The Island of Sea Women

Rating: 
Author: Lisa See
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pub date: Mar. 5, 2019 (read Jan. 2019)

I read The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane back in 2017 and really liked it. I’ve been meaning to read some more of Lisa See’s work ever since, but the content is quite heavy, so I keep putting it off. So when I received an early copy of The Island of Sea Women from Simon and Schuster Canada, I was excited to finally read another one of Lisa’s books!

I clearly need to prioritize reading some of her earlier works because I liked this just as much as I like the Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, maybe more!! The Island of Sea Women is about a matrifocal community of female divers on Jeju Island. Jeju Island is a large volcanic island located to the south of South Korea. It was under the control of the Japanese until the end of WWII, when it was taken over by the Americans.

What’s interesting about the island and many of its communities, is that they are mostly focused on women. Many of the traditional gender structures still exist in that men own property, the ownership is passed down through the male line, and giving birth to boys is valued because only boys can attend school and perform ancestor worship. However, the women are viewed as the providers and decision makers and the men stay home and raise the children. This is because it is the women on the island who become Haenyeo. Haenyeo are a collective of divers who are widely respected. They row offshore every day to dive in the frigid ocean for sea-life to feed their family and to sell to wealthy Japanese colonizers. The most prized catch is the abalone, but they also dive for sea urchins, octopus, squid, and other species.

See focuses her story on Young-sook. Young-sook is the daughter of a Haenyeo chief, so she learns to dive from an early age and develops a very close friendship with another girl in the community, Mi-ja. The two girls are inseparable and both join the Haenyeo collective when they come of age and travel together as young women to do leave-home diving work. However, as they grow older, their friendship is challenged and circumstances arise to drive a wedge between the two women. This book tells Young-sook’s life story, her friendship with Mi-ja, and the sad history of Jeju Island.

I was really interested in the Haenyeo culture and how they work together as a collective. I thought it was fascinating the ways that traditional gender roles were sometimes switched in this culture, but remained similar in other ways. I find diving to be fascinating (and terrifying) and I really liked learning about the Haenyeo traditions, how they would organize and dive together, and how resilient these women are. But what I really loved about this book was the way it also takes us through South Korea’s history.

I read Min Jin Lee’s book, Pachinko, last year and really liked it. It’s about a Korean family that immigrates to Japan and the challenges they faced there as immigrants. It was a good introduction the the history between Korea and Japan. This book also focuses on that conflict, but from a different angle and perspective; between the two books I learned a lot about Korea and Japan. The history covered in this book is upsetting to be sure, but it is a very good look at how Western countries can tear other countries apart in their own political disputes. Korea was split at the end of WWII, to be governed by the Soviet Union in the North and America in the South. Russia obviously promoted communism and America, democracy.

As everyone knows, American’s were extremely threatened by the rise of communism. I’m still not super familiar with Korea’s history, but from this book, it seems that there was support for communism on Jeju Island, which created conflict between the island and the rest of the Korean mainland. Rebel groups popped up among the mountain tribes on Jeju Island and fighting ensued between rebel groups and the authorities. Korea had a culture of guilt by association, whereby if a member of your family committed a crime, you were considered tainted by association. This resulted in consequential killings in which families and entire communities might be punished for the actions of an individual. The Jeju uprising officially began on April 3, 1948, and resulted in the destruction of many villages and left many people homeless.

I’ll admit, I know very little about Korea’s history, but I loved learning about it from Young-sook’s point of view. The people of Jeju had always had a tumultuous relationship with the Japanese and she observed that little changed within their communities with the end of WWII and that their power mostly just changed hands between the Japanese and the Americans. Young-sook observes that they have always been oppressed, but that Korean’s always looked after one another. However, because of differing ideologies between a democratic and communist state, she was upset to see Korean’s start to turn on one another.

From this setting, we also see how the Haenyeo were forced to change and adapt over the years and the impact the conflict had on their diving activities. The Haenyeo are still very popular, but more as a tourist attraction. The birth of daughters was also celebrated on Jeju as it ensured the financial stability of the family. However, very few girls are training to become Haenyeo these days and the collective has greatly aged, with few young women to take their places. I loved how See balances the challenges and changes to the collective along with the changing and increasingly challenging political climate on the island. It also linked in with Young-sook’s changing relationship with Mi-ja. While the novel takes us through 70 years of Korean history, at it’s core, it is a story about friendship and forgiveness.

