in recent years

2017201620152014
2013201220112010

totally top five 2k13: books

It’s time to talk about books! Like last year, this was inexplicably difficult to do? I read a decent amount but when it comes time to talk about what I’ve read, I seem to just go totally blank. I stare into the ether, hoping something magical will work it way around my head and I’ll suddenly be really good at talking about books, but it just never happens. We all suffer for it.

5. Grounded by Kate Klise — previously

I read Grounded as part of the Casual-Ass Internet Book Club and Ms. Klise was kind enough to actually email me when she saw the post saying that I’d chosen her book which I thought was just incredibly sweet.

It immediately panicked me, however, because what if she came back to check out my review and I ended up hating the book?! Luckily for me, she’s an incredible writer and Grounded was an absolutely delight. I thought it was really engaging and intriguing and exactly the kind of book I would have absolutely loved when I was a kid. My casual-ass review of it is one of my favorite things I’ve written this year and one of the only times I feel like I’ve ever managed to really convey what I wanted to about a book. It was a joy to read and a joy to write about.

4. Make Lemonade & True Believer & This Full House by Virginia Euwer Wolff

I first heard of/read Virginia Euwer Wolff’s Make Lemonade trilogy way back in 2008 when I was substitute teaching. I always showed up to work with at least two books so that I’d have something to do while my students were, inevitably, watching a video/taking a test/whatever but one fateful day, I’d already read through everything I’d brought with me. Luckily, I was subbing an English class, so there were books all around me and, conveniently, True Believer was sitting right in front of me on the teacher’s desk. I used the last couple periods of the day to read through it and was so, so impressed and moved, even though it’s the middle of a trilogy.

I’d had all three books on my Amazon Wishlist since that fateful afternoon, but finally got the urge to buy them early this year. They were a truly remarkable read. They’re complex and hard and written in free-verse that is at turns agonizing and artful. LaVaughn is one of the strongest characters I’ve ever experienced in fiction and what she is able to learn and overcome is unbelievable. She makes you want to fight for her and alongside her and even more importantly, she makes you want to fight every single one of your own battles until you can’t fight a second longer.

These books are beautifully rendered and filled with engaging characters who are exceptionally well-fleshed and honest. What a painful joy to experience.

3. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews — previously

I really loved Me and Earl and the Dying Girl when I read it in September and it’s held up as one of my favorites for the year. Though I love it largely for its humor, I also think it’s a story with a good heart that touches reality in an honest way, even when it’s hard. I like Greg as a narrator and his good heart carries the story much farther than a different narrator might have. Earl is bombastic and exciting to read about and Rachel is nicely drawn and feels really genuine. I particularly like Greg’s realizations that surround her illness and the unfair — to her — role it takes on for him and Earl. Greg’s self-awareness never seems phony and is really refreshing to see in a young, white, male narrator.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is also unique in that it has the best cover design I’ve seen in forever and also made me laugh out the loudest and most frequently. It was also an unhappy ending that I not only didn’t hate, but admired. And it has one of the very best teacher characters I’ve ever read in a book.

I still think about Greg and his regretful polar bear noises frequently. Such a delight.

2. Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt — previously

I loved Tell the Wolves I’m Home when I read it back in August and I spent a lot of time thinking about it after I finished and even long after I’d already given it a glowing review. It’s a smart and painful book that hurts in all the right places and hits you with the immense weight of youthful awkwardness in ways that you could’ve never even imagined. It’s funny and raw and the language is just transcendent in places.

June is a remarkable narrator with a gift for observation and articulating heartache in ways you’d never think to and she grows and changes and learns from her mistakes right in front of the readers’ eyes. There is so much heart in this and so much complexity about family and siblingship and the struggle to do the right thing for the people you love. It’s exhausting and tearful and wonderful.

I was worried about reading this one — hype is deadly — but I am so, so glad that I did.

1. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell — previously

Eleanor & Park was like a gift from the book gods this year. It was another one that hype tried to drive me away from — that tricky bastard! — and another that I am so, so glad I read anyway.

Eleanor & Park is rich and funny and filled with wonderful characters, thoughtful narration, and great dialogue, which is something I can’t say for most of the books I read this year. Both Eleanor and Park are fantastic narrators who wear their hearts, thoughts, and observations on their sleeves. It is so, so nice to be deep in the heads of characters who have things to say and see the world in ways that are interesting and engaging and fresh.

It does such a great job capturing what it’s like to be young and scared and unsure and enamored of someone new and an even better job of precisely and evocatively encapsulating the thrill and torture of new love. Eleanor & Park is romantic as hell and sexy in a way that feels true and acutely age-appropriate. It is a wonder of a book and I am so glad that 2013 brought it to me.

Honorable Mentions

Previously: 2K12 | JAMZ | MOVIES | ALBUMS | TV