This year has been an absolute whirlwind of killer books. I have read so many brilliant books this year that I thought it was worth sharing my list of my best books of the year.
Please note: this list is in no particular order, but I have categorised them by genre for those looking for specific recommendations.
Best Dystopian/Political Fiction: American War by Omar El-Akkad (Pan Macmillan)
Okay, I might have said that I have listed these in no particular order, but hands down this is my favourite book of the year. I was sent a copy for review earlier in the year but simply could not form the words to do this book justice. Taking place in 2047, where America has been ravaged by a second Civil War and a devastating plague, this book follows a young Sarat Chestnut who is caught up in the politics and devastating effects of the Civil War from age six. Oil is outlawed, Louisiana is half underwater, unmanned drones fill the sky, and death seems to permeate the air. Soon Sarat begins to be shaped by her particular time and place until, finally, through the influence of a mysterious man, she is turned into a deadly instrument of war.
This book came to me in one of my deepest moments of grief over the Trump Presidency earlier this year, and I would be amiss to say that grief did not shape my reading of this book. However, I think, rather boldly I know, that this book is our generation’s 1984. Omar El Akkad’s American War has all the makings of dystopian fiction – a post-fossil fuel world, a war, changing geographic landscapes, altered political boundaries, a weaponised disease, displacement narratives, a rebel army, and a heroine who has grown up in this space of conflict. But more than that, it feels so unbelievably close to happening.
This book made me mad in so many ways, and made me feel all the grief and loss of the world that Sarat makes her choices in, as well as the grief and loss and sheer anger of our current socio-political landscape. This is the book I will never ever forget, and the one that has shaped so much of how I view our world as it currently stands. For a debut, this book sets a sky-rocketing precedent for how books should be written and I cannot recommend this book enough.
Best Novella or Short Novel: The Orange Grove by Larry Tremblay (Peirene Press)
Larry Tremblay’s The Orange Grove fundamentally changes how you think and feel about a major contemporary issue. But it is also a book that makes you feel conflicted about that change, largely because that issue here is suicide bombings. Whilst it in no way justifies these horrible acts of violence, it does create a space to think about the term ‘victim’ in a more nuanced way, including those who are deliberately misled and coerced into committing acts of violence on behalf of organised terror groups in that victim label – especially since the person committing an act of violence in this book is a small child.
I’m not going to say too much more about this book as I reviewed it earlier this year, but if you would like to know more, check out my review here.
Best Fiction: The Mothers by Brit Bennett (Penguin Random House)
This is an incredible debut novel by such an extraordinary talent. Brit Bennett’s The Mothers is such an incredible read, rich with the promise of being a modern classic. Filled with secrets that flourish in a small town, this book hooked me from the very first sentence and I couldn’t put it down. I read it so quickly despite trying to savour it and I immediately lent it to a friend so I could talk to someone about it. This book was so incredibly wonderful in its exploration of the dynamic between our younger selves and the people we become as a result of those younger selves, as well as how our relationships with ourselves and others are changed by personal choices. I was also incredibly impressed by the unabashed way this book talked about abortion without any hesitation about it – something few novels do. This book discusses abortion as a fact rather than with any judgement or debate about morality, and that was really something new to me in fiction and I really found it refreshing to read a book that didn’t try to tip-toe around it.
I also had the pleasure of meeting Brit Bennett at this year’s Sydney Writer’s Festival, and hear her talk about the book and its many seemingly controversial themes, which only increased my love for this book ten-fold. I can’t wait to read more from Brit Bennett in the years to come.
Best Memoir: Hunger by Roxane Gay (Hachette)
Reading Hunger felt like a punch to the gut. The sheer raw intimacy of the novel and Roxane Gay’s incredible candor about her own body, and her reflection on the way we talk about our relationship with our bodies really got to me. I won’t lie, I cried in public A LOT reading this book, and often refer to it when I am reflecting on my own experiences with food and my body. I don’t know anyone who wasn’t incredibly moved by this book and I cannot express my love for it enough. Whether you have ever had a negative relationship with your body or not, this book should be required reading for everyone, especially in a world so focused on bodies and the space they take up in our everyday lives.
