Seeing as there is only a toenail of 2009 left, I think it's about time for me to post the twelve best books I read in 2009 (not all were published in '09). My complete reviews of all these guys are on my Goodreads page, where I post all my absolute favorites after I finish them. In my head, my LJ friends will all be incredibly inspired after reading this post to go out and post their top twelve on their blogs as well, until we have a giant pile of booklove going on, but there are many incredible things in my head, so this may or may not happen.
I've given my little pull quotes from my reviews, and also a bit about the book, and who I would give it to since Christmas is here . . .
Without further ado:
1. PEACE LIKE A RIVER, by Leif Enger.
It is: A beautifully written Western (don't be frightened off) with gorgeously written sibling relationships and a hint of spirituality. About a teen who shoots two intruders and goes on the run from the law.
I'd give it to: A hard to shop for guy, because it is not frilly. My mother-in-law. Because it jives with Christianity without being in a "Christian" book. My father, because he reads a lot of thrillers and this will be just slightly off the beaten path for him.
Choice quote from my review: "I have bought [this novel] three times while traveling for my own novel, and given away twice before I could get it home with me. It's just that kind of book, where you want to go "oh man, take this." "
2. MAGIC UNDER GLASS, by Jaclyn Dolamore.
It is: A whimsical YA historical fantasy about a girl who discovers a man's soul trapped in an automaton.
I'd give it to: Fans of HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE. Teens with short attention spans. Lovers of good historical fantasy and whimsy. Teens who aren't into fantasy. Teens who are into Jane Austen.
Choice quote from my review: "The result is a whimsical, smart novel that is sort of like a cross between Howl’s Moving Castle and Jonathan Strange and Mister Norrell. The details are lovely, the voice consistent, the characters complex."
3. LOVE IS THE HIGHER LAW, by David Levithan.
It is: The dreaded 9/11 novel, without being dreadful. The story of 9/11 written as only a New Yorker could write it.
I'd give it to: Anyone. Every teen who I could convince to read it. Every adult I could convince to read it.
Choice quote from my review: "And it was not a sad book. Incredibly, it was everything that 9/11 was not. Though as a writer I saw a ton of things that I would’ve changed about the book, all I could think after I closed the pages was what a buoyant mood I was in. I was filled with faith in the ultimate good of people in the face of horror, and I, like the main characters, felt like I wanted to talk about where I was that day, how I felt, what changed.
I did. That night, I curled up with my husband in bed, lights off, and together we whispered back and forth what we remembered about 9/11."
4. HOW TO SAY GOODBYE IN ROBOT, by Natalie Sandiford.
It is: A coming of age story about two teens who "meet" nightly on a quirky late-night radio show.
I'd give it to: Reluctant readers, with the line: "do you like weird comedy movies? Read this." Also: "Ignore the pink cover, it has nothing to do with anything."
Choice quote from my review: "The quirky and sincere and bizarre and fascinating callers enchant both the narrator and the reader, and ultimately, this book ended up on my five star list because the show and the ending remained in my head for longer than it took me to read the book."
5. STITCHES, by David Small.
It is: A graphic novel memoir with such stunning, tiny moments of characterization that I caught my breath.
I'd give it to: Pretty much anyone over the age of 13. It is a fast read -- an hour -- and the illustrations mean that seldom-readers easily get into it.
Choice quote from my review: "I will tell you this: David Small shines in illustrating the small details that make people real. This is a fairly dark book, but there were parts were I laughed out loud at Small's cunning characterizations. If you read other reviews, you'll see they call the style "cinematic" and "stunning" and it's both of those things. It's also whimsical, sad, and ultimately uplifting. It has possibly the best final line of any book I've read."
6. BONES OF FAERIE, by Janni Lee Simmer.
It is: A creepy, moody faerie story that would have positively delighted me as a teen.
I'd give it to: 10-15 year old lovers of fantasy, faeries, or sci-fi.
Choice quote from my review: "16 year old faerie-crazy Maggie would've died of happiness reading this book. I think Jannie Lee Simmer absolutely nailed her readership with this YA, and it's been a long time since I've read a YA and felt that. The details of this book really shine: the dangerous plants, the loss of black-and-white, good-and-evil that comes with growing up, and the subtle differences that resulted from the war with Faerie."
7. MARCELO IN THE REAL WORLD, by Francisco X. Stork
It is: A novel about a high-functioning autistic teen being forced to work in his father's law firm and join the "real world." A stunning, quiet novel where the fear is that the narrator will lose his innocence.
I'd give it to: Introverts. Teens who don't fit in. Any of the creative types in your life. Your mom. It's a very spiritual book -- not a religious, spiritual -- and it's very universal without being generic.
Choice quote from my review: "I found Marcelo a perfectly wonderful narrator -- kind, principled, and very, very honest with both the reader and with others. Watching him "grow up" in the cutthroat atmosphere of the law office was at once heart breaking and satisfying."
8. TALES FROM OUTER SUBURBIA, by Shaun Tan
It is: A collection of short stories and graphic stories illustrated by the incredibly talented Shaun Tan. All reflecting on normalcy, strangeness, and belonging.
I'd give it to: Anyone. No, really, anyone.
Choice quote from my review: "From a short story that remarks on the taciturn, wise water buffalo who lives down the street (who is really a water buffalo) to a story about beautiful ancient worlds hidden inside suburban homes, the collection explores the idea of what we give up in a modern world. My favorite story, the bittersweet "Stick Figures," embodies the entire book: stick figures with tumbleweed heads stand in for the bits of wildness that still manage to creep into our sterile suburbs."
9. JELLICOE ROAD, by Melina Marchetta
It is: A complicated YA novel that seems to be about teen territory wars in Australia and really isn't. It's more of a boarding school coming of age story about broken teens, with beautiful characterization.
I'd give it to: Fans of YA. Dedicated readers, because this book is difficult for the first 125 pages.
Choice quote from my review: "I think quite possibly my absolute favorite thing that Marchetta does is the character reversal. She introduces a character which we view in a terrible light because the main character views them in a terrible light, and then she completely changes our mind about them in a subtle and realistic way throughout the book until finally we and the main character are in love."
10. THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES, by Sue Monk Kidd.
It is: The story of a white girl who lives with a family of incredibly powerful black women in the 1960s.
I'd give it to: People who think they don't like historical coming-of-age. Book clubs. People who like to talk about books after they're done reading them.
Choice quote from my review: "While this book isn't perfect, I was completely enchanted by the writing, the pacing, and the careful observation. As a Virginian well-versed in humid Southern summers and Southern cooking, I thought Kidd did a fantastic job of evoking that feeling of sweat trickling slowly between your boobs. "
11. YEAR OF WONDERS, by Geraldine Brooks.
It is: A book about the plague, as told by Anna Frith, a maid to the rector and his delicate wife. It's neither gruesome nor desperately sad.
I'd give it to: The folks who I'd just given THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES to,
Choice quote from my review: "What do I love about this book? I love that Geraldine Brooks plays with language and gives lovely wordplay that delights the writer in me, and I love that she is unerring and subtle in her deft characterization. "
12. FEED, by M. T. Anderson
It is: Technically I'm cheating including this one, as it's a reread, but it was just as brutal the next time around. It's a brutal, merciless YA about a future where everyone has a "feed" installed in their heads -- basically the internet never shuts off and is linked with our consciousness. The moral is cutting, hard, and very, very long-lasting.
I'd give it to: Everyone should read this book. Everyone. It's the BRAVE NEW WORLD for our generation. I stuff this into the hands of as many teens as I can (usually wrenching their Blackberries away before I do).
Choice quote from my review: " This, in my opinion, is the best written YA book I've ever read. The characterization is brilliant and unflinching, the details of the world absolutely spot-on, and the YA coming-of-age plot seamlessly worked into a brutal sci-fi story.
When I grow up, I want to be M. T. Anderson.
***wondering why all my reviews are five stars? Because I'm only reviewing my favorite books -- not every book I read. Consider a novel's presence on my Goodreads bookshelf as a heart...more This, in my opinion, is the best written YA book I've ever read. The characterization is brilliant and unflinching, the details of the world absolutely spot-on, and the YA coming-of-age plot seamlessly worked into a brutal sci-fi story."
I really would like to shout out to the picture books my kids have been loving this year, too, but this post is already epic . . . they're on my Goodreads page . . .