My 2016 top books post got very long, and I’m on track to read more this year, so I thought I’d write one post now, about halfway through the year, covering my favorite books of the year up to this point. (Note: many of my comments below draw liberally from my Goodreads reviews.)
YA Sci-Fi and Fantasy
Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo. I know, I know, I’m super behind on this one, and I still haven’t read Crooked Kingdom. This is such an incredible heist story because the cast is perfect. I keep trying to choose a favorite character, but it’s really hard? I keep going back and forth? (It’s Jesper, really, I promise, except for when it’s all the others.)
Not Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee. This is a very predictable story, but that’s part of the joy. It’s silly and cute and affirming and fun. Seriously, superheroes and supervillains, f/f pairing, and a bi Chinese-Vietnamese-American protagonist. It’s lovely.
Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire. This is haunting and full of shadows and atmosphere, and my heart breaks for both Jack and Jill. If you loved Jack in Every Heart a Doorway, you want this. Also, if the goriness of EHaD put you off, that’s absent here.
Side note: My feelings about Every Heart a Doorway have gotten a lot more complicated over the past few months; I did an ace/aro-related close read and came away a lot less comfortable with the representation. There’s so much I love about the novella, even related to the ace rep, so it’s disappointing to not love all of it.
Thick as Thieves by Megan Whalen Turner. Gen is hardly on page and yet this is the most Gen story ever. I guess you could read this without reading the first four books, but I wouldn’t recommend. What I would recommend, however, is reading those books. Do it do it do.
Fourth World by Lyssa Chiavari. This book is ace rep that makes my heart sing. Both MCs are ace. One IDs on-page as demisexual. The other doesn’t have a label on-page, but it is made very clear that this character is ace and sex-repulsed. Note that this book ends on a very major cliffhanger, but if you want ace-rep in YA sci-fi, this is your book.
Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli. So I’m late on this one, too. It’s funny and cute and comforting, and I’ve read it twice this year already. (The second time was during/after qualifying exams when I desperately needed something comfy.) CW for being outed, homophobic bullying.
The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli. I like Simon a lot, and I think in the long run I’ll probably read it more often. But Upside might be even better. It does justice to familial relationships, especially that between sisters, and to romantic relationships. It doesn’t spend much time on friendships, but it also depicts them in such a way that you never doubt their strength and importance. The main character is fat, craftsy, and Jewish, and all of those are important to her. It’s lovely.
Noteworthy by Riley Redgate. “Girl singing tenor” is the way to my heart. There is a romantic plot for the main character, but a lot of the message of the book for me was about the importance of platonic relationships and found family. It also talks a ton about empathy and poverty, and I really love this book, y’all. Note that the MC is cis but cross-dressing, and while the existence of trans people is mentioned, there are no trans characters.
History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera. Yes, Silvera, please feel free to break my heart. This is so full of grief and confusion, and nothing is easy but everything is perfect.
The Gauntlet by Karuna Riazi. Ending up in a board game and sibling love and friendly lizards. The worldbuilding here is vivid; you feel it and taste it and smell it. This is in third person, but very much in Farah’s pov, and her culture and upbringing come through strongly in the narration.
Somos Como Las Nubes by Jorge Argueta. I wasn’t sure how to classify this. It’s illustrated like a picture book, but it’s a collection of poems, mostly about immigrating to the United States from Central America. I’d recommend reading the poetry in Spanish if you can, but all the poems are printed in both Spanish and English.
Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan. This focuses on identity, confidence, and community, and the main character is a Pakistani-American, Muslim, sixth-grade girl. I especially love the family relationships here.
The Distance to Home by Jenn Bishop. Read this with tissues, by which I mean this book is unfair. I picked it up because it’s about a girl who loves baseball, but this is really about grief and sisterhood.
Freedom in Congo Square by Carole Boston Weatherford. I thought this did a good job honestly showing the lives of the slaves during the week and the joy that the gatherings in Congo Square provided. The illustration style matched the story really well and made the contrast between Sunday afternoons and the rest of the week even more clear.
Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match by Monica Brown. This is bilingual (Spanish/English), and it’s about being yourself even when it doesn’t make sense to other people. The illustrations were partially collage and included bits of newspapers/magazines in both English and Spanish. The illustrations really add to the book, giving Marisol even more character; it’s all so bright, bold, and varied.
Which One Doesn’t Belong? by Christopher Danielson. Well, it’s not quite a picture book, but it’s perfect so I’m going to talk about it here anyway. Every page of the book shows four images and asks “Which one doesn’t belong?” Instead of there being one clear answer, there are reasons that each of the images could be the odd one out. You’ll never look at collections of four objects the same way again. (Seriously. It’s a problem.)
A Dance Like Starlight: One Ballerina’s Dream by Kristy Dempsey. This is in verse and told beautifully. It’s a story about hope and dreams, dancing, and role models. The main character is a young black dancer, but the book features Janet Collins, the first female black ballet dancer at the Met.
Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring by Jan Greenberg. This is a really cool story of how Martha Graham, Aaron Copland, and Isamu Noguchi created Appalachian Spring . I thought the book did a good job showing their collaborative process and gave a sense for Martha’s style as personality.
Viral Airwaves by Claudie Arseneault. I read this book and have pretty much not stopped talking about it on Twitter since. It’s about a group of revolutionaries in a solarpunk-ish society, involves secret radio broadcasts and a super cool hot air balloon, and has an ace MC who would really rather be eating instant noodles, thanks. This is about how and why people join such a group and go to incredible lengths to fight for what they believe is right. The group argues, splits up, starves, gets injured, gets captured. It felt difficult and sometimes brutal, but the cast is so bright, and I love their relationships.
Chameleon Moon by RoAnna Sylver. Pretty much everyone describes this as hopeful dystopia. Super queer hopeful dystopia. I love everyone. There’s Regan, the demisexual lizard man who is trying to figure himself and the city out after having his memory stolen. And then there are Rose, Danae, and Evelyn, married and all very different. I think Rose is my favorite of them, but Danae’s protectiveness is a delight. My absolute favorite character, though is Zilch. They’re loving and giving and a little bitter, and yes, all the Zilch please. This is own-voices for all kinds of things (asexuality, enby-ness, PTSD, some other things I’m definitely forgetting) and it is wonderful. Please read.
An Accident of Stars by Foz Meadows. This is a portal fantasy with a really interesting magic system. One of the main characters is a teenager, but I do think this is properly classified as adult. This is really about relationships among women (familial, friendship, romantic). I love Gwen, who is an older, allosexual aro woman. She’s guilty and weary, but she’s also confident, and I want more of her story.