Another reading year has come and gone in the blink of an eye, or rather, the quick turn of a page. I hope all you readers dove into some great books over the year. Even the clunkers that we get roped into reading are really gifts in disguise; they help us to appreciate the really outstanding books that come our way. I’m going to share with you my final reads for 2016 (it ended on a high-note, reading wise…yay!) and I hope that you will take the time to leave a comment or two and share some of your standouts from the year.
If you’re here for adult reading recommendations, savor this one while you can because it is the only adult book that I have read since September. Although, I have heard many argue that Prep straddles the line between Young Adult and Adult, and I think a solid case can be made for it as a teen book. I had once started it years ago, when it was first published in hardcover. I’m glad I came back to it. It’s an interesting coming of age story set in the enigmatic world of a New England boarding school. Narrator Lee is an unusual yet painfully accurate voice. Unlike her moneyed classmates, she is a scholarship student who constantly feels on the outside of everything, lacking the social status and social graces of the other more self-assured students. Ault, the prep school, is like a microcosm of society, a pressure cooker of emotions and not immune to racial and class conflicts. If you don’t mind quiet books with a somewhat frustrating narrator, you might enjoy Prep. I would also recommend reading it during the fall, the perfect time of year for a New England prep school book.
Raina Telgemeier is a force in children’s and tween publishing. Her graphic novels have been bestsellers and she has the distinction of reimagining one of my all-time favorite series, The Babysitter’s Club, as graphic novels. Ghosts is her most recent book and the first of Telgemeier’s that I read. Sisters Cat and Maya move with their parents to the coastal town of Bahia de la Luna. It’s not a pleasant change for older sister Cat, though she knows it’s necessary; the ocean air is better for Maya, who suffers from cystic fibrosis. The theme of mortality is woven throughout the story as it becomes evident that this small town is overrun by ghosts–friendly ghosts, but still ghosts. The book deals with mortality in a manner palatable for adolescents, using The Day of the Dead as a means for discussing the afterlife as a concept that’s not so scary. I wasn’t thrilled or captured by the story and I didn’t find the illustrations especially nuanced, but it was a fine read.
For me, Drama was a big step up from Ghosts (though Drama was published first, I read it after Ghosts). I devoured this graphic novel in one sitting. Callie has found her passion as a member of her middle school’s stage crew. As the set designer, she wants this year’s musical to be bigger and better than ever. However, she learns that the drama of the stage often finds its way into real life. This is a great read for middle schoolers and up, as it handles many of the typical adolescent benchmarks: crushes, girl drama, the questioning of one’s sexual identity, and the joy that comes from finding your niche, your “people.” It’s a great representation of LGBT youth. A fun read that’s honest and thoroughly enjoyable.
The Truth About Twinkie Pie is a fantastic middle grade/bordering-on-YA novel. Gigi and her adult sister, Didi, move from the south to a swanky Long Island town, all so 12-year-old Gigi can attend a prep school. Even though Didi wants her sister to focus on school (like always), Gigi’s new “recipe for success”‘ includes making friends, like the gorgeous and kind Trip. Gigi learns some shocking family truths and learns to navigate the economic differences between her and her friends. The folksy recipes add a ton of southern charm to this already charming and heartfelt novel. I couldn’t put it down!
Perry has been raised in a minimum security prison by his mother, an inmate. The prison is the only home he has ever known, and he has plenty of surrogate parents in the warden and the other inmates, who help raise him to become the open-minded and big-hearted boy that he is. Perry’s sense of home and security are ripped away when the new D.A. in town decides that a prison is not a suitable home for a child and brings Perry home to live with him and his family, threatening the upcoming parole of Perry’s mother. As Perry tries to make sense of the change and stay optimistic about his mother’s release, he also tries to get to the bottom of his mother’s crime, the details of which have been kept from him. Although I felt that Connor’s writing became a bit didactic (she is clearly trying to push for prison reform, an admirable cause though it conflicts with the integrity of the story at times), All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook is still a wonderfully unexpected and heartwarming book for middle schoolers. Perry shows us that kids are more than capable of dispensing wisdom and keeping an open, nonjudgmental mind.
