I read so many fantastic books this year, it is impossible to choose only 10! Honestly, I really couldn’t narrow it down, so I decided to do two posts. I read a lot of new publications this year, so this is my top 10 books of 2017 that were actually published in 2017, and I’m planning to follow up with another 5 of my favourite non-2017 publications that I read this year. So without further ado, here we go:
Beartown by Fredrik Backman (Fiction)
Hands down, Beartown tops my list this year. I get most of my books from the library, but I went out and bought this one because I just HAD to own it! Fredrik Backman is a Swedish writer best known for A Man Called Ove, which I read last year along with Britt-Marie was here. Both novels were touching stories centred around ornery old people who you grow to love, so I was surprised to read the synopsis for Beartown, which sounded like something totally different from what Backman usually writes. In retrospect, it did have a lot of the same elements and examines the impact individuals can have on their community, but it tackled a lot of different issues.
Beartown is obsessed with hockey, namely the high school boys hockey team. This is supposed to be their year to finally win the championship and the community will do whatever it takes to help get them there, until a shocking event occurs that polarizes the community and threatens their chance to finally put Beartown on the map. It’s a fantastic story and study in character development. The novel has a huge cast of characters and somehow Backman made me care about each and every one of them. But holy smokes, this book was all about the writing for me. I thought it was just the most beautiful style of writing and had such insight into individual and community dynamics. Highly recommend to everyone – READ THIS BOOK!
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng (Fiction)
This is Celeste Ng’s second book – I read her debut novel, Everything I Never Told You, in 2015, which was a slow-build family drama about a mixed-race family in the 1970’s. Even though it wasn’t very fast-paced, I loved Everything I Never Told You and Little Fires Everywhere proved to have the same magic. It’s also a slow-build family drama and takes place in the community of Shaker Heights in the 1990’s (Ng’s real-life hometown). The story looks at the “perfect” Richardson family and their 4 kids and how they are impacted by the arrival of single mother/artist Mia and her teenage daughter Pearl. Mia and Pearl live in the Richardson’s rental property and unintentionally find themselves wrapped up in the Richardson’s family secrets.
Everyone seems to get along until a local scandal makes headlines when a young Chinese women contests the legitimacy of the adoption of her baby by the Richardson’s neighbours. Pearl begins to suspect her mother has been keeping her own secrets and friendships and relationships are challenged. Similar to Beartown, the writing is what made this a win for me. Ng is so perceptive and I love how she explores familial, platonic, and romantic relationships throughout the novel. I can see how this book might not be for everyone, but I absolutely loved it.
The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See (Historical Fiction)
I know Lisa See has a huge fan base out there, but this was the first time I had heard of her. The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane had so many good reviews that I begrudgingly picked it up. For some reason I had it in my mind that this one was over-hyped and I wasn’t going to like it, but I’m a sucker for historical fiction and this book had so much to love!
This is the story of a poor, indigenous (Akha) Chinese girl, Li-yan, who grows up picking tea leaves in a small village in Yunnan province. The novel takes place at the height of the one-child policy and when Li-yan becomes pregnant out of wedlock, she feels forced to give up her daughter in order to maintain her place in the community and chase after an education. The book flashes back and forth between Li-yan’s daughter as she grows up in American and Li-yan as she tries to make a life for herself and escape the poverty she was born into. Lisa See explores so many different issues and did a beautiful job writing Li-yan’s character. I’ve never found tea more interesting than I did in this book!
The Radium Girls by Kate Moore (Non-Fiction)
The Radium Girls is a non-fiction book that reads like fiction, and damn is it ever devastating. Kate Moore tells the true story of hundreds of girls and women that worked as dial painters in American factories in the 1920’s that died of radium poisoning. Radium-based paint was used to paint everything from watch faces, to airplane dials, to military equipment because it was luminous. While the extent of the harmful effects of radium was not totally known, their employers definitely knew the paint was dangerous and in many cases, purposefully hid it from their female employees.
The girls eventually starting getting sick and many of them died horrible deaths. When their illnesses were finally attributed to radium poisoning, many of the girls began to sue and fight back against the Radium Corporation. This is the story of their struggle and how they changed the laws surrounding workers rights and subsequently likely saved the lives of thousands of future workers. It is very well researched and written. It’s a tough read as it is infused with a lot of emotion, but so important to women’s history.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (Young Adult)
This is such an important book for teenagers (and probably even more so for adults). Black men and women are routinely stopped, questioned, and made to feel unsafe by law enforcement. As was the case in The Hate U Give (and Dear Martin, which I also read this year), black men are often (unjustly) the victims of police violence. Starr Carter’s world is turned upside down when her best friend, Khalil is shot and killed in front of her because the officer thought his hairbrush was a gun.
Starr is traumatized by the event and fears that it may have catalyzed her community. She wants to speak out, but is frustrated by the way her words are twisted and how her best friend is villainized by the media and her white friends. I do think Angie Thomas wrote this book with white people in mind, which is why I think every teenager should read it. It’s a good introduction to police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s important for white people to realize the ways in which our privilege protects and blinds us, and it’s important for people of colour to have stories, characters, and authors they can relate to and look up to.
What Happened by Hillary Clinton (Memoir)
Look, I know Hillary is polarizing for people. Some of you hate her or think she’s a corrupt politician, but you can’t deny she is persistent. I’m Canadian, so I never could have voted for her, but we’re still waiting for our first elected female Prime Minister in Canada too and we are largely impacted by American politics (as is most of the world), so it matters to me that Trump is President. I know a lot of people aren’t interested in hearing about Hillary’s “losing” story and think she blames everyone and anyone but herself for her loss, but that is not true and if you read this book, you’ll see how much harder she had to work to be taken seriously and how much harsher she is judged (and judges herself).
I listened to this as an audiobook. I usually only listen to audiobooks when I run, but I found myself carrying my phone around with me everywhere so that I could listen to this non-stop. Is Hillary perfect? no, but she still inspires me. I loved getting the opportunity to actually learn about her policies, which got virtually no airtime during the election, and learn about her experiences as a female politician. This book with fill you rage, but it will also fill you with hope. I found parts of it very upsetting, and I imagine it would be even harder to read as an American directly impacted by Trump’s policies. But whether or not you read this book, start engaging in politics and supporting the amazing women in your community, because Hillary has at the very least built a stepping stool to get us that much closer to smashing the damn glass ceiling.
Warcross by Marie Lu (Science Fiction)
In the past I’ve been pretty rough on Science Fiction and Marie Lu, but I might have to start changing my tune because Warcross was fantastic! It’s set in a futuristic Japan, where a virtual reality game called Warcross has enveloped the globe. Emika Chen is living in New York and is down on her luck when she decides to hack into the Warcross opening games to make a quick dollar. She is caught and quickly whisked off to Japan to try and track down other hackers that are wreaking havoc in the game.
This book was so vibrant and fast paced! It was so easy to believe that our world could evolve in the same way as the world Marie Lu has created and I loved reading all about this futuristic version of Tokyo. The characters were really well written, although some could be more developed. However, this is only the first book in the series and I’m fully expecting to see some wonderful character growth in the next one!
The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui (Graphic Novel)
The Best We Could Do is a graphic memoir of Thi Bui’s family, their escape from war-torn Vietnam in the 1970’s, and their eventual relocation to America. I think it’s definitely comparable to Maus and Perspepolis (which are both great), but I think this might be my favourite of the three. The opening scene in the book is Bui giving birth to her first child with the support of her mother, and the scene was just so gritty and honest that I felt like I was in the delivery room with them.
Bui goes on to reflect on her journey from Vietnam to America and the struggles she’s faced with both of her parents. The graphics are great and she was just so honest in the telling of her history that I really empathized with her family.
Far From the Tree by Robin Benway (Young Adult)
I used to love Robin Benway as a teenager, so when I saw this one had won the National Book Award, I had to give it a read! In my opinion it was very deserving of its win. Far From the Tree switches between 3 different teenage narrators – Joaquin, Grace, and Maya. Joaquin has been in the foster child system since he was very young and Grace and Maya were both adopted at birth. When Grace becomes pregnant at 16 and decides to give her daughter up for adoption, she goes in search of her own birth mother and along the way discovers the existence of her 2 siblings.
Joaquin, Maya, and Grace are all struggling with their own challenges and begin to lean on each other for support. There’s a lot of stuff going on in this novel, but the writing was so wonderful and the stories so moving. I was hooked from the first chapter and even though I have almost nothing in common with Joaquin, Grace, or Maya, their characters and pain were so well written that I had no problem relating with any of them. I loved every minute of this novel and I would highly recommend to anyone who loves a good well written, emotional story.
A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab (Fantasy)
I read 4 full trilogies this year and started several other series that are only 1 or 2 books in. So even though I’ve only listed one fantasy novel on my top 10, it was actually my most-read genre. It was hard to pick a favourite. Actually, it was easy, but my favourite fantasy series of the year wasn’t published in 2017, so I’m saving it for my follow-up post. Even though I didn’t like the first two novels in this series as much as some of the other books I read, I settled on A Conjuring of Light as my top fantasy novel of 2017. It was such an epic conclusion to the Shades of Magic trilogy.
I absolutely love the characters in this series. In a nutshell, the plot of the series is about these 4 parallel versions of London, the dark magic that is slowly escaping between them, and our protagonist’s (Kell) attempt to stop the spread of evil. But the plot was really secondary to the character development for me. The series had some truly kick-ass characters, my favourite of which was Lila, a cross-dressing pirate. Every character is fully realized, even the villains, and the relationships they developed were so real and beautiful. I did struggle a little with the first novel, but this one definitely got me!
Shout-out to Now I Rise, from the Conqueror’s Saga, which was a close second for the final spot.