Ever felt like you just didn’t fit in? Whether it was just a moment of awkwardness or you’ve always been deeply iconoclastic, you’ll find something to identify with here. This week’s new works in our book club celebrate the weirdos, the questioners, the people who are slightly out of step with the norm.
1. The Misfit’s Manifesto by Lidia Yuknavitch ($11): “I’m not the story you made of me,” writes Lidia Yuknavitch. The author proudly calls herself a misfit, attempting to reclaim the word from years of abuse. Her book, based on her popular 2016 TED Talk, “The Beauty of Being a Misfit,” takes us through all the “mistakes” she’s made that caused her to become the person she is today. She’s not just talking about the feeling of awkwardness, which she says is the human condition. “When I say misfit,” she writes, “I’m talking about the fact that some of us just never found a way to fit in at all, from the get-go, all through our evolving lives, including the present tense. I’m talking about how some of us experience that altered state of missing any kind of fitting in so profoundly that we nearly can’t make it in life… But I’m not here to draw pity. Misfits, from my point of view, are everything. The world needs us. Here is the story of why.”
While her earlier autobiography, The Chronology of Water, presented her travails in a more conventional, sadder way, The Misfit’s Manifesto puts a positive, proud, and even sometimes funny spin on failed marriages, college dropouts, a drug addiction, rehab, a DUI, jail, a miscarriage and even an attempt at suicide. All these “failings,” she writes, have eventually shown her how to improve her life and be a better person to others. This doesn’t mean she endorses suffering (she says it’s “a crock of shit”), or that she won’t ever make a mistake again; she is a misfit, after all. It just makes her better-equipped to deal with life’s speed bumps.
In her book, Yuknavitch creates a place where misfits can belong, with empathetic chapters like “Bodies That Don’t Fit,” “Coloring (and Sometimes Living) Outside the Lines” and “The Misfit’s Journey (or Why the Hero’s Journey Bites),” as well as chapters that look forward, like “Not All Hope Comes from Looking Up,” “Standing Up Inside Your Dream,” and “Mistakes As Portals.” Warm and truthful, her words should appeal to anyone who’s not just having trouble fitting into the box, but even finding the box in the first place.
2. Us Kids Know by JJ Strong ($19): YA fiction is often the best place to look for misfits, because middle and high school are a microcosm for the real world. They’re where the popular kids and the misfits differentiate themselves from each other, and where many learn that life isn’t necessarily good or fair to those who stick out. Strong’s novel, set in nostalgic 2002, is narrated by three different misfits, all private-school kids with a public-school background, who come together in comforting and tragic ways.
“We all knew about Cullen Hickson.” Cullen is your resident 10 Things I Hate About You Heath Ledger-styled bad boy with a lot more going on underneath. He sees Brielle O’Dell, and his world stops: “based on absolutely no tangible information whatsoever I felt like she and I understood something important that nobody else at this dance understood — or would understand. In that one quick moment — a look, a smile, a wave — we transcended the night.” Brielle, the girl who “seemed to float above the ordinary, predictable nonsense,” starts her new private girls’ high school, Marymount, with aspirations of intellectual connection, but snaps her chance at popularity with an epically failed moment on the field hockey pitch. “Had I not decided — despite a total lack of experience with field hockey or any evidence that I would be even remotely good at it — that athletic involvement was an indispensable component of any serious student’s college application… who knows how things would have unfolded?”
Ray, Brielle’s brother, goes to St. John’s with Cullen, and is mercilessly bullied and beaten by a gang of boys headed by Nick O’Dwyer, who weighs far more than Ray’s 99 pounds and would “kick my ass or otherwise humiliate me whenever I failed to escape his sights,” Ray says. “The funny thing was that even though I hated every second I spent in his company, for a while Nick was pretty much the only guy in school with whom I interacted. Everyone else ignored me.” After the three teens unite, they find themselves acting out in ways that misfits often do, including daring more and more trouble with riskier and riskier incidents of crime. It’s addictive to finally fit in with someone, but the path they go down together might not be a happy one.
3. The Infinite Now by Mindy Tarquini ($17): Fiora Vincente has a lot of things going against her as she tries to fit in to Philadelphia society in 1918. At 16, she’s an orphan, losing both her parents to the bitter influenza epidemic. Her parents were Italian immigrants, so she has to deal with the prejudice others have for her background. Her brothers are away at the Western front of World War I. Also, she seems to have the ability to predict the future when she looks through a curtain her mother prized. All this leaves Fiora almost entirely alone, which soon provokes an extreme reaction.
“I was deposited at the old man’s door, wet, cold, and hungry, my possessions clutched in a blanket-wrapped bundle and my dignity in tatters. Brought there by the tailor’s wife, who worried about contagion.” Fiora is taken in by a shoemaker named Don Sebastiano that nobody seems to know anything about, but as he’s the only one willing to help her, she’s dependent upon his charity. Described as “Useful. Like an ugly scarf. Unwanted, but serviceable,” Fiora knows she’s more than she appears to be: “Little. Maybe. But I could eat as much as any boy. Two boys. And smart as three.” Her newfound power makes her realize she might be even more than that.
When she fears for a rare friend’s life, Fiora does something unimaginable: She somehow manages to stop time. Things go on as usual outside her community, but inside, things will go on in an infinite now, forever. It’s so very tempting to run and hide in the now when you’re lonely and the future seems uncertain. Fiora has to decide whether a life in stasis is going to continue, or if she’ll change the world.
What books really stand out from the crowd? Tag us in your next misfit read @BritandCo.
Brit + Co may at times use affiliate links to promote products sold by others, but always offers genuine editorial recommendations.