Warning: Extremely long post with many spoilers ahead. Grab a snack and tread carefully.
This resurgence of Avatar: The Last Airbender recently makes my heart sing! This series has been very important to me for an incredibly long time. I love to see so many people discovering this work of art. I also love to see so many others rekindle the flame, and fall in love with the show all over again.
Regardless if you are a new fan of A:tLA or an old one, we all can appreciate the rich world and extremely well-written characters the writers gave us. In honor of these great characters, I've put together a list of book recommendations inspired by our beloved Team Avatar and Company. Of course, there's no way I could feasibly list every character in the show. This post would get super long! Please don't be offended if I've left out a character you love!
Without further ado... let's get into it!
Aang is the perfect character to play the lead role of this show! His childlike innocence and comedic charm set the tone from the very first episode. Aang faces one of the most important roles a person could ever play in this world, and he handles it exactly how you'd expect a kid to! It's heart-wrenching to have to watch Aang come to terms with his impending battle with Fire Lord Ozai. I can't help but feel torn just as he is when Aang learns he is destined to take another person's life. My heart goes out to Aang's plight,
and I could never, in a million years, truly understand how hard this fate would be to face.
I Recommend Scythe by Neal Shusterman
Hundreds of years from now, death has been eradicated. There is no more disease, war, pain, malnourishment, or murder. Humankind can live forever, with no fear of death. That is, unless a Scythe should decide to glean them. The Scythedom exists to cause non-biased death throughout society, in order to keep natural order and protect the world from potential overpopulation.
Citra and Rowan are both chosen as a Scythe's apprentices. To their horror, they must master the intricate arts of the Scythedom, and learn to take a human life. Their intense loathing of the roles thrust upon them is the very thing that makes them perfect for the job. Like Aang in A:tLA, they must come to terms with the very real fact that they must end another human's life, regardless of their morals and upbringing. Oh, did I mention there was a life-or-death competition? There's that too... THIS SERIES IS SO GOOD!
Katara is such a strong and dynamic character. Out of all of the characters in Avatar, I think she undergoes the most hardships and subplots. (Besides all of the times Momo wanders off and gets into trouble.) If there's any one book that can encompass all of her strife, I've yet to read it. However, I've found that there are books that can shed light on specific story-arcs of Katara's.
I Recommend What Red Was by Rosie Price
Kate Quail meets the charming and charismatic Max Rippon in their freshman year of film school. She soon finds her life drastically changing as she enters the wonderfully gilded world of the Rippon family. Like when Katara meets Aang, she is whisked away from the comforts of her home and instead goes on a kind of social adventure through the intricacies of the famous and wealthy Rippon family circles.
These new comforts and loved ones come crashing down around Kate in one fell swoop. During a party at the Rippon's home, her life as she knows it is ripped from her in a bedroom while the party rages on below. Now Kate is left to grapple with the effects of trauma, secrets, and an intense fear of speaking out against her attacker.
Not that this subject is something Katara has undergone, but Kate's internalized pain mirrors that of Katara's towards the death of her mother. Both women undergo a huge metamorphosis under a mirage of emotional milestones. Both of these characters have extremely powerful stories and dynamic growth.
Oh, good ol' Sokka...
Sokka is almost always the punchline to Team Avatar's jokes, and is often abused by the writers for comedic relief. This role that Sokka plays is incredibly important in keeping the dynamic of the show in balance, but I think people forget some of the more serious and touching storylines of Sokka's. In reality, he is one of the most tender-hearted and compassionate characters in A:tLA, and he deserves more recognition!
I Recommend Last Night in Montreal by Emily St John Mandel
Lilia has secrets hidden within layers of difficult anecdotes from her childhood. Eli knows this, but he doesn't push for details. He knows she is going to leave him. Lilia's told him so herself. However, when she makes her silent departure from their tiny apartment in New York, Eli refuses to accept his loss. He follows her. He follows her all the way to Montreal.
