The Best Books of 2015 So Far

And by “best” we mean “our favorites.” Here are our picks for the raddest books published this year so far! Leave your faves in the comments.

above us only skyAbove Us Only Sky by Michele Young-Stone

I bought this book for a friend, but then ended up stealing it as my own. Just a beautiful story of a young girl discovering her ancestry and learning to love herself – with a twist: Prudence was born with wings. The doctors call it an abnormality, but her estranged grandfather knows differently because his beloved sister, lost during WWII, also had wings, and she was the light of her family’s eye. And here’s where the story caught me. Not only is is about discovering yourself and your family, reconnecting and becoming whole again; the story is a one-off wartime novel, and we get to watch family members navigate Germany and Lithuania during the worst of times, and hear their incredible survival stories. There are many excellent books that came out this year so far, but Above Us Only Sky made the most lasting impression on my reading heart. –Alison Peters

A Little Life by Hanya YanagiharaA Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

A Little Life is without a doubt the most difficult, heartbreaking book I have ever read. The story follows the complicated relationships of four young men over decades in New York City. Each have their own burdens to bear but it becomes clear that the brilliant, secretive Jude is the most damaged of them all, deeply scarred by a horrific childhood and its lasting physical and emotional effects. The smart thing would have been for me to read A Little Life in pieces, with pauses to collect myself. Instead I gulped it down in two very long sittings in which my heart was shredded over and over again. When I finished it I was raw and almost angry at the book, angry at all books, I never wanted to read again because I was so utterly destroyed. This book is brilliant and powerful and not to be underestimated, it crushed me. – Valerie Michael

A Reunion of Ghosts by Judith Claire MitchellA Reunion of Ghosts by Judith Claire Mitchell

Mitchell’s novel is an exploration of unintended consequences and the burdens of well-mapped bloodlines, brought together in a perfect confluence of humor and despair. Its narrators are the Alter sisters, three intelligent, tragedy-plagued women bound together by antiquing family regrets and a suicide pact. The book becomes their farewell. They detail generations of family triumphs and mishaps, recalling loves gone awry and lamenting the regrettable best-of-intentions invention that brought Germany one step closer to Zyklon B. Mitchell’s book made me laugh (right before religious services!) and cry, and will remain distinct in my memory as a rare novel that deals with huge historical events–the Holocaust, pogroms–without becoming either tedious or cloying. This novel is a surprise and a treat. –Michelle Anne Schingler

All The RageAll The Rage by Courtney Summers

I’ve read this book now three times, and each time I walked away feeling the same thing: angry. This is a story about rape culture and what happens when we choose to make girls who have been victimized the target of our aggression and frustration, rather than the perpetrators of violence. This is a story about what happens when victims choose to speak and the horrific fallout that can accompany it.

Summers doesn’t make this easy reading, and the book isn’t going to sit well. That’s on purpose. At times, it’s oppressive and stifling, but that’s what the daily routine is for main character Romy. She doesn’t get a break and neither do readers. The compassion and empathy for girls, their voices, and their stories comes through over and over, and the writing is fluid, engaging, and at times breathtaking, in part because of what it says and in part for how it says it.

People who’ve been angered by Steubenville, who have been angered after reading Jon Krakauer’s Missoula, and those who want a book that really illustrates the challenges of being a girl in a culture so eager to keep girls down, this is the book for you. This feminist YA novel painful, raw, penetrating, and vitally important. It should be required YA reading and it should — and will — sit alongside books like Speak. — Kelly Jensen

asking for itAsking for It by Lilah Pace

Controversial and utterly captivating, I could not put this book down, glued to the same spot on my couch until I finished it in the wee hours of the morning. Graduate student Vivienne cannot help her own sexual proclivities or the shame she feels for having them. When she finds a partner willing to indulge her, one who seems to want the same things as she does, Vivienne does her best to keep things strictly sexual. As feelings get involved, the hero and heroine discover what exactly draws them to these fantasies. Asking for It is a wonderfully mature, erotic romance that deals with trauma and boundaries with such a balanced touch. I kept thinking about it days, even weeks, later, and I’m anxiously awaiting the second book, Begging for It, this September. Trigger warning for rape and rape fantasies. –Amanda Diehl

auroraAurora by Kim Stanley Robinson

Robinson’s latest is an exciting and multidimensional look at the possibilities of human interstellar travel. In following the people living on a generation ship bound for Tau Ceti, Robinson asks us to consider just how complicated it would be to transport thousands of humans, animals,  and insects through space, and then how immensely difficult it would be to settle an alien planet. Aurora brings together important questions about physics, philosophy, and biology to help us think about the future of the human race in the universe. –Rachel Cordasco

