2017 Favorite Reads
As 2017 draws to a close with less than a week left, I feel strongly enough that my favorite reads of the year won’t change too much. I always wonder about the lists of favorites that many post early: are they going to miss something that they read later? Are books publishing at the end of the year getting cheated a bit?
Here’s what I’m calling my favorite reads of 2017. I’ve limited to books published this year, though I did read a number of great backlist titles as well. This is a mix of fiction and nonfiction, as well as young adult and adult titles. These are in alphabetical order, not in any ranking. It was interesting to look back and see what books really hit me at the beginning of the year that I’d sort of forgotten about by this point.
I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez
This story about a girl who loses her sister — the daughter who’d been the “good Mexican daughter” of the family — is a look at grief, at cultural pressures, and at how to juggle your familial obligations with the dreams you have which extend beyond the boundaries of your city. A fresh voice, with a powerfully drawn Chicago from an author who I cannot wait to read more from. Sanchez put out a poetry collection a couple of months before this book hit, and I am itching to dig into it.
I Believe In A Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo
My heart does this little fluttery thing every time I think about this book. Desi Lee lives with her single father, and she is awkward as all get out. But after one poor encounter with a boy too many, she turns to K-Dramas to help her create a list of ways to find love and keep it. This is a hilarious read, with tons of heart, and it’s a rom com that should appeal to both those who love romance, those who love humor, and those who find themselves falling in love with pop culture. This book has mega appeal to any reader who has a fandom and turns to it in times of need. Though K-Drama wasn’t a thing Desi started the story loving, it really becomes a passion for her. Goo includes a ton of recommended viewings in the back of the book, too.
Janesville by Amy Goldstein
Not enough people read this book, especially those who fell in love with Evicted by Matthew Desmond (which is also fabulous). Goldstein takes a hard look at Janesville, Wisconsin, and what happened to what was once a true middle class city that thrived around manufacturing and more specifically, a GM plant which paid great wages, when it shut down. I live close to Janesville, and I’ve worked in many of the Rock River cities nearby, which also suffered as a result of this. The book takes a peek inside the lives of a variety of families impacted by the GM closing, as well as the closing of the formerly thriving pen company Parker Pens. It’s a HARD read, but it’s a great one about the ripple effects of job loss. It’s imperfect, but there is so much to pull from here on a micro level that reflects a lot of the macro level economic changes in the last decade. There’s some really insightful stuff in here, too, about the former darling Paul Ryan and how his image has really been changed in the city that once reveled in what he could do for it. For readers who’ve ever been confused by Wisconsin politics, well, this one will help a lot.
I compare this one to Evicted a lot because Evicted takes place in Milwaukee, and it’s incredible to see what happens there vs. Janesville — the two cities are only about 70 miles apart.
The Lake Effect by Erin McCahan
I laughed so hard reading this book, and every time I think about it, I find myself trying to stifle a laugh. This is a book about a boy in the summer between the end of high school and beginning of college. He takes a job as an assistant to an elderly woman on the shore of Lake Michigan and all of the….quirks she has. But as much as her quirks are a riot, the true riot is all of the mishaps he has while trying to keep her happy and doing his job for her. Then he meets the girl next door who has some kind of secret that he wants to get to the bottom of. The second (SPOILER) is that she has crones disease and it has made her life a living hell (END SPOILER) and he learns how to lean into the fact she’ll never be anybody but exactly who she is.
There’s a scene in this book that involves funerals (okay, a lot of those) but one in particular had me in hysterics on the train. I had to close to book so as not to get too many weird stares.
Like Water by Rebecca Podos
We’ve all read a ton of YA books about the kids who get out of their small towns as soon as they graduate. This is not that book. This is instead about the girl who sticks around to help out in the family restaurant, as well as to help her father who is succumbing to his illness. It’s a book about sexuality and the fluidity of language and definition when it comes to sexuality. This is a book that’s all about a powerful voice, some gorgeous writing, and a take on the sort of “after high school” story we rarely see. Super inclusive, as well as incredibly creative (the summer job that Vanny gets is one of my favorites in YA of all time).
Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert
This was my first read of 2017, and it remains one of the best YA books I’ve ever read. It’s a story about a solid and powerful sibling relationship — half siblings borne of a blended family — and what happens when one of those siblings struggles with bipolar disorder that the other one can’t fix. It’s also about relationships and romance, about sexuality and about living one’s life on one’s own terms. Colbert is an expert at weaving in a lot of plot lines and complexities among her characters and doing so without ever making the book feel over stuffed or unreal.
Malagash by Joey Comeau
This little book is one that I saw virtually no talk about, despite the fact it deserves so much more love and conversation. Sunday’s father is about to die of cancer, and she’s figured out a way to replicate his life in the virtual world through a virus. By creating this virus, her father’s words and voice will live in the hard drives of millions across the world. Of course, this book isn’t about the virus. It’s about the way we all mourn loss, especially the loss we know is coming and can’t do anything to resolve. It has a lot of dark humor woven through, but this tiny little book (all 182 pages) is an emotional powerhouse.
Nomadland by Jessica Bruder
I picked this one up to listen to on a series of long drives and found myself unable to stop listening until I finished it. Bruder explores the new American lifestyle that came from the loss of retirement security in the great economic crash. The book followers a few individuals as they make lives for themselves in RVs and other moving vehicles, scraping together pennies in seasonal jobs that seek people just like them out. Back when my husband and I took our annual vacation this year, we went up to the Apostle Islands (a National Park in Wisconsin’s part of Lake Superior), and one of the couples we met while there had told us they lived in Arizona but had spent the summer as camp hosts in Wisconsin, and this was one of their destinations on their way back home. Bruder’s book is a look at lives like theirs.
But what made this really a strong read for me was the look at Amazon’s practices with their warehouse employees. I feel like everyone “knows” how tough Amazon working conditions are, but I felt myself getting sick thinking about someone like my grandmother being forced to walk 20+ miles a day on concrete floors, get repetitive stress injuries, being told to pill up at the pain pill stations, and more, just so they could meet unreasonable daily quotas. It really changed how I use Amazon.
This was a book I recommend with Janesville when it comes to thinking about how much our economy and the middle class has changed.
Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson
I think Watson’s YA is some of the most underrated YA out there, and this book — another read with a short page count — packs in so much about race, class, and discrimination. But in addition to taking a sharp look at all of those meaty topics, this is a book that, at heart, is about a girl who loves art. Her passion shines through, and it was such a powerful reminder that, amid all of the awful and tough things a person experiences in their daily life, there can be something that drives them and keeps them afloat.
A Short History of The Girl Next Door by Jared Reck
I’m not a crier. But this book? I was crying for the entire second half of the (again!) short little read. This is a book about a boy who has grown up with a great female friend across the street and how he feels when suddenly, their freshman year of high school, she gets a boyfriend. He has to struggle with never taking a chance with her beyond their friendship.
But then THE THING happens and suddenly, this book becomes one about learning how to grow up, deal with your emotions for yourself, and learning that the world does not revolve around you and your pain is not worse than anyone else’s. There’s a great look at toxic masculinity that, while not called that, is so clear and obvious that it begs to be talked about. I read a book earlier this year that has been gracing the New York Times List over and over which tried to do this, but failed spectacularly. But Reck’s book? Gets it.
This is one that readers itching for younger YA protags will want to pop on their reading list. Also, it’s a feels book. You’re going to have them all. And you’ll need tissues, too.
But it’s worth it.
We Are Okay by Nina LaCour
If I could choose to write with the sort of brevity and emotional impact as any writer, it’d be LaCour. This is a powerful book about grief, about friendship, and about love. It’s a slower read, but it’s absolutely beautiful. It oozes with loneliness while settling into your bones and making you feel like you yourself are not alone. A literary gem.
You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me by Sherman Alexie
This book gave me a lot of the same kinds of feelings that LaCour’s did, but this one is a memoir about Alexie and his relationship to his mother. It’s vulnerable. Told through short vignettes, this explores relationships, family, life on the reservation, and the challenges Alexie had with his mother…while also offering compassion and insight into why and how she did what she did as a mother and what it was he was able to get from his relationship with her. Readers who love Alexie’s YA book will want to give this a read, in part because he talks about the book and the process for how it came to be. It’s not an easy nor a quick read, but the format and style make it one you can pick up and put down over the course of time you need to read it.
2017 Favorite Bookish Moments
I was so lucky to be able to do so many things relating to Here We Are‘s release this year, and I got to meet so many incredible readers and writers. Here’s an abbreviated reflection on some of my favorite moments relating to that, as well as some of my favorite/biggest reading moments:
- I attended two literary festivals: the Tucson Book Festival (wherein I got to see this gorgeous city with the help of Hannah Gomez, who gave me a grand tour as a local) and the San Antonio Book Festival (wherein I spent the morning of my event wandering the River Walk alone, visiting the Alamo again, and then having my event in the most amazing cathedral talking about feminism with Jessica Luther and Siobhan Vivian).