Last Night in Montreal is told in this beautifully bittersweet melancholy. As we unravel the devastating tale of Lilia, and sift through amnesia, bitterness, and deep-rooted hurt, Mandel takes us through a wide spectrum of emotional twists and turns.
Though it seems like a stretch of a recommendation, I think this book perfectly captures the emotions we felt with Sokka as Princess Yue transcended into the sky as the Moon Spirit. It's bitter and heartbreaking, but man, do you sometimes want to just revel in those feelings. This book will let you do just that.
Iroh is by far the coolest character in this whole show. This is not up for debate. This man can do anything. He is a man of a million skills and a million faces. He can go from quirky old man to an unstoppable one-man jailbreak within seconds. His wisdom is just as infinite as his passion for tea. His experiences are far too vast and full of depth to be properly explored during the show, but we know there's far more to Uncle Iroh than meets the eye.
I Recommend Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen
Does this recommendation surprise you? Let's unpack this a little bit. Water for Elephants follows one Jacob Jankowski. The novel opens up to Jacob at the ripe age of 93, in a nursing home, watching a circus tent being erected outside. Jacob then reminisces about his own experiences in the circus during the Depression. Suddenly orphaned, penniless, jobless, degree-less, 23 year-old Jacob hops a train and join a struggling circus as the veterinarian. There he meets a myriad of peoples and experiences that will change him forever.
Not much more to say, as this novel reads more like a memoir. However, the chapters where we visit elderly Jacob are extremely insightful. You get to see how the many experiences one has in youth, creates the person lying in a nursing home bed. 70 years later.
I like to imagine what Iroh's story would be like if it were told this way. We get glimpses of his experiences as a young adult, but oh how I would love to spend more time in his shoes. I think his life would be just as gritty and atmospheric of a read as Jacob Jankowski's. I will continue to silently wish for a novel or spin-off show... I'm still waiting...
What can I say that hasn't already been said? Zuko's arc is an emotional roller coaster. I cannot tell you how many times I've cried over Zuko's plight throughout the years. Now that I have you here, let me just say: Zuko and Katara should have ended up together! If you don't agree... FIND A DIFFERENT BLOG TO READ! (Just kidding... I still want you here. I appreciate you...)
I Recommend We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson
The world is ending. You see that red button? No, not that one, that one. Yeah, press it. Press it and the world will be safe from destruction.
Would you press it?
"Of course! Why wouldn't I?!"
Okay, but will Henry Denton? Henry Denton, who lost his boyfriend to suicide. Henry, who watches his grandmother's memories flutter away each day. Whose mother struggles to keep the house afloat after his father abandoned them. Whose brother made him the student-body punching bag and is now struggling to be a father figure for the family.
AHH this book gives me sooo many feelings, quite similarly to Zuko's story. Both Zuko and Henry must come to terms with depression, the difficulty of a life-altering choice, learning to love oneself, coming to terms with not being okay, learning to ask for help, coming to friends for support instead of isolating oneself, abusive parents, forgiveness, love for the elderly (or Uncle Iroh), and the concept of healing through expressing oneself. READ! THIS! BOOK!
Suki is one of many on the long list of strong, independent ladies in this show. I love it! I love how diverse Suki's roles within the series are. Sometimes she is full-on Kyoshi Warrior. Sometimes she is helping the poor and needy make it to Ba Sing Se. She also teams up with Team Avatar and kicks some wicked Fire Nation butts! I wish we could have followed Suki through some of these transitions. I bet she had undergone a lot of soul searching and self-finding during these adventures.
I Recommend 96 Words For Love by Rachel Roy and Ava Dash
I like to imagine Suki's inner-journey was a lot like Raya Liston's in 96 Words For Love.
Raya is all set to move away and attend UCLA in the coming semester. However, this new future feels like a cage she is working herself into. With the tragic death of her close grandmother, Raya makes a split second decision to attend her grandmother's beloved ashram in India. Raya hopes the trip will not only bring her closer to her lost grandmother, but ground and center her as she tries to discover where her path should lead.
