In case you’re new to the Pond’s book recommendation posts, the recommendation posts are brought to you by Varian, the Pond’s very own Toadshifter who is knowledgeable in all kinds of magic! One of Varian’s ambitions is to get better at sewing, hence why whenever Varian has come up with their latest costume, they will always recommend a few books that inspired them!
Reading can be hard. When life becomes overwhelming and the world starts falling apart around us, sometimes we don’t really want our stories to also be about a squad of rebellious teens leading revolutions and defending the world from apocalyptic threats or corrupt governments. Sometimes, we just need a story to help us be warm for a while, to be soft places to land.
So here we go, friend, this is a list of books that feel like the equivalent of a hug at the end of a long day, a cup of steaming tea, a bowl of hot noodle soup. They’re hopeful, joyful books; books that can be a reprieve throughout the storm and allow us a space to rest and recuperate. We’ve also tried our best to recommend books that are safe and diverse, too: ones that don’t contain unnecessary bigotry as lessons for the protagonists (or for the reader!). Whether you’re looking for a new comfort book or just want something sweet to help you get over a massive book hangover, the Pond has you covered today!
Pilu of the Woods by Mai K. Nguyen
A heartwarming story of friendship, loss, and finding your way home from debut author/illustrator Mai K. Nguyen!
Willow loves the woods near her house. They’re calm and quiet, so different from her own turbulent emotions, which she keeps locked away. When her emotions get the better of her one day, she decides to run away into the woods.
There, she meets Pilu, a lost tree spirit who can’t find her way back home—which turns out to be the magnolia grove Willow’s mom used to take her to. Willow offers to help Pilu, and the two quickly become friends.
But the journey is long, and Pilu isn’t sure she’s ready to return home yet—which infuriates Willow, who’s determined to make up for her own mistakes by getting Pilu back safely. As a storm rages and Willow’s emotions bubble to the surface, they suddenly take on a physical form, putting both girls in danger… and forcing Willow to confront her inner feelings once and for all
Skye: Pilu of the Woods is a lush, adorable little graphic novel about a girl who meets a lost forest spirit and helps her find her way back home.
- I really loved how this book’s core conflict comes from Willow, our protagonist, struggling to express her emotions after the recent passing of her mother. She ends up keeping all her negative emotions, which are embodied as little blob monsters, bottled up in literal jars. The forest spirit Pilu also has issues of her own, and as the two girls bond, they also learn how to navigate these negative emotions and reconcile with the people they love.
- Friends, the art is so adorable. The comic’s full-color illustrations are detailed and so full of personality, and I genuinely wish I could live in the beautiful, warm world of this story. I also really enjoyed all the little nature knowledge tidbits embedded in the story as Willow and Pilu make their way back to the grove!
- This book also has the cutest dog you ever did see. I would give my life up for Chicory.
Fly on the Wall by Remy Lai
In Fly on the Wall, a moving and hilarious illustrated novel from the critically-acclaimed author of Pie in the Sky, a twelve-year-old boy goes on a (forbidden) solo journey halfway around the world to prove his independence to his overprotective family.
Henry Khoo’s family treats him like a baby. He’s not allowed to go anywhere without his sister/chaperone/bodyguard. His (former) best friend knows to expect his family’s mafia-style interrogation when Henry’s actually allowed to hang out at her house. And he definitely CAN’T take a journey halfway around the world all by himself!
But that’s exactly his plan. After his family’s annual trip to visit his father in Singapore is cancelled, Henry decides he doesn’t want to be cooped up at home with his overprotective family and BFF turned NRFF (Not Really Friend Forever). Plus, he’s hiding a your-life-is-over-if-you’re-caught secret: he’s the creator of an anonymous gossip cartoon, and he’s on the verge of getting caught. Determined to prove his independence and avoid punishment for his crimes, Henry embarks on the greatest adventure everrr. . . hoping it won’t turn into the greatest disaster ever.
CW: Heartfelt and sensitive, Fly on the Wall is a lovely and fun story about finding your independence, expressions of love, and family.
- This book is formatted like a diary, and I really enjoyed that! Paired with a story written at middle-grade level, this book is filled with Remy’s drawings of Henry and his adventures. The illustrations are so delightful and convey feeling so well.
