The Best of 2010: Fiction and Young Adult/Middle Grade Fiction

Yesterday and today I’m looking at my favorite books of 2010. I split them into four categories, two for each day. Yesterday: nonfiction and audiobooks; today: fiction and young adult/middle grade novels. Titles link to reviews, if I’ve written them, or GoodReads, if I haven’t.

Favorite Novels Read in 2010:

2010 Best Fiction

Runner Up: My Name is Mary Sutter by Robin Oliveira

Set during the American Civil War, this novel follows one woman as she chases her dreams of becoming a doctor from Albany, New York, to Washington, D.C., to the front lines of the war. Through the setbacks and the horrors Mary experiences, her dream guides and sustains her. Mary Sutter is the sort of character I couldn’t help but get behind, and her story held me enthralled from beginning to end. A strong debut novel and a great choice for lovers of historical fiction and strong female characters.

#5: Half Life by Roopa Farooki

This is a beautifully written novel which tells, in alternating chapters, the stories of Aruna, Jazz, and Hassan, three people whose lives were once connected but have since drifted far apart.Over the course of a few days, the characters’ stories, both past and present, unfurl so that their lives lay open before the reader. The exquisite prose and fully developed characters made me want to savor this intimate, moving story.

#4: The Cailiffs of Baghdad, Georgia by Mary Helen Stefaniak

The Cailiffs of Baghdad, Georgia begins in August of 1938, when Miss Grace Spivey steps off the train in Threestep, Georgia, to take over the one-room schoolhouse there. With her Northern ideas and habits, Miss Spivey stands out in the tiny Southern town. The charming narrator, Gladys Cailiff, a student in Miss Spivey’s class, offers a unique perspective on the events as they unfold and is not easily forgotten. She was one of my favorite narrators of 2010.

#3: Something Missing by Matthew Dicks

The main character in this debut novel is Martin, a middle-aged OCD thief. He has spent years building up his “client” base and has developed a set of rules for ensuring his repeated entry of their homes remains undetected. But one day Martin breaks a rule and ends up far to deeply involved in one of his client’s lives. With clever writing, a creative plot, and an endearing main character you can’t help but love, Something Missing is an excellent novel I’d recommend to anyone.

#2: Death with Interruptions by Jose Saramago

The premise of this unique novel: one day, no one dies. Little by little, the repercussions of this altered state of existence begin to affect society. Told in Saramago’s trademark style (few paragraphs, no quotation marks, delightful turns of phrase, wonderfully translated by Margaret Jull Costa), Death with Interruptions was probably the most fascinating novel I read this year. The lack of writing conventions may get to some, but if you don’t mind, it’s truly a wonderful book!

#1: One Amazing Thing by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

This novel opens in an unnamed American city, where nine people are going about their business in the city’s Indian Consulate. Suddenly, a massive earthquake strikes, trapping the nine strangers together beneath a mass of rubble. As people begin to panic and arguments break out, a young woman suggests they each tell a story from their lives. Initially resistant, the characters slowly open up to the idea, and the stories begin to flow. It’s not until the end that I realized how perfectly the title fit the book, leaving me a bit awestruck as the meaning reverberated through me. A slender but powerful novel, One Amazing Thing has stayed with me long after I read it.

Favorite Young Adult/Middle Grade Novels Read in 2010:

2010 Best Young Adult & Middle Grade Fiction

Runner Up: Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan

When two Will Graysons meet unexpectedly one night, both their lives are altered. Told in alternating chapters by the two Wills, this novel touches on a wide range of topics and features the excellent character Tiny Cooper, a huge gay football star who is writing a musical about his life.

#5: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Speak is the story of Melinda, a high school student whose world was forever changed by a traumatic incident we initially know little about. Melinda’s sharp wit and keen observations make her a real and likable narrator, and her story is not easily forgotten.

#4: Countdown by Deborah Wiles

Franny is a fifth-grader outside of Washington, D.C., dealing with normal kid stuff, when the Cuban Missile Crisis flares. Franny is lovable and the story is captivating. In addition, the format of the novel is quite interesting. Wiles calls it a documentary novel, which is fitting: the story chapters alternate with biographies of important people, song lyrics, photos, and news clips from the early 1960s. The result is a rich setting that extends beyond the scope of Franny’s tale.

#3: The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

This childhood classic tells of Milo, a young boy who is so bored with everything that he decides to assemble the tollbooth that turns up in his room one day and head through it. He stumbles into a world of allegories and adventures. Juster plays with language in a way that must be described as delightful–there is no other word for it!

