2018 was my best reading year yet! I rediscovered children’s literature, read mostly books by women and altogether read a whopping 162 books (as at December 27). Books were my companions throughout the year. I wish I could list all the books I read and liked, but then there’d be no room.
So, these are the 20 books I read in 2018 (not necessarily published in 2018). I’d recommend any of these books without reservation. If you look closely, you’ll see I definitely have a type ;). I’ve included brief reviews of each book so you can see exactly why I loved them.
Wong is a masterful storyteller and her language is pristine. The descriptive prowess in this book is overpowering and yet, it feels just right. Diamond Head is told in turns by the Leong women and it is a story of secrets. The secrets a family have kept and the ways they have been mangled by these secrets.
A soaring family saga, this book is an emotional rollercoaster, deeply engrossing and so true to life. Every member of the Leong family, especially Bohai, is engraved on my heart. It’s not a perfect book and I honestly found Theresa annoying, but Wong will have you grappling with all the issues these characters face.
What We Were Promised
WHAT WE WERE PROMISED is the enthralling story of Chinese family forced, by the return of a prodigal son, to address familial issues and unfulfilled promises.
I was struck by the poignancy of her deceptively simple style, barely ten pages in! This book is full of astute observations about life, love, and the choices we make for the people we love. Combined with compelling characters, the mystery of Qiang’s return and what it will mean for the Zhens, this book is hard to put down. Also, the shimmering backdrop of Shanghai — the food, the architecture, and yes, the smog, make Tan’s novel feel like a complete visit to China.
The Science of Breakable Things
Tae Keller tackles a multitude of themes with impressive finesse and relatable writing. From a parent suffering depression to what true friendship means, family and the importance of heritage, this book is loaded!
Despite being aimed at middle graders, Keller’s book does not gloss over mental health struggles. It is honestly one of the most honest and realistic portrayals of depression I’ve read. The protagonist Natalie is brave, independent and dynamic. I fell in love quickly with Dari and a bit slower with Twig, but what great friends Natalie has!
Far From the Tree
Joaquin, Grace and Maya are three teenagers with the same birth mother who are adopted (Grace and Maya) and fostered (Joaquin) by different parents. When Grace, gives up her own daughter for adoption, she becomes curious about her birth mother and finds out she also has siblings!
Benway shows that adoption is warm and wonderful and not always as messy as it can seem. Still, she doesn’t hide the sometimes deplorable condition of the foster care system and all the trauma it can cause.
Heartwarming, arresting and full of hope, FAR FROM THE TREE explores what real family means and shows that there’s a seat at the family table for everyone.
The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl
I enjoyed this book so much, which says a lot for a Math hater! Lucy acquires savant Level Math skills after being struck by lightning as a child. She also becomes obsessive-compulsive and reclusive after the incident. So her grandmother insists she goes to middle school for at least a year, in addition to other social requirements.
The narration of this book is so well done! I can’t recommend it enough for math lovers, but everyone will enjoy following Lucy’s social miscalculations and her journey to seeing how much having people in your life can enrich it.
A Place for Us
The power of this novel is in the way this family tugs at your heartstrings, creates a storm of emotions in your stomach and breaks your heart in quick succession. A Place for Us is a powerful, often uncomfortable look at the mistakes parents can make, the ways family can make or break us and how our insecurities can change our lives.
The greatest struggle in reading this book, however, is the choppy timeline in the first two parts. I like chronology and it is rare to pull off haphazard timelines in storytelling. I felt tossed about for the first quarter of this book, or longer.
Each chapter like a snapshot, these little snapshots were so intimate and it felt like watching multiple video clips of the family throughout the years. Still, it was difficult because each clip was from a different character’s POV and jumping back and forth, past and present. I felt dread approaching a new chapter, anticipating that awful whiplash of back and forth again.
Eventually, the author does settle into a more chronological telling of the story and it is worth it.
The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street
I enjoyed meeting the Vanderbeekers for the first time this year. After reading this, I immediately pre-ordered the sequel. What Glaser accomplishes in this novel is a family of different, but equally brilliant, sensitive children. Each character’s voice is distinguishable and every reader is sure to identify closely with at least one of them.
If you’re looking for contemporary middle-grade books about large families, The Vanderbeekers should be your first stop.
If You Leave Me
This debut novel is a harrowing account of the ravages of the Korean Civil War. Also in focus is the star-crossed love of Haemi Lee and her childhood friend, Kyunghwan. When the Korean civil war forces Haemi, her widowed mother, and sickly brother to flee to a refugee camp, she finds solace in her nightly outings with Kyunghwan.
There’s not too much to be said without giving the entire story away, but If You Leave Me is unforgettable. Truly, this book is an eye-opening, engulfing and heartbreaking exploration of what love means, what war does and what womanhood can feel like. There were times when I wished the book could be shorter, but prepare yourself for an immersive experience of the Korean Civil War. Prepare yourself to feel a bit raw at the end of this story, even as you welcome its meaningfulness.
