Vivian V.S. America – Katie Coyle
To be totally honest, Vivian V.S. the Apocalypse did not give me all that it’s amazing title led me to hope for. It contained some interesting ideas, but was dominated by trope-ish romance and naval gazing that didn’t really fit the seriousness of its subject matter. I liked it enough that I would read the sequel if the opportunity arose, but I wasn’t desperate about it. Then, in January when I was jobless, broke and in no position to add any more books to my ever-increasing credit card bill, I picked up a copy of Vivian V.S. America at the library.
Oh. My. God.
The sequel contained all the urgency, critical thinking and painful cynicism that I wanted from its predecessor. Coyle’s look into a world turned upside down by a cult places society under a microscope and tears it to shreds. It is a necessary read.
Another library find. One is the sort of book that you read in a day and spend at least a week mourning. The story of conjoined twins forced first out into the world and then into separation is one that will curl up inside your heart and take up residence before smashing the thing into a thousand bloody pieces.
It’s totally worth it.
To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
This is another read for which I have my local library to thank.
In a time of confusion, spiralling hatred and prejudice and an internet that seems like a bottomless pit of spite… I would recommend taking a break to read some Harper Lee. To Kill a Mockingbird is a novel full of lessons of which we all need constant reminding – everyone should have access to the same rights and freedoms. You have to stand up for what you believe in, even when it’s scary. People are actually okay… when you finally see them.
Honestly, reading this book is one of the best things you can do for your heart.
Wolf by Wolf AND Blood for Blood – Ryan Graudin
I have never read anything like this duology. In it, Graudin manipulates history, allowing Hitler victory in World War II and the hellish dystopian world dominated by cruelty, violence and wilful ignorance that follows.
She tells the story of the resistance, led by Yael, a young Jewish girl experimented on in a concentration camp and subsequently trained to be Hitler’s assassin.
I ADORE Graudin’s writing. It is immersive, evocative and heart rending. You will not finish this series in one piece.
My Life on the Road – Gloria Steinem
Gloria Steinem, for anyone who doesn’t know, is a famous feminist activist. She has basically dedicated her life to it. That life is the subject of this book and OH MY GOD. I loved it. I loved it so much I couldn’t review it. There is no reducing this book into a 500 (who am I kidding? – 800+) word blog post.
My Life on the Road is like a how-to guide for intersectional feminism and ally-ship. Steinem has spent her entire adult life travelling the world and talking to different women about their experiences and how they intersect with race, gender and economic situation. And once she knows a lady’s problems, she tries to help her solve them.
The whole time I was reading I couldn’t help but hope I have as many stories when I am her age.
(not doing very well so far, but that is a different blog post).
Half of a Yellow Sun – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
I am IN LOVE with this woman. Not only did she get sampled in a Beyonce song, became the face of Boots cosmetics (drugstore makeup brand in the UK – seeing her face on bus stops makes me happy every day), wrote the speech that I send to anyone who questions my stance on feminism AND revealed her pregnancy in perhaps my favourite way ever (by NOT revealing it and then casually referencing breast feeding in an interview, way after the kid had been born. The interviewer was like ‘say WHAT now?!’) but she is also – before any of these things – one of the most talented authors writing today.
Half of a Yellow Sun is a book detailing the horrors of the Biafran war told from three perspectives, Ugwu, a houseboy from a small village, Olanna, a middle class Nigerian woman educated in the UK and Richard, a white British man desperate to tell ‘the true story’ of Africa. It is a book about war, relationships and storytelling – specifically who should be doing it. It is a story of sisterhood and loss.
Just read it.
Sweetbitter – Stephanie Danler
Required reading for your twenties. It’s about that space between girl and womanhood. You know, the one spent waitressing. It’s beautiful.
Lies We Tell Ourselves – Robin Talley
Set in 1959 Virginia, this is a story about the integration of the previously all white Jefferson High School. It’s narrated by Sarah Dunbar, one of the few black students, and Linda Hairston, a white girl whose daddy may as well be called Trump.
Sarah’s every school day is a living nightmare. She lives in constant fear of her fellow students who push, spit and scream at her. Linda watches it all, telling herself she doesn’t think that it’s wrong.
They both tell themselves they don’t have any feelings for each other at all.
This is a novel about fighting for your rights and knowing yourself. It’s about hard truths, and the lengths we will go to avoid them. It is a stunning example of YA, and I hope a copy finds its way into school libraries everywhere.
No Matter the Wreckage – Sarah Kay
Sarah Kay writes beautiful poetry. Reading this book is like listening to your favourite album. You want to hear it over and over again.
Crooked Kingdom – Leigh Bardugo
The Sun is Also a Star – Nicola Yoon
A late entry into the list, but an important one. This is such a beautiful book. The Sun is Also a Star is a story about the experience of being from an immigrant family in America.
As in Everything Everything, Yoon’s approach to complicated family relationships is delicate and tonally perfect. Natasha’s family are undocumented immigrants from Jamaica, about to be deported because of her father. The pain of her family is palpable in every line.
Daniel, born in America to Korean parents feels trapped between identities: at home he must be the well behaved future doctor whereas at school he dreams of writing poetry. Yoon uses the tense relationship Daniel has with his brother – a current medical student who wishes to distance himself from his heritage – as a means to explore these dualities.
It is such a clever book. I’ll write a long gushing review about my love for it soon. Suffice to say, Nicola Yoon has solidified her place as one of my favourite authors.
So, I think I’m back? I didn’t realise how much I had missed blogging until I started putting this post together. Like everyone else, I have spent the last few days contemplating 2016 – my personal 2016, that is – and feeling…. Pretty disappointed in myself. But, looking back over the year, I found some comfort in the fact that I have read some incredible books. And I have had a really great time writing about them, and discussing them with other bloggers. So even though I don’t have any of the markers of success I would like (and am feeling increasingly unsure of whether I actually want them at all… again, probably the subject of a different post), I think I have done something great for myself this year.
Stories are what’s most important to me, after all.
2 thoughts on “Top Reads of 2016”
I need to read Wolf by Wolf, I’ve only heard amazing things!
I didn’t know about One by Sarah Crossan. I read her Breathe Duology a couple years ago and enjoyed it. But One sounds completely different and very interesting…I’ll have to check it out
I love this post, and you made me want to read One so, so badly. Also feel like I’m going to cry a lot, I don’t know why ahah.
I’m glad you can at least look back on 2016 and think about the wonderful books you read. I hope 2017 will be better, greater, and forever filled with great reads ❤