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If You Want to Gain More Empathy for Human Behavior: Read This!

By Caitlin Mobley


What is the What- Dave Eggers

What is the What opens with Valentino Achak Deng, a former Lost Boy of Sudan, living his new life in the United States after managing to flee the chaos and intense hardships he experienced in his native country. It would be easy for the average person to view Valentino as having a relatively carefree life after getting away from Sudan and being supported by caring individuals in his new home, however the reality is that Valentino experienced a tremendous amount of trauma in his life that affects the way he functions, even when away from the traumatic incident/environment. Oftentimes, a person isn’t conducting themselves in a certain negative way simply because they want to; that person may have experienced a life-altering traumatic event or have been continuously treated a particular way that shapes their interactions with the world. What is the What does a beautiful job of drawing awareness to how personal history relates to the reasons people succeed or struggle at times in life. 

Illustration by Payton Turner

Illustration by Payton Turner


Middlesex- Jeffrey Eugenides

Gaining awareness of ways in which to navigate, understand, and support the transgender community is a discussion that was due LONG before the age of Transparent and Caitlyn Jenner. Middlesex, written in 2002, chronicles the emotions and intensely real human experience (family reactions, social stigmas, romantic relationships) that Calliope Stephanides undergoes in realizing her evolving gender identity and how who she is relates to the environment in which she was raised. 


Lolita-Vladimir Nabokov

A huge stigma of domestic violence is: Why doesn’t the person being abused just leave the abuser? It is hard to listen to and support a friend or loved one who cannot separate himself or herself from a negative situation. It is also difficult to witness abused individuals who choose to go back to an abuser or who fall back into a cycle of abuse in a new relationship. By literally putting the reader in the mind of the predator, Lolita gives readers an understanding of the tactics that an abusive person can use to draw someone into an unhealthy relationship. Humbert Humbert is manipulative, charismatic, and preys on Lolita because she does not have support or protection. He threatens her of what he will do if she reveals the abuse and puts on a charming persona to win her back over when he feels he needs to. Supporting someone who is experiencing abuse is never easy, however having an informed sense of the complex emotions that the person is experiencing can assist the person in feeling understood and empowered to create a healthier and happier life for themselves.



Random Family is an eleven-year long non-fiction sweeping saga based around a reporter following two young girls coming of age in the Bronx. LeBlanc gives painfully raw insight into the reality of class injustice and the measures that individuals who are not allowed the luxury of a supportive environment take to simply survive. Random Family depicts how specific life events lead to homelessness or selling drugs in a way that makes the reader want to reach out and hug the main characters. If you’re considering volunteering your time to help those in need or entering a human services based profession, read this book first; you’ll view those around you in a whole new, multidimensional light. 



Caitlin is a social worker in Brooklyn, providing services in a supportive housing building, specifically in therapy and ADL support to at-risk populations (formerly homeless, those with HIV/AIDS, or individuals with severe mental health diagnoses).  She previously worked in a domestic violence shelter supporting survivors in their transition to leading sustainable, independent lives. 



by Eleanor Krisemen


Dare Me by Megan Abbott
Megan Abbott is the queen of the teenage suburban gothic, and Dare Me is her crowning achievement. Two high school cheerleaders, Beth and Addy, are best friends until the new cheer coach, alluring and young, takes one of them under her wing. But Coach Colette takes her friendship with Addy too far when she forces Addy to witness something—and to keep it secret. Abbott's writing is beautifully off-kilter, mimicking the splintering friendship, Addy's desperation and her wavering between loyalty and duty. 

Illustration by Julie Houts

Illustration by Julie Houts


Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? by Lorrie Moore
Beryl and Silsby were inseparable the summer of their fifteenth year—working at a mini golf course in upstate New York, radiant Sils dressed as Cinderella, plain-faced Beryl as a ticket taker. Sils pulls Beryl further and further into her own rebellion that summer, adding her deadbeat boyfriend to their twosome, sneaking the them both into clubs, but by the end of the summer, it is Sils who ends up in real trouble, and Beryl who emerges unscathed, narrating the novel as an adult with all the sharp, beautiful clarity she lacked at fifteen. 


Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward
Esch is fourteen, lives with her alcoholic father, her brothers and their pit bulls, and has just found out she's pregnant. She's trying to figure out who to tell and what to do, desperately wishing her mother was still alive. Meanwhile, in their small coastal Mississippi town, a storm of historic proportions is approaching—what will turn out to be Hurricane Katrina. As Esch—in all of her shifting, endearing bravado—and her family prepare, haphazardly, unknowingly, for the storm, she learns what it means to be a part of something bigger than yourself—and how to know when to leave something behind. 


A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews
Nomi Nickel belongs to a small Mennonite community in rural Canada. Her mother left the family years ago, and her rebellious older sister disappeared not long after. Nomi and her father, the town librarian, begin to alienate themselves--her father by accident, retreating into himself, and Nomi by design, shaving her head, staying out late and smoking weed with her boyfriend in the back of his pickup truck. Yet, a fragile bond links Nomi and her father—their improbable hope that the loves of their life will return, even when it becomes painfully clear that this won't happen. The dialogue pierces, like needles embroidering something beautiful.

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson
Julia has led a sheltered, ordinary life until age twelve, when the world stops working as it should. Deemed "the slowing" by the government, the earth's rotation has begun to lose speed. Day and night grow longer, the tides change, crops fail, people split into factions, and scientists try desperately to determine the cause—and find a fix. Julia's life acquires a new urgency, a new recklessness, and her small preteen rebellions take on a more poignant tone as she learns that some problems are too big for even adults to fix.


Eleanor Kriseman is a Florida native who now lives in Brooklyn and works as an assistant editor. She has been published in Joyland, Adult Magazine, The Billfold, The Butter, Vol. 1 Brooklyn's essay series, and Hobart Pulp, among other publications.