We are three full months into 2016 and I don’t know about you lovely readers, but I am flying through some great books! If you’re a faithful fan of the LPL’s blog, and I hope you are, then you should be familiar with past posts, in which I encouraged us all to read outside our comfort zones and experiment with new genres and different authors. Some of you may have even joined me in the 2015 Reading Challenge. To those of you taking the 2016 Challenge, I hope it introduces you to great reads and proves a worthwhile experience. As for me, I’m skipping the challenges and reading lists, and going back to just reading the books that appeal to me. And I’ve gotten off to a good start, with ten books read, including three graphic novels, four young adult novels, one middle grade novel, one adult novel, and one adult biography. I apologize if YA and graphic novels aren’t in your usual reading arsenal–I promise to read more adult literature in the coming months. But, hey, you never know: You just might listen to my recommendations and discover a whole new world of great literature.
Despite its massive heft (592 pages!), I flew through this graphic novel in about two days. It’s an autobiographical account of the author’s youth and teenage years, spent in rural Wisconsin. The story focuses, in particular, on the author’s complicated relationship with faith (he grew up in a fundamentalist Christian family), as well as his first love. The illustrations of snowy nights and bustling winds add to the romance and nostalgia of the story. If you enjoy coming-of-age tales but are on the fence about comics, try dipping your toes in the water with this novel. And don’t be intimidated by the length. If we allowed the number of pages in a book to dictate our reading habits, how many of us would have read the Harry Potter series?
Whaley won the prestigious Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature (2012) for his debut novel, Where Things Come Back. Multiple strings are woven together: religious symbols (including a bird that has supposedly risen from the dead), teenage angst, small-town angst, familial bonds, and a missing brother. It’s told in alternating chapters, from the viewpoints of teen Cullen Witter and a young missionary in Africa. It takes a great deal of patience when trying to wrap your head around how these two seemingly disparate narratives fit together. To use a beloved childhood phrase: Put on your thinking caps! I was struggling with a cold while reading most of this book, and I think a clearer head would have helped me to better piece things together. Still, I enjoyed that Whaley had clearly given his plot thought. I also loved the laconic pacing and colorful character names. It has heart and smarts, and that ending makes me analyze and analyze!
Last year, I was completely blown away by Bechdel’s super smart graphic memoir, Fun Home, where she explored the circumstances surrounding the life and death of her father. Here, she charts what I would call a “meta-memoir” about the fraught relationship with her mother; Bechdel has such anxiety and writer’s block that she turns to psychoanalysis, both in research and in practice. In relating her experiences in therapy and the notes she took while poring obsessively through the writings of Donald Winnicott and Freud, Bechdel ends up telling us all about her mother and the minefields that exist throughout their mother-daughter relationship. For me, this narrative device was distancing. While parts of it were relatable and engaging, I still prefer Fun Home.
I heard about Bone Gap when it won the 2015 Printz Award. It’s nearly impossible to talk about this book without giving away pieces of what make it so magical, and there is, in fact, a strong element of magical realism throughout the story. I can say that it takes place in one of my favorite types of locations: a small, rural town, where everybody knows everybody (or so they think). There are two brothers who live alone, until they shelter a mysterious young woman who will eventually lead one brother to discover the “gaps” that exist in his hometown. Nothing is what you expect, and if you go into this book wanting a conventional story, you will be disappointed.
Full disclosure: I read this in one sitting while at Barnes and Noble. It had caught my eye on previous occasions, and I decided to just hunker down and read it. A graphic novel for younger readers, this tells the story of Rose and Windy. Rose and her family spend their summers at a lake house, where she hangs out with her friend, Windy, who’s a little younger than Rose. This summer is different; Rose’s parents are going through a rough patch, her mother is almost always sad and detached, and Rose is just at the cusp of adolescence. When a group of local teens catch their attention, the difference in how Rose and Windy respond is telling. Your heart breaks a little when you realize that Windy can feel how she is being left behind. To be honest, I wasn’t especially riveted. Maybe it skewed too young for me. Or maybe I should have read it in a more comfortable setting…like a library!
P.S. I Still Love You: Jenny Han
These are two separate YA books by Jenny Han (the latter is a sequel to the former), and I desperately hope that she writes a third. I’ve even tweeted her with this question! No answer yet, but I still have hope. In the meantime, anyone who enjoys Young Adult literature or is in the market for a sweet story of love and family should get to know Lara Jean Covey. Lara Jean is the kind of energetic, warm-hearted, flappable heroine who would fit in perfectly as the somewhat zany lead in a black-and-white 1940s comedy. Lara Jean’s world is turned upside down when secret letters written to former (and current) crushes are mailed out. This is such a smart book. Every character is fully-formed and treated with dignity. This is especially true of Lara Jean, who is refreshingly real and down-to-earth (her hobbies include baking and scrapbooking). Also, if you read this book and you don’t get a kick out of Kitty, Lara Jean’s precocious little sister, then I just don’t know how we can be friends. The sequel is even smarter, as it delves headfirst into high school cliques and sexual politics. This is how much I love these books: After I finished reading To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, I drove to the bookstore–DURING A SNOWSTORM–to buy the sequel.* Please, Jenny Han, please please please write a third book in this series!
I received an autographed copy of Rebecca Stead’s latest novel, Goodbye Stranger, while attending last year’s BookExpo. However, When You Reach Me, a middle grade novel that won the Newbery Medal upon publication, is the first of her books that I’ve actually read. The setting is probably my favorite part of the whole story: Manhattan in the 1970s. Miranda, a sixth-grader living with her single mom, spends her evenings and weekends helping her mom practice for an upcoming appearance on The $20,000 Pyramid. Sounds fun, right? It is. But, when Miranda begins receiving letters from an unknown entity who can seemingly predict the future, things get a little trippy and sci-fi. Even though I think I have everything pieced together, I’m still struggling to find the larger meaning. Can anyone out there help me?
Wow…Awad’s debut novel can be uncomfortable to read. This is not a bad thing. It’s a discomfiting experience not because it is poorly written, but because it is so unflinchingly honest about the vice grips of weight, food, and warped self-perception. Awad charts the life and weight of one woman, who starts out fat and then gets skinny. It’s not the story of triumph that many would expect. Instead, we realize what a slippery slope it can become when that which was once out of control–like one’s weight, for instance–is now in hyper focus. This is not a soft and cuddly book. It is, however, razor sharp and highly observant.
By now, there’s a good chance that you have heard about this slim gem of a book. Currently, it is at the top of the Best Seller’s List in Nonfiction, with numerous articles published regarding its heartbreaking backstory. The author, Paul Kalanithi, was a rising neurosurgeon when he received devastating news: At 36 years-old, he was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer. A highly academic man, with degrees encompassing not only Medicine, but also English Literature, History, and Philosophy, Kalanithi’s intelligence and compassion are on full display. He writes about his childhood and his experiences as a new doctor, and later, as an accomplished physician. He writes about his wife and baby daughter. And of course, he writes about his illness. I would not recommend reading this book before bed (not my smartest decision), but the writing is so clear-eyed that I would recommend it, in general. Kalanithi’s viewpoints on mortality reveal his grace and courage.
Those are my first ten books of the year…mostly hits, with a few almost-hits. Please share your recent reads with us! My colleagues and I are always on the hunt for book recommendations.
*If the library had not been closed, I of course would have gone there to check out a copy. But, it was a desperate situation!