#2: When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

Miranda is 12 as the novel opens, and the year is 1979. Her life in New York City is ordinary, except that she keeps finding strange notes. This book is full of references to Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, but it’s extremely enjoyable whether or not you’ve read L’Engle’s classic. I spent the first three quarters of the book feeling unimpressed, but the ending was so spectacular–and so enhanced by the slow lead-up–that the novel won the #2 spot on my favorites list.

#1: Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

So many people wrote reviews of this, the final volume in the Hunger Games trilogy, that I didn’t bother. I’m one of a minority of people who was not disappointed by Mockingjay. On the contrary, I felt Collins took the story exactly where it needed to go, and I was quite satisfied with the ending. If you’ve not yet read this series, I cannot recommend it highly enough!

Your Turn!

What was your favorite novel of 2010? What about your favorite young adult or middle grade novel? Or, if you don’t really read young adult or middle grade fiction, is there one you’ve read about in 2010 that sounded really good?

Join the Conversation


  1. I did not until recently read YA fiction, and will definitely find some interesting titles in your 2010 favorites !
    This year, I liked “Liar” by Justine Larbalestier and am just beginning the reading of “Dash and Lily Book of Dares”.

    1. I’ve heard Liar is really interesting! Dash and Lily was my second runner up, which, unfortunately, didn’t make it onto the actual list. I hope you’re enjoying it!

  2. I loved Will Grayson, Will Grayson and Mockingjay. I teach Speak every year, so I definitely love that book. I did not feel the same way about When You Reach Me, though. Maybe it’s because I never enjoyed A Wrinkle in Time? I don’t know. I found it a bit slow…

    Thanks for the recommendations for adult books. I am going to bring these titles to my book club for suggestions. The Baghdad, Georgia one sounds great.

    Thanks for this list!

    1. I can definitely see why people feel When You Reach Me is a bit slow. I had that feeling until the very end. For me, it was the ending that made up for the entire rest of the book — I thought it was so cool, I could hardly stand it!

      I think The Cailiffs of Baghdad, Georgia would make an interesting book group pick. So would My Name is Mary Sutter, or even One Amazing Thing!

  3. Lots of the books that ended up on your list are on my TBR stack for the new year. I have read such good things about Something Missing that I think I might start there. He also has another one out that sounds very interesting. I love your choices and think that you have had a great year of reading! I wish you a very Happy New Year and hope that you have a wonderful 2011, with lots of great books to enjoy!!

    1. Something Missing was so much fun — I’d definitely recommend it! I read his other one and liked it, but not as much as Something Missing. Happy New Year, full of reading, to you as well!

    1. People seemed really torn — it seemed some people loved it and others were completely dissatisfied. I’m glad to hear you’re in the loved-it camp! One Amazing Thing is just beautiful — I’d love for more people to read it! 🙂

  4. The Phantom Tollbooth is definitely making the rounds this year! I think there are three of us who have it on our best of 2010 list. Will Grayson, Will Grayson was soooooo close to making my top ten, but since I just read it like two weeks ago, it hasn’t passed the test of time yet. My December books always get the shaft in the best of list. 🙂

    1. It’s so cool that The Phantom Tollbooth is getting pulled out and dusted off! A friend of mine, who never read it as a child, just picked up a copy. I didn’t even have to recommend it! I understand about that test of time thing. The books I read from summer to early fall are the ones on my lists–I remember them well, but they’ve passed that test!

  5. I really enjoyed (appreciated?) Blindness but have yet to read another one of Saramago’s books. I think I will definitely have to check out Death with Interruptions soon.

    1. Blindness is next on my list, waiting for me on my shelf. I agree that perhaps appreciated is a better word than enjoyed…or maybe some combination of the two!

  6. I’ve been wanting to read Jose Saramago but don’t know where to start! Guess you’ve given me a great starter! Sounds like a beautiful book.

    I also really loved Speak (listened to Wintergirls this year and it was one of my favorite audios) and enjoyed WGWG.

    1. Death With Interruptions is nice because it’s on the shorter side, whereas Blindness (the one everyone has heard of) is quite a bit longer. I hope you get to try something and that you enjoy it! I think Wintergirls on audio is already on my TBR list — I’ll have to see if my library has it!

    1. Ooh, read it! And then we can talk about it. I still don’t know anyone who’s taken my advice and read it!

  7. Oh how I love end of year lists! I’m still working on mine. I think my favorite adult fiction was Every Last One by Anna Quindlen. My favorite ya was absolutely Dangerous Neighbors by Beth Kephart. I also finally read The Giver by Lois Lowry which I also loved and has stayed with me. Definitely want to read Countdown and am hoping to be able to pass it along to my 12 year old son.

    1. I’ve never read Anna Quindlen! I’ve been meaning to reread The Giver, which I read many years ago and don’t remember at all — thanks for the reminder. Countdown is great, and I think it would be perfect for your son as well! There’s a lot of interesting history woven into the story.

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