- I’d asked my publicist about doing an event at Book People — the bookstore which really was a buoy for me during my time in Austin — and it happened. Not only did it happen, but it was a standing room only event, and I’ll never forget seeing so many faces from my time at school down there. One of the folks who attended said it was likely the biggest assembly of UT iSchool students in one place that wasn’t a study session.
- After my annual review for Book Riot, we’d talked about dreams/goals/what I’d like to do. We did not once talk about beginning a YA podcast, but a month later, the idea was floated to me, and then when I floated to Eric Smith that I’d love him as a cohost, it was born. This is such a fun little biweekly podcast, and it’s fun to talk enthusiastically about books and reading with someone who is as enthusiastic as Eric is.
- For my 33rd birthday, I set a goal of funding 33 classrooms through Donors Choose. This was in mid-August. By my birthday at the end of September, one of my editors at Algonquin asked if she could take part and up the number of funded classrooms to match her birthday age (her birth date was a few days after mine). We funded over 56 classrooms in a little over a month. It was incredible and reminded me how, when a community can come together, big changes can happen.
- I did a bookstore event in Vermont, driving there by myself from Providence, Rhode Island. It was my first time renting a car alone, and it was my first time driving through the northeast. It was my first time in Vermont. When I got to the bookstore, I was surprised to see not one, not two, but THREE of my friends from various parts of my life. Unbelievable love.
- And that day? It only got better when I then drove from Vermont to the Hudson Valley for an event at Oblong Books, where another friend had surprised me by showing up. Book people are the best people.
- I sold my second anthology (Don’t) Call Me Crazy, about mental health, and spent almost all year putting it together. It’s in copyedits now for a fall publication date.
- I rediscovered my love of nonfiction books on audio. I finally got an audible subscription — a perk of being a podcast host for my job — and I’ve listened to a lot of great nonfiction while doing various household tasks. I’m considering installing one of those bluetooth shower speakers when we move into our new home early next year (we’re moving from Wisconsin to Illinois, which isn’t bookish news, though I guess saying we’ll be 4 blocks from an amazing local indie and under a mile to the local library IS bookish).
- I made the difficult, but necessary, decision to step down from my role as a panelist on this year’s first round YA Cybils committee. It wasn’t giving me what I needed in terms of discussion or critical evaluation, so I did what was best for me and left. No hard feelings with the Cybils or anyone involved; it was 100% for and about me and my needs.
- I read all of Harry Potter for the first time. I revisited all of the Ramona Quimby books. I read through all of Stephen King’s It. I’ve started thinking a bit about what it is I’d like to make my reading project for 2018, and I’m thinking about the LM Montgomery books I never read (I tried reading the Emily series at one point, but I wasn’t ready to commit).
- This here little blog celebrated 9 years. I continue to love what Kimberly and I are able to do every week and continue to appreciate those of you who are new readers, long time readers, or who happened to stumble upon us.
- Attending and speaking at NCTE/ALAN was one of my favorite experiences, as was moderating a panel at ALA on feminism, inclusivity, and the need for all of us to do better — where I got to have five excellent women of color talking about their work, about their stories, and learn so much that, I hope, makes me not just a better person, but also a more thoughtful and critical reader.
- I created the #RiotGrams challenge for Book Riot and ran this Instagram bookish photo challenge in February, June, and October (which, incidentally, will be when it hits again this coming year if you want to take part). It was so fun to build such a fun bookish community on Instagram and build my TBR simultaneously.
- I kept up with Litsy (you can follow me there @kelly) and with Goodreads, as well as kept a massive reading spreadsheet for myself. My longest read this year was It by Stephen King. And with a good estimation, my total page count landed somewhere in the 145,000 range, with roughly 135 books read total.
- One fun thing I did this year: I tracked my library holds on Instagram. I’m going to do this again in the new year, perhaps with a special tag so I can round them up periodically for sharing.
Thanks for this year, 2017. I’m eager to see where 2018’s reading leaves me. I know for now, in this last week, I’m ready to pick up a few “for me only” reads, tackle some of the excellent gift books I’ve received, and relaxing.