The following are Book Riot’s Best Books of 2017.
In the thrilling conclusion to V.E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic trilogy, all your favorites are back in the epic battle for stability between the four parallel worlds, as Black London’s shadow king, Osaron, invades the other kingdoms. The book takes off immediately after the second book’s jaw-dropping cliffhanger and the action just does not stop for over 600 pages. Schwab’s writing is on point, her characters are vividly and consistently developed, and in terms of satisfying endings, Schwab more than delivers in her usual flawless fashion.
All Grown Up tells the story of a single, childless, thirty-nine-year-old woman named Andrea. