Every year, I like to take a brief side step from my usual reportings of happenings on stage and screen to take a look at another classic entertainment medium—books. This year, I read just over 40 of them. Please note that not all of these books were necessarily published in 2016, 2016 is just when I happened to discover and enjoy them, and this list is in no particular order.
Also, for the second year in a row I am thrilled that 80% of the books on this list are written by female authors.
I don’t know that I have ever felt so conflicted in terms of recommending a book. While A Little Life is undoubtedly one of the very best books I have read this past year, and I think about it often, it is by no means a pleasant read. It is a coming of age story centered around Jude, a character with an unspeakably tragic past (and present, and future), as well as his evolving relationships with his three best friends from college. I read the majority of this book in one sitting on a plane. Not only did I cry at multiple times, at one point I read a particularly upsetting page and instinctively turned back to the previous page. It was as if my brain rejected what I had just read and decided it might be different the second time around. Proceed with caution.
The Nightingale is the story of two sisters coming of age in France that picks up at the beginning of World War II. The two take very different paths—one stays home and ends up being forced to house an SS officer in her home while trying to protect the local Jewish children, and the other joins the French Resistance. It’s written in the first person, and it also made me cry. Isn’t this a cheery list?
Finally, a non-heartbreaking book! I have always been a fan of Emily Giffin’s early work, but her last few efforts failed to really connect with me. With First Comes Love, it seems she’s back on track. I devoured this quick read about two very different sisters who reach a crossroads of both their relationship and their independent lives as the anniversary of a family tragedy approaches.
I have already written at length about how I am a Cursed Child apologist. We don’t need to get into it again.
This YA book might win the award for the novel that truly surprised me the most this year. Like A Little Life, it was a selection for my book club, and follows a 16-year-old boy struggling to cope with his father’s suicide and his own sexuality who becomes intrigued by a controversial memory-altering procedure (a la Eternal Sunshine) that he believes may be the answer to all of his problems. Don’t Google this one—just read it.
Taylor Jenkins Reid is perhaps my favorite author discovery of the year. I read 3 of her 4 existing novels, and this one was my favorite (although they are all enjoyable, particularly for fans of Emily Giffin-esque books). It unfolds in two timelines, which alternate chapters, showing the very different ways 29-year-old Hannah’s life could play out depending on one seemingly small decision. It’s a really interesting structure that offers some smart commentary on destiny versus free will.
I had complicated feelings about Everything, Everything, Yoon’s other book, but this one really won me over. It’s a really heartfelt YA story about two teenagers who meet under fateful circumstances to share one life-changing day in New York City—the only catch is, one of them is about to be deported. This is another one I couldn’t put down. Yoon truly has a way with words, and her characters leap off the page.
This was the third of Moriarty’s books I’ve read, and my favorite thus far. All set in Australia, her stories live at the intersection of classic, Emily Giffin-esque chick lit and mystery/thrillers a la Gone Girl. So far, her books I’ve read all follow pretty much the same formula, but this was one was the most engaging. It begins when a woman accidentally stumbles upon a letter from her husband that she is only to open in the event of his death—except he’s very much alive. The ramifications end up having catastrophic effects on not only her family, but on multiple other intersecting storylines.
This is another quite sad one. At the beginning of the book, which is set in the late 1970s, we learn that Lydia, a Chinese-American teenager, is dead. The story then rewinds to explain the sad events leading up to her death, most of which stem from her very complicated and dysfunctional family. It explores the devastating effects that secrets, repressed feelings, and forcing a child to be someone they’re not can have, as well as the struggles of coming of age.
I was late to the game on this one as an effort to prepare for the upcoming TV adaptation, but I really enjoyed this book. It follows Shadow Moon, a man who is released from prison only to find himself thrust into the middle of a brewing war between the old gods and the new gods.
What was your favorite book you read this year? Leave me a comment below!