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:
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:
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!
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?