The Books Briefing, a column by Sriya Tallapragada ’25, aims to recognize the connections we form through literature, and provide book recs that help us navigate the world of high school. Outside of school, Sriya is a student journalist for PBS Newshour, where she covers education and policy, and she has also written numerous columns for The Star-Ledger. In school, she is an assistant editor for The Pingry Record, a member of the American Modernism hIRT (Humanities Independent Research Team), and a self-proclaimed book lover.
The Books Briefing
On February 13, 2016, I was a third grader, scared of one thing. It wasn’t learning multiplication tables, or memorizing the numbers in Spanish, or what I would buy for the hot lunch in my school’s cafeteria the next day. It wasn’t even the mile run I had to complete in gym class (although, based on my time, it probably should’ve been). Instead, a single question kept me up at night: How will I make 25 valentines for the rest of my fourth-grade class by tomorrow?
Any elementary schooler will tell you that Valentine’s Day is a daunting idea. The local grocery store on February 13 is often flooded with frantic parents looking for a pack of plastic valentines, saying something like, “You always know how to make everything butter!” or “You have a pizza my heart!” However, I knew I would not want to buy valentines—not in this economy! So, I locked myself inside my childhood bedroom and pulled my first all-nighter, staring down a pile of pink construction paper.
Seven years later, there’s so much to love about February 14—eating an assortment of wrapped chocolates, reading “punny” cards, and being in the middle of the week. Here are my top recs for books that focus on romantic and platonic relationships, covering the good, the bad, and the ugly.
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Although I never thought historical fiction would be my favorite genre, All the Light We Cannot See might just change things. Set during World War II, the main characters lead very different lives: Marie Laure, a blind French girl, and Werner, a radio expert in the German army. Through flashbacks and oscillating between the characters’ perspectives, the author really does “show, not tell” how this relationship organically grows. A mystery about a magic gem allows the characters to connect, and as a result, the carefully crafted moments between Marie Laure and Werner surpass the stereotypical love story. As the title suggests, the book is centered around the concept of light as a means of love for Marie Laure, truth for Werner, and, for the readers, a representation of the intrinsic good in people that Valentine’s Day is supposed to celebrate.
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, at surface level, does not seem like a good book for Valentine’s Day. After all, it is pretty disturbing, with a heavy amount of focus on human suffering, pain, and abuse. In it, four roommates at an Eastern college move to New York City and find success. The book follows their relationship as one of the main characters (J.B.) struggles with drug addiction and a dark past of abuse. The book depicts friendship as healing in an ugly world despite fights, career struggles, and miscommunication. It shows how the friends support J.B. and grow together, including a compelling quote about the power of friendship: “The only trick of friendship, I think, is to find people who are better than you are—not smarter, not cooler, but kinder, and more generous, and more forgiving—and then to appreciate them for what they can teach you, and to try to listen to them when they tell you something about yourself, no matter how bad—or good—it might be, and to trust them, which is the hardest thing of all. But the best, as well.”
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Every book blogger on the internet seemed to be raving about this book, and when I finally read it over the summer, I was not disappointed. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo' grapples with the scandalous life of Evelyn Hugo, a painfully human, complex character, as she rises from an abusive childhood to one of Hollywood’s biggest stars. The book sheds light on complex social themes like the struggles for women trying to break into the entertainment industry and the general fear of being a member of the LGBTQ+ community in the 1900s. The plot is centered around Evelyn’s dead seven husbands, but at its core, the book is a love letter to Evelyn’s one true love: Cecilia St. James. This book is perfect for a Valentine’s Day read: cutthroat power, a fast-paced world, and a forbidden romance.
Author photo by The Flex photographer Aiden de Asla '24
To contact the author, please email: Sriya Tallapragada ’25