A Book About Someone Unlike Yourself: Picks for the TPL Reading Challenge 2021

March 15, 2021 | Wendy B.

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What does it mean to be like, or unlike, another person? 

In a way, it's a silly question. We're all alike: humans share about 99% of our genome with each other. We all sleep, and eat, and breathe oxygen, and feel comfortable at around 21 degrees Celsius. We all like sunsets, and hate egg salad. (I'm pretty sure.) And we're also all different: some of us had major surgeries as small children. Some of us live on boats. Some of us can hold our breath for extraordinary lengths of time. We're each born into a country, a culture, a family, a religion (or not), a caste; raised speaking a language, or several. 

Which is why I thought this category was interesting. Which qualities do you think are important in determining who is like you and who isn't? 

Some respondents chose personal traits: courage, musical talent. Others chose life circumstances: being abandoned in early childhood; becoming a cardiologist. In the end, I chose the last book that happened to come in for me on hold: Ms. Ice Sandwich, by Mieko Kawakami — because you can do that with this category. Does it fit? Let's see:

Ms Ice Sandwich

Ms. Ice Sandwich by Mieko Kawakami

The unnamed narrator of Ms. Ice Sandwich is a fourth grader living in a suburb in Japan, with his fortune-teller mother and his ailing grandmother. He has a budding crush on a convenience store clerk. And he likes egg sandwiches. (!!!) Unlike me on all counts!

On the other hand, he gets tongue-tied at inopportune moments, and finds happiness helping his friends pursue their quirky obsessions. So maybe he is like me?

Verdict: the egg sandwiches are a tie-breaker. He's different enough from me to count for this category. It's still a good book, though.

Other categories this book could work for:

  • A book that made you feel comforted or hopeful
  • A book about growing older
  • A book about love (not just the romantic kind)


Staff Picks

Here are some more takes on this category from library staff.


Gmorning, Gnight!: Little Pep Talks for Me & You by Lin-Manuel Miranda

My toddler can attest to that fact that I am not a Broadway music star. He says "All done!" when I try to reach the high note. Before Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda inspired folks on Twitter with his pep talks that are now available in a binge-worthy collection, Gmorning, Gnight! This collection paints a picture why this larger-than-life actor, singer, songwriter, rapper, composer, director, producer, author and playwright is a star. I recommend the audiobook version, since it's performed by Miranda himself, though you should simultaneously have the book in front of you so you can enjoy the illustrations by Jonny Sun.

"I hope you dream the best, coolest sh*t, let's go."

Other categories:

  • A book by two or more people
  • A book by or about someone you'd like to meet
  • A book that made you feel comforted or hopeful
  • A book about love (not just the romantic kind)
  • A book about someone who is living your dream
  • A book in a genre you've never read before

– Reagan, Librarian


The Revenant by Michael Punke

I'm reading The Revenant by Michael Punke (for the second time, I think). The main character is Hugh Glass, a frontiersman/trapper during the time of the fur trade. Besides not being male, I am also not particularly resourceful, clever or adventurous. In fact, I'm pretty sure I would die shortly after being left in the wilderness even if I was outfitted with all the necessary equipment. Maybe that's why I really admire Glass' will to survive and am in love with this novel.

– Lisa, Library Assistant

Long Way

A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley

Lost on the streets when he was five, and not knowing where he lived or his family name, Brierley survived weeks on the streets of Kolkata. He ended up in an orphanage and was adopted and sent to Australia. Using Google Earth when he was older, he found his home half the world away.

Have to say I have not lived a life like this young man at all.

Other categories:

  • A book that comforted you or hopeful
  • A book about someone you would like to meet
  • A book about your culture or heritage (perhaps)

– Katherine, Library Assistant


An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

This is a very well-written novel about a marriage on the brink, and has underlying commentary on the US justice and prison system. A young Black couple, Celestial and Roy, are newly married. Just as they were about to settle into their new life together, Roy is arrested and convicted for a crime that Celestial knows he didn't commit. Five years later, Roy's conviction is overturned, and he returns to Celestial to resume their life together, but Celestial is not in the same place that she was when they first got married. 

Other categories:

  • A book about love (not just the romantic kind)
  • A book about growing older

– Nalini, Branch Head


Heart: A History by Sandeep Jauhar

A non-fiction book about the history of the heart in medicine. It's fascinating to read about how we went from fear of it — the only treatment being to make the patient comfortable while they wait for inevitable death — to modern science, working on a fully artificial heart. Interwoven is Sandeep Jauhar's own journey of becoming a cardiologist and his own experiences treating heart patients. As an added bonus: the book made me consider taking better care of myself and made me more aware of my own cardiac health.

I am definitely not a cardiologist.

Other categories:

  • A book that is narrative non-fiction
  • A book about STEM
  • A book that is someone else's favourite
  • (if you're like me): A book that made you feel comforted or hopeful
  • A book with a one-word title (not counting the subtitle)
  • And hey, if non-fiction about medicine is new to you: A book in a genre you've never read before

– Pauline, Librarian

Thin Air

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer

This work of narrative non-fiction recounts one of the single deadliest days in Mount Everest history. Mountain climbing and particularly climbing Everest terrifies me, but as a climber himself Krakauer is able to give insight into what motivates people to tackle a climb like Everest.

Other categories:

– Myrna, Librarian


The Cancer Journals by Audre Lorde

This book was originally published in 1980 and it's only about 60 pages long in regular print. Audre Lorde shares excerpts from her diary documenting her battle and recovery from breast cancer, and the way she is treated by society. In between, she writes essays on feminism, being Black, being a woman, being a lesbian, being perceived as ill, disabled and more. At one point in the book she describes herself as "a Black woman warrior poet doing my work, come to ask you, are you doing yours?" Unlike Lorde, I am not Black, not a woman, not a poet... but I hope I am a warrior.

Other categories:

  • A true story written by an author with a disability

– Ames, Communications Officer


A Promised Land by Barack Obama

I don't usually read politician's books as I have already heard enough about them on the news and other platforms. Barack Obama though is different. My conclusions: from all the platforms that I have seen stories on him, he is a different kettle of fish. He seems kind, intelligent, down to earth, funny, leads by example, wise. I think it comes from his varied background, having lived in and visited more countries before becoming president than other candidates; his parents' marriage and relationship; and being brought up by his grandparents. Barack Obama is more than meets the eye, and you find that out by reading this book. Reading one chapter is like reading an entire book.

How is he unlike myself? I agree with all his ideals, politics, style. It's just that he used every measure possible, broke barriers, to carry those ideals to the White House. He has the courage to do that, whereas I prefer to voice my opinions in more ordinary ways.

– Despina, Librarian


Recommendations from Facebook

These are just a few of the books that the members of our Reading Challenge Facebook discussion group are reading and recommending! You can read the entire thread, even without a Facebook account.



What are you reading or recommending for "a book about someone unlike yourself"? Share below in the comments! Or join in at an upcoming Reading Challenge Online Book Discussion.