between the world and meBetween the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Calling it: Between the World and Me will be on every “Top 10 Nonfiction Books of 2015” list come December. This heartbreakingly well-thought book is a letter from Coates to his son about race and America. As Coates speaks to his son, he meditates and struggles with history, society, and memoir all at once. Of course, the letter is just as much to us as it is to Coates’ son: these ideas are more relevant than ever (and are an extension of Coates’ already great pieces for The Atlantic, which I bet you’ve already read on Facebook). Between the World and Me is an artful confrontation with America’s relationship with race. If, after the last few months of violence, racism, and police brutality, you’re eager for a deeper understanding of race in our society, you’ll gobble this up. If this isn’t the kind of thing you usually read, pick it up. Necessary reading for the historical moment we’re in. –Julia Pistell

bone gapBone Gap by Laura Ruby

Whenever someone recommends English language magical realism to me I always heave a sigh and prepare myself for an overwritten, self-aggrandizing work with hints of magic and a whole lot of disappointment. But Bone Gap is magical realism at its best, with beautiful writing and a matter of fact otherworldliness that fans of Isabel Allende will give a huge thumbs up. Set amongst the corn in Bone Gap, a small town somewhere in middle America, it is the story of a missing girl, a boy trying to find his place, and all of those spaces in life where a person can go missing. Gorgeous writing, a compelling storyline, and a subtly feminist message. Read this one before awards season so you can brag to your bookish friends that you read it first. –Justina Ireland

book-of-phoenixThe Book of Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor

I first became aware of Nnedi Okorafor because of a short story I read called “Spider the Artist.” I sought out her other works, and I found myself totally wrapped up in a story that I later learned would be at the heart of the The Book of Phoenix. Phoenix and her story exist in that shimmering space that marks where science fiction and magical realism overlap. Science, for better or for worse, drives the narrative. It is the thing that helped make Phoenix and the others who they are, and it is also the thing that seeks to destroy them or, at least, to reshape them to suit its purpose. It is an epic battle between right and wrong, though the line that separates the two sides is not always clearly defined. The Book of Phoenix hit all of my emotional checkboxes. The only way it could have been better is if it were a graphic novel. Those images demand to be drawn. Someone needs to get on that post haste. –Cassandra Neace

children of timeChildren of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Doctor Avrana Kern wanted to save the human race. She had worked hard and just as the moment looms, a group of monkeys to be delivered to a terraformed new Earth along with a nanovirus designed to speed their evolution, a saboteur destroys the space station. Kern manages to have the cargo delivered and gets herself into an escape pod just as the station explodes. Thousands of years later, the last humans arrive in an arc ship to the planet but Kern, driven mad by all the years of cryo-stasis and solitude, bans them from making the new planet her home. Further, the monkeys all died and Kern’s World is now inhabited by super-intelligent spiders.

Children of Time is a fantastic page-turner of a multi-generational science fiction novel, exciting to the very last paragraph. Tchaikovsky has created something amazing here, with chapters about spider politics (as odd as that sounds) that are just as exciting as chapters about the world’s last humans attacking a roving satellite holding a mad human/AI hybrid with superior firepower. While the theme is our dismal treatment of the planet we live on, to the point that we may be destroying it, and our inability to stop killing each other, he leaves it in the background, choosing story over the underlying message of pacifism and environmentalism that would be easy to draw out in a book of this scope. But no. Tchaikovsky gives a stunning and intelligent page turner with a focus on story. –Johann Thorsson

Come As You AreCome As You Are: The Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life by Emily Nagoski

I have loved other books this year deeply–Epitaph by Mary Doria Russell springs immediately to mind–but ultimately I had to choose Come As You Are. Nagoski’s work in this book is flawless. She deals with the mental, emotional, physical, and cultural roadblocks we all have about sex in a straightforward and, surprisingly, warm manner. She breaks long-held misconceptions with humor and years of experience and loads of data to back her up. At some point, you realize that Nagoski really enjoyed writing this book. And that’s pretty cool. While all of the books on this list are so deserving of your attention, I think this is one that must be shared and read widely. –Nikki Steele

the fair fight anna freemanThe Fair Fight by Anna Freeman

In 18th century England, a girl is born in a brothel. She’s not pretty or charming and therefore won’t ever work the family trade, and she’s a brawler- so much so that she catches the eye of a local boxing enthusiast, who puts her to work. Ruth quickly rises through the ranks of the local boxing circuit, hiking her skirts up to her knees and beating the shit out of neighborhood boys for money. Meanwhile, on what might as well be another planet but is only a richer part of town, wealthy (and full of simmering rage) Charlotte lives in isolation, boredom, and loneliness. The two women’s paths cross and the new friends fight, literally and figuratively, against the bonds they’ve been placed in by society and circumstance. This book is brash, gritty, immersive, and angry. Put up your dukes. –Amanda Nelson