As much as I loved this book, I do have one criticism, which is what brought my rating down from 5 stars to 4 stars. The story is told in 5 parts and progresses pretty naturally through time. However, each part starts with a flash forward to 2008. While I see some value in the 2008 timeline, I think it would have worked better as a short epilogue focused on remembering the April 3 incident and finding peace. I did not like the inclusion of Clara in the story. While Young-sook struggles with her feelings and forgiveness throughout the second half of the novel, I felt this last storyline came too late in the story and timeline. Personally, I thought the ending felt forced and manipulative. I felt like the author was trying to manipulate me into this cathartic moment at the end, but the catharsis was too late in coming and not believable to me.

Despite the ending, I still loved this book. Though the story focuses on Young-sook, I loved the exploration of Mi-ja’s story as well. The history and decisions of some of the characters were upsetting, culminating at the April 3 incident. However, I felt that they demonstrated how things can change in an instant and how in life and death situations, what might have been a well-meaning action or decision can be interpreted in the aftermath. It’s a somber realization, but it was the defining moment of Young-sook and Mi-ja’s relationship. I would definitely recommend this book.

The Island of Sea Women will be available for purchase in stores on Mar. 5th, 2019. Thanks to Scribner and Simon and Schuster Canada for providing me with a free copy in exchange for an honest review.

Books I Can’t Wait to Read in 2019

Mystery/Thrillers

The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware – Sep. 5, 2019
I’ve read every book Ruth Ware has written and I will be reading this one too! I don’t think Ware is the best mystery writer out there, but I find her books so compulsively readable that I’m always thrilled to pick up a new one! Especially because this one sounds SO GOOD! It’s about a woman who takes a live-in Nanny job in the Scottish highlands, which she thinks is going to be a dream job and ends up being a nightmare that lands her in prison for a murder she didn’t commit! This sounds so intriguing and I can’t wait to read it! Goodreads says this book is coming out in early Sep, but Edelweiss is listing the release date as Aug. 6, so we’ll just have to wait and see!

I Know Who You Are by Alice Feeney – May 16, 2019
Alice Feeney only has one other book, Sometimes I Lie, but I read it last year with my book club and we all loved it! I was really impressed with it as a debut novel and it had so many twists that I did not see coming at all! I know Who You Are is about actress Aimee Sinclair. She has a fight with her husband one day and then comes home to find him missing. The next day, she goes to the bank to find $10,000 missing from her account – the kicker is that she is the person who supposedly emptied the account. Suddenly her life is turned upside down and nothing is as it seems.

Lock Every Door by Riley Sager – Jul. 2, 2019
Last year and read and enjoyed Riley Sager’s second thriller novel, The Last Time I Lied. I haven’t read his debut novel yet, but I’m planning to read both Final Girls and his new book, Lock Every Door. Lock Every Door is about Jules Larson, who takes a job apartment-sitting at the mysterious Bartholomew building. At first, Jules likes the job, but when her fellow apartment-sitter disappears and she learns about Bartholomew’s dark, hidden secrets, she must race to uncover the buildings hidden past and save her friend!

Historical Fiction

The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See – Mar. 5, 2019
I’m cheating a bit on this book because I was fortunate enough to receive an ARC and I have already read it, but I’m including it anyways because it releases in March and fans of Lisa See will not be disappointed! The Island of Sea Women is set on Jeju Island in South Korea and takes us through 70 years of history – from the 1930’s to the 2000’s. Jeju Island’s culture is focused around women – where they are the core providers for their families and the men stay home and take care of the home and children. It tells the story of Young-sook and her friend Mi-ja, who are both part of the Haenyeo collective of divers who make a living diving for sealife in the fridgid sea.

Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid – Mar. 5, 2019
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo took Booktube by storm last year! I read it back in 2017 with my book club and also loved it – so I’m so excited to pick this one up later this year. Daisy Jones and the Six is about solo singer Daisy Jones and popular band, The Six. I’m not totally clear on the plot of the novel, but it’s set in the 70’s and is guaranteed to include all of the drama of sex, drugs, and rock & roll. I loved how diverse Evelyn Hugo and how good of a story teller Taylor Jenkins Reid is, so I can’t wait to read this one too!

The Murmur of Bees by Sofia Segovia – Apr. 16, 2019
This is a lesser promoted novel that I stumbled upon on Netgalley and became immediately intrigued with. It’s by a Mexican author and has actually been published since 2015, but the English translation is being released in April. It’s about an abandoned baby that was found under a bridge and the impact he has on the small village. It’s set during the Mexican Revolution and the outbreak of the spanish influenza in 1918 and this setting is what really intrigued me about the book. I already have a copy of this from Netgalley and I’m looking forward to learning more about this period of Mexican history.

