My reading, much like my blogging, took a hit this year. But I still read a lot (way more than the average American, anyway), especially after I started working in a public library in August. So here are my best books of 2016, totally unscientifically chosen.
Best Picture Books
Ida, Always by Caron Levis: I actually cried at the reference desk when I read this one, which was pretty embarrassing. The book is beautifully illustrated and written, and explores the lives and friendship of two polar bears at a city zoo. It’s gorgeously done, and it’s so incredibly moving. This was my favorite picture book of the year.
We Found a Hat by Jon Klassen: The third and final book in Klassen’s darkly funny Hat trilogy, this one finds a pair of turtles obsessing over a hat they find. Klassen’s artwork is stark and striking, and the sparse prose makes for an easy, funny read-aloud for kids and grownups alike. All three books in the series are worth reading and can be done in any order, but it’s worth it to check them all out.
They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel: A great lesson in the concept of perspective, this inventive, simple tale of many creatures who saw a cat and how differently that same cat looked through all their eyes. It’s smart, clever, and a great teaching tool to explain differences to kids. I loved it.
Best Middle Grade Fiction
Pax by Sarah Pennypacker: I ugly cried through this one, but don’t let that dissuade you from reading it. It’s a powerful story about the love between a boy and his fox and their separate journeys when they’re forced apart during a time of war. It’s beautifully written, told in alternating chapters by the boy and the fox, and Pennypacker’s sensitivity to each character’s journey is beautifully done. It’s a great book, and worthy of the heaps of praise it has received.
Best YA Fiction
After the Woods by Kim Savage: A girl goes for a run in the woods with her best friend and ends up kidnapped by a man only to escape from him 24 hours later. She barely survives her flight through the woods, but that’s just the beginning of her struggle as she works hard to reconcile the traumatic experience with the largely unchanged world she returns to. Savage’s book is smart, whip-fast, and compelling stuff with more than enough mystery to keep readers hooked. She’s an author to watch, and this one gripped me from start to finish.
The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon: Taking place over the course of one day, Nicola Yoon’s sophomore novel offers teens much more of what made her first novel so successful: swoony romance, realistic characters, and just a touch of the magical. Yoon’s writing is also stronger and tighter here, and she plays around with narration styles and blends multiple perspectives to provide a rich, nuanced, fully realized story that is full of hope and love. It’s a moving book, and it’s one that will satisfy even the most reluctant reader of romantic books.
Best Adult Fiction
You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott: Abbott is the queen of writing characters that get under your skin and plots that won’t leave you alone. I couldn’t put this one down, and although the mystery is certainly part of the novel’s appeal, it’s her attention to her characters and her nuance in writing real people in compelling ways that makes her such a standout author. This is an explosive novel that readers won’t be able to stop thinking about. I’m still thinking about the characters months later.
One True Loves by Taylor Jenkins Reid: I discovered Taylor Reid Jenkins this year and tore through all her books. Her latest offering is one of her strongest, sweetest, and ultimately hopeful novels yet. A woman whose first love (and husband) disappears in a helicopter accident has moved on with her life nearly a decade later. Then her husband reappears, and suddenly her new life–which has a new fiance–is completely overturned. Instead of hitting cliches, Reid allows her characters to be deeply flawed, incredibly realistic and sympathetic humans. There are no easy answers here, but Reid finds a conclusion that is not only satisfying but very realistic.
Best Adult Non-Fiction
Shrill by Lindy West: Like most books of non-fiction, not every essay in this collection by humorist and feminist West is a knockout, but the book as a whole is strong, smart, and funny, and makes West completely relatable. She’s a gifted writer and this is a great collection of stories about feminism, being a woman in the world, and being a person.
What 2016 reads made your cut?