Young love can be so tough. Add on the layers of embarrassment, the trial and error, and of course, the insane self-discovery. Navigating adolescence isn’t easy. It can be a very confusing time. But, it can also be a very joyous time, too. A time of first love. Of relationships that you never forget.
And just as the first pangs of love are sweet, it’s often the loss that gets cemented into our brains and our hearts. It’s heartbreak that we remember, nurture, and nurse. It has long been the fuel of poets, screenwriters, and painters alike. It is the great equaliser. Expounding upon these themes, here is NBGA’s tiny list of books that capture the bitter-sweetness of first love and loss. Come prepared with tissues, is all I can say.
1. Crush by Richard Siken
First up: a collection of prose by American author and poet Richard Siken. Right off the bat, this is a book that changed me forever. Detailing the turbulence of being young and gay, the narrator details themes of trauma, loss, and heartbreak. This beautiful collection of poems stays with you long after you’ve read it. It’s the type of collection that you revisit again and again years down the line. It contains the type of words you want tattooed on you. If there’s one text in the whole world that epitomises the tender mourning heartbreak propels, it’s this wonderous collection of poems.Source: “Sometimes you get so close to someone, you end up on the other side of them.”
2. Nightwood by Djuna Barnes
No other modernist writer shaped the course of literature quite like the immaculate Djuna Barnes. Set in Paris in the 1920’s, Nightwood details the queer enclave of Paris’ left bank. Expounding upon a lesbian relationship, this short novel tells the story of the queer people that lived outside of society, in bars, in apartments, living their truth from sunset to sunrise. A magical read, and an essential read for knowing your lesbian and sapphic history.Source: “I will do something that she will never be able to forgive, then we can begin as strangers again.”
3. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
Expounding upon the dualities of a Vietnamese American identity, Ocean Vuong’s novel is a tender portrayal of race, sexuality, and adolescence. It’s written in an open-letter format to his illiterate mother. A gripping piece of Literature (with a capital L), the story traverses the inter-weaving narratives of his mother, grandmother, and younger self as they traverse the landscape of America in the 1990’s and early 2000’s. A stunning coming of age novel, Vuong captures the wonder of first love and loss in an arresting manner. A book that ought to be read and re-read, with every new love and every new heartbreak.Source: “Sometimes being offered tenderness feels like the very proof that you’ve been ruined.”
4. Love Is A Dog From Hell by Charles Bukowski
Love him or hate him, Bukowski is kind of a household name. And in this honest, somewhat disturbing collection of poems, he delivers some of his most intense work to date. Capturing the open wound that is heartbreak, he details the experience of what it is to be human within these pages. Sometimes his words are too frank, so much so, it’s jarring. But there is a raw truth he possesses, where he pierces your very psyche, to your core. He hands your battered heart back to you. And you won’t always like what he shows you. But for this reason it’s perhaps more necessary, and even beneficial, that he does. Must be read with a cigarette and wine.Source: “Your letters got sadder. Your lovers betrayed you. Kid, I wrote back, all lovers betray you.”
5. Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth by Warsan Shire
Warsan Shire is a poet that needs no introduction but I will give her one anyway. Having collaborated on Beyoncé’s Lemonade no less, her poetry debut is a haunting collection of pieces which expound upon the intergenerational trauma WOC face in life, love, and loss. Juxtaposing the intertwining narratives of war and heartbreak, these poems are so open, brutally honest, and so raw it’s overwhelming. To summarise the collection in one word: unforgettable.Source: “Did you tell people that songs weren’t the same as a warm body or a soft mouth? Miriam, I’ve heard people using your songs as prayer, begging god in falsetto. You were a city exiled from skin, your mouth a burning church.”