Despite... um, everything... 2017 has been a good year for books. We've seen incredible debuts, unforgettable memoirs, graphic novels, YA, and short story collections, not to mention beautiful picture books that actually make me want to have, like, 8 babies. I thought I'd share a few top favorites out of the 60+ books I read this year:
Difficult Women by Roxane Gay
"She was smart enough to want more but tired enough to accept the way things were."
It's no secret I'm a huge Roxane Gay fan and I will read and (probably) love every single thing she writes. That being said, Difficult Women might be my absolute favorite from her impressive body of work, which includes Bad Feminist, Hunger, An Untamed State, and more. Difficult Women tells stories about sex, love, grief, abuse, and power, starring female characters that are remarkably real, complex, and yes— difficult. My favorite stories: I Will Follow You, Florida, La Negra Blanca, North Country, Break All the Way Down, and A Pat.
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
“I wanted to tell them that I’d never had a friend, not ever, not a real one. Until Dante. I wanted to tell them that I never knew that people like Dante existed in the world, people who looked at the stars, and knew the mysteries of water, and knew enough to know that birds belonged to the heavens...”
This is my #1 recommendation for the hopeless romantics in my life. Every once in a while, I'll stumble upon a book with characters that shake me to my core, who— as dramatic as it sounds— change me. Ari and Dante are it. Their friendship, their love, will stay with you long after you turn the last page. Picture rainy summer nights, heartache, and beautiful music on your record player.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
"I'll never forget. I'll never give up. I'll never be quiet."
I was blown away by this spectacular debut. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, The Hate U Give tells the story of Starr, a teenage girl who witnesses the death of her childhood friend in the hands of a police officer. The book explores important issues like racism and prejudice, police brutality, identity, and the importance of speaking up. Angie Thomas created complex and irresistible characters in Starr, Khalil, and all of Starr’s family—the relationship between her parents is real and honest, and one of my favorite aspects of this book was the incredibly well-written dialogue. It's smart, funny, and heartbreaking at the same time. I recommend this to readers of all ages. Oh, and doesn't the fact that this was banned by Katy ISD in Texas make you want to read it even more?
The Leavers by Lisa Ko
"There were other children like him in Minjiang, American-born, cared for by grandparents, with parents they only knew from the telephone. 'I'll send for you,' the voice would say, but why would he want to go live with a voice, leave what he knew for a person he couldn't remember?"
Alternating between two perspectives, The Leavers tells the story of Polly and Deming, a Chinese immigrant mother and son who get separated in New York City. We follow Deming as he's adopted by a white family, always wondering what happened to his mother while trying to adapt to his new life and the culture of his well-meaning adoptive parents. I devoured this book in a matter of hours, desperate to know Polly was okay—hoping that whatever happened that day when she disappeared from her son’s life, she had somehow found her way to safety, maybe even happiness. I loved when the story shifted to Polly’s perspective, so we could witness up close her sacrifices, her choices, and her undying desire for more. Honest, beautiful, and necessary storytelling. Thank you, Lisa Ko.
We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby
"Somebody from work, pissed off that I've missed so many shifts, is gonna find my dead body next to a pile of dried-up baked beans I had been eating in the dark out of the can. In a robe I didn't even bother to cinch shut because who the fuck is even here. I would be dead in my fancy black robe, tits splayed, tomato sauce congealed in the corners of my mouth as Netflix asks judgmentally, 'Are you still watching this?' If you are the person who happens to find me, please at least switch the television to something educational before you call the police."
Samantha Irby is ridiculously funny, relatable, charming, and her writing will cut you wide open. Give this to all of your friends— your real friends, those you genuinely like and want to make laugh until the wee hours of the morning. This is a perfect gift for people who enjoy the company of smart women who just don't quit.
Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
"AND THEN THERE WERE SHOTS.
Did what we've all
been trained to."
This was the year of Jason Reynolds. He's been everywhere, from AM2DM to being named People Magazine's Sexiest Author of the Year (I mean... yes). We saw Jason in conversation with Ta-Nehisi Coates and selling out at the Texas Book Festival. His latest, Long Way Down, introduces us to William, a teenage boy dealing with the aftermath of his brother's murder. This a powerful novel in verse that narrates a 60-second elevator ride that could change Will's life forever. Reynolds writes about the sirens, tears and screams that fill a neighborhood; the grief, violence and loss that haunt a community—and the young men, like Will, who take it upon themselves to follow The Rules when shots are fired. READ. THIS. BOOK.
Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth by Oliver Jeffers
Okay, so I LOVE Oliver Jeffers (exhibit A, above). His style is totally unique and he's been charming the pants off me for years. I love recommending his books to customers, friends with kids, art lovers, and people who simply love beautiful books. I read a lot of picture books, and there were quite a few I loved this year (When's My Birthday?, Snappsy the Alligator and His Best Friend Forever (Probably), The Book of Mistakes, to name a few), but Here We Are hit me right in the freakin' gut. Jeffers wrote this book for his newborn son, pouring all of his love into these pages. He gives us a breathtaking account of the kindness, joy, and beauty found on this planet. Perfect for anyone who could use a firm reminder that they are not alone.
Books to look forward to in 2018:
This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America by Morgan Jerkins (Jan. 2018)
The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border by Francisco Cantú (Feb. 2018)