The Fishermen by Chigozie ObiomaThe Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma

“This book is astonishing.” That’s what I wrote back when I said The Fishermen was the best book I read in February. Months later, I remain astonished. The story—of a disintegrating family in small-city Nigeria—swallowed me whole and spat me back up, dizzy and gasping. And I’m not alone; everyone I’ve talked to who’s read The Fishermen was similarly amazed and unmoored. In this debut novel, Chigozie Obioma has definitely accomplished something incredible. –Derek Attig

flexFlex by Ferrett Steinmetz

I said it back in April when it was my pick of the month, but I’ll say it again: I have never quite read anything like Flex, the debut novel of the talented and hilarious Ferrett Steinmetz. Two parts Breaking Bad with magic, one part Office Space, with dashes of hilarity, suspense, and smarts, Flex takes what could have been a very straight-forward story, and does something truly unique and clever. In a world where the immense love someone has for something literally grants them magic over it, Paul Tsabo, former cop-turned-insurance worker, wakes up one day to find his intense love of forms, papers, and files has made him a bureaucromancer. Hiding his powers while trying to save his injured daughter, Paul has to find a way to wring the drug Flex, distilled magic, from his ‘mancy and sell it for his daughter’s operations, before the universe flexes back and the Flux sends everything crumbling down around him. The prose is equal parts intelligent and funny-as-hell, the characters are full of life and loss and dreams and despair, and the action is swift, brutal, and has some of the most inventive action and consequences I’ve ever seen, in a book where magic lets you do anything you can set your mind to (for the most part). A helluva debut and one of my favorite books this year. If you haven’t read Flex yet, what the heck are you waiting for? –Martin Cahill

gemsigns coverGemsigns by Stephanie Saulter 

I fear I’m beginning to sound like a broken record about this book — but it’s worth it. Saulter has penned one of the most compelling science fiction novels I’ve had the pleasure to read in a while. In the future Gemsigns envisions, the keys to the human genome have been unlocked and modifications are now as common as hair dye. The science has progressed so far, in fact, that some people — called gems, short for genetically modified humans — were engineered by corporations to do specific jobs. Are they still people? What rights do they and should they have? Who, ultimately, is responsible for them: the corporations that created them, or the society they want to be a part of? Saulter looks hard at what it means to be human in this amazing (and also action-packed) story. By blending the narratives of gems themselves as well as “norms” working with and against them, she weaves a brilliant, occasionally shocking, and important tale. Trigger warning for hate speech and violence. –Jenn Northington

ghost networkThe Ghost Network by Catie Disabato 

I have so many feels about this book. (Are we allowed to still say “feels” in 2015? Ah, who cares! I have them.) Any book that takes me this long to read because the fictional elements blend so seamlessly with the actual historical anecdotes that I end up lost on Wikipedia reading about the too-crazy-to-believe-it-was-real-life reality is going to be one of my lifetime favorites. Combine that with LGBTQA main characters and a pop-culture laden plot and I am completely and totally 100% smitten.

I was hooked from page one with Disabato’s writing which manages to make a story that includes subversive political revolutionaries, obscure secret societies, very contemporary pop culture, and a gripping mystery all blend together in a beautiful, mind-bending tale. There were times I could feel the influence of Hunter S. Thompson, other times Dan Brown, in her storytelling. Her writing is contemporary, and the book is not shy about carving out its very specific niche in time, but this book is destined to become a new classic. I can feel it in my bones. The Ghost Network has just the right balance of romance, mystery, and social commentary. –Brandi Bailey

Girl in the Dark by Anna LyndseyGirl in the Dark by Anna Lyndsey

Medical memoirs are a “thing” and finding one that breaks the mold of not only “medical” but also of “memoir” is a rare and special thing. Girl in the Dark is exactly that kind of story. Anna Lyndsey is overcome by a debilitating and mysterious sensitivity to light – like, can’t get near the door of her room because of light coming in through the crack above the threshold, sensitivity – and her journey through the condition as it worsens and then gets moderately better is told in gorgeously heartbreaking and poetic prose. Despite the seemingly endless depression that a condition like this inevitably produces, the most overwhelming theme of the book is hope. Lyndsey – so severely cut off from the world – takes such pleasure in the smallest details of life that she can enjoy in her periods of remission that it’s hard not to want to pause to appreciate the glow of a sunset or the feel of grass between your toes. It is a beautifully sad and extraordinarily fascinating look into the world of a woman trapped by her own body, and it is absolutely going to top my list of books at the end of the year. –Rachel Manwill

