When looking over the book I read in 2016, it became immediately apparent that I did not have a strong list of 10 (or more) books that I truly loved. Though I did squeak by an barely finish both my 50-book Goodreads Challenge, as well as the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge (yay!), I did not read as many books as I normally do in a year. I read a bigger proportion of academic books, too, and a lot of books that ended up being disappointments. Add in that I’ve pushed myself to be tougher in rating and grading books, and you’ll see why very few 5-star books ended up on my final list.
So instead of doing one of those long reading surveys or top ten lists, I’ve decided to keep it simple by just focusing on the books that really stand out as the best read in 2016. I didn’t set out to feature a specific number of books, just the ones that met my high standards for holding my interest, surprising me, and offering up complex characters and themes.
Here are the books that I’ve determined were the best I read in 2016.
Best 2016 Release
Highly Illogical Behavior by John Corey Whaley
John Corey Whaley is one of my favorite authors. In this book, he takes on a boy with agoraphobia and the girl who tries to “fix” him for a school project. Of course we all know that isn’t a sound plan, and Whaley crafts a refreshingly honest and realistic look at friendship and living with the challenges we all face when presented with choices in life. I always think of John Corey Whaley as a lot like John Green (nerdy characters and references, contemporary themes, wacky situations) but with a depth and intelligence that come from plot and allusion rather than dialogue. After this book, he’s officially on my auto-buy list.
Best Backlist Read
Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman
Okay, so “backlist” is not too far back here, as Challenger Deep was published in 2015. But this book was deserving of every award it won! Like, there is just something magical about literary YA fiction and Challenger Deep had that magic. It’s a story about a boy’s descent into schizophrenia told through both the lucid timeline of his everyday life and intermittent chapters about his journey on a ship to find the deepest point in the ocean (known as Challenger Deep). I don’t reread books often, but this is the kind of book that I can see myself picking up multiple times and still uncovering layers on understanding on each new read. I only gave it 4 stars when I read it, but hindsight tells me I should have given it 5
Tiny Pretty Things by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton
Yay for #diversereads, especially those that can be classified as #ownvoices. Tiny Pretty Things is the story of three cut-throat ballerinas at an elite ballet school. It’s marketed as Pretty Little Liars meets Center Stage, and I’d say that’s fair. The story actually brings some real danger and threats, which I was pleased to see. The bonus was that the novel is authored by two women of color, and two of the three protagonists/narrators are people of color (June is half Korean, Gigi is Black, and Bette is white). I think the strength of this being an #ownvoices novel is that race was an important element of the story without being stereotypical. I can’t believe I waited so long to finally read this ARC, but I flew through it once I started reading!
You by Caroline Kepnes
(full review coming in February)
You by Caroline Kepnes has the honor of being the only non-ya novel on this list. I listened to the audiobook and found myself completely gripped by the story and surprised at how far Kepnes decided to take this! I was certainly expecting a creepy stalker tale, but You exceeded my expectations by also making me think about issues of social class and gender politics. It’s basically everything I could ask for in a fun thriller read.
A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro
A Study In Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro is a fun mystery that brings the Sherlock Holmes tales to the modern day. It had so many things I love: a boarding school, a mystery, a complex and deeply flawed female protagonist, a nod to classic literature, and a slow burn romance. Check, check, check, check, and check. I loved how Cavallaro transformed Sherlock into Charlotte, which can’t have been an easy task! The result was a female character unlike any I’ve read in modern YA before. I’ve already picked up the second book in the series, The Last of August, so I can keep up with Charlotte in 2017.