According to GoodReads.com I read 20,948 pages from 57 books. So you can imagine how hard it was to narrow down to only 10 for the best books I’ve read this year. There were so many good ones! I think I ultimately went with these 10 was because while I may have liked some of the other books more or given other’s better reviews or more stars, these 10 books stuck with me longer after finishing reading them. I would like to think that our Diverse Lives, Diverse Stacks: Diverse Narrators reading challenge is working for me because half of the books were written by Women of Color and they contain protagonists from very diverse backgrounds. That’s exciting to me but enough of this, let’s get on to the list.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas– This book was as heartbreaking as it was realistic. Starr is caught between two worlds but doesn’t really how different they are or how truly different she acts to accommodate both parts of her life until her friend is killed by a police officer during a routine traffic stop and she is the only witness. This really should be a must read in all schools for generations to come and I’m excited that it will also be a movie coming out next year.
Pyromantic by Lish McBride– It’s funny, it’s sarcastic, it’s action packed but mostly it is just plain fun. I really hope that Lish returns to these characters because there is just so much weirdness she can do with them.
Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor-This is such a lush story with great imagery and original concept. There really isn’t another novel out there right now. The ending was such a surprise that I have no idea what to expect in the sequel.
The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon-Just like The Hate U Give, this is another heartbreaking but all too realistic look at today’s youth. To strangers, meet and share a life changing day as Natasha fights to stop her family from being deported and Daniel fights the expectations of being a child of immigrants.
The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin-How do you describe this book? It has so much going on and it’s not certain how they all interweave but you know they must somehow. It’s truly a powerful book it’s no wonder it’s won so many awards.
Before the Devil Breaks You by Libba Bray-The third book in The Diviners series takes place in the 1920’s but with it’s themes of race, gender equality and science it’s more relevant than you would think. Evie, Sam, Memphis, Jericho, Theta, Ling Henry and Isiah have to overcome the coming darkness but also the social limits society places on those in the minority.
All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater-People come from far and wide to seek miracles from the Saints of Bicho Raro but even saints themselves need miracles and sometimes those miracles can’t be achieved on their own, sometimes they need a little help from others. That’s the lesson from this one, it’s great to self sufficient but don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.
Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake-It’s dark and mysterious but also cool to read of world where women rule and men play supportive roles. That women are just as complicated and conflicted and are able to be both and still show strength and vulnerability. Here we get three young women who all of those things and more.
WarCross by Marie Lu-This was fun and exciting thrill of a book. Full of mystery and kind of a spy novel in a way. Emika a down on her luck, hacker/bounty hunter gets a chance to play in the biggest game ever in hopes of finding another hacker trying to sabotage the game. It’s full of twists and turns that will keep you guessing.
So these are my favorite books of 2017. What are yours?
The Hate U Give may be categorized as a fiction novel but make no mistake, there is nothing fictional about it. Yes, Starr, Khalil, Seven, Maya, Devante, Big Mav, Lisa and Kenya don’t actually exist but their story does. Starr is a sixteen year old girl who lives in the hood but goes to school in private school in the suburbs. Her worlds could not be different. Over Spring Break, her best friend Khalil gets shot and killed by a police office during a routine traffic stop and Starr is the only witness. Starr must reconcile her own feelings about what she witnessed and the realities that come with it while also coming to grips how it effects her two different worlds. It gets thrown into sharp relief how her family and neighbors think what happens versus what her friends at school do. Starr grapples with her own fears and find her own voice to stand up for what rights, stand up to the authorities and her own friends too. This book is heartbreaking because it’s a story that we have seen played out too many times in the last couple of years. Khalil was unarmed when he was killed. Yes, he did sell drugs and had involvement with gangs but none of those facts should be justification for what this officer did. You could replace Khalil’s name with Michael, Philandro, Tamir, Tayvon or any other young black men unjustly killed by law enforcement and you would go through the same emotions. Angie Thomas does a brilliant job of outlining all the many view points about this issue. From Starr’s father, a former gang member and ex-con who is far to aware of how the justice system works to Hailey, Starr’s rich white friend who is willing to protest only because it got her out of class for a day. As the reader, we see what happened and how it happened at the beginning of the book. We know it was unjust but since the other characters weren’t there, we get to see how they process it through how they relate to Starr. They accept or deny it depends mostly on their own socioeconomic background and yes race plays apart of it too. Starr’s family of course understand immediately that Khalil did nothing wrong and that Starr did nothing wrong. They also know that because of the neighborhood that they live in it could be dangerous for Starr to speak out even if can help bring him justice. Whatever her decision, they always have her back. The first thing that really struck me was when Starr and Khalil were pulled over, Starr goes over in her head how she is supposed to act when interacting with cops. She says when she was 12 her father told her to do as the officer says, don’t talk unless spoken to and keep your hands visible. She was told this at twelve. Meaning that her parents thought, even as young as twelve years old she could be in danger. I tried to think if my parents and I ever had a talk about what to do if I got pulled over and I don’t think we ever did. Why would we? We are white, there is no reason for cops to look at me or my sister and assume we were up to no good. That we were criminals. That we could be dangerous but Starr’s parents and many black parents have to worry about that for their kids. That is truly heartbreaking. Two of the most interesting characters, okay maybe not the most interesting are Chris and Hailey. Chris and Hailey are both white, privileged and rich. Chris is Starr’s boyfriend. They share a love for sneakers, basketball and Fresh Prince of Bel Air. He at times is completely oblivious to their differences. He doesn’t notice or bother him that people stare at them when they walk down the hallway. He wouldn’t say he was racists and most people would agree with him but because of his own privilege, without even realizing it he sometimes falls into the insensitive thinking. He doesn’t understand why Starr is so upset with him or just in general but when she tells him he does try to understand. He wants to be supportive to Starr and that means challenging his own misconceptions and that’s what makes a good ally. Hailey also wouldn’t call herself a racist either. She would be one of those people who says, “I’m not a racists have a black and Asian friend.” Throughout the book she makes insensitive comments and try to pass them off as jokes. When she gets called out on she gets defensive. “It was a joke” “I didn’t mean anything by it” “I can’t believe you would think I’m a racist” Even demands for Starr to apologize to her. She makes absolutely no effort to see Starr’s point of view or acknowledge that what she said hurt her feelings. When she does apologize, it isn’t because she sees what she did or said was wrong it’s that she wants things to go back to what they were before. Since I assume there are going to be a lot of young white readers of this book, Chris and Hailey are important because they may not be able to relate with Starr and her family but they probably can relate to either Chris or Hailey, whether they want to admit it or not. I hope they take a hard and close look at both of those characters and ask themselves some uncomfortable questions. Are they more like Chris or like Hailey? This novel really should be required school reading. Not just because it was well written but also because it does outline all the point of views and how much it should be it’s not just black and white but shades of gray. Only be listening and understanding what people of color and marginalized communities are saying and owning up to our prejudices will we able to end this. So one day, we won’t have to teach our children how to act in police presence and police won’t make snap judgments about civilians based on skin color.