But seeing as I only blog once a year, I didn’t want to miss my yearly commitment.
Here are my favorite books from 2015. These are books that I personally read in 2015. Often they didn’t come out in 2015. There are dozens more books that I truly loved this year, but these are the ones that I can’t get out of my head. I try to keep the list balanced with YA and MG and Adult Lit.
2015 was a big year for me– two books out, my first tour, getting engaged, selling a new YA project, and re-discovering how obsessed I am with Ethiopian takeout. So, you know, big stuff.
And it was a great reading year. I tried to read what excited me, not what I felt like I had to read. The result was satisfying and inspiring.
And now, in no particular order…
THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN: No surprises here. This Newbery Award winning book about imprisoned animals blew me away, made me cry, made me excited about all the different ways we as writers can choose to tackle stories. It’s original, moving, and simply beautiful.
THE AGE OF MIRACLES: I was looking for books that represented the kind of books I’m wanting to write these days. Life, reimagined by small variations, but ultimately still recognizable as the Modern World. THE AGE OF MIRACLES is exactly this. It’s our life, if one simple change took place, in this case, the change being the reimagining of the concept of time. This book, over any others, helped me finally, finally write a successful draft of my next YA novel.
THIS ONE SUMMER: We read this graphic novel in book club and it was a crowd favorite. It captured two things I care deeply about– female friendship and troubled mother-daughter relationships. I think it’s a book almost any reader could love. It’s accessible and nostalgic and sweet and harsh all at once.
INVINCIBLE: Amy Reed has been a favorite YA author of mine since I first got into YA and INVINCIBLE rivals my long time favorite of hers, BEAUTIFUL. It’s a rare straightforward, unblinking look at addiction and anger. It was more than a great read for me. It helped me negotiate some of my own past. So worthwhile and strong.
INFANDOUS: I tweeted about this book a lot because it is one of the most unique YA novels I’ve ever read. Not only does it have a truly stunning writing style, it’s also bold and sensual in a way that felt brand new to me. I love how swift and fearless it is. Like so many of my favorite books, it’s a mother-daughter book. It also has a fairy-tale quality, an unspeakably intense twist, and a thick atmosphere. Read it.
DEPT OF SPECULATION: This is a short, unsettling look at relationships. An adult novel that has a stream-of-consciousness feel and dives into feelings I rarely see addressed in novels. It has a quiet, philosophical feeling, an arresting structure, and a lot to say about intimacy and life, in general.
A LITTLE LIFE: This is on so many lists, but it’s for a reason. It took me months to read the first 200 pages, and days to read the last 500 pages. It is the single most brutal text I’ve ever read. Hopeless, despairing, and engrossing. I couldn’t stop reading it. It is also about love– the powers it does and does not have. Four friends in NYC confront the very worst that life has to offer. It’s also about trauma and the ways it can and cannot be overcome. Harrowing.
GOODBYE STRANGER: Rebecca Stead wins again, with a book about a tricky age– young teenagerdom. I loved the way she handled young sexual coming of age and shifting friendships and the way the world can feel mysterious and out of control at this age. She’s a master of MG and YA literature, and this book captures that age better than any book I’ve ever read.
HOPE IS A FERRIS WHEEL: Not enough children’s lit interests itself with issues around financial struggles, and this book does it with grace, lightness, and depth. I loved the main character’s optimism and off beat personality, I loved her love of poetry, and I loved how this book balanced light and dark. Theres also some lovely structural components, and excellent writing.
SINGLE CAREFREE MELLOW: I often forget to fall in love with short stories, and I made an effort to pick up this collection of stories that focus on love and sex and womanhood. There’s a lightness to these stories that I appreciated, a frank way of talking about the world, and they’re about my favorite type of women– imperfect, complicated, flawed, feeling. A really good collection of short stories to get you back into what it is short stories have to offer.
To say I’m honored to have a blurb from Katherine Applegate is an enormous understatement. THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN is a stunning book, truly deserving of the incredible response and unbelievable awards it received. I sat on my couch reading THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN and wept the entire time. It was a rare experience, spending time in Ivan’s world. I can’t recommend the book highly enough.
Closing out my week of blurb reveals, I want to thank all the authors who read and supported RULES FOR STEALING STARS with their amazing words. I’m blown away and so excited. With all that said– here’s the blurb from Katherine Applegate!!!
“Tender, wise, and heartbreakingly lovely, this story is as brilliant as a stolen star, and every bit as magical. Prepare to be enchanted.”
–Katherine Applegate, Newbery-award winning author of The One and Only Ivan
I was thrilled to receive a blurb from Anne Ursu, who is an author-hero of mine. Her novels are arresting, unique, wondrous things. BREADCRUMBS is a particular favorite of mine– a book filled with magic and sorrow and big questions and great love. I consider her books to be required middle grade reading, so her blurbing RULES FOR STEALING STARS means a lot to me. If you haven’t read an Ursu novel, it should be a priority.
And now– here it is:
“A gorgeous, profound, deeply felt book that lovingly explores intricate sibling relationships, the crushing weight of family secrets, and the delicate magic of hope. RULES FOR STEALING STARS is sublime.” –Anne Ursu, author of Breadcrumbs and The Real Boy
I’m so excited to spend this week sharing the three amazing blurbs RULES FOR STEALING STARS has received. Here’s the first one, from one of my very favorite authors. If you haven’t read Leslie Connor’s WAITING FOR NORMAL you should read it immediately! It’s absolutely gorgeous and was a huge influence on me. I’m so pleased Leslie agreed to read and blurb my middle grade debut!
“Silly and her sisters are flesh-and-bone characters; they gripped me by my very heart and pulled me into their tense and mysterious family story. With beguiling moments of magical realism and engaging turns of phrase, Corey Ann Haydu has crafted a glowing middle grade debut.”
–Leslie Connor, Award-wining author of Waiting for Normal and Crunch
Goodbye, 2014! Welcome, 2015! Before we get to the list…
It was a busy year, and maybe not the year I expected, but a good year anyway. LIFE BY COMMITTEE, my second book, came out in May to some great reviews, and was on the Summer 2014 Indie Next list. OCD LOVE STORY came out in paperback, and it’s been fun seeing a new group of readers discover the book!
It has been a year of firsts! I sold my first middle-grade novel, RULES FOR STEALING STARS. I started to learn how to cook (like a real adult!) I started barre, started teaching (which i love!), started writing at home thanks to a new apartment, and started turning OCD LOVE STORY into a play.
I went to the Bahamas. I went to Portugal. I went to Tennessee. I went to a lot of weddings. I said goodbye to my old apartment and a lot of crappy memories, and I read less than I planned to.
2015 is going to be wonderful and insane. That’s my official prediction. I have two books coming out– my third YA novel, MAKING PRETTY (May 2015) and my debut MG novel, RULES FOR STEALING STARS (September 2015). Plus my adaptation of OCD LOVE STORY will be the Fall 2015 play at my old high school outside Boston! I’m looking forward to a very busy year, personally and professionally, a lot of travel, and hopefully lots more reading than I managed this year!
NOW. Top ten books I read this year. This is a list of books I read in 2014, not necessarily ones that came out this year. I include both YA and Adult, and I tried to draw a line and not include books whose authors are super duper close friends, because those books would automatically be at the top of the list and then I would have 12 number one books and nothing in the other slots. Great books by many of my writer friends either came out this year or I read them this year. Do yourself a favor and check out books by Brandy Colbert, Kristen Kittscher, Caela Carter, Amy Ewing, Jess Verdi, Alison Cherry, and Lindsay Ribar.
And here’s the list!
10. CARTWHEEL by Jennifer Dubois: If you are interested in Amanda Knox, this adult novel is for you. It wasn’t perfect, but it was interesting and readable and easy to recommend.
9. ONE MORE THING by BJ Novak: I was so surprised at how smart and wise and arresting these short stories were, along with being funny. A really interesting book/palate cleanser from one of the writers/stars of The Office.
8. BELZHAR by Meg Wolitzer. I only liked this book for about 2/3 of the read. Then I fell in love with it. Wolitzer’s a great, confident writer and this book surprised me in the best way. A great contemporary YA that draws from my favorite book as a teen, THE BELL JAR.
7. KISS KILL VANISH by Jessica Martinez: One of the most beautifully written YAs ever, in my opinion. This is a thriller with a focus on setting. I blurbed this one, so you can see what I thought of it on the book, but I think it’s incredibly unique and thrilling and special. A good one for literary fiction readers who don’t yet know they could love YA.
6. ALTHEA AND OLIVER by Cristina Moracho: Similarly to KISS KILL VANISH, this is a YA novel with exceptional writing. The characters are what make the novel truly stand out, and their relationship is so complicated and so honest and dangerous and loving and raw. Male-female friendships are rare in YA and this one is twisty and close and overwhelming. A great, complex contemporary YA novel.
5. FICTION RUINED MY FAMILY by Jeanne Darst: This memoir about a family with a few too many writers in it blew me away. At once painful and funny, it covers family dynamics, addiction, mental health, and NYC. Absolutely one of the most powerful memoirs I’ve read, my experience reading it was a lot like that of reading one of my top five books of allllll time, THE LIAR’S CLUB.
4. THE THINGS YOU KISS GOODBYE by Leslie Connor. I discovered Leslie Connor last year when reading her incredible MG, WAITING FOR NORMAL, and was so pleased to discover her YA is just as special. Lyrical writing, a culturally rich family life, a true-feeling narrator and a heartwrenching love story, this should be at the top of your YA reading list.
3. THE TRUTH ABOUT ALICE by Jennifer Mathieu: I read this book in one sitting, which is rare for me. This YA book is about the complex ways stories about sexual abuse get distorted, retold, and misunderstood. I think it’s an important book for readers of every age, especially at this moment in time. This is a truly masterful novel.
2. LIKE NO OTHER by Una LaMarche: A Hassidic girl and a black boy from the same neighborhood in Brooklyn meet and fall in love. I love the cultural complexities in this YA novel, the powerful, clear writing, and that it didn’t remind me of any other book. I felt like I learned, was moved, and invested my whole heart in this story.
1. GOD SHAPED HOLE by Tiffanie DeBartolo: Over a year ago I asked for book recs of “epic love stories” and one of my favorite bloggers, Estelle at Rather Be Reading, recommended this one. I’d never heard of it, and it took me forever to get to it, but when I did I knew it would be my favorite of the year. I loved the LA setting, the sometimes sparse, always specific, uber-relateable writing and the balance of ugliness and beauty in a relationship. Even writing about it makes me desperate to live in the world of this exceptional adult novel again. It’s not a Big book, it’s a small story about two people finding and losing their way together, and it tells it like it IS, such a rarity in books about love. Please read this gorgeous novel.
I was a theatre kid.
But that sentence doesn’t really get close to the truth of what I was.
I was a kid who was defined by loving theatre. I was a kid in a school of kids with amazing grades and JCrew sweaters and really strong arms from things like crew and lacrosse. And I was a theatre kid. Maybe even The Theatre Kid.
When I was fourteen and fifteen and sixteen and seventeen there were a lot of things I didn’t feel good about. I didn’t feel good about the size of my ears or being the shortest person on the face of the planet. I didn’t feel good about the things my boyfriend said to me about the shortness of my skirts and the okay-ness of my feelings. I didn’t feel good about the friends that weren’t my friends anymore or the way things kept changing, the way I kept changing. I didn’t feel good about high school. Like how a lot of people didn’t feel good about high school.
I’d been acting since I was eight years old. But it didn’t start to save me until a new theatre teacher came to my high school. Mr. Halperin was dedicated and engaged and interested and edgy. He wanted to do new things. He wanted to challenge the school. He wanted to challenge those of us who loved theatre. He wanted us to be great.
His first semester at my high school he directed Hamlet and I was Ophelia. I wore all black. I went crazy on stage. I was small and tragic and I knew too much and felt too strongly and gave up too easily. I thought my dream Shakespeare role was Juliet, but who was I kidding. I was Ophelia. I was always going to be Ophelia.
My senior year, though, the fall show was The Marriage of Bette and Boo. A zany, smart, dangerous, loveable, wonderful, fully alive comedy. I played Bette. I was tiny and tragic and left behind Ophelia in my heart, but I was quirky, clueless, hopeful, disastrous Bette, too. I was someone else. I was funny. I was strange. I was unafraid. I didn’t fit in to my preppy, sporty, super smart school, but that was okay. I wasn’t meant to. I was Ophelia and I was Bette and I was moving to NYC to become an actress.
I was an actress for a while, but if we’re being honest I was mostly always a writer. I had always been a writer. In high school I wrote sad stories about sad families and the way being sixteen feels like the worst thing in the world. And after college I wrote short stories and plays about weirdos who want to fall in love and intense girls who don’t know how to grieve.
