For almost three months, I abstained from reading (and, so it seems, blogging). This wasn’t entirely planned — I was exhausted, bogged down with grading and lesson planning in the thick of the first semester, and entirely uninterested in doing anything in the evening (other than eating and sleeping, of course). When we went on our vacation to Mexico, I was so mentally exhausted from finalizing a major editing project, wrapping up the quarterly publication I edit, and planning for the school days that I’d miss, I couldn’t bring myself to crack one of the three books I’d toted along with me on the expedition.
At first, I felt guilty. Then I was frustrated. And then — I panicked. What if I was burned out on reading altogether? What if I could never bring myself to finish another book again? If you can’t comprehend the fear that these revelations induced, imagine having your dominant arm amputated.
I should have known, though, that something I loved so dearly could never be pushed aside forever. With the advent of Christmas break, my desire to read returned (as did my sanity). Without further ado, I present to you my final reads of 2016:
- The Ocean at the End of the Lane – Neil Gaiman. This book felt like a selection-of-obligation. I’d heard of Gaiman, referenced often by other readers and lovers of spectacular literature, but I’d never picked up one of his works. Each mention of his name made my cheeks burn a little brighter with shame. So, when Book of the Month made The Ocean at the End of the Lane an add-on option, I felt a sense of dutiful satisfaction when I added the book to my cart. And let me tell you — this pick was not at all what I expected. For whatever reason, I thought of Gaiman as some sort of contemporary male Jodi Picoult, a writer of the intense complexities of everyday life. I discovered, to my delight, an author with a knack for vivid prose and a captivating imagination. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a remarkably odd and fantastic work that expands on the childhood of a man who has returned home for a funeral. Readers are jerked into the past, along with the unnamed narrator, and sucked into a dark tale of magic, danger, and other worlds. Although this book doesn’t make my top 10 list for the year, I appreciated the beauty of the words in his novel and the nostalgic feelings the story evoked. Mostly, I have conflicting feelings about the work . . . I really admired the author’s diction, but felt “meh” about the story itself. When I was finished, I was left thinking . . . “Okay. Well. That was odd.” That being said, at right around 200 pages, this curious (and brief) book is worth exploring, if you have any interest at all in adult surrealism and fantasy. Rating: 3.5/5 stars
- The Sun is Also a Star – Nicola Yoon. This work of Young Adult fiction is, in a word, delightful. It’s also a bit heart-wrenching, idealistic, charming, and dramatic . . . but mostly, it’s delightful. Yoon writes the delicately entwined tale of Natasha and Daniel, resident New York teenagers facing very undesirable futures. Natasha, an immigrant of Jamaican parents, faces deportation after her family’s illegal status is revealed via some rather unfortunate circumstances. Daniel, son of Korean immigrants and lifelong resident of the city, is heavily burdened by the academic and professional expectations of his parents (who have already been disappointed by their first born). The book takes readers on a fast-paced one-day journey through the city, alternating between Daniel and Natasha’s viewpoints with short, witty “histories” of other characters or significant topics sprinkled throughout. The result? A sweet, hopeful account of love in a world of endless possibilities. I raced through this engaging read in one day and couldn’t wait to recommend it to several of my high school students. Rating: 4/5 stars
- The Mothers – Brit Bennett. This book is everything, friends. Everything. Another Book of the Month selection, The Mothers sat on my shelf for two months during the Great Reading Hiatus of 2016. I finally cracked its spine two days before the new year and a handful of pages into the book, I knew I was in for a treat. Bennett writes the aching narrative of two girls estranged from their mothers — one by death, the other by choice. The unlikely pair, both members of a seaside church in a black community in southern California, develop a close friendship bordering on sisterhood as Nadia searches for reason and safety in the aftermath of her mother’s suicide. Aubrey is the perfect companion for Nadia — comforting, seemingly self-assured, and loyal. The pair is destined for lifelong companionship, it seems . . . until one choice and a dark secret forever alter the course of their lives. The plot is heavy with deception, drama, and longing; characters are multifaceted and brilliantly relatable, despite (or because of?) the weight of the circumstances that compose their lives. The Mothers is a richly textured novel that will stir your heart and remain with you for years to come. Rating: 5/5
In short: if you only read one book in 2017, make it The Mothers. You can expect to experience heartbreak, but you certainly won’t know disappointment.