My Favorite Book(s) of 2017

favorite read of 2017

2017 has been a great year for Young Adult fiction.

I’ve read a wide variety of books—from contemporary romance to fantasy to dystopia. YA authors have tackled important social issues, created new and exciting worlds, and spurred fandoms and film franchises.

It’s been such a great year for YA fiction that I simply couldn’t narrow my favorite 2017 read down to one. It was a struggle, even, to narrow it down to two.

So, without further ado, I am pleased to announce my favorite books of 2017: John Green’s Turtles All the Way Down and Sarah Tolcser’s Song of the Current.

Green’s newest book is all about vulnerability. Turtles All the Way Down presents the gritty reality of mental illness, a reality that extends beyond the narrator’s adolescence. The pacing is perfect, the dialogue smart and funny. During my entire read, I just kept thinking, “Yes. I’ve missed this.”

Tolcser’s pirate adventure manages to weave in moments of humor and fantastic feminist themes. The surprises and plot twists felt genuine. The characterization in Song of the Current was so well done that I was sad to leave Caro and company. As I am normally not a fan of pirates nor fantasy, Tolcser’s novel has been my most pleasant surprise of the year.

Honorable mentions include Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give and Julia Walton’s Words on Bathroom Walls.

I will, unfortunately, have less time for reading in 2018. I will be working on the completion of my thesis for my MFA, and this coupled with full-time teaching will mean that a once-per-week book review might be a bit of a stretch. I am still planning on reading and reviewing plenty of YA books; however, the blog posts might not be as frequent. I still hope you’ll continue to read my little blog.

Here’s to plenty of great books in 2018! What were your favorites this year?

Book Review: The Hate U Give

the hate u give cover

Thomas, Angie. The Hate U Give. Balzer & Bray/Hyperteen, 2017. Print.

I’m a stickler for the rules.

Ask anyone—my friends, my colleagues, my students. There’s just something about guidelines that make me feel safe, and I attempt to instill that same sense of security in my classroom.

But there is one area where I will always push and rail against the status quo. I want my students to read important books, even the frequently challenged or controversial (within reason, of course).

When I first read Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, I realized I was in possession of something so important that I had to incorporate it into my curriculum. I’ve read many good books since, but none that ignited that sort of fervor in me.

Until I read Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give. My advice: get this book into the hands of your students. Lend it to your family and friends. Discuss it in book clubs and on Goodreads. This book is that important.

Starr Carter is a sixteen-year-old high school student, basketball player, and sneaker enthusiast stuck between two worlds. She lives with her family in the crumbling but familiar Garden Heights, an area saturated with gang warfare. On the other side of town, Starr attends a preppy private school, Williamson, where she is one of the only African American students in attendance.

Starr’s life is irrevocably altered when she witnesses the shooting death of her lifelong friend, Khalil. As the media and community begin pointing fingers, Starr realizes that, unless she speaks up, prejudices and misinformation will continue to mutilate the truth. Starr is told that her voice is her most powerful weapon, yet several factors keep her silent: her loyalty to her Uncle Carlos, a police detective; her fear of retribution from the gangs in Garden Heights; and her reputation among her friends at Williamson, including her white boyfriend Chris and racially insensitive friend Hailey. Will Starr ever merge her “Williamson Starr” persona with who she really is? Will she find the courage to share her eyewitness account with the world? Will Khalil ever receive the justice he deserves?

Starr’s heart is continually pulled in a million different directions, and this is perhaps The Hate U Give’s greatest attribute. Her allegiances are blurry and gray—for example, she is, at times, mortified at the thought of her Williamson friends or boyfriend visiting Garden Heights. At other moments, she appreciates her community’s eccentricities and is defensive of her family and neighbors. Starr’s complexities—and the many facets of her narrative—keep readers hooked until the very last page.

I could heap more praise upon this novel—the dialogue and pacing are perfect. The only thing I truly hungered for was sensory detail. I wanted more descriptions of Williamson, of Garden Heights, of the television studios and courtrooms and storefronts. But, again, this is nitpicking. Thomas’ novel is truly worthy of the praise it has received.

I wouldn’t hesitate to use The Hate U Give in my classroom. There was one section, specifically, that made me tear up with its poignancy:

“That’s the problem. We let people say stuff, and they say it so much that it becomes okay to them and normal for us. What’s the point of having a voice if you’re going to be silent in those moments you shouldn’t be?

This novel is brimming with valuable talking points. When is it important to speak out? Why do we accept racism, sexism, homophobia, or prejudices of any kind as normal? How can the media alter our perception of victims and perpetrators alike? These might lead to tough conversations, but I feel The Hate U Give is worth it. Like I said earlier, the book is that important.