- Remy has this way of writing stories that are so incredibly charming and funny (like, laugh out loud funny!) but will make you cry or make your heart ache in the next page.
- It also tackles friendships and change – specifically how Henry’s friendship with his best friend changes.
Eva Evergreen, Semi-Magical Witch by Julie Abe
Sometimes all you need is a pinch of magic…
Eva Evergreen is determined to earn the rank of Novice Witch before she turns thirteen years old. If she doesn’t, she’ll lose her magic forever. For most young witches and wizards, it’s a simple enough test:
ONE: Help your town, do good all around.
TWO: Live there for one moon, don’t leave too soon.
THREE: Fly home by broomstick, the easiest of tricks.
The only problem? Eva only has a pinch of magic. She summons heads of cabbage instead of flowers and gets a sunburn instead of calling down rain. And to add insult to injury, whenever she overuses her magic, she falls asleep.
When she lands on the tranquil coastal town of Auteri, the residents expect a powerful witch, not a semi-magical girl. So Eva comes up with a plan: set up a magical repair shop to aid Auteri and prove she’s worthy. She may have more blood than magic, but her “semi-magical fixes” repair the lives of the townspeople in ways they never could have imagined. Only, Eva’s bit of magic may not be enough when the biggest magical storm in history threatens the town she’s grown to love. Eva must conjure up all of the magic, bravery, and cleverness she can muster or Auteri and her dreams of becoming a witch will wash away with the storm.
CW: Looking for a delightful and fun middle-grade fantasy that is sweet, brimming with optimism and light, led by an empowering young witch? Then you’ll love Eva Evergreen, Semi-Magical Witch.
- The world of this book is wonderfully realised and has a hint of Japanese influence. Readers will delight in how imaginative, charming, and visual the storytelling is.
- Eva Evergreen is such a wonderful character and I loved her. She faces many adversaries, doubts herself, and has many vulnerable moments, but I loved how the story embraces the validity of these doubts while also being incredibly empowering and heart-warming.
What I loved about Eva Evergreen was how it’s about fighting people’s expectations of you and doing your best anyway and celebrates the friendships that empower us.
Stargazing by Jen Wang
Moon is everything Christine isn’t. She’s confident, impulsive, artistic . . . and though they both grew up in the same Chinese-American suburb, Moon is somehow unlike anyone Christine has ever known.
When Moon’s family moves in next door to Christine’s, Moon goes from unlikely friend to best friend―maybe even the perfect friend. The girls share their favorite music videos, paint their toenails when Christine’s strict parents aren’t around, and make plans to enter the school talent show together. Moon even tells Christine her deepest secret: that she sometimes has visions of celestial beings who speak to her from the stars. Who reassure her that earth isn’t where she really belongs.
But when they’re least expecting it, catastrophe strikes. After relying on Moon for everything, can Christine find it in herself to be the friend Moon needs?
Skye: From the author of the very popular comic The Prince and the Dressmaker, Stargazing is a very sweet and heartfelt graphic novel about two lonely kids coming together, friendship, and Asian American community.
- Christine and Moon are both Chinese-American girls from very different families: Christine plays the violin and attends church with her family on Sunday, while Moon is confident, artistic, loves K-Pop dances, and sometimes gets visits from celestial spirits who tell her she belongs in the stars.
- The story tackles bullying, class issues and parental expectations, especially as Moon is occasionally othered by the rest of her peers in school for being ‘a different kind of Asian kid’. All the characters feel very true-to-life and believable, which also made the themes feel that much more poignant when they were resolved.
- The way the kids and community came together in the end was so heartwarming!!! I was emo for days after the ending basically made me cry.
Sal and Gabi Break the Universe by Carlos Hernandez
Among the ashes of a dying world, an agent of the Commandant finds a letter. It How did a raw chicken get inside Yasmany’s locker?
When Sal Vidon meets Gabi Real for the first time, it isn’t under the best of circumstances. Sal is in the principal’s office for the third time in three days, and it’s still the first week of school. Gabi, student council president and editor of the school paper, is there to support her friend Yasmany, who just picked a fight with Sal. She is determined to prove that somehow, Sal planted a raw chicken in Yasmany’s locker, even though nobody saw him do it and the bloody poultry has since mysteriously disappeared.