glowGlow by Ned Beauman

This is a zany romp of a novel that takes us from the London nightlife to a nefarious mining company in Burma, all told with Beauman’s signature flair for language…and out-and-out goofiness. It’s a novel that’s hard to summarize, simply because the plot is so madcap — unscrupulous public relations people, a gay Serbian gangster, mysterious ghost foxes, and so many drugs. This novel feels like what would happen if a drunken Thomas Pynchon novel mated with a Haruki Murakami story strung out on party drugs. It’s a novel Beauman clearly had an absolute ball writing, and it’s an absolute ball to read as well. –Greg Zimmerman

gutshotGutshot: Stories by Amelia Gray

This book is an overwhelming one. The effect of the writing in this short story collection catches you completely off guard in its intensity. The clarity and simplicity of the writing nearly masks the great depth of the messages here. It is impossible to forget the piece about a woman who is oiled and then locked into the ductwork of a house. She pulls herself along as the couple who owns the house keep track of their prisoner. It is eerie.The text has such ease. I walked away from reading this one with a different understanding of how we define “dark” and “bizarre” than when I started. –Jessi Lewis

half-resurrection bluesHalf-Resurrection Blues by Daniel José Older

This book single-handedly brought me back to the urban fantasy genre. Before this, my reading stuck to regular old fantasy with occasional bits of noir thrown in, but you can only read about the same elves so many times before you get sick of them. Older gave me a urban fantasy that spoke to real issues of gentrification and identity while still holding on to old fantasy mainstays like world-ending plots and half-dead henchmen. I love that Brooklyn breathes like it does in the novel. I love that all of the important people in the book aren’t white men. I love that people curse in a realistic manner. I love that the main character’s surrogate family network is as tight as it is. For me, this book was right on time: I was sick of reading the same kinds of things, and this was a jumpstart to getting back to reading stuff that I liked, not stuff that I felt like I had to read. –Troy L. Wiggins

hammer headHammer Head by Nina MacLaughlin

If you had told me that one of the books that would come to mean the most to me as a writer was the story of a woman who quit her job as a journalist to become a carpenter, I would never have believed you. But that’s exactly what Nina MacLaughlin’s Hammer Head has done. Not because it’s not really about becoming a carpenter. It is, and reading about MacLaughlin’s learning those skills – all those saws! the measurements! – is part of the great pleasure of the book. But the other great pleasure of this book is MacLaughlin’s beautiful, assured prose, from the way she describes the quality of the cold in the morning, to the use of a spirit level. She has an ability to see things, and to relate them, that resonates deeply. It is a book about becoming a carpenter, but it is also a book about learning to make anything, including a life, a self. I love it. –Kat Howard

in the countryIn the Country by Mia Alvar

No one is more surprised than me that my pick for best of the year so far is a book of short stories. I don’t read many story collections and I rarely enjoy them the way I enjoy diving into a full blown novel. But In the Country is like no book of stories I’ve ever read and I loved it deeply. There is not a single weak spot in this collection. Each story has characters with complex inner lives and at least one serious moral dilemma. Many of them have gut-punching plot twists. Several have that moment where everything shifts and you realize that there’s a whole new level that you didn’t see before. Those moments are rare in literature, but in this book they happened to me time and again. Soon I was addicted to it and couldn’t stop reading. It’s also a book about Filipino life and culture, about how ex-pats live in other parts of the world, and it’s even about the political upheaval the country has seen. (More than one story has a politician or a dissident as a main character.) I loved it more than I loved many, many novels and I still can’t believe a collection of stories affected me so strongly. Alvar is an astounding writer. –Jessica Woodbury

leaving orbitLeaving Orbit by Margaret Lazarus Dean

What does it mean that a nation that has sent shuttles into space won’t and can’t go into space anymore? This is the question at the heart of Leaving Orbit, a story about the last three flights of the American shuttle program and what the end of that era of space exploration means. Dean isn’t a journalist or even an expert, she’s a space enthusiast deeply interested in NASA and the people who have been affected by the shuttle program. Dean has read widely, and looks back to the writing of previous space enthusiasts – primarily Norman Mailer, Tom Wolfe, and Oriana Fallaci – and the eras in which they wrote. This book a wonderful, meandering, melancholy and affectionate overview of America’s space program, that I just thought was wonderful. –Kim Ukura

life and death of sophie starkThe Life and Death of Sophie Stark by Anna North

I picked this book up just because I liked the title (I mean doesn’t it make you already wonder so many things about Sophie Stark?) and before I knew it I’d finished reading it and it was now a story I’d always carry with me. If it were possible for a book to read like butter, even though it’s a heavy subject, this would be it. Sophie’s life is told with perfect flow changing from point-of-view between the various people she affected. From broken childhoods to broken adulthoods Sophie carries the burden of being misunderstood and unconnected, while somehow being gifted with the ability to create movies and see people’s vulnerable core. Quietly powerful, beautifully written, with characters you can see and feel—I look forward to Anna North’s future books.–Jamie Canaves

