This should be a Top Ten list, but it isn’t. I’ve decided that Top Ten lists are nothing more than a contrivance, not to mention the same round number bias that makes people believe today is the last day of a decade. In the spirit of friendship, I’ll stop myself from saying it isn’t, and instead, I’ll say math is your friend. Let’s agree that today is the last day of the 2010s, tomorrow will be the first day of the 2020s, and while the passage of time is real, the way we measure it is a theoretical and social construct.
That was a lot of big talk. I believe it all. However, the real reason this isn’t a Top Ten List is because I just couldn’t whittle it down. I’d delete a title, add it back, delete a different title, add it back, so forth and so on and jazz hands. And you know what, the Great Reading Apocalypse of 2018 owed me. It owed me a year so good that I couldn’t embrace the lemming like spirit of Top Ten Lists. So what you get is a Top 15 list—odd numbers are sexier anyway. Sure they aren’t as curvy and smooth as most of their even number counterparts (I see you 4), but they are edgy like a really good bad boy and we all know I love a bad boy. I’m also really in love with this Top 15 list.
We Contain Multitudes by Sarah Henstra - I’ve been talking about this book since 2018. Do you know how difficult it is to write a really good epistolary novel? One that keeps the readers interested? One that manages to give us character and a plot that follows their development? Do you? This book is beautiful. A book for lovers of words and stories. I never wanted it to end. I never wanted to put it down. It made me greedy in the best way.
Bloom by Kevin Panetta and Savanna Ganucheau - This book is pretty. The black and white with shades of blue drawings, as well as the varied paneling make this a visual treat. It’s also a wonderfully wonderful story of two boys falling in love at a family owned bakery. Summer lovin’, baked goods, and family this story is sweet and savory.
Keep This to Yourself by Tom Ryan - This book is an experience. A serial killer devastates a small, coastal town, and the final victim is the town’s much loved golden boy. His friend, Mac, hasn’t gotten over the loss and takes the reader on a journey to find the answers the police and FBI never did. A few things, it’s been optioned as a movie, Michael Crouch narrates the audiobook, I’ve read it twice because Michael Crouch narrates the audiobook. You know an author is incredibly adept at writing suspense when you are constantly uneasy.
Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake - There is strength in vulnerability. That’s the heart of this novel. I was surprised by how much I loved it. It was an excellent character study. Tackling grief, mental illness, and the ties that bind us to one another. I’m a fan.
The Devouring Gray by Christine Lynn Herman - Have you ever read a book and thought to yourself, “I have absolutely no idea what’s happening (I’m looking at you Reverie.) Should I know what’s happening? This is in medias res on steroids.” That’s how my relationship started with The Devouring Gray. I felt like I was trying to catch up for about 50 pages. When I finally did catch up, it was all “yes daddy, I want some more.” Luckily, we get a sequel in 2020. I never should have doubted an author that recognizes the Avatar: The Last Airbender series as a masterpiece.
Like a Love Story by Abdi Nazemian - Three friends, New York City at the height of the AIDS epidemic. I’ve read this book twice. I read it then I found out Michael Crouch was one of the audiobook narrators, and I was helpless. I reviewed this book ever so briefly some months back. It gave me a book hangover and I couldn’t shake the characters or the story. It deserves a film adaptation, other people agree.
Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay - Coming of age story meets commentary on the ongoing human rights violations doled out by the inhuman policies of a problematic dictator, President Rodrigo Duterte. This is a story rooted in the relationships between men. The unspoken and the spoken. It’s exquisite storytelling. I hope it draws more attention to the crisis in the Philippines.
Barely Missing Everything by Matt Mendez - This world is not kind to brown boys. This world is even less kind to socioeconomically disadvantaged brown boys. The book asks a question we should all be asking ourselves— can two Mexican American boys thrive in world of drugs, violence, police profiling, poverty, and hopelessness when the world at large is willing to turn its backs, shut its eyes, and close its ears?
Good Luck Girls by Charlotte Davis - I didn’t want to read this book after I heard the synopsis. Forced prostitution and sexual violence is a real and ongoing evil, but I can’t always handle reading about it. Having said that I’m always down for a read that explores the way men seek to break and control women and how women resist, fight back, and inherit the earth. This book is truly a masterful exploration of complex issues.
An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States for Young People by Debbie Reese and Jean Mendoza - A book written for young people that dismantles and topples the great American myth? Yes, please. A book that dares you to read it and still use the word discover instead of colonized or brutalized? Most definitely. A book that respects Indigenous and First Nation history, culture, and tradition? Absolutely.
Wilder Girls by Rory Power - Ummmm, feminist, climate change commentary disguised as post-apocalyptic, survivalist queer love story. I mean, do you need more? I feel like you shouldn’t, but here’s something else, this book will make you feel smart.
Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks (Illus.) - There’s nothing to see here. It’s a simple and quiet story and therein rests its beauty. Stories of friendship are rare. Stories that capture the melancholy and excitement of growing up and realizing on the one hand adventure awaits while in the other rests the very real ugliness of leaving things behind. This is the story of realizing what you don’t want to leave behind.
They Called Us Enemy by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, Steven Scott, and Harmony Becker (Illus.) - I love Star Trek. It is superior to Star Wars in every way. I said it. I’ll be in the parking lot waiting. George Takei, the swashbuckling Sulu, recounts a childhood in the internment camps during World War. Sometimes I feel like people forget this country’s ugly past, which might be why we’re now living through an all too familiar ugly present. The cycle of doom and repeat. In this graphic novel, Takei makes the reader deal with the heartbreak of people being caged and controlled because of their visible identities.
Kiss Number 8 by Colleen AF Venable and Ellen T. Crenshaw (Illus.) - She wants to kiss girls. She might also want to kiss boys. And she don’t need no stinking labels, but if you do that’s cool too. What she does need is the love and support of those that are supposed to love and support her. Although, self-acceptance has to come first. Another outstanding graphic novel.
Light It Up by Kekla Magoon - This book continues the story from Magoon’s outstanding 2014 novel, How It All Went Down, which tackles the shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white man who claims to have acted in self-defense. Read that book first, then come back for this one. Books I don’t need to name stand on its shoulders.
That’s it, friends. I’ll leave you with a fun fact and warm wishes.
Fun fact: I just made a complete rotation around the house and no one cheered when I came back inside. It was no small undertaking. Where’s my loud horn and glass of champagne? Where’s my ball drop? Where’s my “Auld Lang Syne?” Where’s my questionable yet curated party?
I’m being sassy. Begin as you mean to go on and all that.