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Onward and Onward

It’s been a while since I've posted. Not so long that I’ve forgotten you, but likely long enough that you have forgotten me. 2018 is just a few hours away—another complete rotation around the sun. I’m a holiday season junkie – cookies, songs, boxes, packages, bows, twinkling lights, cider, peppermint, trees, ornaments, turkey . . . I love it all, but melancholy is never far away. It lives just below the surface of my holiday spirit and joy. It could be that from Thanksgiving Day until the ball drops in Time Square, if I manage to stay awake, has always been how I’ve measured the years—the passage of time. Time, or the passage of time, is a great and terrible thing, and like all things in the world beyond our control it commands and demands our attention.

Time passes and we celebrate getting older and the adventures we’ve had and the adventures yet to come, but we also want to cling to the years and stop time in its tracks because we know the clock is winding down for us all. There is certainly the fear of watching people pass out of your life, but leaving people behind might be an even greater fear.

Stepping outside of the smallness of my world I think about 2017 on a global scale. It was a year—beautiful and frightening, reckoning and resistant, and a little bit of a train wreck. There are so many reasons for wanting to thank 2017 for its service, but there are a lot of reasons for wanting to send it on its way, but . . . Let’s turn back to happy thoughts!

The world turned upside and backwards in 2017, but it was an outstanding year for middle grade and young adult literature. I didn’t love everything the critics and masses adored, but I certainly loved plenty, so narrowing down my list of favorites to just 10 was a formidable task. On July 10th I listed my “10 FAVORITE READS OF 2017 . . . So Far”

  1. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

  2. Gentleman's Guide to Virtue and Vice by Mackenzi Lee

  3. We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

  4. One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus

  5. Honestly Ben by Bill Konigsberg

  6. When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

  7. City of Saints and Thieves by Natalie C. Anderson

  8. Strange the Dreamer by Lani Taylor

  9. Caraval by Stephanie Garber by Jennifer Mathieu

  10. Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

It’s an impressive list, but they didn’t all survive. How could they? There were five months of reading left when I composed this list, and read I did. I even took time to reread some old and new favorites. The order on this list didn’t indicate anything. In fact, the placement on the list was just the order they came to me rather than rank. Now that I'm sitting on the brink of 2018 it’s time to stop flirting with books and ranks. The time has come to pick my one and only - this year’s to have and to hold - my number one. In my head “number one” is always said by Patrick Stewart, well Captain Jean Luc Picard. You too?

My Number One!

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice & Virtue by Mackenzi Lee – This doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone who knows me, anyone who has read my Twitter, or anyone who has read this blog. It’s been a long time since I have fallen this hard and this fast for a book. The last time, dare I say, was Eleanor & Park. I’ve read and reread this book enough that I shouldn’t miss Monty, Percy, and Felicity, but I really do.

P.S. – If you haven’t listened to the audiobook narrated by Christian Coulson, please do because it is made of magic. By the way, Christian Coulson played Tom Riddle in one of the three Harry Potters film I actually saw. I stopped because they weren’t even 33% as good as the novels.

The Incredible Rest!

2. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas – This book could have been my number one, but I imagine it has collected enough number ones that it won’t mind being my number two. Everything that needs to be said about T.H.U.G. has already been said, so I’ll simply said read, get it into the hands of those around you, and if you ever get the chance to teach it don’t hesitate

3. Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds – Jason Reynolds is probably the coolest person I’ve ever stood next to and near. If you’re looking for a spirit animal, I nominate him. And it’s that effortless cool that can’t be duplicated or imitated. As cool as he is, it takes a backseat to his talent as a writer and poet. He uses verse in a way that speaks to us all, but more importantly it speaks to the realities of the forgotten black and brown boys and girls who often find themselves portrayed as hardened criminals, shameless thugs, or cautionary tales for kids living their North Face and iPhone lives in the suburbs.

4. We Are Okay by Nina LaCour – If I ever manage to write a book, this is the book I would want to write. It’s a quiet and subtle book driven by character and mystery rather than plot. It’s an exploration of grief and loss. It’s a book of beautiful words and painstaking details – every detail. It’s a book where setting is a character and a mirror. It’s a book that makes you work for understanding and answers. This is a book for everyone, but it isn’t a book everyone will love.

5. Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu – My final book of 2017! You know when a book feels familiar and nostalgic all at once? This was that book. It also tapped into my baby doll dress, plaid button ups, and Dr. Marten boots wearing past—actually I still wear Dr. Martens, and wish I could still wear baby doll dresses. It tapped into my “end toxic masculinity” present. It took on this hegemonic, toxically masculine, patriarchal paradigm of a world along with the men who don’t see a reason for change and the women who either sit silently by or align themselves with men who do harm to the women of this world. It is definitely time to riot.

6. When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon – What could be a cuter meet cute than having iced coffee tossed in your face? What can I say, I’m a fan of love born of eye-rolling contempt and maybe a tad bit of “ewww are you serious,” but perhaps I’m revealing too much. I loved When Dimple Met Rishi, but it isn’t a book without flaws—seriously, what about the competition, but it is a book about the flaws of love. Love between children and their parents and the love that blossoms between two people who haven’t quite figured out their place in the world.

7. One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus – Binge worthy television in book form. That is all. More? It’s mystery. It’s angst. It’s cool, cute boys in black t-shirts from broken homes. It’s ambitious girls who can’t wait to leave behind the little town they call home. It’s the girl who defines herself by having a boyfriend and keeping him happy. It’s the star athlete who is more than his speed and accuracy. It’s the boy on the periphery who sees you even though you don’t see him. It’s the secret selves we all have and hide. Like I said, binge worthy.

8. I’m Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez – It is a rare thing for me to both dislike a protagonist and love a book. I’ll admit that Julia sort of slightly grew on me, but she was like a match constantly searching for fuel. She wanted to explode, and explode she did – over and over and over again. I suppose the real story is what happens when she puts the pieces together again. Another plus in this novel of family, secrets, and grief is that culture isn’t simply mentioned, but a fully realized part of the story.

9. City of Saints and Thieves by Natalie C. Anderson – I loved taking a trip to the often ignored African continent for a YA story that explores the everlasting cost of war, power, and money. The book doesn’t shy away from the horrific realities of this world choosing instead to expose the destructive and reverberating power of greed and ego. City of Saints and Thieves challenges the reader with generations of forgotten, damaged, and broken victims. It’s also a fast moving caper expect when it isn’t, which is the novels single flaw.

10. Posted by John David Anderson – I was surprised by how much this book stuck with me. It was a quiet book, so subtle that I don’t know that I gave it its full due after one read. I knew it would be my first read aloud of the school year because there was so much truth in this book about the beginning and end of friendships, and what it really means to come of age, fins yourself, and find your tribe. When I first read this book I thought it was a departure for Anderson, especially Sidekicked and Minion, but then I realized it really wasn’t. What I realized is that he is a masterful writer. He manages to talk about the difficulties, letdowns, and heartbreaks of adolescence and teach us all how to navigate this world with grace even when confronted with those hard moments. He talks about those moments in a way that doesn’t feel preachy, or judgmental, or obvious. It just feels like the honest and absolute truth.

Narrowing down all the books I’ve read to my 10 favorite was excruciating, but I think the list reflects who I am as a reader. I love realistic fiction and I love a good mystery. While fantasy and sci-fi novels were definitely some of my favorites this year at the end of it all these are the 10 from 2017 I would toss into my backpack and carry with me on an unexpected voyage to a deserted island. Make no mistake this was one of the best years for middle grade and young adult fiction. I have never been so electrified by the options, by the diversity, by the bevy of unique voices - diversity embracing its fullest definition - moving beyond just race to recognize the tribes we form, the families we build, the myriad of ways we identify, and being beyond cool with it all. We haven’t yet made it to the right side of history, but my reading tells me that we’re more than halfway there. It tells me that those of us who embrace with open arms are a powerful majority who are being led to believe we are the minority. Simply put the books I’ve read have left me hopeful and no matter how hard the fight may be it is a fight we’re going to win. Thank you 2017 - in many ways you weren’t the best of years, but you struck a mighty blow and now it’s time for 2018 to carry on your legacy of hearing, seeing, and listening. I’m proud of you.

Happy New Year! Have a glorious 2018! See you soon.

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