A finalist for the 2017 William C. Morris YA Debut Award, this gorgeous book from first-time novelist Hitchcock is set in a time and place so specific and unfamiliar to my own experiences and background knowledge: 1970 Alaska. Hitchcock is a native Alaskan, which serves her well, as her descriptions are beautifully, finely wrought. It might sound crazy, but the story has texture–I just can’t think of a better word to describe its richness. A series of interconnected tales tell the hard-edged stories of teens living in a frontier that’s been tamed, but is still bubbling with danger, violence and the toils of hard, manual labor. Extra points for the evocative title!
Shockingly, Dear Mr. Henshaw has been my first experience reading a Beverly Cleary book. This iconic author is a Newbery and National Book Award. After reading Dear Mr. Henshaw, I can see why she is such a revered figure. Here, she tells the story of Leigh, a boy who is having a hard time coping with his parents’ divorce, his father’s absence, and his new school. Writing to his favorite author helps Leigh understand his emotions and get the courage to say how he really feels. A great book that doesn’t placate with simplistic answers, but gives children the tools they need to feel less alone.
I listened to The Serpent King as an e-audiobook via Overdrive, a great service that the library provides its users for free. It was an interesting experience to hear these three characters with distinct voices. In fact, I think that my fondness for the character of Travis has as much to do with the narrator’s reading as it does with Zentner’s portrayal of the teen. I appreciated this story of rural teens. Dil in particular, whose father is a disgraced evangelical known for using poisonous snakes to preach, represents a side of teenage life rarely seen in mainstream media.
When a ship carrying hundreds of boxed robots goes down, one robot survives and is accidentally activated on an isolated island. The robot, known as Roz, eventually makes friends with the island’s many animal inhabitants, leading to questions of nature versus nurture, “animal instincts,” conservation, and artificial intelligence. Although I appreciate the original concept and unorthodox narrative, it just wasn’t my kind of story. Pardon the pun, but I found the writing to be robotic; I was unable to connect to the characters and story.
Two teenagers–one a science-minded realist and the other a hopeless poet–meet cute in NYC and spend the day falling in love. Nicola Yoon’s new book celebrates diversity, perseverance, and even makes quantum physics romantic. Her alternating chapters and narrative tangents work perfectly with the themes: we are all connected; every action, relationship, event, like a great galaxy, is made up of millions of small bursts of light. (As a sidenote: I had my personal copy autographed by Yoon, and she was so kind and friendly!).
Bearing a striking resemblance in theme, tone, and characterization to To Kill a Mockingbird, Wolk’s historical fiction novel for older readers is a richly layered story. I was impressed by how deftly Wolk wove multiple narratives and themes one at a time, so that the story resembled a piece of stained glass: it looked different from every angle. It’s the story of a menacing bully and the girl who tries to stand up to her; at the next moment, it’s a book about how the war front infiltrates the home front; and then, it’s a story about family and community. Wolk’s use of language was evocative and pitch perfect for the time period. This is a book that will stay with readers long after Annabelle’s last words.
10-year-old Raymie Clarke desperately believes that if she wins the 1975 Little Miss Central Florida Tire contest, her father will leave the dental hygienist he ran off with and return home. Her baton twirling lessons give her two new friends: naive and over-the-top Louisiana Elefante (with a kooky grandmother) and Beverly Tapinski, who is rough around the edges and determined to sabotage the event. These “three rancheros” shine when they’re together, which is more than I can say about Raymie on her own; she is generally a bland character, despite her precocious existential concerns regarding her soul and the meaning of life. I loved the chemistry of the girls, though DiCamillo could have done with a little less telling and more showing. Despite these minor shortcomings, I’m still thinking about this book, which I think says more about its merits than its weaknesses.
There it is, my final set of books for 2016. I truly hope these “Recent Reads” posts inspire you to find your next favorite book. To help, Popsugar has unveiled its yearly Reading Challenge, including a separate “advanced” section for “hardcore readers.” I think many of us fit that category! Some of the advanced challenges include a book that’s more than 800 pages (!!) and a book that’s been mentioned in another book (that sounds like a fun one). And anyone reading this can easily check off the very first task for the 2017 Reading Challenge: a book recommended by a librarian!
Here’s to a Happy, Healthy, and Book-filled 2017!