Jessica Westhead, Canadian writer and editor, recommends…

(CLASSIC: from The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More, Puffin Books)

This horrifying and heartbreaking story of childhood bullying makes me cry now just as much as when I first read it, at around the same age as the characters. The victim and his two tormentors personify good versus evil in the world, but all three are too human to be stereotypes. The spare, straightforward language heightens the overwhelming sense of dread that increases—along with the bullies’ cruelty—until the shocking, beautiful end.

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(MODERN: from Honored Guest, Vintage Books)

In this story that’s somehow bleak and hopeful all at once, a needy, aimless woman is uplifted by visiting a not-very-close friend staying in a psychiatric ward for depression. She visits “too much, sometimes two and three times a day,” and bonds with one of her friend’s roommates, a sad elderly woman. The deadpan narrative contrasts perfectly with hilarious lines of dialogue like this pronouncement to the visitor by another of the friend’s roommates, a violent teenager: “‘I’m passionate, intense and filled with private reverie, and so is my friend,’ the girl said, ‘so don’t slime us like you do.’” I’ve read this story again and again, and it always makes me laugh out loud, and shake my head at its brilliance.

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