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13 Books You Need To Read If You've Ever Felt Like The Odd One Out

These main characters are each on a journey to find their place in the world. Their stories are wild and beautiful.

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1. This Wild Family Tale Written for a Girl with a Tail

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Miranda is part of a family of circus freaks made to have deformities devised purposely to create a homegrown freak show, (accomplished by the parent members' experiments with radioactive material and drugs). She looks normal save a small tail she flaunts as a stripper. It's written as a family history by her mother who gave her up.

Little Back Story: The book's original cover art by Chip Kidd sports a five-legged dog, (he added an extra leg to the Knopf dog logo in honor of the characters).

Bottom line: You'll love the stripped bare raw humanity in this tale that defies the most freakish deformities of the physical body.

2. This Laugh Out Loud Story Written By An Author Who Tragically Committed Suicide Before It Was Published

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“A green hunting cap squeezed the top of the fleshy balloon of a head."

Thus describes the uncanny roguish hero Ignatius J. Reilly, a man in his 30s working at a pants factory and hot dog stand while living with his mother. He is highly educated despite his low skilled jobs, and the novel follows the format of Ignatius' favorite book, Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy.

Little Back Story: Toole's manuscript was rejected by Simon and Schuster during his life, then his mother discovered a carbon copy of his manuscript after his suicide and pushed it for publication. It went on to win the Pulitzer Prize.

Bottom Line: Read this for a rollicking good time with a crazy cast of characters that will have you rooting for the idealist underemployed Ignatius to the last page.

3. This True Memoir of a Boy Left to His Own Devices

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"I was like a packet of powdered Sea Monkeys and they were like water."

This is how Augusten describes his experience growing up in his mother's shrink's home, the psychiatrist's family acting as the "water." He has almost total freedom, allowed to drop out of school but actually craves adult guidance. He settles for attention in adolescence in the form of sex with the shrink's adopted son, a man over twice his age. His road to self-reliance is kicked off when he literally knocks down the ceiling of his house to put in a makeshift skylight.

Little Back Story: The names of people in the book had been changed, but the psychiatrist filed suit against Burroughs and his publisher, alleging defamation, demanded that it be marketed as a "book" rather than a "memoir." So it was printed with the description of book in the author's note, but it still stated memoir on the cover and in marketing.

Bottom line: Brace yourself for truth that's stranger than fiction and by the end wanting to hug and high five the man who wrote this memoir.


4. This Classic Tale of an Orphan and an Unusual Benefactor

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Pip never knew his parents and is raised by his sister who is constantly berating him and whips him with a rod called "tickler." But he's kindly treated by his sister's husband and becomes needed in a strange sort of way by an old jilted-at-the-altar woman who has never taken off her wedding dress. Later on, he acquires a mysterious benefactor.

Little Back Story: Dickens wrote two different endings. His wealthy aristocratic pal, Edward Bulwer-Lytton, advised him against the original ending which was much more downbeat than the one in current editions.

Bottom line: If you've ever craved support while at the same time wanting to stand on your own, you'll like this classic which is a classic for good reason. Its themes are timeless.

5. This Novel Told by a Girl With Unusual Eyes and Painfully Sharp Insight

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Pecola is the focal character in the story, although she is rarely talked about directly. She's developed mainly by the actions of those around her, the environment that makes her want blue eyes. She's deprived of love by her parents and has felt needed only through a brutal rape by her father which leaves her pregnant.

Little Back Story: Morrison has said that she was motivated to write the novel to show the deeply painful side of racism that was glossed over by the male black writers of the time. She has been quoted as saying of her motivation, "I was deeply concerned about the feelings of being ugly.”

Bottom line: If you've ever felt ugly, you will understand and appreciate this novel, and the fact that its structure is so masterfully done makes it linger and leaves you knowing it fully deserved the Nobel Prize it won.

6. This Coming of Age Story of a Boy Turned Messiah in an Alien Land

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"I hoped the thing any parent hopes - that you'd be...superior, different."

This says the mother of Paul. You know from the start that he will be "superior" and "different" as each chapter starts with a quote from a historical account of his evolution into the messiah. He's brought to a desert world where control over a coveted resource called melange or "the spice" makes war between powerful families. Inside broad themes of politics, religion, ecology, and technology, is the story of a boy who slowly accepts his destiny but also makes it his own.

Little Back Story: Herbert had visited Florence, Oregon, at the north end of the Oregon Dunes. The US Dept. of Agriculture was attempting to use grasses to stabilize the sand dunes, and this in part inspired the novel.

Bottom line: If you've ever been pressured with super high expectations by a parent or community, you'll feel for this main character.

7. This Coming of Age Story of a Girl Who Feels Hunger in Many Ways

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"It grew in boarded-up lots and out of neglected rubbish heaps and it was the only tree that grew out of cement."

So describes the tree growing outside Francie's window. She's a girl in Brooklyn whose parents barely scrape by a living and there's never enough food. Her father is a kind and artistic man, but he's also a drunk who can't provide for the family. She's keen to grow up and grow smarter, which she does, despite the deprived conditions of her upbringing.

