Hello and Happy New Year’s Eve, dear reader. It’s been a long year, hasn’t it? Kind of feels like it’s been the longest year in the history of the universe. Maybe that’s why I was able to squeeze SO MUCH reading in this year, because it’s been the year that never ever ends. Will it really end at midnight? A girl can dream.
So let’s keep this intro short. I read a wide variety of books this year, so it’s hard to whittle it down to my favorites, but these are a few of the most noteworthy, the ones that, regardless of genre or the latest mistifying headline, I couldn’t put down.
Best YA Fantasy that everyone should read (and my yearly reminder not to knock YA)…
A Reaper at the Gates by Sabaa Tahir. Reaper is the third installation in the planned four-book An Ember in the Ashes series that I have been obsessed with for years, but this book. THIS BOOK. If I’d been keeping a tally of the number of breaths I took through the last hundred pages you’d either assume I was dead or an insanely fast reader. I’m neither, so it’s a miracle this book didn’t kill me.
An Ember in the Ashes follows three main characters (four in A Reaper at the Gates) as they navigate the different sides of the brutal Empire. The series is high stakes and fast-paced, but it’s also extremely heavy and Reaper is especially dark, but the ultimate beauty of the story is that, even though it’s clear which characters fall on which side of the line between good and bad, Tahir makes you empathetic toward all of them. Even the murderous Nightbringer who’s trying to take out all your faves. A Reaper at the Gates is my favorite book so far in the series and I can’t wait to see how it concludes.
I also got to meet Sabaa Tahir this June at a book signing and she was absolutely the best and complimented my owl necklace. I highly recommend following her on Instagram (@sabaatahir) to peep her vegetable puppet shows.
“Curse this world for what it does to the mothers, for what it does to the daughters. Curse it for making us strong through loss and pain, our hearts torn from our chests again and again. Curse it for forcing us to endure.” – Sabaa Tahir
Best Classic I’m way late to the game on…
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. Why did no one tell me how much I was going to love this book? Jane is so funny and fierce and all 500 pages of this baby are beautiful. I have been staring down Jane Eyre on my to-read shelf for years, terrified by both its classic-ness and thickness, but the first twenty pages put my fears to bed. The conversation about classics is often centered around the genius of men, but Bronte has so much to say in Jane Eyre that still resonates today.
I’ve been around long enough that I knew most of the major plot twists before I started reading, but I was still captivated by Bronte’s story. And I was very captivated by one Mr. Rochester. (Which had absolutely nothing to do with finding out Michael Fassbender played him in the movie version opposite Mia Wasikowska’s Jane Eyre. Not at all.)
“If people were always kind and obedient to those who are cruel and unjust, the wicked people would have it all their own way: they would never feel afraid, and so they would never alter, but would grow worse and worse.” – Charlotte Bronte
Best Greek Mythology adaptation…
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. Circe got a lot of love this year for its portrayal of the strong, witch-like goddess for good reason. But I was more partial to Miller’s first Greek mythology adaptation in The Song of Achilles. It follows Achilles and his childhood friend-turned-lover Patroclus as they navigate the events leading up to the Trojan War and the war itself. Just like Circe, Achilles is equal parts soft and violent, and Miller has a captivating way of spinning new life from an ancient tale.
Even if you know how Achilles’ story ends (plot twist: it has nothing to do with his heel!), I still highly recommend The Song of Achilles. Miller taught Latin and Greek while writing Achilles, so both the prose and dialogue seem like second nature, and while you don’t need to read one to understand the other, Odysseus is part of the events in The Song of Achilles before he appears in Circe.
“Name one hero who was happy.” – Madeline Miller
Best Non-Fiction book that captures the essence of Millenial anxiety/depression…
What Made Maddy Run by Kate Fagan. Madison Holleran was a freshman track athlete at University of Pennsylvania when she committed suicide in 2014. She was intelligent, beautiful, and talented, but ultimately her anxiety, depression, and quest for perfection stole her life. With the permission of Maddy’s family, Kate Fagan, an author and ESPN reporter, reconstructs Maddy’s life in What Made Maddy Run in order to understand why someone who looked like they had it all from the outside was suffering so much on the inside.
Through her research, Fagan is able to pinpoint the challenges that Maddy and many Millenial/Gen-Zers face in today’s society. Through no fault of our own, we’ve inherited this world where every day we are bombarded with snapshots of other people’s lives, and those perfect snapshots can distort our view of reality. Fagan also points out that a goal-oriented school culture, where parents and students are hyper-focused on grades and padding applications with extracurricular activities, robs students of the ability to learn how to handle failure. And if you still don’t believe that these are real concerns and not just delusions of a so-called coddled generation, then, really, check out What Made Maddy Run. Maddy’s story is heart-breaking but not an enigma.
“Much of young adulthood is presented as a ladder, each rung closer to success, or whatever our society has defined as success. Perhaps climbing the ladder is.” – Kate Fagan
Best reminder that we still have a lot of work to do…
The Laramie Project and The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later by Moises Kaufman. It’s been twenty years since Matthew Shepard was killed. The Laramie Project, written as a play by Moises Kaufman and members of the Tectonic Theater Project, visits and interviews Laramie, WY residents in the years following Matthew Shepard’s death, with one question in mind: Why did this happen here?
The Laramie Project explores homophobia, tolerance, shame, and hope in a town that was thrust into national spotlight when Matthew Shepard became the victim of a hate crime. It explores the ugly parts of both intolerance and tolerance through the voices of Laramie residents. It explores the pain of living somewhere where you don’t feel accepted. It explores how the death of one person impacted (and continues to impact) so many other people. Matthew’s story has always been heartbreaking, but the multi-faceted angles of The Laramie Project add a new dimension to its tragedy. The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later revisits Laramie ten years after Matthew was killed to see what — if any — change has happened. There’s been some. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been much.
But hate isn’t episodic; it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It exists as part of a larger system that we’ve let grind on for far too long, and that is ultimately what The Laramie Project teaches us. We either break the system or we let it keep breaking the people we love.
“This is America. You don’t have the right to feel that fear.” – Moises Kaufman
Books that are already on my 2019 reading list…
The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon
The Kingdom of Copper by S.A. Chaborsky
Dark Age by Pierce Brown
Wayward Son by Rainbow Rowell
Happy New Year and Happy Reading!