This past year, I was able to tackle thirty novels—quite a feat if you take into account the three months of reading hiatus I took over the summer, two semesters I completed at Uni, and the novel I wrote in November. From the slush pile of reads, a select few left a lasting impression with me. These books demanded my attention even after they were back on the shelf. They are nudges in my mind, the soft fluttering of wings in my subconscious. This list was composed of books that will be with me forever. That being said, I also revisited some old favorites this year, including All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven, but I decided to exclude them to focus on my top five new reads of 2016. To see a list of every book I read this year, take a look at my bookshelf on Goodreads!
All of these books received five stars.
1. A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab
This book has it all; Victoria Schwab is in no shortage of magic, adventure, danger, loyalty, power, conviction and honor. The novel takes place in the 18th century, between parallel Londons—four cities that share a name and geographic location, but are each in a very different planes of existence. Magical travel between the different Londons has been severely restricted except to two individuals who possess the ability to open doors. Kell is one of those last travelers. When he is not being an ambassador for the Maresh empire, he is a smuggler, servicing people willing to pay for even the smallest glimpses of a world they’ll never see.
The world, the dialogue, the magic—all of it is written with vivid clarity. Schwab has poured her heart and soul into all four of these Londons, creating a new world of possibility for magic and mayhem. It stands proudly on my shelf as my favorite fantasy read of this year, alongside it’s sequel: A Gathering of Shadows. If you want to read more of my thoughts on this particular book, you can read my full review.
2. The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin
Middle grade was a well-read genre for me this year. This one in particular came into my hands unexpectedly after seeing the beautiful cover in my local Barnes & Noble, and it did not disappoint. After her best friend dies in a drowning accident, Suzy is convinced that the true cause of the tragedy must have been a rare jellyfish sting. With that in mind, the thoughtful seventh grader crafts a plan to prove her theory. The Thing About Jellyfish is a beautifully written story about the evolving nature of friendship, the labyrinth of discovering one’s true identity, and the search for explanations to the mysteries of life and death. Scientific facts about jellyfish are woven seamlessly into the lyrical narrative, creating a truly captivating read for any age. I found myself thinking about this story long after it was over.
3. Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky
As the second middle grade book to grace my “Top Five” list, Gracefully Grayson alone holds the title as my favorite LGBTQ+ book of 2016. It is the story of a twelve-year-old named Grayson who has been holding onto a secret for what seems like forever: “he” is a girl on the inside, stuck in the wrong gender’s body. Secretly, he imagines his over-sized shirts are dresses and his workout pants are long skirts. He wishes more than anything that he could be who he really is on the outside as well as the inside.
Young readers need books they can relate to, books to help them overcome obstacles they face on a personal level. Not many middle grade novels deal with transgender themes, but Ami Polonsky was brave enough to break the mold. Her beautifully written novel shines with authenticity and had me cheering for Grayson the entire way through. This book is not only important for transgender youth, but for all young readers who are searching for their own identity and their own voice in the face of societal pressures.
4. Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur
If you only read one collection of poetry in your lifetime, it should be this one. Rupi Kaur’s writing is honest, raw, and emotional. It demands attention to each word. Accompanied with sketches, the story forms around itself in a way the demands a slow, thoughtful read. I suggest reading this in one sitting, alone, in a state of mind that allows you to truly soak in Rupi’s story. Soak it in, digest it, let it change you. Milk and Honey is a phenomenal read.
5. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
My first thriller of the year took me surprise. I had avoided adding it to my bookshelf due to its recent popularity, fearing it was just another “best seller”that would fail to meet raised expectations, but I was wrong to be weary. Set in the UK, the story follows Rachel, a woman who takes the same commuter train every morning and night. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. Then one say, she sees something that shakes her to her very core. Something that shatters the image of the couple she has built in her mind.
The choice of first person point-of-view creates a heart-stopping narration that rings true, no matter the character. And we get three in all: Rachel, Megan, and Anna. Although I think Megan’s character was intriguing, Rachel was the character I found myself eager to read from. She was so incredibly human, so painfully flawed. Every time she was about to do something I know she would regret, I wanted to shout. Paired with a rollercoaster plot, The Girl on the Train explores the flaws that make us undoubtedly human. To read all my thoughts on this book, please take a look at my full review.