Well, here we are at last, on the first day of 2017! 2016 was a year that included some major low points for sure but, for me personally, some very special high points, as well. It was a chaotic year with lots of new adjustments and responsibilities, but I just managed to meet my goal of reading 100 books (in addition to the ones I re-read along with my students and the countless wonderful picture books I’ve been reading these days). Of the 100 books I read in 2016, 48 were middle grade, 42 were young adult, and 10 were either adult fiction or nonfiction. Here are some of the highlights of my reading year:
Favorite new book to teach: I am lucky to teach at a school where I’m able to adapt the curricula to incorporate timely books and keep things fresh. I added All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely to the eighth grade curriculum this year, and it was a terrific book to teach. We had important and lively conversations, and students were engaged and did some inspired creative writing at the end of the unit. I’ll try to post more about how I structured the unit soon, since I was so pleased with how students responded.
Favorite trends: I’m not sure if this is a general trend or just a trend in what I happen to read, but I loved reading a handful of co-authored books with two narrators (each written by one of the authors) in 2016. In addition to All American Boys, which I had initially read in 2015, I enjoyed Two Naomis by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich and Audrey Vernick, You Know Me Well by Nina LaCour and David Levithan, and The Pages Between Us by Lindsey Leavitt and Robin Mellom. Since Cordelia Jensen and I wrote a co-authored book with two narrators that will be published in 2018, it’s no real surprise that I’m a fan of this trend!
Somewhat strangely, I also read four books this year that feature characters returning home after a kidnapping: Tara Altebrando’s The Leaving, Jennifer Mathieu’s Afterward, Kim Savage’s After the Woods, and Robin Benway’s Emmy and Oliver (Emmy and Oliver was actually published in 2015 rather than 2016, but the others were published this past year). It feels sort of wrong to say that I am a fan of the kidnapping trend in YA…but these four books were among the most gripping page turners I picked up.
Another favorite trend (and I really, really hope this is one that continues) is that I’ve been reading more contemporary realistic middle grade books that feel geared toward ages 10-14 rather than ages 8-12. I love younger middle grade novels too, but there has been such a lack of books that feature characters who are in 7th-9th grade and that are geared toward 6th-8th grade readers. This is such a rich, complicated time, and I want more books that delve into those years in all their murky, exciting, in-between-ness!
Favorite older MG: Speaking of the trend toward older middle grade (hooray!), my favorite older middle grade titles this year were Natasha Friend’s Where You’ll Find Me and Jo Knowles’s Still a Work in Progress. These books are full of memorable characters, emotional moments, and realistic seventh and eighth grade social dynamics. These are the kind of middle grade books I feel great about being able to give to seventh and eighth grade students who feel like most middle grade novels are a little young for them. Another powerful middle grade novel that students in fifth grade all the way through eighth grade loved this year is Donna Gephart’s Lily and Dunkin.
Favorite MGs that tackle tough issues: I’m also a fan of middle grade books that feel younger in their tone but tackle difficult issues in age-appropriate, gentle but honest ways. This year, I loved Kate Messner’s The Seventh Wish for its treatment of addiction, Jenn Bishop’s The Distance to Home for its depiction of grief, Nora Raleigh Baskin’s Nine, Ten: A September 11 Story for its exploration of the September 11th tragedy, Claire LeGrand’s Some Kind of Happiness for its portrayal of depression, and Tricia Springstubb’s Every Single Second for its look at a race-related act of violence.
Satisfying second or third books in a series: I’m sometimes reluctant to pick up a sequel or the second or third book in a series in case the follow ups don’t live up to the original, but I had great luck with sequels in 2016. I thought Varian Johnson’s To Catch a Cheat was just as smart and fun as The Great Greene Heist; I loved Leila Howland’s second Silver Sisters offering, The Brightest Stars of Summer, at least as much as last year’s charming Forget-Me-Not Summer; and Dianne K. Salerni’s The Morrigan’s Curse was every bit as exciting as the first two books in her fabulous Eighth Day Series. And actually, all three of these series also appeal to older middle school readers, too, so I am doubly happy about them!
Favorite YA contemporaries: Contemporary YA has been my favorite genre to read for years, and while I was more drawn to MG than YA in 2016, I did find some contemporary YA novels I loved this year. I was a big fan of Emery Lord’s first two novels, but I thought her third book, When We Collided, was her best yet–so full of emotion and depth. I also could not put down Julie Buxbaum’s Tell Me Three Things; I was so invested in the fun, mysterious romance. I adored Nicola Yoon’s ambitious, gorgeous The Sun Is Also a Star; in my opinion, that one absolutely lived up to its well-deserved buzz. I also loved the fun female-female romance in Jaye Robin Brown’s Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit and the own-voices depiction of a trans character in Meredith Russo’s If I Was Your Girl.
Favorite books I wouldn’t have picked up on my own: As in 2015, my YA and MG book club once again encouraged me to read a beautiful historical MG that wasn’t on my radar: Louis Bayard’s impressive Lucky Strikes. I also read Steve Silberman’s NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity for book research, thinking I would glean helpful information even if it wasn’t the most exciting read, but I found it absolutely fascinating and can’t stop talking about it.
Book I Can’t Wait for Others to Read in 2017: I’m excited for other people to read the very last book I read in 2016, Flying Lessons and Other Stories, edited by Ellen Oh. It’s a wonderful, varied selection of diverse short stories that’s a must-have for school and classroom libraries, and it comes out in two days, on January 3rd, so you don’t have to wait long!
Wishing you all a happy new year full of good books and much joy (which are sometimes the same thing, in my view)! I’d love to hear about some of your 2016 reading highlights or books you can’t wait to read in 2017, too.