This dumpster fire of a year is ending with 140 books read (probably. I say that because I’m almost finished with 139, and I can’t imagine I won’t read another book in the next day and a half. I can’t help it.).
This was a year of just getting through from one day to the next. Even though I had a lot more time at home, I also had less time alone since my kids were here all. the. time. for like five straight months (and I’m not even complaining because I know plenty others had their children home for much, much longer). Plus, I discovered The West Wing Weekly podcast and listened to all seven seasons of that while re-watching all seven seasons of The West Wing, and it gave me life through September and October.
I mostly read Christian thrillers and YA fiction this year for no other reason than easy and familiar felt better than thick and heavy. (So what if I re-read my favorite series all again this year? Hogwarts is my therapy.)
So. From 10 to 1, here are my picks for this year. And yes, my overall list was slim pickings, but these top 10 would hold their own in any year. They’re that good. (I'll include a link to past years' lists in the comments.)
10. Pivot Point (duology) by Kasie West
Kasie West is one of my favorite YA authors, and I’ve probably mentioned her on past lists. She writes clean, relatable, funny YA books. The reason I added Pivot Point specifically is that this duology is a bit of a stretch for her; it’s a little futuristic and dystopian but holds the same hallmarks of West that I’ve always enjoyed.
9. Backfield Boys by John Feinstein
There’s a chance I’m including this one so that it doesn’t look like all I read are girl books, but whatever. I’ll be transparent about my reading selection. Feinstein writes mostly sports journalism mysteries (the Last Shot series is my absolute favorite), but I enjoyed this standalone because it encounters some racial issues in the world of private school sports. Great read for tweens and teens.
8. The War Outside by Monica Hesse
I read a few Hesse books this year; they’re breathtaking. The ones I’ve read deal with different aspects of WWII. The War Outside takes place in an American internment camp and tells the story of two unlikely friends—a Japanese girl and a German girl who both find themselves locked away from their lives. This book does deal with some mature themes in terms of their relationship with each other, just so you know.
7. How the Light Gets In by Jolina Petersheim
I already talked about this book last spring when I read it, but man, oh man. I loved it. I hated it. I couldn’t get around the ending. It’s not often that a book can catch me that off guard (hello, We Were Liars), but this one sure did. It’s an Amish story about a woman whose husband dies and who is forced to move back to his hometown and figure out how to live within the Plain community. I’d say more, but I can’t without spoiling it.
6. A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramee
I tried to get Jorie to read this, but she was grounded from her iPad too long and I had to return the digital book to the library. It’s a story of a 7th grade Black girl who is trying to figure out what being Black means in junior high, especially when her best friends aren’t. She encounters protests and Black Lives Matter for the first time, and the story is told beautifully from the perspective of a young girl.
5. Born Again This Way by Rachel Gilson
I really hesitated to include this because I fear I could unintentionally make a lot of people mad with this addition. But I have to include books that impact me, and Gilson’s memoir sure did. (Also, I wanted to prove I read at least one non-fiction book this year.) Gilson was a lesbian who encountered Jesus and now spends her life trying to bridge the Church and the LGBTQ community. I know that that sentence has already angered people, but I don’t believe that Gilson or her story is any way judgmental, condemning, or hateful. It might be the best balance of love and truth and compassion and kindness I’ve ever read.
4. The Suicide Tree by Shayla Raquel
I might be biased because Shayla is a friend, but this debut novel of hers is fantastic. I was privileged to read it as a beta reader, and her final published version took an already great YA mystery and upped its excellence. It involves a mysterious vaccine, international travel, and young romance, so basically everything I love in YA.
3. Winterborne Home for Vengeance and Valor by Ally Carter
This is the first of a duology (I think), but the second book won’t be released until spring. I’m so confident in its worth, though, that I’m including it before I even know how it ends. That’s because Ally Carter might be my second favorite YA author of all time. (I just re-read her Gallagher Girls series for the umpteenth time this week just to close out the year on a high note.) This is similar to her style of espionage, heists, mysteries, and young heroes/heroines making the world a better place through sometimes questionable methods. This particular book has younger characters than more of her series, which will hit a younger demographic. I can’t wait to let Jorie read this one!
2. Watch Us Rise by Renee Watson & Ellen Hagan
I discovered Watson’s books this year and quickly tore through them. My favorite by far was this one, written with Hagan. Each author voiced one of the characters, and it tells the story of two high school girls who encounter both sexism and racism in their school and community and the way they choose to raise their voices and be heard both in spite of and because of it.
1. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins
I am so, so sorry. I never meant to put a popular prequel or such a well-known author as number one. But you guys, I can’t help it. The Hunger Games still remains one of the best-written trilogies of all time, and this prequel about President Snow’s early life is no exception. Collins builds this early world of the arenas and the Games brilliantly. It’s actually frightening that I found compassion for Snow through this, and as soon as I finished, I had to re-read the trilogy again. It literally makes EVERYTHING MAKE SENSE.