Best Junior Fiction: Nevermoor by Jessica Townsend (Lothian Children’s Books)
Working at Hachette Australia during the lead up to and during the release of Nevermoor has been one of the highlights of my year, and will likely be one of the highlights of my career. I read this gorgeous book back when I first started full-time at Hachette in June and instantly fell head over heels for this magical world led by the magnificent young Morrigan. Jessica has created such a brilliant world and I can’t wait to read more and more. I wrote a piece about how incredible a moment Nevermoor is in children’s literary history here and I encourage you to read this brilliant book as soon as you can.
Best Junior Fiction (Illustrated): The Wonderling by Mira Bartok (Walker Books)
Okay, I am being a little sneaky here and popping a second junior fiction book in to this list simply because I could not decide between these two marvellous books. Mira Bartok’s The Wonderling has re-ignited my love for children’s books and I cannot praise it enough. Everyone I know who has read it thus far has been entirely enchanted by it and I will be holding onto my copy for a very long time. I reviewed it earlier this year and was entirely taken with it, and I highly recommend that anyone with children add this to the pile of books they read with their child, if only to give them an excuse to fall in love with this incredibly sweet book and it’s hero Arthur.
Best YA Fiction: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (Walker Books)
I have read quite a bit of YA in my time and yet, I think this is the book that changed how I see YA as a whole. Starting with the death of a young African-American teenager at the hands of a white police officer and following the aftermath of his death throughout the community, this book was an incredibly powerful read. Dealing with powerful topics such as racial politics, social class, family dynamics, crime and justice, and overarching themes of friendship, family and personal identity, this book is the standout YA novel I think we all needed to read. After hearing pre-publication buzz about it, I practically begged Walker Books for a review copy and I read and reviewed it so quickly simply because of how brilliant it was. I know many of my friends are reading it now and I will continue to recommend it to those who haven’t yet read it. Like American War, this book fell into my hands at just the right moment and I felt so angry and sad and yet somehow full of hope all at the same time. Young people deserve books like this that talk about what is happening in their world, and I can only hope that more authors write books as powerful as this for YA audiences.
Best Graphic Novel: Illegal by Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin (Hachette Children’s Books)
I’m not usually one to read graphic novels, and as a first taste of the genre, I have to say that Illegal really won me over. A depiction of the experiences of a young refugee making his way across Europe, Illegal is an incredible introduction for young readers into the discussions around refugees and their experiences. As an adult reader, I didn’t feel that this book particularly skewed towards children in such a way that it alienates older readers, and that only made it feel like a more essential text overall. I think that this book should be made required reading in schools, particularly young high-schoolers just starting to find their voices in relation to current social and political debates. Truly an incredible introduction to both graphic novels and their potential for creating important discussions.
Best Sci-Fi: Artemis by Andy Weir (Penguin Random House)
I have been eagerly awaiting the release of the new Andy Weir novel since I first finished reading The Martian. The Martian was such an incredibly unique book that I was a little worried at first about how Artemis would stack up against it. However, it really got me in from the first page and didn’t let go. Led by a female protagonist who has spent most of her life living on the lunar colony Artemis, this book diverges from Andy Weir’s debut book and creates a more accessible tale about a futuristic life on the moon, with Andy Weir’s signature scientific realities woven throughout. Whilst there is less science directly written into the story than The Martian, this story still uses the particularities of Weir’s scientific style to lend a more realistic glimpse into a potential future of life on the moon, and the link between a lunar colony, law and governance, and the potential for crime to flourish in the space between a lunar city like Artemis, and the Earth.
I had the incredible pleasure of meeting Rupi Kaur at the Sydney Writer’s Festival this year and hearing her speak about her work only cemented my love for her poetry. As a long time lover of poetry, reading both her collections this year really drove home how influential poetry can be, especially when detailing both personal and political experiences. the sun and her flowers in particular was incredibly compelling and broke open so many important social themes that I am interested in learning more about and reading more about and, of course, Rupi brings such beauty and raw truth to every word that she writes. Whilst I know poetry isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and Rupi’s work has drawn controversy for some of its content, I highly recommend that you give it a read.
All of these books below were incredible reads, and I want to mention them for their amazing storytelling and ability to make me remember them long after I finished them.
All the books mentioned in this piece are available in all good bookstores now. As always, INWORDSANDINK encourages its readers to buy from and support their local independent bookstores.
Thanks to all the publishers who have sent me books for review over the course of 2017. As always I have not been paid to write any reviews by the publishers or authors of these books, however I would like to extend my appreciation for their time and effort in publicising these books and sending me copies in exchange for honest reviews.
© Hayley New 2017