Little Back Story: The book was well-loved by US Military during WWII. One soldier who read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn said it made him laugh and cry. He said even though a battle-hardened Marine usually doesn't cry, he was proud of his tears because it proved that he was human again.

Bottom line: If you've ever had to scrape by on not much money and not much nurturing, then this book will resonate with you.


8. This Glimpse Into the Sensitive Mind of a Young Woman Interning in NYC

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"I was supposed to be having the time of my life."

So says Esther, interning at a NYC magazine. She spirals into a depression that makes her feel she's suffocating under a bell jar. It begins with her wondering about the electrocution of the Rosenberg spies, which foreshadows the shock treatments she'll undergo later in the story.

Little Back Story: The Bell Jar was originally published under the pseudonym "Victoria Lucas," because Plath didn't want her mother to know she wrote the semi-autobiographical novel. It was published under her real name after her suicide.

Bottom line: You'll ache for this character and Sylvia Plath, especially if you've ever gone through a depression or just felt estranged from the everyday world.

9. This Whodunnit That Is Really About a Girl Named Turtle Who Kicks Her Heels at Shins and at Life

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Turtle, aka Tabitha-Ruth is a fiesty 13-year-old who is one of 16 potential heirs to millionaire Sam Westing's fortune which must be won in a game to solve the mystery of his death, eventually solved by Turtle who also plays the stock market. Turtle is known by the others mainly as the girl who kicks people in the shins if they touch her braided hair. Inside she's a hurting child who desperately wants the attention of her preoccupied mother.

Little Back Story: Raskin took control every aspect of the book's design. She wanted the side margins to be big enough for the size of an average eleven year old's thumb, so that a child could easily hold a book open without covering up any type and had it reprinted after the binder cut the pages 1/4" too short. She also drew every single dollar bill for the "money house" on the cover.

Bottom line: If you've ever felt you needed to kick people in order to be noticed, you'll love following the story of Turtle.

10. This First in a Trilogy about a Ward of the State Hacker Who Takes Matters Into Her Own Hands

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Lisbeth, on the surface just a girl with a dragon tattoo, gets pulled into exposing corruption, murder, and other heinous crimes particularly against women with a rogue journalist. She's a brilliant hacker with a photographic memory who gets raped by one who holds the keys to her independence; this fuels her fire to solve other crimes and take back her freedom when hardly anybody is on her side.

Little Back Story: The original title in Larsson's native Swedish was Män Som Hatar Kvinnor (Men Who Hate Women). He asked that it not be changed to the Dragon Tattoo one, but they obviously didn't listen. Also, he was annoyed that on one of the American versions, Lisbeth is shown with a small shoulder dragon tattoo instead of the full back one described in the story.

Bottom line: If you've ever felt taken advantage of by those who are supposed to care for you, and you've had your personal freedom ripped from you unfairly, then you'll be drawn deeply into this trilogy.

11. This Story of a Girl Born to a Fate No One Thought Could Change

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Bone aka Ruth Anne was born "no bigger than a knuckle bone" and out of wedlock. She is molested by her stepfather and the fact she is a "bastard" child lingers in the background throughout the story, like a stamp that made it her fate to be used and abused instead of embraced.

Little Back Story: Allison, like Bone, grew up in Greenville, South Carolina, and she was the first child of a fifteen-year-old unwed mother.

Bottom line: Anyone who has ever been looked at as a burden or labeled unfairly will root for this main character.

12. This Classic Strange Tale of a Travelling Salesman Turned into a Bug

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"As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect."

Gregor as a bug that is described like a cockroach or beetle, (having little legs and a hard shell), still thinks of himself as the traveling salesman he was as a human. He worries about being late to work which then over days and weeks becomes a bigger anxiety that he's letting down his family; he was the sole bread-winner to his sister and parents.

Little Back Story: In the original German, Gregor is transformed into a "Ungeziefer." English translators made it "insect" or "vermin." In Middle High German, Ungeziefer literally means "unclean animal not suitable for sacrifice" or colloquially to mean "bug" – a very general term, unlike the scientific sounding "insect."

Bottom line: If you've ever felt taken for granted in a job or family and just more and more alienated as a human being with feelings, you'll relate to this man turned bug.

13. This 2nd in a Trilogy That Tells the Trials of a Young Horseman With Little More Than the Clothes on His Back

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Billy Parham is a character introduced in this 2nd book of The Border Trilogy. A pregnant she-wolf is killing his family's cattle, and he sets out to trap it. Saving the wolf and setting her free becomes an obsession which turns into an odyssey taking him far from home. When he returns, his parents have been killed and he is truly homeless.

Little Back Story: If you've ever read any McCarthy, you know he uses very little punctuation and no quotation marks around dialogue. He said in an interview with Oprah Winfrey, "There's no reason to block the page up with weird little marks." He also said you shouldn't have to punctuate if you write properly, and he used James Joyce as a model for punctuation.

Bottom line: Of course you will start with the first book in this trilogy, but this second book introduces the character who is the loneliest, most heartbreaking one in the trilogy who will stick in your mind long after you're done reading.

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