Top Reads of 2016

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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.

One – Sarah Crossan

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.

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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.

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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

Because OBVIOUSLY.

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.

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You Know You’ve Read Too Many Contemporaries When…

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You start looking for your mum’s secret coke stash

I get that some parents are alcoholics and drug addicts, and that some parents leave. However, from most YA contemporaries, you’d think it was all of them. You could easily believe that there is an entire generation of young people currently pulling themselves up by their boot straps while their parents drink themselves to death in the next room.

I’m also bothered by characters who respond to their parents’ addiction by never touching substances. While this is absolutely true for some, it is by no means the rule. I would just like a YA book to address the fact that making the same mistakes as your parents doesn’t make you a bad person. Addiction has a genetic component, after all.

You think it’s totally normally to never ask your friends how THEY are doing

Have you ever noticed how self-involved most contemporary protagonists are? I know that we’re often experiencing the world from their perspective but… seriously. It’s a problem.

As much as I loved Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda, when he talked about not knowing the story behind his best friend’s absent dad I was like SERIOUSLY? Are you that consumed by your own drama that in ten years it’s never occurred to you to ask the girl who comes to your house every night after school where her dad got to?

While Simon does come to see the error of his ways, most of the time this sort of shitty behaviour is never addressed. It’s kind of like how in Isla and the Happily Ever After she got everything she wanted despite being selfish and awful the entire book.

It’s not satisfying.

You can only think you’re pretty when a boy says you are!

Despite all YA ever, it’s actually true that you are allowed to think that you look good because you think look good, not just because some guy suddenly saw you. This annoying, and seemingly unavoidable trope grinds with me so much because it’s just another way of telling girls that they don’t have ownership over their own bodies.

What most books preach is that you become pretty when a guy says you are. And I’m supposed to think that’s romantic?

Um, no thanks.

I am here to tell you some revolutionary: You are allowed to think you look good because you think you look good.

(also because you finally figured out how to do that thing with your hair)

Romance is the LITERAL be all and end all. There is nothing else. Nope.

I’m adding this one somewhat tentatively.

Put your pitchforks away please.

I love a romance. I really do. I spend as much time on tumblr as anyone.

But, that said, there is more to character development than falling in love. Yes, it’s an important part of your life but it is just that. A part. I would love to read a contemporary where I felt like self-development was the main aim.

Life has many facets. It turns out that romance is just one of them.