Social Distancing Book Recommendations

This is a scary time for everyone. Being told to stay at home, instead of choosing to on your own terms, can seem isolating. With all that’s going on in the world, it’s easy to want to turn to absolutely anything for comfort. I don’t know about you, but when I’m feeling uncertain about life and the future, I find books to be both the perfect companion and escape. Whether it’s rereading an old favorite or getting lost in a world not yet explored, I tend to find my grounding within the pages of a satisfying story. Reading about someone else’s problems almost always offers me some perspective and helps me take a step away from what’s going on around me. 

If you’re new to reading or have exhausted all of the books on your shelf, I’m here to provide you with eight books that will take you on a journey away from the scary times we’re living in. 


YA Picks 

1. An Ember in the Ashes- Sabaa Tahir

A long period of social distancing is the perfect time to start a brand new book series. I will recommend An Ember in the Ashes until my voice is hoarse.

What’s It About?

Set in an ancient Rome-inspired Empire, this debut series from Sabaa Tahir follows Laia and Elias in a world ruled by the violent Empire. After her brother is kidnapped, Laia sets out on a quest to rescue him. This quest leads her to pose as a servant at the Empire’s most elite military academy. Here, she meets Elias, who has just graduated from the academy and longs to leave the life of a military officer. Once their paths cross, Laia and Elias both work together to fulfill both of their goals.

Why I Love It:

This is a story that will suck you in from the first page. Sabaa Tahir’s writing is beautiful, dark, and gripping. Her pacing between Laia’s and Elias’ storylines is perfectly executed and will make you scramble to turn the pages fast enough.

The characters in this story are developed, flawed, and lovable. Tahir has crafted the characters to feel like old friends. You’ll learn to empathize with the antagonists of this story and even find yourself rooting for some of them. 



2. The Poet X- Elizabeth Acevedo

Okay, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not the biggest fan of poetry, but Elizabeth Acevedo’s, The Poet X, completely changed the game. I personally read this on audio, and would highly recommend this route, as it’s narrated by Acevedo herself. 

What’s It About?

Follow Xiomara Batista as she uses slam poetry to navigate her strict religious household, femininity, and new relationships. Through poetry, she learns to express her emotions and experiences growing up as a girl in Harlem. 

Why I Love It:

The prose is lyrical, beautiful, and will give you chills. Xiomara is a complex character; her journey to self-discovery and learning to cope with the world around her raises a lot of big questions. Acevedo does not shy away from big issues. The role of poetry and music in this novel perfectly captures self-identity. Themes of race, femininity, sexuality, and religion are the heart of this novel. Bonus: it’s a very quick read, if you’re trying to read as many books as possible during social distancing!


3. Sadie- Courtney Summers

Okay, I’m a sucker for a good thriller, and Courtney Summers’ Sadie is one of my all-time favorites and another book I would recommend the audiobook for.  

What’s It About?

After her sister Mattie is found dead, Sadie goes on a journey to find Mattie’s killer and bring them to justice. Readers will follow her journey and slowly learn pieces of the puzzle about Mattie’s murder. Throughout the book, readers will also hear from West McCray, a radio personality, who is hosting a podcast to figure out where Sadie is. 

Why I Love It:

This isn’t a traditional whodunnit mystery. The emphasis is on the complexities of Sadie’s character, her relationship with her family, and how she is coping with the grief of losing her sister so horrifically. This is truly about the human experience. It’s dark, but such an important story to tell. The audiobook is phenomenal because it includes a full cast, sound effects, and it truly encapsulates the podcast aspect of this novel. 


4. The Astonishing Color of After– Emily X.R. Pan

This is by far the most heart-wrenching book on this list, but this is a novel that a lot of people are sleeping on. In my opinion, this is one of the best books I’ve read dealing with grief and mental health. 

What’s It About?

Leigh is certain that when her mother died by suicide, she turned into a bird. Readers will follow Leigh as she travels to Taiwan to meet her maternal grandparents, find her mother (the bird), and uncover family secrets. Through this journey, Leigh learns to cope with her own grief.

Why I Love It:

It’s rare to read a book that perfectly captures depression, grief, and suicide, but this book does it beautifully. I’ll admit, the synopsis of this book didn’t captivate me right away, but I’m glad that I decided to dive in anyway. The book will pull you in, so you truly feel like you’re on the journey with Leigh in Taiwan. The Astonishing Color of After is haunting in the best possible way, and although the overarching themes of this novel are sad, the end of this book is filled with so much hope. Hope is definitely what we need to hold onto now more than ever. 