Sal prides himself on being an excellent magician, but for this sleight of hand, he relied on a talent no one would guess . . . except maybe Gabi, whose sharp eyes never miss a trick. When Gabi learns that he’s capable of conjuring things much bigger than a chicken–including his dead mother–and she takes it all in stride, Sal knows that she is someone he can work with. There’s only one slight problem: their manipulation of time and space could put the entire universe at risk.
A sassy entropy sweeper, a documentary about wedgies, a principal who wears a Venetian bauta mask, and heaping platefuls of Cuban food are just some of the delights that await in this mind-blowing novel gift-wrapped in love and laughter.
CW: Looking for a book that will make you laugh with its wit, wild shenanigans, and chaos? Sal and Gabi Break the Universe is one of my favourite books of all time and I cannot recommend this book enough if you are looking for a wholesome read.
- I can’t even really describe what this book is about – and I mean that in a good way. I mean, it’s about friendship, it’s about family, it’s about grappling with grief, and it’s about parallel universes. This book throws you into the deep end (or, Sal’s third day in his new school) and takes you for a wild ride.
- This book is just incredibly clever and witty. I laughed SO MUCH reading this book – the humour is absolutely on point and I laughed so much. This is also a book where the children are absolutely smarter than the adults, and it is glorious and hilarious.
- While this book is, for the most part, light-hearted and feels so homey with so much Cuban culture and Cuban mothers who want to feed you, there are also some emotional moments too.
Séance Tea Party by Reimena Yee
Lora doesn’t want to grow up! Afraid that she is the magic of her childhood, Lora will do anything to stop it . . . including befriending Alexa, the ghost who haunts her house. A middle-grade graphic novel that focuses growing up and what that means for you and all the relationships you have in your life. This book is perfect for fans of Ghosts and Making Friends.
Growing up sounds terrible.
No one has time to do anything fun, or play outside, or use their imagination. Everything is suddenly so serious. People are more interested in their looks and what others think about them than having fun adventures. Who wants that?
After watching her circle of friends seemingly fade away, Lora is determined to still have fun on her own. A tea party with a twist lease Lora to discovering Alex, the ghost that haunts her house — and Lora’s old imaginary friend! Lora and Alexa are thrilled to meet kindred spirits and they become best friends . . . but unfortunately, not everything can last forever.
Reimena Yee brings to life a story about growing up, childhood, and what it means to let go. A fantastical story following lovable characters as they each realize what it means to be who you are.
Skye: Séance Tea Party is a coming-of-age story in the truest sense, and I will be yelling about this book until it gets the recognition it DESERVES.
- Follows Lora, a Malaysian teen, as she befriends a ghost girl during a séance one day in her room. This new friendship comes at a perfect time in Lora’s life, as she begins to worry about her real-life relationships changing and evolving as everyone around her grows up.
- This is a graphic novel about the all-too-familiar angst that accompanies our awkward teenage years. It is also a story about the beauty of aging, and why it’s a blessing to be able to grow old—and how wonderful it is to have a life full of magic and love to look forward to, no matter the age. I don’t want to spoil too much of the storyline here, but trust me, this one’s a tearjerker! Even CW was crying while writing her short Goodreads review.
- Additionally, I don’t think I will ever get over just how warm and whimsical Reimena’s art is. The colors in Séance Tea Party are autumny and a little witchy, and it was such a treat to be able to just vibe in the world that they’ve created.
I Love You So Mochi by Sarah Kuhn
Kimi Nakamura loves a good fashion statement.
She’s obsessed with transforming everyday ephemera into Kimi Originals: bold outfits that make her and her friends feel like the Ultimate versions of themselves. But her mother disapproves, and when they get into an explosive fight, Kimi’s entire future seems on the verge of falling apart. So when a surprise letter comes in the mail from Kimi’s estranged grandparents, inviting her to Kyoto for spring break, she seizes the opportunity to get away from the disaster of her life.
When she arrives in Japan, she’s met with a culture both familiar and completely foreign to her. She loses herself in the city’s outdoor markets, art installations, and cherry blossom festival — and meets Akira, a cute aspiring med student who moonlights as a costumed mochi mascot. And what begins as a trip to escape her problems quickly becomes a way for Kimi to learn more about the mother she left behind, and to figure out where her own heart lies.