Raya volunteers her time in a local school teaching the children to read. It's here she finds many new loves, such as for the sweet student with a fierce passion for reading, and for the mysterious boy who taught her the 96 words for love in Sanskrit.
This book also contains some extremely important and powerful commentary on the sex trafficking crisis in India. If you needed another reason to read this book, self-education is a great one!
Mai and Ty Lee
Mai and Ty Lee are two incredibly strong and baddass characters. They absolutely stand up on their own. I did not put them together for a recommendation to belittle them at all. I just happened to think of a book with two main characters that remind me of each of them.
I Recommend The Female of the Species by Mindy McGuiness
Three years ago, when Alex's older sister is murdered, the murderer walks free. Alex vows to never let the crime go unpunished. Alex knows how to kill. She doesn't regret this knowledge.
Now, Alex finds herself tangled up with the preacher's daughter, Peekay, while they volunteer together at the animal shelter, and the star athlete who turned his back the night of the murder. Alex knows the events of that night could unfold. She can't be trusted around others.
Alex is one of the most hardened teenage characters I've ever read. She reminds me a lot of Mai. In a similar vain, Peekay will do anything to stand out, and openly defies the stereotype of "the preacher's kid." It reminds me of Ty Lee's outburst by the fire while she explains why she joins the circus.
"My name is Toph because it sounds like tough. And that's just what I am"
An absolutely iconic and resilient character. However, I think many people forget that Toph, too, has an internal struggle she must come to terms with. Toph spends most of the series aching from the estrangement from her mother. In fact, this pain was so great, it lured her right into a trap in Ba Sing Se.
I Recommend Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon
I do want to preface, this book does have some content issues. Unfortunately, those issues are big spoilers. I'll just sum them up with one word: ablest. I don't think the author intended for any harmful content, but it must be recognized as potentially harmful.
Madeline suffers from Severe Combined Immunodeficiency, or better known as "Bubble Boy Syndrome." Essentially, Madeline is allergic to everything. She lives her whole life within the safe confines of her house, with little company besides her mother, doctor, and nurse. Her small world gets shaken up when a family moves in next door with a boy her age. This boy is going to be a disaster.
I'm not really a fan about romances, but this one really does work within the confines of the story. However, that is NOT the clincher that has me so emotionally tied up. It's Madeline's relationship her mother! I'd tell you why it's recommended with Toph's parental problems, but SPOILERS! You just have to go read it...
There is nothing scarier than a spoiled teenager with an antisocial disorder who's never heard the word "no." There are some pretty intriguing character studies on Azula, and if you too find her fascinating, I HIGHLY recommend you search them on YouTube.
Anywho, Azula is the most power hungry and driven character in this series. She's the scariest animated villain I think I've ever watched. (Or second, perhaps, to the Other Mother in Coraline.) I don't think Azula would have ever stopped fighting for what she wanted. If it weren't a kid's show, things would have gotten far more gruesome and shocking where she's involved.
I Recommend A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne
Maurice Swift is an aspiring author. Upon a chance meeting with renowned author, Erich Ackerman, Maurice learns that he will do whatever it takes to be successful. By use of charm, wit, and some level of seduction, we incredulously watch Maurice manipulate those around him for his own personal gain, other's perilous loss.
I read this book many years ago now, yet still my stomach twists at the thought of Maurice Swift. There have been many a crafty literary villain, but Maurice is so incredibly cold and devoid of morals. This read is a truly chilling experience. I think, sans the whole firebending thing, Maurice could give Azula a run for her diabolical money.
I hope you had as much fun reading these recommendations as I did writing them! The cast of Avatar: The Last Airbender is so near and dear to my heart. It's incredibly difficult to pick a favorite character out of the lot! I think if I HAD to chose, it'd be Zuko. However, Iroh is a very close second pick! Who is your favorite A:tLA character?