Lost Boi by Sassafras LowreyLost Boi by Sassafras Lowrey

I’ve been raving about this book any chance I can get, and I’ll do it again! This is a queer punk retelling of Peter Pan, and it’s even better than that description would have you believe. There were so many things to love: the way that Lowrey reinterprets Peter Pan to have it seamlessly blend in with this setting, the intriguing choice to have the story told from the point of view of one of the lost bois, and a literary take on a 24/7 BDSM polyamorous relationship, to name a few. But the aspect of the book that really raised it to the top of my list was that it left me with so many things to think about. Talking to another person who’d read it quickly spiralled off into several different meaty conversations, and it’s one that I know I’m going to read differently every time I pick it up. –Danika Ellis

luckiest-girl-aliveLuckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll

This book is just so tense and addictive. It kept me awake until 2 a.m. both of the nights it took me to finish it, and I actually had to wake my husband up to comfort me after a scene you’ll probably recognize when you see it. I didn’t see it coming and I knew it was going to give me anxiety dreams when I started reading it, but I couldn’t stop. I read it on an ereader in the dark like a person who doesn’t enjoy comfort or happiness. You can’t say much about the plot without giving too much away, which is probably the reason it’s been compared to Gone Girl. In a nutshell: TifAni FaNelli has big plans to escape her past, of which she is ashamed and which she fears will ruin her if the wrong people learn of it, so she gets the perfect NYC job, fiance, and apartment; she goes by Ani and maintains a certain size and hair color and generally projects “I have my shit together.” But she so doesn’t, so so understandably doesn’t. I love books that leave me breathless at least once, and this one did it so many times I lost count. –Jeanette Solomon

cover of the meursault investigation by kamel daoudThe Meursault Investigation by Kamel Daoud

I was surprised how deeply attached I have become to this book. A companion book to Albert Camus The Stranger (or The Outsider, depending on your translation), this slim and powerful novel is from the perspective of “The Arab”’s brother. The book quotes and paraphrases its source material, playing with the assumption of authority and enjoying the grey area Camus’ work created. Ultimately, the book calls into question the binary of absolute loyalty that the Algerian characters find themselves in historically and instead reveals the deeply personal and therefore ambiguous sides to each of the stories. Rather than the cold existentialism of its origin, author Kamel Daoud paints an at times almost too bright to look at, rich landscape of history and people. Our main character, Harun, wrestles with authority, familial bonds, and the desire to escape all while the pace of the plot moves swiftly onward. I had not read Camus since high school and dove rather blindly into Meursault. I was not lost or disappointed. While the book stood on its own, I am excited to go back and reread it having read The Stranger again. They are sister books and enriched by their literary conversation; it is a privilege to be a part of it as a reader.  –Hannah Depp

more happy than not silveraMore Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera

It almost feels unfair listing More Happy Than Not as my favorite read of the year (so far). I’ve been raving non-stop about this book all year, and admitted to openly sobbing while reading it back in January. An incredibly moving novel about a teen who wants to use memory-suppressing technology to forget that he’s gay, Silvera’s debut is unlike anything I’ve ever read in YA. The little bit of near-future elements with the memory wipe feels less science fiction and more Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, with the focus entirely on the protagonist’s struggle through love, friendship, and learning about his sexuality. It’s gone into my growing stack of “books I’ll make my future children read” and I’ll be hard pressed to find another book to call my favorite book of the year overall. Yes, I’m aware the year is only half over. Sorry, other books. It’s just that good. –Eric Smith

music for wartimeMusic for Wartime: Stories by Rebecca Makkai

When their elephant dies and the town they are visiting is hit with rains of Biblical proportion, circus performers take up residence, take on everyday jobs, and become a part of local life. A woman living in modern New York City finds Johann Sebastian Bach in her piano and, having recently broken up with a man she loved and was not able to have children with, seduces him in an attempt to get pregnant. In World War II-era Europe, an old woman teaches young women how to make themselves appear old–and thus invisible–to avoid being stopped by guards from the invading army. And that’s just a taste of the delights on offer in this remarkable collection! History and contemporary culture meet the magical and the imaginary; the line between reality and fantasy grows blurry; and art and music are as essential as air and water in the many worlds Makkai creates. The stories are haunting and enchanting, wonderfully strange, and unforgettably gorgeous. –Rebecca Schinsky