Skye: When I first thought about writing a book recommendation post filled with joyful, wholesome books, I immediately knew I had to include I Love You So Mochi. This sugary romance is just as sweet as the desert it’s named after, and if you are ever in-need of a quick and delightful pick-me-up: this is the precise book you want to turn to.
- The romance is so cute. Like guys. Kimi, our protagonist, meets a boy dancing in a big mochi mascot costume trying to promote his family’s mochi stand. And then he accidentally falls over when he gets distracted by Kimi and has trouble getting up again because his costume is so round. I wanted to cry at how adorable everything was.
- The book also explores some really interesting themes surrounding family relationships, especially with regards to Kimi’s grandparents! I love that the book is sweet and earnest without ever feeling melodramatic or overly cloying—it is the perfect mixture of slice-of-life wholesomeness and compelling character interactions as Kimi as she tries to figure out what she wants to do with her life. I need the movie (or even comic/manga) adaptation of this book LIKE AIR.
You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson
Liz Lighty has always believed she’s too black, too poor, too awkward to shine in her small, rich, prom-obsessed midwestern town. But it’s okay — Liz has a plan that will get her out of Campbell, Indiana, forever: attend the uber-elite Pennington College, play in their world-famous orchestra, and become a doctor.
But when the financial aid she was counting on unexpectedly falls through, Liz’s plans come crashing down . . . until she’s reminded of her school’s scholarship for prom king and queen. There’s nothing Liz wants to do less than endure a gauntlet of social media trolls, catty competitors, and humiliating public events, but despite her devastating fear of the spotlight she’s willing to do whatever it takes to get to Pennington.
The only thing that makes it halfway bearable is the new girl in school, Mack. She’s smart, funny, and just as much of an outsider as Liz. But Mack is also in the running for queen. Will falling for the competition keep Liz from her dreams . . . or make them come true?
Skye: You Should See Me in a Crown was one of my absolute favorite YA contemporaries of 2020, and for very good reason.
- The heartfelt story follows the adventures of bright, ambitious band kid Liz Lighty as she contends for prom queen in her small (and mostly white) town of Campbell, Indiana—hoping to score the illustrious financial aid promised to prom royalty in order to secure a place in her dream school to pursue medicine.
- Along the way, she falls for new kid and fellow prom-queen-competitor Mack. While their adorable sapphic romance blossoms, she grapples with the effort of carving out a space for herself in a place that isn’t meant for her.
- I thought this book was such a faithful and true representation of how fighting for yourself can be empowering and fulfilling, but also exhausting. The story is so warm and so engaging, and all the core characters are incredibly lovable and easy to root for.
If you’re in the mood for something a little more light-hearted but still immensely compelling, you absolutely cannot go wrong with Liz’s story. I’m so glad that teens—especially queer Black girls—growing up today will have this book.
A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow by Laura Taylor Namey
For Lila Reyes, a summer in England was never part of the plan. The plan was 1) take over her abuela’s role as head baker at their panadería, 2) move in with her best friend after graduation, and 3) live happily ever after with her boyfriend. But then the Trifecta happened, and everything—including Lila herself—fell apart.
Worried about Lila’s mental health, her parents make a new plan for her: Spend three months with family friends in Winchester, England, to relax and reset. But with the lack of sun, a grumpy inn cook, and a small town lacking Miami flavor (both in food and otherwise), what would be a dream trip for some feels more like a nightmare to Lila…until she meets Orion Maxwell.
A teashop clerk with troubles of his own, Orion is determined to help Lila out of her funk, and appoints himself as her personal tour guide. From Winchester’s drama-filled music scene to the sweeping English countryside, it isn’t long before Lila is not only charmed by Orion, but England itself. Soon a new future is beginning to form in Lila’s mind—one that would mean leaving everything she ever planned behind.
CW: Love baking, cosy sweaters, and a girl who spends her summer abroad mending her broken heart? A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow is a cute and cosy read that is gentle and gorgeous.
- Despite its discussion about grief and mental health, this book feels like a balm for the soul – soothing, comforting, and so tender in its portrayal of healing.
- The romance in this book is so gentle and lovely, and I loved the gradual way the two characters start to fall for one another.
