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Finding Water in the Desert

This list was hard. I thought it would be hard because I experienced a reading apocalypse in 2018. I literally went weeks upon weeks disliking, even hating, every book I read. For every one book I loved, there were three that made me roll my eyes and want to throw things. When I sat down to pick the 10 books I loved, I thought I would struggle to even name five. I was pretty stunned when I had to whittle a list of 19 down to a list of 10. Who knew. I guess it can be hard to see the light when you’ve grown accustomed to the dark. Moving the list from 19 to 10 meant I spent a lot of time mumbling to myself about character over plot, voice, world building, normalized diversity, pleasure, and painful reality. In the end, these ten, actually eleven, rose to the top. Here are my favorite reads of 2018: * We Contain Multitudes by Sarah Henstra- this book doesn’t get a number because it doesn’t belong on my best of 2018 list. It doesn’t belong on this list because it doesn’t actually come out until 2019, but my 2018 reading life wouldn’t have been the same without. It’s my absolute favorite book of 2018, and I hope 2019 brings it all of the attention and praise it deserves. I’ll be mentioning this one again. 1. The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo - What is there for me to say about this book that hasn’t already been said. It deserves every bit of the praise and attention it’s received. It’s perfection. And the audiobook is outstanding. Xiomara is one of the most relatable and realistic characters I’ve ever read. And Acevedo’s writing left me wanting, worrying, and wondering right along with Xiomara. 2. A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi - An Islamaphobic post-9/11 world serves as the backdrop to this story of dancing, first love, and finding yourself. Everyone deserves an Ocean James in their life. Shirin’s scars are hidden. In her heart. In her mind. She’s angry and afraid. Afraid of being seen, of being a target, of being hurt. Shirin reminds me of a friend. Someone who finds all the reasons for no while ignoring all the reasons for yes. Like Shirin she’s someone who won’t take a chance because the noise in her head drowns out the beats of her heart. This book is about learning to leap. Hey, leap. 3. Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor - Laini Taylor is a master of detail and description. She doesn’t just build worlds she drags the reader into them. She writes deeply complex stories that grab hold and never fully release you. 4. Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson - I read this book in a single sitting while wearing an invisible deerstalker. I was all in. When I realized the book was coming to end with questions left unanswered, it dawned on me that I was dealing with a series. I experienced a series of emotions in rapid succession. Pain. Betrayal. Heartbreak. Outrage. Impatience. How could I be expected to wait for 12 months to get the answers I needed. The wait is over. In a few short weeks, I’ll have more answers, but since it’s a trilogy, I’ll also have more questions. I can’t win. #justicefordottie 5. White Rabbit by Caleb Roehrig - I love this book so much. It’s a classic detective story. Every suspect is questioned. Red herrings litter the pages. Dead bodies pile up one after the other. Danger awaits around every corner. And it’s a tangle of a mystery. This classic detective story is lead by a very modern detective. Rufus is from the wrong side of the tracks and newly heartbroken when he gets the call that starts this mystery thriller. He even has a sidekick. It just so happens that the Watson to his Holmes is his ex-boyfriend. 6. Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram - This book made me cry. Actual tears. Darius the Great is Not Okay is a book about everything. Identity, bullying, friendship, mental health, immigration, and family all make an appearance in this book about an Iranian-American boy who feels out of place and judged at home and away. His move towards acceptance is steered by the steady hand of friendship. It’s also ripe for a sequel. Not that one is planned. I’m just putting it out there for the Giant Lion Turtle to do what the Giant Lion Turtle always does, mock me. 7. Sadie by Courtney Summers - This was a brutal book to read, but the dual narration makes it unputdownable. The podcast format of the alternating chapters means every character leaps from the page fully formed, honest and unreliable. It is a book that is dark and terrible, but a story that must be told because it is happening around the corner. It is happening down the street. It is happening all over the world. This isn’t a book everyone would want to read, but it’s a book everyone should read. It’s ugly, but it’s true. Your heart will break. Your questions will go unanswered. 8. Anger is a Gift by Mark Oshiro - A story where anger becomes resistance. In a world where systemic violence still isn’t taken as seriously as it should, this book reminds the reader that the anger we feel is the gift that will one day allow our world to rise from the muck of injustice. A diverse cast of black, brown, Latinx, queer, disabled characters shows us that the revolution begins with the boots on the ground not the old suits on the dais. 9. Dread Nation by Justina Ireland - The Civil War is brought to an abrupt end when zombies start rising from the battlefields. The solution is to use black and brown bodies to halt the hoard. Dread Nation follows Jane, the biracial daughter of a white women who has been trained to slay the zombies. However, all is not what it seems. Secrets, lies, and race come together in a story that is set in an alternative past while speaking volumes about the present. Thought provoking and eye opening with zombies. 10. Emergency Contact by Mary H. K. Choi - Awkward people do awkward things while awkwardly falling in like or love or something else. This is not a perfect book,  and I think that the reliance on technology may eventually date it, but it is incredibly sweet and charming. The characters are never fully explored, but I think that’s on purpose. Penny and Sam are isolated characters with an insular relationship. They hold the world and the reader at a distance. We are uninvited observers, but the narrative propels us to stay until the absolute end. Here’s what we do know of our protagonists. Penny’s mother is more child than parent, and all she wants to do is escape physically and through her writing. Sam comes from a chaotic upbringing and has dreams for his future, but can’t seem to escape the hand he’s been dealt or the hand he’s dealt himself. I think that’s enough to want to know how this story ends. Happy New Year! See you in 2019!