Number 5: The Sparrow/Children of God duology by Mary Doria Russell – These books were re-reads for me this year, but like the first time read them (at least 10 years ago), I was deeply moved. These books ask the question: Can we believe in a loving God in the midst of suffering?” This, of course, is a question asked by Christians and non-Christians alike. These books will blow holes in all of your assured answers about God and suffering. They will also, however, make you feel like you could find a loving God out there somehow. Here’s a great quote about the main character: “He had also discovered the outermost limit of his faith and, in doing so, had located the exact boundary of despair. It was at that moment that he learned, truly, to fear God.” Note: These books are futuristic and are about interplanetary travel. However, if you’re not a sci-fi fan, don’t let that keep you from trying these books, which are not just about science, but are also about faith, deep questions, love, loss, pain, knowledge, and life. Two of my favorite books ever.
Number 4: Enrique’s Journey by Sonia Nazario – Enrique is a 16-year-old kid from Honduras who decides to make the journey to cross into the United States to find his mother. He travels by riding on top of trains. If you have ever wondered how or why undocumented immigrants come to the States, you need to read this book. Even for an ESL teacher like me who works with immigrants every day, it was a complete eye opener. I was moved to tears several times while I read this book. The best thing is: this is a true story! (But it mostly reads like a novel.)
Number 3: Assimilate or Go Home: Notes from a Failed Missionary on Discovering Faith by D.L. Mayfield – I have been reading Mayfield’s blog and online writings for a few years now, and I was stoked to have her book in my hands! Mayfield writes about living among poor refugees, and though she came to bring God to them, they brought God to her and taught her more about faith and life than she ever expected. Though this is a book of moving nonfiction essays, I call this the best theology book I’ve ever read. All the highfalutin theologians need to read Mayfield’s truthful book. Her writing is humble, prophetic, and striking.
Number 2: The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson – I really related to this book because it was about a teenage girl who lost a sibling, and I lost my only sibling when I was 21. Though parts of the book were heavy, I liked being able to relate closely to the main character. One memorable quote was this one:
“My sister will die over and over again for the rest of my life. Grief is forever. It doesn’t go away; it becomes a part of you, step for step, breath for breath. I will never stop grieving Bailey because I will never stop loving her. That’s just how it is. Grief and love are conjoined, you don’t get one without the other. All I can do is love her, and love the world, emulate her by living with daring and spirit and joy.”
Nelson has a unique and poetic writing style that is so moving. That’s what really makes her books stand out.
Number 1: Daughter of Smoke and Bone Series by Laini Taylor – This series is one of the best YA series I have ever read! I loved the characters, character development, world-building, and twisting plot. Set partly in our world and partly in a fantasy world, these books trace both the history and the present journeys of three types of creatures: angels, chimaera, and humans. Another impressive part of this book was the language. Though I love YA, sometimes the writing in YA books is a little simplistic, but this author knows how to write YA with beautiful, intelligent prose.
This was probably the first series I’ve read in which the second and third books are just as good as – if not better than – the first. In most series, I love the first book and think the other books are pretty good, but never as good as the first.
The best thing about this series was how its themes are completely applicable to today. Thematically these books were about “the other” in society – how do we learn to trust people different from us? Is it possible that we have the same values as people from different backgrounds? Can we learn to value, appreciate, and even work with “the other” toward a common goal for society? These books address those questions, and they reinforce my firm belief that fiction books are not just escapist, but have the power to affect and shape our lives in the real world.
Here is a list of the rest of the books I’ve read this year:
(Or, see my list and ratings on Goodreads.)
What Light by Jay Asher (YA)
The Glittering Court by Richelle Mead (YA)
The Dorothy Must Die trilogy by Danielle Paige(YA)
Cracked Up to Be by Courtney Summers (YA)
Red’s Untold Tale by Wendy Toliver (YA/read with my daughter)
The Inside of Out by Jenn Marie Thorne (YA)
How to Be Brave by E. Katherine Kottaras (YA)
The Good Sister by Jamie Kain (YA)
A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir (YA)
An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir (YA)
Charm and Strange by Stephanie Kuehn (YA)
The Lies About Truth by Courtney C. Stevens (YA)
Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley (YA)
Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard (YA)
Glass Sword by Victoria Aveyard (YA)
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (YA)
Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews (YA)
The Duff by Kody Keplinger (YA – How did this book become a movie? It was terrible!)
Hamilton the Revolution (about the musical Hamilton)
Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys (YA/middle grade)
Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys (YA/middle grade)
Once Was Lost by Sara Zarr (YA)
The Program by Suzanne Young (YA)
The Treatment by Suzanne Young (YA)
Let’s Get Lost by Adi Alsaid (YA)
Illegal by Bettina Restrepo (YA/middle grade)
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (psychological thriller)
The Selection by Kiera Cass (YA)
Every Day by David Levithan (YA)
Another Day by David Levithan (YA)
Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine (middle grade/read with my daughter)
The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert (novel)
Attachments by Rainbow Rowell (novel)
Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo (YA)
Also, I think I will finish Bright Morning Star by Madeleine L’Engle by December 31!
Obviously my reading was YA-heavy this year. What great books did you read this year? Any suggestions?
So, the fact that you read 45 (?) books in 2016 and I read 38, and none of our books overlapped is an amazing comment on the continuing great books being written and published today. Also we’re from different generations. But we’re both Southern. And converts to Orthodoxy, although I don’t think that informed much of our reading in 2016… not much of mine, anyway. Fun seeing your list. On to 2017!