- Biggest accomplishment – The book that made one of the biggest splashes in 2015 was Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life. At a towering 720 pages, this book took me over four months to read. People often cite it as the most difficult and heart-breaking reading experience of their life. Atmospheric and haunting, it explores friendship, family, and trauma in ways that are unforgettable. Even when I abandoned it for weeks at time, I continued thinking about it. I’m proud I pushed through despite its nearly unbearable depiction of trauma and would recommend it to those in search of something heavy, unique, and soulful.
- Best fantasy – My winner for this category last year was Sarah J. Maas’s A Court of Thorns and Roses. I had been hearing about that book for months as she also writes the popular Throne of Glass series. I began reading its sequel, A Court of Mist and Fury, on a Sunday night and literally could not put it down. I think I stayed up until 4 a.m., brought it to work with me on Monday, and finished it on Monday night. At 626 pages, this is a pretty incredible testament to its readability, world-building, and conflict. I am hesitant to begin a series like this for many reasons: it’s slated to be 6 books long, an experience I’m not keen on; it features shape-shifters; its central conflict is a love triangle; and each book is long. However, this book was so damned exciting and unputdownable I know I’m in it for the long haul. I said this last year too, but the way she portrays female sexuality is pretty ground-breaking and unique for a YA author.
- Best middle grade – A lovely and popular quick read from the past few years is George by Alex Gino. It tells the story of young George whose greatest desire is to play Charlotte in her class’s fourth grade performance of Charlotte’s Web – a typically female role people feel is inappropriate given her label as a ‘boy’ at birth. I find myself recommending this to both teens and adults alike as it tells the story of a trans character in such an empathetic, tender, and authentic way. I think this is a great book to start if you want to read more diverse stories or if you find yourself struggling to understand the perspective of trans people as it is simple and very sweet.
- Best romance – A book I had seen popping up over and over again throughout the year was Sally Thorne’s The Hating Game. I was surprised at how popular it was given the basic enemies-to-lovers trope that I feel has been done over and over again in romance. However, this book was hysterically funny and had the sarcasm and slow-burning chemistry that I always appreciate in a good romance novel. It reminded me often of Rainbow Rowell’s Attachments, another sweet work-place slow burn.
- Most memorable – It seems as though it’s impossible to have a year-end reflection without featuring a book that has the word girl in the title. In my opinion, Emma Cline’s The Girls suffered greatly from being one of Random House’s big-budget acquisitions, signing Cline to a three-book deal (that included this novel) despite her status as a debut novelist and being only 25 years old. This book, perhaps to justify it’s $2 million price tag, was promoted religiously on every book platform I visit. I finally read it in September, four months after its release but having seen it being promoted for months prior to that. I was sick of its cover before I even picked it up. However, despite very mixed reviews, I absolutely adored this book. This is a story about Evie, a girl who becomes very desperately wrapped up in a cult inspired by the real-life one led by Charles Manson. This book was brutal, violent, and very notably feminist. Aside from leading me down a Wikipedia rabbit hole, I couldn’t put it down.
- Best debut – Every responsible elementary and middle school educates its students about the reprehensible history of the transatlantic slave trade. It’s rare that people might digest the implications of these abhorrent events and follow their impact throughout generations of Americans to today in one piece of work. An ambitious and successful project, Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing does just this. Equal parts romance, tragedy, politics, and history, this book makes an excellent case for reparations that many historians and columnists have made–though very artfully in this work of fiction. It is impossible to read this book and not think differently about identity politics and people of color in America today. This epic text does not seem like the work of a debut author given its sophisticated timeline and masterclass on characterization.
- Best non-fiction – The South Side: A Portrait of Chicago and American Segregation by Natalie Moore was my favorite non-fiction book of the year. Her personal history as a born and raised south-sider makes this book a captivating mixture of personal history and straight up facts about this area of Chicago. Moore does an exquisite job of never only blaming one group or person for the complicated state of the neighborhoods in the south side of the city. This is an incredible feat given the very clear repercussions of white people’s deplorable role in oppressing black folks. She questions the role that black people have in their communities too with sophisticated questions and interesting anecdotal tales. It’s clear from her mixture of fact and story that she is a WBEZ reporter, a type of storytelling that most find very digestible and interesting. Her chapters especially about black politicians and violence in Chicago were the most memorable to me.
- Best series – The Neapolitan novels by Elena Ferrante were such an unforgettable journey that very notably consumed a large segment of my reading life in 2016. Each book is an absorbing catalogue of events in main character Elena’s journey from childhood to late adulthood. This series primarily chronicles the turbulent and important friendship between Elena and her friend Lila. I often describe these books as brutally feminist as they explore the troubling violence and immense difficulty involved in womanhood throughout these characters’ lives. We watch as Elena faces colossal conflict with her family, neighborhood, lovers, children, career, and most importantly, herself. She is an imperfect and often unlikable character, and this fictional account feels so personal and real. These books were also connected to several interesting articles/events that I would recommend reading and learning about in conjunction with the texts themselves:
Other highlights from my year that I would strongly recommend: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead; The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson; Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by Jack Thorne, John Tiffany, and J.K. Rowling; Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo; The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon; A Promise of Fire by Amanda Bouchet; A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro.