Friday, December 22, 2017

My Favorite Reads In 2017, Part 1: Teen & Adult

I thought it might be fun to put together a list of my personal favorites from this year. Now keep in mind, I have a very limited amount of time to read and a broad age-range of literature to try to keep up with, so this is not meant to be a comprehensive list by any means. Some of these were suggested to me, some were assigned for class, and some I just chose to read because they looked interesting.

These are all books that I actually read, from beginning to end. Most were published in 2017 or the latter part of 2016, though a couple are older and one that I received as an ARC won't be out until January. This post will cover teen and adult; I'll cover middle-grade and picture books in the following posts. I'll include a short blurb for each, and link the title to any full reviews I may have written.

Be sure to leave me a comment about great books I missed!

Teen Books
Love Hate & Other Filters is a debut novel by Samira Ahmed that won't actually be out until next month (Jan. 16, 2018), but I was fortunate to receive an ARC via NetGalley. Keep an eye out for this one! I thought it was really good and tackles not only timely issues like Islamophobia and violence, but is also a coming-of-age story dealing with typical teen issues of family, conflicting values and expectations, friendship, and romance. 

Maya is a first generation Indian-American Muslim teenager, who is struggling with her parents' traditional, old-world expectations and her very American desire to be independent and choose her own path in life, which is very different than the one her parents would choose for her. Her dreams of going to film school become further complicated when a nearby bombing sparks an outbreak of violence against Maya's family, causing her parents to become irrationally controlling out of fear. (Diverse characters, realistic fiction)
The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe (2017, first published in Spain in 2012) is a fictionalized account of real people and true events during the Holocaust, set mostly in Auschwitz. This is a very powerful and multi-faceted story centered around Dita, a young teenager who is given the responsibility for taking care of the 8 books they have managed to smuggle into the camp. These books are used in the clandestine school they have organized in the camp, under the guise of the simple childcare they are approved to provide.

While many of the events portrayed are shocking and horrifying, the story is not told in a overly emotional way, and we see surprising glimpses of normalcy among the horror, and a determination to maintain dignity and survive as long as possible. Rather than being bleak, depressing, and hopeless, the story is defiant, hopeful, and inspiring. I highly recommend this book for teens and adults, and expect to see it on many reading lists in the next year or two, and possibly a finalist for the Batchelder Award. (Historical fiction)
When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon (2017) is a lighter read that has some similar themes to Love Hate & Other Filters, but without the violence and hatred. Like Maya, Dimple's parents are more traditional and want her to stay close to home, marry a suitable Indian boy, and have babies, but Dimple has other goals. Unbeknownst to her, they have already tentatively arranged a match and set up a situation for them to meet and get to know one another. However, Rishi is unaware that Dimple has been kept in the dark, which leads to a disastrous first meeting.

Set primarily during an intense residential summer course in web design, Dimple must focus on the design competition and its considerable prize, while feeling very conflicted about her feelings for Rishi. This is a great lighter read that is still interesting and not too superficial. (Realistic Fiction, Romance, Diverse characters)
Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bachardoust (2017) has been referred to as a feminist re-telling of Snow White. While fantasy and mysticism usually aren't my thing, I first read an excerpt of this in a preview book from NetGalley and found it very compelling and intriguing, so I requested the ARC, and was not disappointed.

This version of the tale features strong female characters who, while flawed and with human weaknesses, do not need any Prince Charming to rescue them. Mina, the daughter of a magician, represents the evil Queen and Lynet, the daughter of the King, represents Snow White. But their relationship is very different than in the traditional telling, and I think most readers will be very satisfied with the ending. (Fantasy, Mysticism)
I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L Sánchez (2017) is the story of Julia, a Mexican-American teenager who feels that no one understands her and that she will never measure up to the memory of her "perfect" older sister Olga, who was tragically killed in an accident. As Julia tries to work through her feelings of grief over Olga's death and resentment at being constantly compared to her, Julia discovers that Olga wasn't the "perfect Mexican daughter" everyone thought she was.

This story deals with the cultural conflict between immigrant parents and their more independent American-born children, but also with the very serious issues of grief and depression. This is definitely a serious story with a darker tone, but it shows how depression develops and worsens if untreated, but that medication and therapy can help, and hopefully lessons the stigma of mental illness among teens. I think this could appeal to a wide audience, as many people can relate to the struggle with the expectations of others versus what they want for themselves. (Realistic fiction, multicultural, drama, depression & suicidal ideation)

Gabi: A Girl In Pieces by Isabel Quintero (2014) isn't a brand-new book, but I just discovered it this year as part of a multicultural youth literature class (incidentally, the professor was on the committee that selected this book for the Morris award). It has many similarities to I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, but the protagonist has healthier coping mechanisms and does not sink into depression, therefore it is much lighter in tone.

In this story we see all the struggles Gabi and her friends and family go through during her senior year in the form of Gabi's diary. And Gabi has a lot to deal with: body image, a domineering mother who expects her to be a "good Latina girl", a meth-addicted father, a best friend that's pregnant, another that has just come out as gay, and trying to find romance. Gabi copes with it all with humor, food, and discovering her talent for poetry, which leads to some truly beautiful poems within the book.

I highly recommend this book; well-written, authentic, and all teens can find something to relate to. (Realistic fiction, multicultural, drama)

The Sun Is Also A Star by Nicola Yoon (2016) is a teen romance with multicultural characters from last year that I absolutely loved! This not-quite-so-typical tale of star-crossed lovers features two teens who meet by chance on a critical day and have a whirlwind romance while dealing with serious decisions and challenges. Natasha's family illegally immigrated from Jamaica and are facing deportation; Daniel is a dutiful Korean son and plans on doing as his parents expect, going to Yale and becoming a doctor, even though he is an artist at heart.

The conflict is clearly in whether Natasha will manage a last-minute reprieve for her family so she and Daniel can be together, and you are kept guessing and hoping almost to the very end. One thing I REALLY loved about this book is that the ending was left a bit open, but still provided satisfying closure, and tied up all the loose ends and unanswered questions. The take home point I got from this story is that you never know who will end up having a significant impact on your life, or how much of a difference even the smallest act of kindness or consideration can make. (Realistic fiction, multicultural, romance, immigration)

Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli (2015) stars a teenage boy who happens to be gay and is a bit hesitant to "come out of the closet" for fear of rocking the boat, but is really about all relationships, those with family, friends, and romantic interests. The main character has good relationships with his parents and siblings, and a strong circle of friends, all of whom he thinks would be okay with his being gay, yet he still hesitates to tell anyone. Until a classmate accidentally sees a e-mail exchange between Simon and his secret pen-pal, and uses it to blackmail him into interceding on his behalf with a romantic interest.

A very touching, funny, and sweet story. Not too sappy or "polyanna", but not too heavy and serious, either. I highly recommend this one, as well. There is some conflict, but it is not super "angst-y". I have a feeling that the upcoming movie based on this book entitled "Love, Simon" is not going to be quite as true to the tone of the book, and will be more sappy, heavy, and greatly exaggerate the conflict and angst. I hope not, as the best part of the book were the solid, healthy relationships Simon had with his family and friends. (Realistic fiction, romance, LGBTQ)

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (2017) is of course on everyone's list this year, and was chosen as both best YA book and best book by a new author by Goodreads readers, and I'm sure will get more honors at the YMA's. 

This is the story of Starr, a teenager living in the inner city who struggles with a dual identity as she splits her life between her friends and family in the neighborhood, and her more wealthy, predominantly white, suburban friends at the private school she attends. She has already witnessed the death of a childhood friend in a drive-by shooting, then tragically witnesses the shooting death of another friend in a traffic-stop gone bad, which causes her to question everything, and throws her neighborhood into turmoil.

This book is very well-written with wonderful character development (I loved Starr and her family) and is a very engaging story to read, though readers should keep in mind they are only getting one side of the story, albeit a very sympathetic and compelling one, versus the way Kekla Magoon's  How It Went Down shows multiple perspectives of a similar shooting and how they are filtered through each person's own experiences and biases. (Realistic fiction, drama, violence, racism)

Teen/Adult Crossovers & Adult
Unbecoming by Jenny Denham (2016) tells the stories of three generations of women in the same family, each with their own secrets. Mary is struggling to hold on to her memories of her colorful past, and sacrifices that she made that her daughter never understood. Caroline struggles with caring for an elderly parent she barely knows and has always resented, as well as being a single mom to two teenagers, one with special needs. Katie is the peacemaker, trying to mediate between her mother and grandmother while dealing with her confusion about her sexuality and fear of telling her mother.

This is a well-paced, but thoughtful story with multiple story- and time-lines that are very well integrated in a way that is easy to follow and enjoyable to read, not succumbing to the confusion that sometimes arises when this is attempted. 
I think this book could appeal to many people because of the cross-generational content, and each character facing different challenges, making it highly relateable. This is an excellent example of a successful YA-Adult crossover, and would be a great choice for a mother-daughter book club. (Realistic fiction, multi-generational, coming of age, LGTBQ)

The Martian by Andy Weir (2014) is the story of astronaut Mark Watney, part of the first crew to land of Mars, who becomes stranded there when an accident separates him from the rest of the crew when a storm forces them to immediately terminate the mission and leave the surface, mistakenly thinking Mark is dead. Now he must fight for survival.

I loved this book! I read it after seeing the movie, and while the movie did follow the book fairly closely, I really liked all the details the book filled in. If you are not a science person, it might drag on a bit in places with all the detail, but that I was I liked about it. It filled in some of the how's and why's the movie glossed over, and allowed the reader to be be inside the main character's head.

One thing I found very interesting, is that this one of the rare self-publishing success stories. Originally, the author wanted to make it available for free on Amazon, but their policies required a minimum charge of around $1. From there, it eventually got picked up by a big publisher, and made into a blockbuster movie! (Sci-fi adventure)
Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly (2016) inspired the movie, which actually focused on just one small period of time covered by the book, and took many artistic liberties with both the events and timeline. The book is not just the story of Katherine Johnson, but tells the entire story, starting in WWII when the division of the defense department that would years later evolve into NASA began recruiting women to do all the calculations needed to support engineering.

This book is a little hard to get into at first, probably goes into a little more detail of the early history than necessary, but I think is worth it. It is a very inspiring story, and I found it very fascinating to see how the "Space Race" advanced the Civil Rights movement, a connection I was completely unaware of. There is also an abridged version for younger readers, or those who want the real story (as opposed to the fictionalized movie version) but don't have the time or patience for all the detail. (Non-fiction)

I have to confess these were the only 2 actual adult books I read this year! I have so much I'd like to read, but so little time, so since I work in youth services I do generally focus my reading time on middle-grade and YA fiction, but still only manage to read a small sampling. There is just never enough time!

So, there's my list, for what it's worth! Some I know everyone has heard of by now, but there might be a couple you're not familiar with. What great books did you come across this year that I missed? Tell me in the comments! I want to hear from you, not just the awards committees!

Stay tuned for posts on my favorite middle-grade & tween reads of this year and favorite picture books I read this year....

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