OKAY, now that I’ve finally finished ALL MY REVIEWS of books I read in 2016, I can finally tell you which ones are in my top five! I’m sure you’ve been on TOTAL TENTERHOOKS. I mean, like everyone, I feel partially conflicted about writing about silly, joyful things when it feels like the world is being set freshly aflame every single day, but without joy, what are we fighting for, right? So let’s do this in spite of it all!
5. Julie Murphy, Dumplin’ – Dumplin’ is only the second audiobook I’ve ever listened to (It is exxxxxtremely hard for me to absorb information aurally.) and I loved both the narration (TBH, the way that Eileen Stevens has Bo say “Willowdean” has irreversibly changed my life.) and the story. It’s fun and sweet and smart and funny. Willowdean grows, the secondary and tertiary characters are awesome, and most importantly, WILLOWDEAN IS FAT AND DOESN’T LOSE WEIGHT. There is a secondary character named Millie who is also fat and DOESN’T LOSE WEIGHT. I have read a lot of books about fat characters and even the ones who decide being fat is “okay” usually lose some weight as, like, a magical side effect of being allowed to feel human? I guess. But Willowdean is fat and thinks that’s okay and pushes back against the idea that it isn’t okay and she stays fat! She never even obsesses over food! What a gift.
4. Andrea Portes, Anatomy of a Misfit – Anatomy of a Misfit is a book that frustrated me as I read it because it struck me as so true to the misery of high school, but in a really satisfying way. The writing is very strong and Anika is a really well-rendered teenager with complex feelings about genuinely difficult situations. She’s not particularly likable, which is always unbelievably hard for me to engage with, but she was so fully-fleshed and felt so human. Her narrative voice always felt age-appropriate without ever pandering or falling into that non-young-adults-trying-to-sound-like-young-adults thing that I seemed to encounter a lot in 2016. This is not an easy book and I don’t think it always pulls it’s weight, but it was definitely some of the best reading I did this year.
3. Marie Sexton, Trailer Trash – I think I screamed about Trailer Trash for like, five days straight on twitter after I read it because I was so, so impressed with it. It’s a gay, teenage love story set in the 80s that manages to be sweet, emotional, devastating, and hopeful. The narrative voices feel SO of their time, while also feeling really current. It doesn’t ignore its time period at all — including the AIDS crisis — but manages to stay hopeful in spite of pain, loss, and tragedy. This book is a romance through and through, but it’s cut with real, weighty problems and real, painful experiences and full of real, complicated conversations and relationships. I read it in May and not a week has gone by where I haven’t at least thought about how much I enjoyed it.
2. Sonia Belasco, Speak of Me As I Am – I’ve known Sonia for… more than ten years now, I think, and I have spent nearly all of those years waiting to have one of her books in my hands and man, it was so worth the anticipation. Speak of Me As I Am is beautiful and moving and lyrical and lovely. Melanie and Damon feel like real teenagers, but they’re also smart and sensitive and thoughtful. I love the weight of place in this and the way that characters who are not physically present in the story are so incredibly central and alive. There are also awesome parents in this and good teachers and secondary characters who are lively and fully-formed and worth caring about. I feel like a cheater sharing this one, since you can’t actually read it until April, but I promise it’ll be worth the wait.
1. Stephanie Tromly, Trouble is a Friend of Mine – I LOVED THIS BOOK. I loved it so much. I love-love-loved it. I also listened to the audiobook of this one (the last one I listened to, I think) and Kathleen McInerney is GREAT and kind of sounds like Kristen Bell, which made it all feel very Veronica Mars-y. It was a fun, fast story with great characters. Nobody really sounds like a teenager, but they somehow feel like teenagers anyway. It’s a great caper-y book and it made me laugh a lot. And the end made me squeal in delight with such vigor that I traumatized Crystal while she was driving. It does have some… questionable moments with racial stereotypes and slut-shame-y-I’m-not-like-other-girls type stuff, but the story was worth it for me anyway. Such a fun read!