and a woman whose father was an active member of the Ted Bundy fan club. (With the latter patient, Gildiner learns that the usual therapeutic processes for trauma won’t work: “some experiences are too hard to live through twice.”) Gildiner’s compassion shines from every page without being mawkish, even as she calls herself out on her own blind spots or the moments in therapy when she says the exact wrong thing. To Gildiner, these patients are heroes, and as you sit beside her while she learns of their lives and helps them with their recovery, you’ll soon be in awe of the strength inside them, too. —Adrian Liang
Can't Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation by Anne Helen Petersen
In 2019, Petersen published a Buzzfeed article titled “How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation”—the article has been read over seven million times. Clearly the subject of burnout touched a nerve with the generation that coined the phrase “adulting is hard,” as well as with those who love to taunt them. Not as light as the title makes it seem, Can’t Even is a serious and sobering look at how former generations—specifically the Boomer generation—have failed millennials and set them up for burnout. She writes: “Millennials live with the reality that we’re going to work forever, die before we pay off our student loans, potentially bankrupt our children with our care, or get wiped out in a global apocalypse.” Petersen examines all areas of millennial lives: work (there’s particular attention and heft paid to this section), education, internet and tech culture, relationships, parenthood—specifically motherhood—and leisure time. The research is intriguing and fresh, with several references to just-published books such as Do Nothing by Celeste Headlee or Uncanny Valley by Anna Wiener. In her Author’s Note, Petersen calls COVID-19 “the great clarifier,” and invites readers to read every section of the book with this in mind—work is harder, parenting is harder, our addiction to our phones is worse than ever. A millennial herself, the author is a welcome insertion into her argument, particularly in the conclusion when she strengthens her message with her own narrative. I won’t be poking fun at millennials anymore. —Sarah Gelman
The latest from Jodi Picoult; a therapist applauds her heroic patients; and a deep dive into how former generations have set Millennials up for failure.