“What’s your favorite book?” This is one of the questions I get the most from people. And I have so many that I needed to start breaking them down by genre, or other ridiculously narrow categories so as to afford me more favorite slots, such as “My favorite book I read during the years I owned my Scion was…”
Since people have pointed out that favorite means ONE, and my overuse of it was rendering it meaningless, I have exchanged “favorite book” for books that “CYL,” or change your life.
Hands down, one of my absolute top three CYL books is Alicia: My Story by Alicia Appleman-Jurman. I’ve hesitated to write a post about it, because I know I cannot do it justice. But starting today, it is $1.99 on Kindle and other e-book versions. I don’t know how long that deal will last, but it has compelled me to finally post about it.
I love reading or watching anything about or set during WWII (see: shout out for The Book Thief, another CYL book). I also love memoirs and biographies. I also love books featuring strong female protagonists (Katniss was NOT the first, y’all). Alicia is all of those and more. I happened upon the book during a browsing session at Barnes & Noble on Shattuck Ave (we hardly knew ye). The title and cover don’t exactly scream, “Read Me,” but for whatever reason I picked it up, and boy, am I glad I ever did.
We were going through Ruth in our DTs at the time, and perhaps that colored my perspective as I got to know Alicia’s life story. As she lost each of her family members to the Nazis (I’m not giving away any spoilers, don’t worry), she continued to survive, with only her wits as well as the help of others. What was astounding was she didn’t allow her circumstances to overwhelm her or justify being selfish, but she continued to think of others. She ended up taking care of thousands of orphaned children, counseling them, mothering them, providing for them, when she herself had her own traumas and needs to tend to. All this would be admirable enough, but then every once in a while, she would mention things like, “I would soon be 14.” And you’re like…WHAAAAT?!?!
To date, reading Alicia the first time was one of the most moving reading experiences I have had. Alicia came to me at just the right time in my mid-20s. As I studied the life of Ruth, and got engrossed in the life of Alicia, I had this moment of, “My life is truly a picnic” and I committed to stop complaining about my life and how “hard” it was to deal with x, y, z first-world problem.
Then I proceeded to tell everyone around me to read it, and stocked up on copies to give away. I think Michelle from Gracepoint San Diego church was one of the first. And she couldn’t put the book down either! She would read it while Stephen was at soccer practice. 🙂 Over the years I have gifted it to many people, sometimes with a forceful, “You HAVE to read this.” Some people I remember for sure are Sandra from Gracepoint Davis church, Mia and Susan from Gracepoint Minneapolis church, Lydia from Gracepoint Los Angeles church, Anna, Christine, Hannah, Elise, pretty much any of my housemates over the years, and countless others…you can try asking random sisters if they’ve read it if you want to find out how they liked it! I think I’ve recommended it to many brothers as well. 🙂
While the book isn’t as well known as Night by Elie Wiesel, it is every bit as worthwhile a read. Alicia settled in the Bay Area when she came to the U.S., and devoted her life to sharing her story as a survivor of the Holocaust, especially with students. I therefore had the opportunity to meet Alicia in 2003, when she came to speak at the high school where I used to teach. It was before the era of always having a camera with me, so I do not have a photo of our meeting. But to prove that you can remember a life experience without a photo, I can still feel the firmness of her handshake and the attentive focus of her eyes as we had a short exchange, and I was able to express a bit of how her courage inspired me and so many others I have passed her story onto.
All this to say, I highly recommend this book for anyone who is in about 5th grade and up!
Have you read Alicia: My Story? Were you one of the ones I “forced” to read it? What books have “changed your life”?