The Ides of March may be a day that lives in infamy, but I thought I’d use March 15 to list 15 books that I’ve read recently that made me think, feel, wonder, question, and reflect.
(Side note: As I started to brainstorm book titles for this list, I realized there were too many to list. I limited myself to titles I’d read within the last few months—in this case, since August. Even then, I had nearly 50 titles from which to choose, so this was much harder than I thought.)
Here they are:
And here’s what I liked about them:
Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chobsky. I caught the last half of the film version on cable one day and finally decided to read the book. It’s easy to see why I’ve often heard it described as a modern Catcher in the Rye.
The Giver by Lois Lowry. Yes, I finally read this a few months ago. Comparisons with other dystopian YA are appropriate, but reading The Giver reminds me that there are books that are plot driven and books that are heart driven. And this is most definitely the latter.
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart. I have mixed feelings about this one. I didn’t like the main character, but the issues of class and privilege were interesting, as was the nature of trauma. Nearly every student I know who has read the book also loved it, so for that reason alone, I’m glad to have read it.
Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt. Loved. And oh, the voice of narrator June… not easily forgotten. A wonderful reminder that in grief and loss, we can also find understanding and forgiveness.
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. Selected as Amazon’s Best Book of 2014, and though I have no idea what the criteria are, I enjoyed this one. Ng explores issues of race, identity, expectations—and the power of what goes unsaid, especially after Lydia, the family’s 16-year-old daughter, is found dead.
I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson. The 2015 Printz Winner. Everytime I try to describe this book, I have a hard time. Yes, it’s about twins Jude and Noah, whose relationship suffers after an unexpected turn of events. Yes, it’s about coming to terms with loss and broken relationships and yes, lies. But it’s also about the nature of art and artists, with a touch of magical realism thrown in for good measure. I wanted to hug both characters and tell them it was going to be okay. Memorable, immersive read.
The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin. A book that feels more like a love letter… to readers. And an important reminder of the power of the right book at the right time. (I wrote a little more about it here on the PA Writing Project Site).
Reading Unbound by Michael W. Smith and Jeff Wilhelm. Picked this up right after I saw Smith and Wilhelm speak at NCTE in Nov. While I try to read as many pedagogy books as I can as I’m teaching, I find that there’s usually one that directly informs my teaching the moment I begin reading it. And Reading Unbound was it this year. Smith and Wilhelm make a powerful argument for the power of pleasure reading and why—and how—we should make it a priority in our classrooms.
The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. This 2013 Newberry Medal winner is actually a book that my son read this past year (at my gentle urging). Poignant story of a Ivan, a gorilla who has spent most of his life at a mall with little hope of any other life. Especially moving because it’s told from the gorilla’s perspective. If one of the aims of children’s literature—or really, of any literature—is to develop empathy, then Ivan accomplishes this in spades.
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doer. Though I think I wanted to like this more than I did, I can’t deny how much beautiful the writing is. Open any page and you’ll find a line of prose that is so precisely rendered that you can’t help appreciate Doer’s powers of observation.
Noggin by John Corey Whaley. Almost didn’t read this one for two reasons: 1) didn’t enjoy Whaley’s previous book, also an award winner, and 2) the premise seemed completely absurd (a boy with brain cancer has his head cryogenically preserved and then wakes up with his head transplanted on a new body five years later). But there was something so charming and human about the main character’s experience that I couldn’t put the book down.
Peace Like a River by Leif Enger. I don’t know how I missed this book when it was published more than 10 years ago. Another coming-of-age tale, this time set in rural and bitterly cold North Dakota with characters you forget aren’t real. Not a book I think I would typically pick up, which is why I’m so glad I found it. A meditation on the nature of family, sacrifice, and love, and what it means to bear witness to the miracle of them all.
All the Bright Places by Jennifer Nevin. Described as Fault in Our Stars meets Eleanor and Park, this book had a lot to live up to… but it did. Told in alternating perspectives, the novel illuminates (pun intended) the darkness that 17-year-old Theodore Finch can’t seem to shake. Very difficult to read at parts, reminding me more of Perks of Being a Wallflower at times.
Help for the Haunted by John Searles. A haunted house, a dark basement, a possessed doll, and an ax murderer—imagine all the things that can terrify, and here they are, all wrapped in a surprisingly moving coming-of-age story. And as you can probably tell, I read a lot of coming-of-age stories, but none quite like this one. Frightening and heartbreaking at the same time.
And last, but not least…
Stranger by Rosalind Brown and Sherwood Smith. A student recommended this one to me. After some sort of nuclear cataclysm devastates much of the world, some people are “changed” as a result, and a type of Wild West frontier war ensues in what used to be Los Angeles. Not only did I enjoy the premise, I also enjoyed the characters, as the story is told in a series of five alternating voices. And although it’s technically another dystopian novel, it’s actually more of a “utopian dystopia,” as Kirkus Reviews called it. Lots of heart, but what I think I appreciated most was the way the authors treated the LGBT and other diversity issues in the novel—that is, they weren’t issues (click here to learn more about the controversy surrounding the book before it was finally published).
Aside from the books above, I’m also currently reading In the Best Interest of Students by the awesome Kelly Gallagher, who keeps me honest about my teaching practices. My YA book of the moment is Mosquitoland by David Arnold, which I am enjoying immensely. And next on my “on deck” list is Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins because really, what is all the fuss about this book? I guess I’ll find out.
This post is part of the “Slice of Life” series, organized by the teachers at Two Writing Teachers, whose goal is to give teachers a place to write and reflect. This March, more than 250 teachers have committed to daily writing. If you’d like to read more “slices” (from other teachers and even some students), visit twowritingteachers.wordpress.com/challenges.