Kiddosphere: Favorite 2017 Reads – Adult Fiction and Nonfiction
Happy New Year! Now that 2017 is behind us, it’s time to present my favorite reads in 2017. Since I have a bunch to share (top 10 lists in each category, with honorable mentions if necessary), the reviews will be brief and to the point. Today’s group will be adult fiction/nonfiction and YA.
Why I picked it: I am not a huge fantasy fan; I read enough children’s and YA fantasy so that I can do my job. I rarely pick up fantasy written for adults, but a historical fiction fantasy set in medieval Russia intrigued me.
Read it if: You want a gorgeously written, fairy-tale like story with an unlikely heroine and an awesome horse character. The sequel, The Girl in the Tower, was recently released; although I didn’t love it as much as this one, it’s still a great read (this will conclude as a trilogy).
Why I picked it: I didn’t know much about the Emmett Till case (other than the basic facts); I could not put this down.
Read it if: You think you know the basic facts. This book revealed new insights and truths into the events leading up to the murder.
Why I picked it: This is an engrossing and fascinating account of life with a child dealing with an unusual condition (Williams Syndrome) that, among other things, results in a dangerous level of trust in strangers.
Read it if: You enjoy medical/psychogical memoirs and accounts. I do, and it’s one of the best I’ve read in a while.
Why I picked it: I hope we see more biographies about presidents whose last names are not Washington, Lincoln, Kennedy, et al. Hoover’s fall from grace–from the man widely believed to have saved Europe from completely starving in World War I–to a brutal reelection defeat is astonishing.
Read it if: You want to know more about one of the more misunderstood presidents in American history. (Hoover would agree!)
Why I picked it: This is a rare insight into a prestigious Chinese preschool.
Read it if: You enjoy reading about education in other countries; this is one of the best ones, and deeply personal, unlike most.
Why I picked it: I love historical fiction set in Russia, but could do with fewer non-Tsarist Russia stories and more post-Revolution novels. This switches between post-Revolution USSR and 1990s Russia–and is quite terrifying in parts.
Read it if: You are a Russobibliophile (I just made up a new word, I think), but are done with Romanov books for now (or books about Vladimir Putin).
Why I included it: One of the best books about the modern South I’ve read in some time. Food is intrinsically political in many ways, and this is an amazing capture of this fact. This covers it magnificently, from the lunch counter demonstrations in the civil rights movement, the “back to the land” hippie and Nation of Islam movement in the 60s/70s, and the influences recent immigrants from Mexico and Vietnam have had on Southern food. I read this soon after reading S is for Southern and found this much more relatable and inclusive (I enjoy reading Garden & Gun magazine when I can, but it celebrates a more patrician Southern sensibility than the one I experienced in southeastern Louisiana or currently live in).
Read it if: You want something that takes Southern cuisine seriously, including the modern and diverse variations on it.
Why I included it: This is the first major biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder written for adults (the previous books written for adults have largely hinged on the authorship question). It’s eye-opening, infuriating, heartbreaking and even occasionally funny (such as the LHOP TV show section).
Read it if: You want a fresh appraisal of the books and Wilder’s legacy. If you’re an unabashed fan, be prepared for new insights.
Why I included it: A family saga that incorporates Chinese history and tea? Sign me up!
Read it if: You love culturally-driven stories and/or stories set outside the United States (part of this is set in the US). The adoption angle is also illuminating and heartbreaking.
Why I picked it: Sherman Alexie is a brutally honest author; this is one of his best.
Read it if: You enjoy memoirs and want something unique; Alexie grew up on a Native American reservation. I enjoy reading books in which the author’s culture is a major factor (as evidenced by some of the books on this list); if you do, read this one.
Honorable Mention (Or, Too Good to Not be a Contender):
Why I didn’t include it: Some parts were slow-going at times. This is a dense historical overview of the Gulf of Mexico.
Read it if: You want to know more about this vastly important region. (Major highlights: the explorers, the resort boom and the oil boom.)
Why I picked it: Ibi Zoboi’s debut novel about a Haitian teen immigrant in Detroit is engrossing and heartbreaking.
Read it if: You want to read a new and important voice in YA fiction.
Why I picked it: 10% of adolescents are diagnosed with scoliosis, but until now, there’s not been a worthwhile YA book featuring a character with the condition. Deenie is extremely dated and includes a problematic relationship; finally, something to recommend other than that!
Read it if: You want a modern look on scoliosis through the eyes of an author who experienced it.
Why I included it: I am up to my EYEBALLS in YA fantasy dealing with teenage queens, teenagers with secret powers, teens overthrowing kings and queens and the like. This one involved rival kingdoms of ice and fire, which although not totally new, was compelling and fun.
Read it if: You can’t get enough YA fantasy about this stuff.
Why I included it: Critically acclaimed, a longtime YA bestseller, and a movie treatment on its way. This was the breakout hit of the year, and rightly so.
Read it if: You gravitate toward realistic fiction, but want something that artfully combines sorrow with joy.
Why I included it: Did I mention that teen queens, et al are a thing in YA fantasy? They tend to run together in my mind, but this one about a teen raised to be the magical heir to a kingdom, but actually turns out to be a fake queen (not her fault) is super fun.
Read it if: You know if this is your thing or not. If it is, you’ll love it (you’ve probably already read it).
Why I included it: This documentary novel about the couple that challenged the Virginia law forbidding interracial marriage is superbly created and written.
Read it if: You’re a historical fiction fan that wants something set in recent times (we’re seeing more of that, thank goodness.)
Why I included it: Jason Reynolds wrote a Spider-Man story? What could be more awesome? (If you’re not familiar: The history of the character is a little confusing and was somewhat controversial at the time, but Miles only appears in the Ultimate Marvel stories; he is the first African-American Spider-Man, but not the first non-Peter Parker Spider Man.)
Read it if: You want a funny and endearing superhero story. (I’ve heard it helps if you’ve read the comics; I have not, but I still enjoyed it.)
Why I included it: Jade’s experience of living in an inner-city neighborhood and attending school at a mostly Caucasian prep school is full of heart, frustration, and hope. There’s lots of depth to this story, especially in Jade’s relationship with an upper-class African American professional woman selected to be her mentor.
Read it if: You crave realistic stories with memorable characters.
Why I included it: It’s one of the few NY prep school stories that doesn’t make me roll my eyes (those stories can be incredibly precious and feature a world that is overwhelmingly exclusive to the vast majority of YA readers). It’s a cute, charming and believable modern-day teen Cyrano de Bergerac story. Its emotional subplot about a girl dealing with the loss of a sibling she never met is a gut punch, but not manipulative.
Read it if: You want something that balances a light read with depth.
Why I included it: I’ve been a Mitali Perkins fan–of her books and the author herself–for a long time. Finally, this is her big year (was longlisted for the National Book Award, received a ton of starred reviews, and has been included on the major end-of-the-year lists), and this is her greatest achievement so far. Her family saga about an Indian-American family is drawn from her real-life experiences.
Read it if: You something with a modern day A Tree Grows in Brooklyn feel (although this follows several generations instead of one character, the comparison feels right).
Next week: children’s novels and children’s nonfiction!
For program highlights and staff suggestions for children and young adult readers, make Kiddosphere your source for all the latest on what to read and what to do for kids!
Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library