Then I found the YA and MG worlds, started writing for teens and children, and figured: yeah. This is it. This is where I’m meant to be.
But! Life is all kinds of wonderful and it cycles in strange and perfect ways you can’t possibly predict. Mr. Halperin still works at my old high school and has transformed their theatre program into an incredible, vibrant, safe, risky, forward-moving place. I know, because after my first book, OCD LOVE STORY, came out, I was invited to visit and meet with theatre kids and writer kids and kid kids and talk about the arts and being an artist and what kind of life is out there for a person who maybe feels they don’t belong. It was fantastic. Because I didn’t feel left out anymore. I felt connected to the school, and to these aspiring artists and these smart and curious people.
But it didn’t stop there.
Halperin asked me if I’d ever think about turning OCD LOVE STORY into a play for high schools, specifically (but hopefully not only) for MY former high school to produce. And I looked at the gorgeous new performing arts center they’d built in the 13 years since I graduated and the students who seem so much wiser and steadier than I ever was at that age, and the face of the teacher and director who helped me see I could be sad but strong Ophelia and wild but broken Bette, and I said yes.
I’ve been working on adapting that first novel into a play for months. It is a rocky and challenging and gratifying process. It is sort of emotional, to come from theatre and return to theatre. It is a wonderful thing to struggle in high school, but still feel thrilled about going back.
This week, the students at my old high school voted to make OCD LOVE STORY their fall 2015 mainstage production. Thrilled isn’t the right word for what I feel. I’m so honored and inspired. I’m so nervous and excited. I’m so ready to work with the students to make it an incredible play, to be inspired by their talent and wisdom and the things that they are surviving in their teen years. And I’m proud that I made it through and get to circle back around and be a theatre kid again.
OCD LOVE STORY the play. Coming to Noble and Greenough High School in Fall 2015. ☺
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.
I’m not gonna lie. I had a pretty great February.
In the middle of the month I turned 30. There was a lot of pasta and prosciutto. There was a bar that let me play my favorite movies on a big screen all night long while my best friends gave me hugs and made me laugh. There was the realization that 30 isn’t so scary, or that it is sort of scary but maybe in the good, liberating, adventurous way and not in the monsters-under-the-bed, life-ending sort of way.
A week later I was in Dublin celebrating my niece’s first birthday and my brother’s wedding, and anticipating a post-wedding trip to Paris that promised to be full of cheese and snow, two of my favorite things.
And in the middle of a jet-lagged nap on my first day in Dublin, my wonderful agent, Victoria Marini called with News. The kind of News that in some dreamworld version of life would be really fun to celebrate in Paris. I am not often in a dreamworld version of life. I’m usually in the version of life where the barista gives me an iced mocha instead of a hot one and the subway smells like feet and Something Else and I am missing the crucial part of the vacuum cleaner that actually allows me to vacuum. I am usually cozy in my cafe writing during the day and pretty sure I’m watching too much TV at night and wishing someone had texted me when no one did, and wondering if the party this weekend will be fun or awkward. I am usually in the version of life where lots of little things are wonderful and lots of other little things are terrible, and on the whole things are fine and I can come up with plenty of things to discuss with my therapist, but that I’m basically okay as long as I don’t see a mouse in my apartment, which I haven’t for a few years because I am now an Adult. (see above: turning 30)
But in February I was in the dreamworld version of my life. My agent called to let me know the fabulous Anica Rissi at Katherine Tegen Books was buying LIFE BY COMMITTEE, my next YA novel, and one other as-yet-unnamed YA novel.
Also, I hadn’t slept in forty-eight hours, adding to the dreaminess of the whole affair. For the next week I celebrated in Paris. It snowed the whole time. The Notre Dame is unreal in the snow. I ate two cheese plates a day. I took one hundred pictures of the Eiffel Tower as it transitioned from its sturdy daytime look to its sparkly, other-worldly nighttime look. The hotel had fleur de lis wall paper and down the street were the best ham and cheese sandwiches ever made, due in large part to excessive butter.
Katherine Tegen Books would be publishing my next two YA novels and everything I ate was smothered– I mean absolutely swimming– in butter.
February was good. And 30 seems like it will be okay. And someday I will find that missing part of my vacuum cleaner.