On February 3, 2017, I had the opportunity to share some of the most fascinating and popular books of the year with James Caldwell High School’s Reader’s Choice classes. Below are the books I talked about and the reviews I shared with the class. Be sure to use your library card or ask your school librarian to get your copy of the book!
Let’s start at the end of the world.
We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson
Henry Denton believes he gets abducted by aliens regularly. Nicknamed the clever title of, “Space Boy,” for his beliefs, he spends his life on the bottom of the high school food chain with no friends, no real reason to live and the weight of his high school boyfriend’s suicide on his shoulders. One night the aliens that abduct him tell him the world will end, but he is the only one who can stop it. He is given a choice: save the world by pressing a single button or let everyone die.
Now the world has to prove itself worthy to someone it treats the worst.
Why I think you should read it: This book made me cry three times. It tests the limits of empathy and hate through the voice of a boy who prefers science over people. It is a story of cowardice and bravery and the struggle to make yourself heard when everyone around you is trapped in their own stories.
On the Edge of Gone by Corinne Duyvis
The comet is about to hit earth and Denise and her mother are late to getting to their temporary shelter. Denise tries not to panic, tries not to be who she is and get stuck in loops that will mean the end of her life, but her addict mother isn’t helping. When chance leads her to the possibility of safety beyond the comet, beyond the generations of suffering the planet will endure, she must decide between her own needs and the needs of the hundreds of thousands of abandoned humans left on a dying planet, including her own flawed mother.
Why I think you should read it: This book offers a fascinating and powerful insight into the mind of an autistic girl dealing with massive change that is ACTUALLY WRITTEN by an autistic girl. It has powerful and beautiful prose that will capture the imagination and turns the terror of massive change into something to be observed and fascinated by.
Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor’s Story by Caren Stelson
When Caren sought out to write the story of Sachiko, she started with a few pieces of information:
- Sachiko was a Nagasaki bomb survivor.
- Caren realized she knew nothing of the people who suffered after the events, nothing of the miracle that any survived at all.
Sachiko’s story at a memorial ceremony stuck with Caren and she sought out the survivor to write a book. When sought out, Sachiko only had one requirement: she would tell her story only if she could look Caren in the eyes as she told it.
What follows is more terrifying and haunting than any story ought to be. Written in a plaintive voice and interspersed by pages of facts and broad expanse perspective, Sachiko tells how the bombing was more than a single event on a page. It was a single event that poisoned the land and its people for generations to come, leaving scars in families and the land that may never fully heal.
Why I think you should read it: It will change your life.
Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina
In 1977, New York was a city of chaos. Between power outages, arson, serial killers, and political upheaval, it is hard to imagine that there were girls just like Nora who only wanted to reach 18 to be free from her parents and family and date cute boys. The author Meg Medina creates a character who must survive the crime and chaos of her neighborhood to get to the things that matter to her most. It challenges what it means to be free and what it means to be part of something bigger.
Why I think you should read it: It’s a fast-paced read that won’t pull you down with metaphors. The stories in it seem real, even though they are only fiction.
Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Perez
In 1937, New London, Texas, a school explosion marked itself as the worst school disaster in American history. Ashley Hope Perez fills in the lines of this history, pulling taut the threads of segregation, lynchings, and love to weave a story that transcends all those things. Ultimately, this story is a tragedy, but it reads like a poem and brings to life voices from a lost past of segregation and hate that need to be heard.
Why I think you should read it: Told in three different perspectives, the fast pace of the story and powerful individual voices will stick with you past the first reading.
Still Life with Tornado by A.S. King
Before this book gets a full introduction, I need to talk to you about quantum theory and the uncertainty principle and a cat. The theory goes, if you do not measure an item, it can be all possible states simultaneously. In this strain, if you stick a cat in a box with a nuclear reactor and do not look into the box, the cat is both alive and dead, healthy and sick, old and young at the same time.
This book has nothing to do with science. Instead, it is about art. It is about a girl who wants to drop out of high school, a girl who used to want to be an artist, a girl who is so unseen by her parents and friends and teachers that she exists in multiple forms at once. She converses with her older self and younger self, she calls herself, “Umbrella” and claims to see everything, but she is in denial of the killing blow that will destroy everything she has made of herself.
Why I think you should read this: This book is a piece of art in itself.
Bloodline by Joe Jimenez
Abraham thinks people might be born bad. He thinks that his genetics and the men in his family prove this. He thinks his rage and the fights he can’t seem to stay out of prove this. Despite this, he is a poet at heart and thinks that falling in love will be his saving grace. His affections lean toward Ophelia, his close friend, and her name controls her own destiny.
Written in second-person, this novel places you in the shoes of a boy who is trying to be a man without a guide to keep him from a predestined future.
Why I think you should read this: It reads like poetry, but packs a punch.
Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson
When she was nine years old, Mary was convicted of murdering an infant her mother was babysitting. The baby was white. The public convicted her and a jury followed soon after. After surviving six years in jail for kids, she finds herself in a group home and finds Ted. When the court threatens to take away their unborn child, she finally finds a reason to expose the truth behind her alleged crime.
Why I think you should read this: The truth is a tricky thing and nothing makes it more real than this book.
Revenge and the Wild by Michelle Modesto
For those who love the movie Mad Max, this wild western adventure into an alternate reality will satisfy your every need. Westie was a child when her family was taken in by kind strangers while they were on the road. These kind strangers turned out to be cannibals, who ate Westie’s entire family and her arm. After stumbling through the woods, Westie is saved by the kindness of a local town. She is raised by a creative genius of an adoptive father, who builds her a new arm. Still, Westie is torn apart by her need for revenge and nothing will stop her from finding the family of cannibals that murdered her father and mother.
This story is packed with magic and machinery, intrigue and vampires, cannibals and zombies. It has everything, but what makes it most interesting is Westie’s emotional dependence on alcohol to keep her sane.
Why I think you should read this: This Western story will not let you go.
Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston
There are books about sexual assault that will make you hate everything and everyone. This is not that book. Hermione Winters is a victim of a violent crime. Before the crime, she was head cheerleader, top of her class, and a happy and confident girl. After the crime, she still is head cheerleader, top of her class, and a happy and confident girl. Where many stories about sexual assault place blame on the victim and hold public opinion against her, this book does not. Her community is supportive of her and she stands up to anyone who tries to place blame on her. She has to relive the experience through therapy and make decisions about her life that go beyond college applications. Through it all, Hermione is able to take control of her life even after someone took that control away from her for just a night.
Why I think you should read this: This story, which is exceptionally well-written, handles the delicate topic of sexual assault with a perspective of a girl who knows who she is in the world and won’t let “being damaged” make her any different.
The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon
Nicola Yoon wrote a beautiful story last year of a girl who was allergic to everything titled “Everything, Everything.” Keeping with her traditional style of romance, strong characters, and hopeful endings, she writes the story of entangled destiny that is Natasha and Daniel.
Natasha is seventeen years old, but her father’s DUI has just changed her life. In less than 24 hours, she is going to be deported to Jamaica as an undocumented immigrant unless she can find a way to stop it. Daniel has an interview for “second best school” Yale University today, but he doesn’t want to be the doctor his parents want him to be. He wants to be a poet. Circumstance and possibly destiny bring these two together with explosive results.
Why I think you should read this: This book is for skeptics and romantics alike.
MARCH: Book Three by John Lewis
Completing the renowned graphic novel trilogy, MARCH tells the story of how one man and one movement can change a country for the better. You do not have to read all three graphic novels, but they are worth it.
Why I think you should read this: It literally cannot win any more awards. It has been definitively picked as the best book of the year.