So. I got jealous of everyone’s end of year books lists and got inspired to do my own. The rules are a little fast and loose over here. These are books I personally read in 2013, which does not mean they are actually 2013 releases, although a lot of them are. But this is about my year of reading and what stuck with me. Also, these are books that moved me. This doesn’t mean they’re my all time number ones reads, so I try to note why the book made the list. Sometimes I’m impressed with something in particular that an author nailed, sometimes I’m in love with the book itself, often it’s a combination of the two. These books aren’t for everyone. I included YA, MG and adult on this list, although only realistic fiction since I read almost exclusively realistic fiction, and usually of the darker variety.
In the case of this list, these are authors I’m not friends with. Of course my very favorite books are by some of my very favorite author friends– Caela Carter’s ME, HIM, THEM, and IT; Jess Verdi’s MY LIFE AFTER NOW; Alison Cherry’s RED; Lindsay Ribar’s THE ART OF WISHING; Mindy Raf’s THE SYMPTOMS OF MY INSANITY and KRISTEN KITTSCHER’s THE WIG IN THE WINDOW to name a few. Those are all fabulous books, but for the purpose of this list, I chose not to gush about my talented friends. 🙂
I ordered them, since that seemed fun, but I read approximately a bazillion books this year, so these are all the top of the top. They’re all great reads, with one crazy choice in here for number 13 to keep things interesting and because maybe being surprised and overwhelmed is a valuable kind of experience and I’ll take being shocked and horrified over bored any day!
13. TAMPA by Alissa Nutting (Adult. Like, VERY adult) Listen. This book is not for everyone. I don’t even know that this book is for me. I wouldn’t recommend it to most people because it is dark and wildly graphic and upsetting on the deepest level. That said, it is a portrayal of a true sociopath, it is unflinching, it doesn’t compromise, it doesn’t worry about making its readers comfortable and it went for it in the scariest, ugliest ways imaginable. And I have to applaud that, even if it’s a strange choice for an end of year list. This book did what it set out to do.
12. THE BOOK OF BROKEN HEARTS by Sarah Ockler: I’m a huge fan of Ockler’s and this book makes the list for so many reasons. Having the too-rare cultural diversity I’m always looking for in my YA. Powerful adult characters in YA, another rarity. Beautiful writing. A great love interest. And above all else a really powerful ending that made me actually DO something in my own personal life that I’d been putting off. It was that powerful. There’s something about a book that can change your own actions that’s pretty impressive. Highly recommend this unique and powerful read.
11. SOMEDAY, SOMEDAY MAYBE by Lauren Graham: I recommend this one on audio since Lauren Graham herself narrates and she’s all kinds of charming. This is a light read for me, but such a perfect read in so many ways. It’s funny, it’s got great ups and downs, it perfectly captures being a wanna-be actress in NYC in your twenties, something I’ve experienced before, and it’s got great embarrassing moments, which is something I really love in both darker and lighter books. This is a really fun, snappy, witty read.
10. DANGEROUS GIRLS by Abigail Haas: This was recommended to me by a few of my favorite twitter friends, and I flew through it on a recent plane ride. It borrows from some recent interesting legal cases and missing person cases, and it is the ultimate in unreliable narration. A really fascinating page turner of a book.
9. ASK THE PASSENGERS by A.S. King: Interesting framing devices and risks, this book made me re-remember what I first loved about YA fiction– that there’s more flexibility and freedom in the genre, a real exploration of structural, framing, and linguistic choices and fresher voices and stories than I was finding in adult. This is one of those books. It excited me. A deep read and an original one.
8. LOVE, AUBREY by Suzanne LaFleur: I read this during my MG reading binge when I was looking for MG’s dealing with tough issues. This is one of them, and it’ features great writing and honest emotion and the kind of struggle I love reading about– navigating through grief.
7. THE INTERESTINGS by Meg Wolitzer: I’m a sucker for a novel that covers a lot of time, and also one that does something really well that I personally struggle with in my own writing. This is one of those books. And what Wolitzer does so well is exercise a real facility with time. She hops all over the place but as a reader, I barely noticed (as a writer struggling with chronology in my own books I was seething with jealousy). Aside from being impressed by the complicated timelines, I also simple enjoyed this read in the most basic way. I was on board with the characters, interested in reading about decades of their lives, and felt comfortable in Wolitizer’s capable hands. There’s a lot to be said about a writer you can trust.
6. ARISTOTLE AND DANTE DISCOVER THE SECRETS OF THE UNIVERSE by Benjamin Alire Saenz: I love unexpected relationships developing over time. It’s something I’m working on in my third novel and this book nails it. The writing is incredible, the sense of place is strong and the story is focused and unexpected and breathtakingly real. Absolutely a must read for anyone who loves YA. Or anyone who loves books. Or humans.
5. A MANGO-SHAPED SPACE by Wendy Mass. Mass is probably one of my favorite MG writers ever. She’s phenomenal and eclectic and I admire her so much. This is my favorite of her books. It’s downright beautiful. Magical. Stunning. So so special. And timeless.
4. THEN YOU WERE GONE by Lauren Strasnick: Full disclosure, anything by Strasnick automatically goes to the top of my list. When I chose my editor, it was in part because she was Strasnick’s editor. When I read Strasnick’s work, I remember why sentences matter. This is a fast read with heartstoppingly beautiful writing. A somewhat rare combination, where plot and beautiful writing move together. You’ll be thrilled to discover this really wonderful YA novelist. If you are a lover of dark contemporary YA and you haven’t read her, do it immediately.
3. TELL THE WOLVES I’M HOME: A heartbreaking adult novel with a young narrator. Brave and deep. This character is so so so likable and smart and earnest in all the best ways. A character who is trying, which is such an excellent kind of character to spend time with. Everyone I’ve talked to about this book has fallen in love with it. Absolutely one of the top adult literary picks of the year.
2. WAITING FOR NORMAL by Leslie Connor: Man this book blew me away. It was recommended to me as an example of a really spot on MG voice and it truly inspired me. It’s a hard read in a lot of ways, and the kind of book that makes you tear up in public. I was so moved by this character and the frank way she deals with her difficult world. I’m dying for more people to read this book. Especially anyone who thinks kids should only be reading easy, happy novels. This book MATTERS.
1. SISTERLAND by Curtis Sittenfeld: I’m shocked this is my number one pick. Not because I don’t love Sittenfeld– I do! But usually in a casual, happy to have read, then put behind me kind of way. SISTERLAND is something different. I could not stop reading (or in this case listening. I do a lot of audiobooks). I sat on my couch for over an hour listening to the ending. I stared at the wall and did nothing but sink into the words. Like THE INTERESTINGS, this book covers a lot of time really easily, which I admire, but it does even more than that. It’s a sister story of the best kind. Love and heate, jealousy and support. It’s about fate and also about the lack of fate. It’s sort of a perfect novel as far as I’m concerned. Wonderful writing, complicated flawed characters, plot twists, larger themes, oodles of tension. It’s exceptional. My top book of the year, and certainly the top adult book of the year I think, too. A total surprise that made me think and cry and laugh and stare at the wall on a Wednesday night without even a glass of wine or a slice of cheese to distract me from the fascinating story.