Fantasy

Romanov by Nadine Brandes – May 7, 2019
Romanov is a historical fantasy novel about Anastasia Romanov. It re-imagines history where instead of Anastasia dying, she was tasked with smuggling out a spell on her way to Siberia that might be the only thing that could save her condemned family. I don’t really know much more about the story, but I’ve always been a little obsessed with Anastasia and I pretty much only had to hear the words “Anastasia” and “fantasy” and I was in. In discovering this book, I also discovered that Brandes has another historical fantasy novel about Guy Fawkes plot to blow up the British government, Fawkes, which I must now also add to my TBR because that also sounds amazing!

Sherwood by Meaghan Spooner – Mar. 19, 2019
This is another book where I read a really short description of the book and was immediately like, “I have to read this.” Sherwood is basically a gender-bent retelling of Robin Hood. In this version, Robin Hood is dead and his betrothed, Maid Marion is bereft. The people of Nottingham are greatly suffering, especially with the loss of their hero. In her desire to help her people, she dons Robin’s green cloak and is mistaken to be him. The people are desperate for a saviour and Marion decides to do her best to help them.

The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi – Jan. 15, 2019
This one comes out today, so we don’t even have to wait for it anymore! I am totally shocked at myself for including The Gilded Wolves on this list because I strongly disliked Chokshi’s other book, The Star-Touched Queen, but the plot just sounds so good that I’ve decided to give her another try! The Gilded Wolves is set in Paris in the late 1800’s and is being compared to Six of Crows, which I absolutely loved! It’s about a rag-tag group of people who assemble to hunt a lost artifact for an all-powerful society through the street of Paris. It’s received really good early reviews and I’m definitely intrigued to read it!

Young Adult

With Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo – May 7, 2019
As with many of the books on this list, I’m excited to read this upcoming release because I read Acevedo’s novel, The Poet X, last year and loved it! Along with the story, I really liked that the Poet X was written in prose. There’s no indication on the synopsis of With Fire on High that it will also be written in prose, but it still sounds really good. It’s about a teen mom who loves to cook but struggles to make ends meet and care for her abuela. She dreams of taking her school’s culinary class, going on the class trip to Spain, and one day working in a real kitchen. Can she turn any of these dreams into reality?

Watch Us Rise by Renee Watson and Ellen Hagan – Feb 12, 2019
I stumbled upon this new release on Netgalley as well and while I wasn’t approved for an ARC on this one, I’m really excited to read it when it comes out in February. It’s about two high school students who are frustrated with the status quo at their school and start a Women’s Rights Club. They get a lot of positive support when they start the club, but they are eventually targeted by online trolls who threaten their club and their voices. I’m here for any and all YA books on feminism so I can’t wait to read this. What makes me more excited is that the two girls on the cover are black and white, so I’m hoping this will be a more intersectional, feminist read than some other similarly plotted books that I’ve read in the past.

Internment by Samira Ahmed – Mar. 19, 2019
This is another book I’m a little surprised to include on the list because I read Ahmed’s debut novel, Love, Hate, and Other Filters, last year and did not like it. But I don’t want to judge an author by one book, especially their debut, so I’m excited to give this one a try, which sounds WAY different than her first novel. Internment is a dystopian novel about teenager Layla Amin, whose family is forced into an internment camp for Muslim American citizens. Do I really need to say more? It’s set in the near-future and I think we can all agree that with the current president, anything is really possible, so I’m intrigued what social commentary Ahmed is going to make about the current political climate. I actually just received an ARC for this one, so I’m planning to read it soon.

Non-Fiction

The Witches Are Coming by Lindy West – May 7, 2019
This is a bit of a longer list than I usually make, but there’s just so many good books coming out this year! Lindy West’s new book OBVIOUSLY has to be on this list because just everything about it screams something I must read. I really like Lindy’s writing (along with Jessica Valenti and Laurie Penny) and I’m a here for a book about how the “patriarchy, intolerance, and misogyny have conquered not just politics but American culture itself.” It sounds like this book is going to cover a lot of topics, from the 2016 election to the #MeToo movement, I can’t wait to read West’s observations and critiques.

Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson – Mar. 12, 2019
Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak was published 20 years ago and was monumental in discussing the impacts of rape and sexual assault. She has published many other books since then, although I’ll admit, Speak is the only one of her books I’ve read. Shout is going to be a memoir collection of poems and essays about sexual assault, the progress we’ve made, and some personal anecdotes from the author’s personal life. It sounds like a really great anthology and I’m interested to see what the author has to say 20 years after the publication of her ground-breaking novel.

