2016 Year in Books

2016 was a wonderful year for reading for me. I read 15 books, (well, many, many more if you count children's books or student novels) parts of another 2, and I'm including 5 of my favorite children's books  (although my favorites aren't always my kids' favorites). Here they are, in the order I read them.

Paper Towns by John Green

I don’t like John Green. I hate his use of the term ninja in this book. I don’t like his depiction of the young girl in the book. I don’t like the token Black character or the misogynist. But the thing is, I kept reading. I finished it, and I love how he works in allusions, but this book confirmed what I thought after reading Looking for Alaska. I don’t like John Green.

Between Me and the World by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Loved this beautiful letter to Coates’ son about what it is to grow up Black in America. It echoes back to James Baldwin's "Letter to my Nephew" in A Fire Next Time. The questions about the vulnerability of the body set up a wonderful premise to help put into context, for Coates’ teen son and the rest of America, what it is like to be so separate from the American dream. This is required reading.

Room by Emma Donahough

What a devastating book. Told from a five-year-old boy’s point of view, this was not an easy read, but once the pair begin to plot their escape, I couldn’t leave them in their room. The way this mother creates a "normal" world for her son within a nightmare exposes both the triumph and tragedy of the human condition.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

I have never read a book that is similar to our family in its racial make-up and in its silence. This is the story of a dead girl told from the shifting third person povs of her parents and siblings. The sentences are lovely. The plot, compelling. But what set this book apart was the mixed-race marriage and the children who tell about their small town life. There aren’t many stories like this out there and this one sings.

The Sky Is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

A novel set in the sea of grief that Lennie finds herself drowning in after her sister, Bailey, dies. An absent mother, a present grandmother and uncle, a patient best friend, and two handsome love interests help pull Lennie out of the water and back amongst the living. This YA book by the author of I’ll Give You the Sun is a study in grief and the lessons death can teach to help us keep living.

Every Day by David Levithan

The premise of this book is that a mysterious soul wakes up every day in a different body. It’s weird and makes for interesting challenges in terms of telling a story over time from this POV.

Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews

Told in part using screenplay forms, I loved how engaging this narrator is.  The friendship between Greg and Earl is far more interesting than the one between Greg and Rachel. The book ending is so much better than the movie, and I don’t even know why the movie did the book so wrong.

Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Piccoult

This YA novel about a school shooting kept me turning pages. I didn’t care too much for the writing style, but the plot moved and although none of the characters were completely likeable, they were compelling to read about.

Reservation Blues by Sherman Alexie

I love the magical realism and setting of this novel. He writes male and female characters with compassion and depth. His modern take on Indian life humanizes so many Native American stereotypes.

Language Lesson by Ashaki Jackson

Jackson’s poems of grief stick heavy in your throat and force you to sit with discomfort of loss. Her responses to her grandmother’s passing show there is no one way to grieve. We are all counting our losses, some more quietly than others.

Wish You Were Me by Myriam Gurba

This poet had me rolling when I heard her perform this past summer. She isn’t afraid to shock, or make you laugh, or offend. I love her unapologetic style.

Booked by Kwame Alexander 

This novel in verse is by the same author as The Crossover. The protagonist is a young soccer player struggling with his parents’ separation, and balancing school, competitive soccer, bullies, friends, and a potential girlfriend. Although the ending left many questions unanswered, I loved the vocabulary development and unique characterization.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

This thriller explores a missing woman from several different narrative voices. All are women and the primary narrator’s reliability is called into question by everyone around her (including herself). I liked this much better than Gone Girl, which it is often compared to, and look forward to seeing the film version.

*Three-Year Swim Club by Julie Checkaway

*OK, I didn’t finish it. I was enjoying it. It’s a nonfiction account of the coach of ditch-swimming kids in Hawaii and their unlikely success.  I might go back and complete it. The topic intrigues me, but I was not in the place or brain space to finish.

*Bright Dead Things by Ada Limón

I fell upon Ada Limón’s poem, “Before” during April during National Poetry Month. My writing partner, Hazel, passed on this collection where it appears and Limón's poems humble me. The language is simple, as are the forms, but her poems shine with quiet brilliance and make me want to try to write poems with such care. *Still haven’t finished reading this collection.

The Education of Margot Sanchez by Lilliam Rivera

I really enjoy how this author allows the protagonist to evolve over the course of this novel. Margot straddles private school social elites, her family in the Bronx, old friendships, and a new love interest with varying degrees of success until things come together at a party in the Hamptons. Definitely kept me turning the pages and wondering how Margot would navigate a complicated intersectional world. You'll have to preorder this one though. It won't be released until February. 

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

I may have found a new favorite YA author. This novel takes place in the space of a day and all of the multi-universes attached. The two primary narrators are Natasha and Daniel, but the author also dips into peripheral characters, humanizing every character. This is a book that will make you believe in love and science while exploring multiracial/cultural experiences.

5 Favorite Children’s Books

Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña

This book had me in tears as I read it to Kiara. The illustrations are lovely and it gets to the heart of what we teach our kids with the decisions we make everyday.

The Snow Rabbit by Camille Garoche

This is such a beautiful book, and the depiction of this little girl in a wheelchair makes it even sweeter. The visuals and story are magical.

Thunder Boy Junior by Sherman Alexie and Yuyi Morales

This book beautifully addresses struggles with naming and helps kids understand the unique names many indigenous Americans possess.

Lucha Libre by Patty Rodriguez and Ariana Stein

This bilingual series is so fun to read with titles like Zapata: Colors/Colores, Counting with/Contando Con Frida, Un Elefante: Numbers/Numeros, but Lucha Libre: Anatomy/Anatomia is my favorite. We happened to meet the author’s at Children’s Book World so we even have signed editions!        

When the Beat Was Born by Laban Carrick Hill and Theodore Taylor

We gifted this book and I keep wishing I’d held on to it. With beautiful depictions of urban New York, we get one version of the story of how hip hop was born. 

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