- If you love books about baking, then this book will delight you – and also make you so hungry. Lila is a gorgeous protagonist and also a talented baker. Her creations will have you running to your closest bakery!
Seven Tears at High Tide by C. B. Lee
The sea holds many secrets …
Kevin Luong walks to the ocean’s edge with a broken heart. Remembering a legend his mother told him, he lets seven tears fall into the sea. “I just want one summer—one summer to be happy and in love.”
Instead, he finds himself saving a mysterious boy from the Pacific—a boy who later shows up on his doorstep professing his love. What he doesn’t know is that Morgan is a selkie, drawn to answer Kevin’s wish.
As they grow close, Morgan is caught between the dangers of the human world and his legacy in the selkie community to which he must return at summer’s end.
CW: Seven Tears at High Tide is the very definition of ‘wholesome’. It’s heartmelting, soft, and just so sugary sweet and lovely.
- The romance between Kevin and Morgan, a selkie turned boy who transforms to fulfill Kevin’s wish to have happiness and love in the summer, is so pure and lovely. I squealed so many times.
- I love that this story feels like a tribute to the sweetness of summer love, the wonder of youth, and the difference between falling in love and being in love. There’s innocence in the story, but it is lovely.
- There’s a whole family dynamic that is so supportive of Kevin, and there’s also exploration of safe sex as well.
Tokyo Ever After by Emiko Jean
Izumi Tanaka has never really felt like she fit in—it isn’t easy being Japanese American in her small, mostly white, northern California town. Raised by a single mother, it’s always been Izumi—or Izzy, because “It’s easier this way”—and her mom against the world. But then Izzy discovers a clue to her previously unknown father’s identity… and he’s none other than the Crown Prince of Japan. Which means outspoken, irreverent Izzy is literally a princess.
In a whirlwind, Izzy travels to Japan to meet the father she never knew and discover the country she always dreamed of. But being a princess isn’t all ball gowns and tiaras. There are conniving cousins, a hungry press, a scowling but handsome bodyguard who just might be her soulmate, and thousands of years of tradition and customs to learn practically overnight.
Izzy soon finds herself caught between worlds, and between versions of herself—back home, she was never “American” enough, and in Japan, she must prove she’s “Japanese” enough. Will Izumi crumble under the weight of the crown, or will she live out her fairytale, happily ever after?
CW: If you ever watched The Princess Diaries and hoped that you were like Mia, then you will adore Tokyo Ever After, which has the lost princess trope and also a bodyguard-royal romance!
- This book is so sweet and silly and is absolutely not to be taken too seriously. This is the sort of book that you curl up with on a rainy day, to feel the sunshine and warmth of first love, self-discovery, and silly shenanigans.
- The royal/bodyguard romance was just so fluffy and ridiculous and silly. If you love super tropey stuff with no unwanted surprises, you’ll find this really satisfying.
- I loved Izumi’s feminist mother, her shy and hesitant father who is really trying to do his best. The parental bonds that Izumi has with both parents is different – but I really enjoyed it.
Like a Love Song by Gabriela Martins
Fake boyfriend. Real heartbreak?
Natalie is living her dream: topping the charts and setting records as a Brazilian pop star…until she’s dumped spectacularly on live television. Not only is it humiliating—it could end her career.
Her PR team’s desperate plan? A gorgeous yet oh-so-fake boyfriend. Nati reluctantly agrees, but William is not what she expected. She was hoping for a fierce bad boy—not a soft-hearted British indie film star. While she fights her way back to the top with a sweet and surprisingly swoon-worthy boy on her arm, she starts to fall for William—and realizes that maybe she’s the biggest fake of them all. Can she reclaim her voice and her heart?
Skye: This cute and queer Latinx romance has been highly anticipated by so many readers ever since it was announced, and it is FINALLY releasing next week! I absolutely cannot wait to dive into it when it arrives. What a treat it will be too: fake-dating between a famous Brazilian pop star and a Soft Bi™ English actor, Hollywood shenanigans, and an intersectional cast of queer characters? It sounds so joyful already. 🥺
Thank you so much for reading, friends! I hope today’s post has helped you find a new joyful book to read this season, and hope that you’re keeping safe and well regardless. ❤
- What are your personal all-time favorite comfort books?
- Have you read any of the books on the list? Feel free to gush about them with us!