Adult Fiction Picks 

1. The Shadow of the Wind– Carlos Ruiz Zafon 

The Shadow of the Wind is a delicious love letter to all of the bibliophiles everywhere. For me, this is the embodiment of the perfect story that will slowly sink its way into your heart and never leave. 

What’s It About?

Set in Barcelona in 1945, this novel opens with Daniel’s father taking him to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books and letting Daniel choose one book. Daniel, who is mourning the death of his mother, selects The Shadow of the Wind by Julian Carax. After devouring the book in one night, Daniel is determined to read all of Carax’s books, but soon discovers that someone has been destroying every copy in existence. This question of who is destroying the books, and why, leads Daniel on a journey where he encounters lively characters, finds love, and grows into a young man. 

Why I Love It:

I will honestly read any book about books. Seriously. There is something so captivating to me about the role stories play in our lives, and I love any novel that explores that. This book drew me in with its lyrical writing, life-like characters, slow-burn mystery, and vibrant history. Zafon beautifully crafted this story to show the depths of the humanity and the power words have over us. If you only read one book from this list, I recommend this.  


2. Vicious– V.E. Schwab

One of my favorite concepts to explore is what defines evil. Or what makes someone a “good” person? V.E. Schwab explores this in all of her books, but Vicious is a page-turner, especially perfect for those just finding their reading groove.   


What’s It About?

We follow college roommates Victor and Eli who are exploring the concept of Extraordinaries for their senior thesis. In an effort to prove that surviving a near-death experience can give someone EO abilities, both Eli and Victor try this out for themselves. Things don’t exactly go well. Flash-forward to ten years later, and Victor has just broken out of prison and is determined to hunt down Eli, his now foe. Meanwhile, Eli is on his own hunt to eradicate any person with their own extraordinary ability. 


Why I Love It:

I read this book in a single day. It’s one of those books you can’t put down, no matter how many other things are on your “to-do” list. You’ll somehow despise, yet root for, every single one of these characters. This idea that anyone can be capable of evil given the circumstances is both terrifying and exciting to explore in any medium. If you’re new to reading, this is definitely the book I would recommend for you, as the short chapters, alternating timelines, and fast-moving plot will make you fly through the pages.


3. Little Fires Everywhere– Celeste Ng

Looking for a book you can immediately watch the adaptation for? Little Fires Everywhere explores themes of race, class, and sex within small-town Ohio. The television adaptation just premiered on Hulu this March. 

What’s It About?

Welcome to Shaker Heights in 1997, your typical suburb where everything is planned. Elena Richardson, a local journalist, has raised her four children, provided them with everything they need, and worked to rid her family of any scandals. When Mia Warren and her teenage daughter rent a house from the Richardsens, nothing in Shaker Heights is the same. Little Fires Everywhere provides a close examination of race, motherhood, class, and privilege.  

Why I Love It:

Everyone loves a little drama and Little Fires Everywhere absolutely delivers, but this book is about more than just some small-town scandals. Each plot creates a web of mystery, intrigue, and, at times, discomfort. This book truly made me examine my own privilege as a white American and brought up issues that I had never truly explored in literature. I went into this book knowing next to nothing about its plot, and I can say that it left me riveted and wanting more. 


4. Station Eleven- Emily St. John


I’ll be honest, I hesitated including this book because it’s about a plague wiping out most of the human population. Bad timing right? Hear me out though because this isn’t your typical post-apocalyptic novel that’s going to compel you to buy out all of the toilet paper at your local grocery store.  

What’s It About?

Station Eleven poses the question: what does it mean to live and be human? After a plague has wiped out a majority of the population, those remaining try to rebuild a new life. Throughout this novel, you’ll follow a traveling performance troupe, working to keep art alive. You’ll learn about multiple characters and their experiences before and after the plague. Above all, you’ll learn how we are truly all connected despite time and circumstances. 

Why I Love It:

After I read this novel, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. If you’re looking for a fast-paced thriller, you won’t find it here. This novel is slow, but it works. I love the themes explored in this story; it was truly an experience seeing how multiple storylines connected across time and generations, and it was refreshing to read a speculative fiction novel that deviates from all of the rest. If you’re looking for a novel that will move you and make you think, I highly recommend Station Eleven. 


If you’re looking for a way to access any of these stories, the Libby app is a free platform you can use to access both ebooks and audiobooks. Simply link it with your local library card, and you’ll have access to their database. Feel free to share what you’re reading on social media and tag The Louisville Book Festival in your posts. 

Happy reading!

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