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane

Rating: 
Author: Lisa See
Genres: Historical Fiction
Read: July 2017

 

Where do I start with The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane? There was so much going on in this book – the plot was so layered and there were so many interesting themes underlying the story, but somehow it all worked and was immensely compelling. (disclaimer: there may be a few spoilers in here, but I think most of what I talk about is covered in the synopsis, which is pretty detailed)

Goodreads has been selling this book to me hard all year with their advertising, but for some reason I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy it. I read Dragon Springs Road earlier this year, which I liked but didn’t love. It’s probably unfair to compare the two books, just because they happen in China, but I found the pacing slow in Dragon Springs Road and I expected The Tea Girl to have a similar pacing, but I found this one so much more compelling. I don’t know a whole lot about Chinese culture, so I appreciated both novels and learned a lot, but there was a lot more going on in See’s novel.

Starting with the narrator, I absolutely loved Li-yan. She had such ambition, despite the constant belittlement from her family and the refrain that she was unimportant because she was a girl. Li-yan was born into the Ahka culture, which like many cultures, values boys far beyond girls. The Akha are a very tight knit people and view the village more as a collective than group of individuals. They believe everything has a spirit and they have many customs to protect against bad spirits and encourage good spirits. They believe it is everyone’s job to bring more children into the community and everyone always hopes for the birth of healthy sons.

I appreciated See’s writing because in the beginning the Ahka seemed so backwards to me and some of their practices were extremely horrifying. But throughout the course of the novel See was able to make me really appreciate their way of life and they did progress to abandon some of their more troubling customs (namely the killing of “human rejects”).

But I loved Li-yan because despite being told she was worth nothing, she had such ambition to pursue a better life through education and a desire to be someone. She convinces the village and her father to allow her to pursue her education and becomes the first educated person in the village. She faces so many struggles, but she always persevered and made choices (some of which were very tough) on what she felt was best for herself. Some readers might condemn her for giving up her child, but I didn’t fault her. She really would have had no life if she had decided to keep Yan-yeh. In many cases she was forced into some of her decisions, but I especially loved her decision to leave San-pa. I fully expected her to stick things out no matter how toxic things became, but when she finally recognized what was going on, she made a decision for herself to leave, even though she risked being sold or killed if she was caught.

She made so many wrong choices and at times really disappointed me, but I could sympathize with her decisions and forgive her for them. I was sad when she got distracted from her studies and ignored the advice of her family about San-pa, but she was so young and blinded by love, which I think we’ve all been at the young age of 16. She punished herself for so long after her failed marriage though and I was glad to see her find the strength to love again. 

I thought her relationship with her mother was beautiful. In the beginning I didn’t like A-ma because she was so harsh with Li-Yan, but she really grew on me and it was wonderful to watch their relationship grow and to see the softness in A-ma after the birth of Yan-yeh. I really enjoyed all the mother/daughter relationships in this book and the relationships between all of the women.

I didn’t enjoy the format of Hayley’s story as much (I think I would have preferred 1st person POV), but I learned a lot from her experience as well. I’ve thought about the challenges immigrants face in moving to America/Canada, but I haven’t put much thought into what it must be like to have parents that don’t look like you and to have so many stereotypes forced upon you. You always expect that your parents would be people that you could relate to and take advice from, but when your lived experience is so different from theirs, it must be so difficult not to have that shared experience and reassurance from your parents.

It was also interesting to learn a little bit about the one-child policy. I can’t imagine what that must have been like for Chinese mothers and it’s upsetting to see girls so little valued in a culture. It was interesting to read about Li-yan’s experience giving up her daughter and I’d love to learn more from other perspectives of women who’ve had to make decisions to give up their daughters.

And of course there was the tea. I didn’t think I could find tea so fascinating! I had no idea there was so much history behind tea and I’d never heard of Pu’er tea, so it was interesting to learn about how tea production changed Yunnan province, world tea markets, and became such a phenomenon. What I really liked about this book is that it started in the 90’s. I couldn’t believe there were villages in China that were so remote and unconnected to the world within my lifetime. It was fascinating to see how they evolved and changed as the modern world came to them in search of tea. It gave me a whole new appreciation for tea!

There is so much going on in this novel, but it all worked and was immensely compelling. It was a beautiful novel about the struggles women face, the relationship between mothers and daughters, and the ways in which we change and adapt to the world around us. Would definitely recommend!

Top 10 Books of 2017

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.