nimonaNimona by Noelle Stevenson

Noelle Stevenson’s Nimona is just too damn lovable not to be on Book Riot’s Best of 2015. A lot of people have called this book “charming” and “fun” — which it is — and yet it’s also so much more. Stevenson has given us a weird and wonderful spoof on fantasy comics with a young feminist hero (and lots of cats and sharks). Nimona is a wayward teen who convinces the supervillain Ballister Blackheart to let her be his sidekick. But as they go about generating chaos and mayhem, we learn their deepest, darkest secrets and are challenged to reconsider what we think we know about good and evil. Yes, Nimona is charming and fun, but it’s also strange and complicated and asks difficult questions about the depths of loyalty and friendship. As a full-length graphic novel with universal themes, Nimona is a great choice even for casual comics readers who’ve enjoyed other crossover hits like Fun Home, Black Hole, and Persepolis. –Rachel Smalter Hall

only every yoursOnly Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill

I’ve read so many good books this year already, but this one stopped me in my tracks. Imagine getting brutally beaten with beach body edition of InStyle magazine while the audiobook of The Handmaid’s Tale is played on a loop. Hey come back, that’s a damn recommendation. Set in a dystopian future where women are created as beautiful clones called Eves, judged entirely on their ability to maintain their looks and destined for one of three fates, (spoiler: none get to be marine biologists or architects or pastry chefs) this is YA as wake up call. I wish I had read it as the teenager that obsessed over the hair on her arms, but I’m pretty damn pleased to read it as the adult that obsesses over the hair on her arms too. –Rachel Weber

precious onesThe Precious One by Marisa de los Santos

I root for love. Every time. When one person doesn’t deserve the other or when hurt is too big to overcome or when idiocy reigns over solid life choices, I always want love to win. Marisa de los Santos is on team love with me. Taisy Cleary and her twin brother Marcus have been dumped by her father for his new, perfect family, but after a debilitating heart attack, he needs Taisy. Despite protests from her family, she goes back to her hometown because her father is one of three men in her life Taisy has ever truly loved. But 16-year-old Willow, Wilson Cleary’s perfect daughter from his second marriage, loves him more. The story alternates between narrators Taisy and Willow. de los Santos crafts the transition from adult-full-of-hurtful-history-Taisy’s perspective to daddy-pleaser-perfectionist-Willow’s effortlessly. Marisa de los Santos is poet-turned-novelist and it shows by the amount of underlining, circling, and annotating in my copy. If you’re on team love and appreciate a good metaphor, The Precious One will not disappoint. –Nikki DeMarco

primates of park avenuePrimates of Park Avenue by Wednesday Martin

One of my favorite college classes was “Human Behavioral Biology,” wherein we learned about the sexiest monkeys (bonobos) and for which I read Nisa: The Life and Words of a !Kung Woman by Harvard anthropologist Marjorie Shostak. When I picked up Primates of Park Avenue: A Memoir by Wednesday Martin, I was expecting much less in the way of education and much more in the way of entertainment—but as it turns out, this funny, fascinating book is the best of both. (Full disclosure: Primates was published by Simon & Schuster when I still worked there, which just means it was easier for me to get my hands on a galley when I wanted to read it.)

I was truly enamored of Martin’s storytelling style: a mix of “field notes” to begin a chapter, where she lays out the territory to be covered in the language of an anthropologist striking out for a foreign land—in this case, the Upper East Side of New York City—and then a warm, candid, and often irreverent narrative exposing her own role in railing against and ultimately assimilating to Park Avenue culture over a period of several years. And much of the book is about not just living on the Upper East Side among the point-oh-oh-oh-one percent, but about mothering among those highly selected few. I was sure I’d find plenty to deride about these women (and I did) but I didn’t expect to be so fascinated by them and to see so many similarities between, say, the !Kung woman Nisa, and the UES mother who will go to any length to ensure her child’s dominance in the cutthroat world of private preschool. Since the dawn of time, mothers have been cast in the role of nurturer and protector. Watching their role evolve over the course of a twenty-first century memoir (wherein Martin ensures a playdate for her son by gaining approval from an Alpha Male, thus circumventing the territorial maneuvering of another mother known as the Queen of the Queen Bees) makes for a fresh, fun update on that college anthropology class.

I should note that Martin has generated flak from both her high-society peers, who clearly wish their Birkin bags weren’t being dragged through the mud, and from critics alleging that she may have taken more liberties than necessary in crafting her memoir—but from my perspective as a reader, Primates of Park Avenue more than delivered: it’s rare for me to have my expectations for a book met, let alone exceeded, and that’s the mark of a best-of-the-year read. –Sarah Knight

the sculptor scott mccloudThe Sculptor by Scott McCloud

The best graphic novel I’ve read since Scott Pilgrim, although very different in tone and theme. David Smith–not that David Smith–moved to NYC with dreams of becoming a famous sculptor. But circumstances have conspired to leave him broke, abandoned, and on the edge of homelessness, at least until the Grim Reaper shows up. Grim, in the form of David’s deceased Uncle Harry, offers him a deal he can’t refuse: he’ll have the magical ability to manipulate any material with his thoughts, but he’ll only have 200 days to live. David, naturally, agrees, but then he finds something to live for. This is a book about obsession and ego and art and legacy, and life in general. McCloud’s drawing style is clear, economical, and expressive, and the story is perfectly paced. The ending is cynical as all hell, but I still think this a must-read book, whether you consider yourself a comics reader or not. –Tasha Brandstatter

sevenevesSeveneves by Neal Stephenson

Despite being a non-techie, I’m an easy Stephenson Mark. For my money, nobody comes up with more intriguing “What if?” books, or executes them with greater wit and erudition. The “What if?” in question in Seveneves is nothing new: What if the world were ending? What if it began with the disintegration of the moon? What if the story that came next spanned thousands and thousands of years and 880 pages?

It’s provocative, it’s often funny, and it’s heavy on science without ever being impenetrable. Stephenson is revered in certain circles, but still remains underrated and underread, in my opinion. Seveneves is his best. –Josh Hanagarne

cover of shadowshaper by daniel jose olderShadowshaper by Daniel José Older

Sierra Santiago’s summer should have been an expanse of blue skies and possibilities, but reality crashes through her…well, reality. Weeping murals, animated corpses, and the possibility that her grandfather’s condition may have little to do with a stroke, all push Sierra to discover some difficult and interesting truths about herself and her family. Sierra’s newfound ability to shadowshape– i.e. work with spirits to create otherworldly art– is a magic unlike anything I’ve ever encountered in YA. Sierra’s powers work perfectly with Older’s unparalleled ability to lay bare the complex relationships between communities and families, cultural histories and personal ones, and the magic art that binds them all. Older has not only raised the bar in the way that the fantasy part of urban fantasy is written, but also in the way that the urban is so realistically represented. I cannot recommend this book enough. All I can say is prepare your Book Hangover Kit because I guarantee that Sierra is sure to stick around in your head long after you’ve turned the last page. — Yash Kesanakurthy

the shoreThe Shore by Sara Taylor

Ambition becomes Sara Taylor’s debut novel. Why write one tale about tough, resourceful women on a string of islands off the Virginian coast when you can write 13? Why focus on one time period when you can provide a Southern Gothic folk history from the Victorian era through to a disease-ravaged near future? Why have one salty, troubled (and troubling) protagonist when you can grow a knotted family tree of them? Why chose one storytelling tone when you can lob futureshock dystopia, magical realism, Bronte-esque family breakdowns, and gritty kitchen sink dramatics into the mix. The Shore shrugs off these questions with a simple, why not? It took the likes of David Mitchell and Jennifer Egan several novels to work up to this plate spinning act with Cloud Atlas and A Visit From The Good Squad. Taylor has gone for the literary jugular off the bat, and she certainly hits the mark. –Edd McCracken

signal to noise coverSignal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

One part High Fidelity. One part The Magicians. Add in lots of originality and you have Signal to Noise. This book has just so many elements to it that were so in my wheelhouse that it would have been slightly worrying if I didn’t love it so much. Set in Mexico City in 1988, the story follows a 15-year-old girl named Meche who is extremely unpopular, and her two equally unpopular friends Sebastian and Daniela. One day, Meche realizes that she is able to cast spells with the aid of music and vinyl records, which she quickly realizes can change the lives of her and her friends. Flash forward to 2009, Meche is returning to Mexico City after her father passes away and is forced to confront her past, which includes her broken friendships with Sebastian and Daniela after a falling out that happens in 1989. Silvia Moreno-Garcia perfectly captures a realistic teenage voice, which includes all of the optimism and confusion and annoying traits that all teenagers have. Music is also heavily but well integrated into the storyline, which I absolutely adore. This little indie release deserves all the attention. –Rincey Abraham

so you've been publicly shamedSo You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson

I’m as susceptible to the siren song of Schadenfreude as the next American; but, like Jon Ronson, I’m increasingly uncomfortable with events occurring online and in the real world causing people with no relation to said events bringing the hammer of righteous indignation down upon the heads of the person who said the wrong thing or did the wrong thing and would love more than anything to reverse the hours or minutes or quite often seconds that brought shame upon them, altered the course of their lives to the point of sometimes suicide, and caused them to lose relationships, employment, and the sense of who they are. This book is about that. It does not have a happy ending. And it is written well. –Sean-Patrick Burke

Spinster-  A Life of One’s OwnSpinster: Making a Life of One’s Own by Kate Bolick

This is actually the only book I’ve read this year that was also published this year. But it would be a contender regardless. It definitely deserves the criticisms directed at it that it ignores the difficulties of women of color and poor women who struggle to provide for themselves because they have no other choice. Regardless, it is still a fascinating and thought-provoking exploration of women determined to be the center of their own lives. –Ellison Langford

sweetlandSweetland by Michael Crummey

Holy cats, I cannot count how many times I have raved about this book now. But I still have more adjectives left! Old curmudgeon Moses Sweetland lives on a small island off Canada called, er, Sweetland. His family has lived there for generations, and he has spent his whole life on the island, save one trip to the mainland. When the government steps in and offers all of the residents a resettlement package in return for private use of the island, everyone says yes except Moses. And since the offer requires that everyone agrees, this makes Moses a very unpopular man. But Moses won’t be swayed. As the novel unfolds, we learn about Moses and his reasons for not wanting to leave, about his one trip to the mainland, and about the ghosts of the past that haunt him and the island. Crummey’s writing is masterful, and this book is achingly beautiful, one that hums under the surface of your brain long after you’ve finished it. I couldn’t love it more. –Liberty Hardy

thrilling adventuresThe Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage by Sydney Padua

I’m willing to bet you’ve never read a graphic novel like this, not least because of its extensive footnotes and endnotes. The Thrilling Adventures is hilarious and educational, science-y and steampunk, fantastical and historical. It follows Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage—the first computer programmer and the inventor of the computer respectively—into an alternate reality where the friends actually finished Babbage’s Difference Engine (an enormous mechanical calculating machine) and use it to solve problems, fight crime, and generally run amok. I’m not super into science/computers/history except maybe I am because this book was funny, fascinating, and wonderful. Also the illustrations are gorgeous, and her depiction of facial expressions had me constantly giggling. If you’re already a fan of graphic novels or computers you will love this book, and if you’re not (yet) this book will surely be a gateway. –Emma Nichols 

truth commissionThe Truth Commission by Susan Juby

I’m a Susan Juby fan from way back, so to a degree, I know what to expect when I pick up one of her books: strong characterization, meaty questions, scenes that make me laugh out loud followed by scenes that make me cry. But even though I went in fully cognizant of Juby’s talent and empathy and willingness to tell hard, complicated truths, The Truth Commission completely floored me. On one level, it’s the story of a very tense, very private family struggle, on the other, it’s a story about celebrity, and about growing up with no privacy whatsoever. It’s about the strong bonds of family, but it’s also about the realization that sometimes the family you’re born into isn’t necessarily the family you need. It’s about how honesty can be used as a weapon and the occasional kindness found in a lie; it skewers the culture that surrounds art and artists while also celebrating it. Love it, love it, love it. –Leila Roy

Uprooted by Naomi NovikUprooted by Naomi Novik

It is well-documented that Beauty and the Beast retellings are one of my genre kryptonites, but while getting me to read Uprooted was an easy sell, how much I loved it is purely a testament to Novik. Uprooted begins in a small village in a fantasy version of medieval Poland that is protected from a sinister, haunted nearby wood by a powerful wizard known as the Dragon. As payment for his protection, every ten years the Dragon takes a girl of seventeen to live with him. After a decade the girls all return, seemingly unharmed but ineffably altered, only to move away from their village shortly thereafter. When messy, uncouth Agnes is chosen over her beautiful, refined friend Kasia, Agnes is swept into a world of magic and menace. Suddenly the irritable and intimidating Dragon becomes the very least of her worries. That’s the set-up but it’s only the beginning. Everything I could forsee happening in the book happened by the 25% mark; the rest was a whirlwind of surprises I devoured eagerly. Uprooted is an epic Bildungsroman with immersive worldbuilding, captivating political intrigue, and rich character development. I loved its flawed but sympathetic heroine, who fails as often as she succeeds but eventually learns to trust her instincts as the source of her power. I was also impressed by the way Uprooted interrogated some of the tropes of the Beauty and the Beast stories and by the female friendship at the book’s heart. Highly recommended for fans of female-positive fantasy and ripping good yarns. –Maddie Rodriguez

The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren SumaThe Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma

If someone told me that my favorite book of the year would be a ballerina ghost story set mostly in prison, I would have patted that person’s cheek and chuckled in amused horror. But The Walls Around Us turned out to be so different from any other book I’ve read, and I loved every word. It was a magical book, one that stirred up questions and had me thinking about connectedness and consequences and guilt and revenge. Suma’s gorgeous prose flowed easily from page to page; it was a book I could not put down. –Karina Yan Glaser

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