The world basically sucks right now, not going to lie. It can be easy to sink into a pessimistic attitude, but now it’s more important than ever to stay hopeful, which is why I’m recommending books with “hopepunk” themes.
What exactly is hopepunk? This term was coined by author Alexandra Rowland in 2017 as the antithesis to gritty, nihilistic “grimdark” that has been popularized through media like Game of Thrones or Breaking Bad. Instead of looking at a broken world and giving up or deciding to take advantage of it, hopepunk inspires change and resistance and, well, hope. As Rowland says, “It’s about DEMANDING a better, kinder world, and truly believing that we can get there if we care about each other as hard as we possibly can, with every drop of power in our little hearts.”
It’s Harry realizing that his greatest strength against Voldemort is his ability to love and to be loved. It’s Sam Gamgee telling Frodo that “there’s some good in this world, and it’s worth fighting for.” It’s Orpheus from Hadestown, who “could make you see how the world could be, in spite of the way that it is.” It’s the entire thesis of the show The Good Place. Hopepunk not childish or naive, because in my mind, fighting for a better future is one of the most radical and hopeful things you can do.
I think we could all use a little more hopepunk in our lives right now, so today I’m recommending six books with hopepunk themes that you might like to pick up.
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Look, maybe reading a book about a pandemic that wipes out 99% of humanity isn’t the best choice of reading material right now, but maybe it would be cathartic? Who knows. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately and oddly taking comfort from it.
Station Eleven is all about finding hope in the aftermath of a devastating event. Much of the story follows a traveling Shakespeare troupe that decides “survival is insufficient,” so they try to do more than simply survive. Society might have collapsed and they might be traveling from one starving community to another, but they’re determined to bring art and music and beauty back into the world, and that’s about the most hopepunk thing I can think of.
Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
One of the most famous quotes from this book is “History, huh? Bet we could make some.” And is here anything more hopepunk than a love story so powerful that it literally changes history for the better?
I’ve recommended this book approximately a million times in the last year, but if you’re still not convinced, I hope I can change your mind. This romance book following the First Son of the US and the Prince of England is just about as feel-good and hilarious as it gets. It’s a bit of wish fulfillment in terms of the current political situation, but it’s close enough to reality to feel like we can get there someday. And best of all, it presents love as a radical, worldchanging act, which feels like exactly what we need in the world right now.
An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green
You wouldn’t think that a book that’s all about aliens would actually be all about humanity, but here we are. An Absolutely Remarkable Thing follows a young woman who becomes famous after her video of a mysterious statue – thousands of which have suddenly appeared all over the world – goes viral.
Even though this book is largely about a slow alien invasion, its focus is on the ways that humans react to it, both good and bad. It portrays both the worst and the best of humanity at a time of crisis and uncertainty (sound familiar?) and shows the power that each of us has to impact the world around us. In April’s words, “Even on this most terrible days, even when the worst of us are all we can think of, I am proud to be a human.”
Like a Love Story by Abdi Nazemian
Does a book about an incurable illness that the government does little to prevent feel a little close to home right now? Maybe so. But if you need comfort that we’re going to get through this and come out the other side with a better, more loving world, then go read Like a Love Story.
This book is set in 1989 during the AIDs crisis in New York City, following a couple different teenagers all dealing with it in their own way. One of my favorite lines from the books is “love is our legacy,” which automatically makes it hopepunk. Sorry, I don’t make the rules. This book is all about history and hope and people fighting for a better world – a world in which they can love freely – and that sounds pretty great to me.
This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
Another love story that’s so powerful it changes history? Heck yes. In this sci-fi novella, two agents on the opposite side of a time war start writing letters to each other, and what began as taunts between enemies grows into something much more.
Honestly, every time I think about this book, I have to stop for a few moments to compose myself because it’s Too Much for my heart. Is there anything more beautiful than Red and Blue fighting to be together, showing that love is more powerful than war – more powerful than any other force? This book is proof that caring for others is a strength, rather than a weakness, and that’s hopepunk in a nutshell.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
You’d think that a book narrated by Death and set during one of the darkest periods in history would be as grimdark as it gets, but in fact, it’s the exact opposite. The Book Thief, which follows a young girl growing up in Nazi Germany, is all about the strength that humanity can show in the face of incredible adversity, which sounds pretty hopepunk to me.
This book isn’t the most happy and uplifting, as it doesn’t shy away from the worst that humanity has to offer. But it shows how there’s always good out there, no matter how bad it gets. There’s this quote from Death that I think sums it up pretty well: “I’m always finding humans at their best and worst. I see their ugly and their beauty, and I wonder how the same thing can be both.” If you haven’t already picked up The Book Thief, it might be the perfect thing right now.
I hope you’re all keeping safe out there and washing your hands a lot. Stay hopeful! ❤️
What books are you reading right now? What hopepunk books/shows/movies do you recommend?