Time for Bed, Miyuki
A whimsical picture book about a young girl who doesn’t want to go to bed. Complete with dreamy illustrations, Time for Bed, Miyuki is simply breathtaking.
The Pink Umbrella
A beautiful story about love, community and the importance of perspective. Such beautiful, Parisian illustrations. Highly recommended especially for older kids and adults! You’ll love this lovely book.
Chase’s writing is so fluid and original. Metai and Mila’s voices were so distinct throughout the story that I could see them easily in my mind’s eye. I also enjoyed how big a role the entire Pirates Cove neighborhood plays in this book. Chase’s Pirate Cove is in itself a character in this novel. The dynamic between the girls and their friends is so reminiscent of that turbulent age between middle school and high school.
More importantly, SO DONE tackles the struggles experienced even in adult friendships, the importance of stepping up to pursue your goals and the need to speak up even when you’re afraid. I loved this book.
All You Can Ever Know
ALL YOU CAN EVER KNOW is Chung’s journey to the realization that, despite being happy with her white adopted parents, she was missing something. It chronicles her search for her birth parents and her discovery of her Korean immediate family.
This book packs a serious emotional punch and clearly mirrors Chung’s emotions throughout her life, from her feeling out of place even within her adopted family to reconciling her love and gratitude to her adoptive parents with her yearning to find her birth parents. Then, tackling the emotions that come with a restored connection to her Korean family and what that means for her own children.
Besides the honest, intimate style of writing, this book kindles empathy and understanding for trans-racial adoptees. I think this is an issue that merits a deeper, more comprehensive look to ensure that all parties are emotionally secure and content with the arrangement. I would highly recommend this book, especially to people like me who prefer creative/narrative non-fiction.
Takedown follows two middle-schoolers, Mikayla (Mickey) and Lev, both of whom are wrestlers. I don’t know much about the sport itself and couldn’t picture a lot of the moves the kids performed in the book, but the stand out themes for me were friendship and identity. Both kids grew so much by the end of the book, it made my heart very happy. Plus, I love reading about sensitive male characters and Lev is just the sweetest boy!
I adore this memoir. Michelle Obama has created a brilliant reflection of her life so far including her childhood, years as a young lawyer, the swoon-worthy love story between her and Barack, the challenges of an often-absent husband, a reluctant dabble in politics, and finding herself again.
So well written, immersive, and candid.
Up for Air
Annabelle is a fantastic swimmer who happens to have learning difficulties. She’s happy to finally be getting something right when she’s moved up to the high school team in the summer. However, things get a bit complicated when an older boy starts showing her attention and her estranged father seems to want to return to her life.
In UP FOR AIR, Laurie Morrison perfectly captures the issues of competitive female friendships, the desire to be liked and accepted by an older crowd, and the search for identity.
I enjoyed the deft way the author tackles all the teenage issues, family struggles witha strong, unforgettable voice, and the way Annabelle works to figure out who she really is. I can’t wait for more people to read this one!
Genesis Begins Again
This forthcoming release bears a powerful message about colorism, self-love, and family. Full review to come.
Related: See my list of 44 highly anticipated 2019 releases.
All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook
This is a fantastic middle grade book about a boy raised in a correctional facility — a plot I’ve never ever seen explored.
Ultimately, a wonderful examination of what family really means and the importance of seeing inmates as more than just wrongdoers. Would recommend!
My Brilliant Friend
“Dazzling” is the word that comes to mind when I think of this novel. Ferrante’s creation left me breathless too many times — vivid characters, an unbelievably vibrant setting, sharp, unique style of writing. What’s incredible to me is that essentially, this book is a soap-opera; the story follows the detailed internal and external going-ons in the lives of Elena, Lila and their friends. Yet, it is so arresting; especially difficult to put down after the 25% mark.
I found the girls’ friendship and competitiveness equally disturbing and fascinating. I’m still trying to wrap my mind around the many questions I have about their choices. Still, I find the choice of Elena as narrator to be interesting as it preserves the mystery of Lila. I definitely need some time to process before hopping into the next book, but really, this is such great work.
Merci Suarez Changes Gears
Merci Suarez is an eleven year old grappling with challenges like new classes, attending a posh private school where all her classmates are wealthier and a grandfather who’s becoming more and more forgetful. Still, Merci is one of the most outstanding characters I’ve read. She’s brilliant, confident and fiercely determined.
I loved so many things about this book: Merci’s loud, big hearted family, whose voices I could literally hear while I read, her laugh-out-loud humor and the completely riveting experience that this book is. This is definitely in my top five this year! Just buy it, and read it.
Worth A Thousand Words
I loved this middle grade novel exploring guilt, friendship, and family issues! Very complex characters, and interesting dialogue in this one. Highly recommend!
Which books did you enjoy this year? I’d love to know!