Last year, instead of a top books or ranking, I threw down a handful of books that stood out to me as a reader and gave you the reasons why.
Welcome to the end of 2010, and I’m going to do exactly the same thing. Each of these books stood out to me as a reader for some reason and are books that will linger with me far beyond this year. These are books that took my breath away and leave me thinking about them all the time. They are the books I measure other books to, and ones where I can remember each character’s name. I think about them in the shower, while driving and a song comes on the radio, where the lines are ones I’ve underlined and memorized. Unforgettable.
I’ve read, as of today, 217 books, so it was a crowded field. To be completely honest though, I was disappointed in many titles this year. More hype than substance surrounded many books and a lot of substance was overlooked for more surface issues (take a minute and reflect on this — how much did the world spend thinking about covers and issues of appearance this year than on actual content?). Although I understand and appreciate cover hype, I think this year’s obsession with covers and the “unveiling” of covers only furthered this for me. I want more discussion of content and less of cosmetics.
But I digress.
Although I’d prefer to hold off on posting this until the very end of 2010 (because we still have over a week left of the year), I know with the holidays, the forthcoming Cybils decision making discussions, writing, and other distractions this time of year, I won’t get as much reading in as I’d prefer. Some of these you’ve likely heard me talking up and others, well, maybe less so. I’m sticking with YA titles again this year, since my adult reading of fiction was quite low this year and my adult non-fiction reading was, well, limited to books that would interest only the smallest segment of people. I’m also limiting them to books published in 2010.
Without further ado, here are the books I’m vetting this year as my favorites and ones which are worth your time, your money, and — as the case seems to be this year — your tears. In no particular order:
I’ve reviewed this one here, but the quick and honest truth is that Christopher has written a book that leaves the reader utterly conflicted throughout. Each page leaves you questioning what’s going on and leaves you wondering if the feelings you have as a reader are right or wrong. Ty is a horrible person in this story — he does something completely vile and wrong — and yet throughout, you can’t help but think he really, truly loves Gemma and that everything he does really is good and honest and out of love. I mean, I shouldn’t want to love Ty but I just can’t help it. And it feels so wrong and so right at the same time.
You can read my full review here. I have a soft spot for the average kid. The kid that’s not the super star and the kid that’s not the loser. For me, Brezenoff’s book is the quintessential story of three average kids. He makes use of a convention I find challenging to master (starting the story at the end and working backwards) and he depicts three distinct voices through Simon, Lily, and Noah. For someone who’s not usually a fan of multiple points of view, I was completely taken with the three (four, actually) I got here. The male voices are spot on and our female Lily is just as strong. Brezenoff’s book is the perfect tale of the average kid navigating the tricky terrain, the painful events, and the completely normal aspects of being a teenager in high school.
You can read my full review here. I kind of overlooked this book when it first came out. It didn’t really jump out at me, but when a colleague and trusted reading friend suggested I read this one because it left her speechless, I was on it. I devoured it. Lucy’s story is actually less about her than it is about her relationship with her mother and her mother’s relationship with things. The book takes place over one day and left me as a reader sick to my stomach. I felt sick for Lucy and I felt every single emotion she felt. Each item she touched, I touched too. And the end! It was absolutely perfect. There is no other way it could have ended for Lucy. She needed it, and so did I.
You can read my full review here. The sights and sounds of Los Angeles make this story of Hilda and Benji work. I absolutely love how much this one reminded me of a modern day take on Paul Zindel’s The Pigman, one of my all-time favorite books. Pace, plotting, and characters are pitch perfect, but for me, it’s the setting. It’s haunting and beautiful and quirky and vivid. I could smell the city and the people and the places in this one.
Confession time before I continue here. I rarely reread a book. I think I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve done it. It’s not that I don’t believe in it or that there aren’t books worth rereading, but rather, it’s because there are so many other books that I want to read before I go back.
This year, I’ve reread two books by the same author.
You can read my full review here. There is not a single likable character in this book, and yet, I love each of these characters because they’re so flawed and awful and miserable and horrific to watch. Each turn in this book left me feeling sick and beat up and yet, I wanted more. There is something punishing about this book. It’s sick and relentless and brutal and won’t even give you a resolution or satisfaction at the end. I still get queasy when I talk about this book. Yet, I can’t stop talking about it.
You can read my full review here. Eddie, Milo, and Culler will live on for a long time in my mind. The pain and loss and spot-on characterization and emotion are hard to forget. Despite all of the weight in this book, the horrible things the characters endure, this is a book I want to be in. These are characters I want to know, even if it means getting nasty text messages once in a while. I’ll let yesterday’s review stand for the rest of my reasoning on this one, but you can bet I’ll be revisiting this one again down the line for a third and forth read and pretending that Milo is all mine.
My criteria for absolute favorites is tough, I admit, and it leaves off a number of really worthy and wonderful titles I read this year. But I’m not objective when it comes to *my* favorites and I don’t apologize for my tastes. However, I do want to spotlight a handful of other titles I read and liked a lot this year too, and these are titles I know will easily make top spots on other favorite lists. And believe me when I say there are still others I liked a lot this year but just aren’t quite top of the tops for me:
Kelly Jensen is a former librarian turned editor for Book Riot. She's the author of IT HAPPENS: A Guide to Contemporary Realistic Fiction for the YA Reader and the forthcoming Feminism For The Real World (Algonquin Young Readers, Spring 2017).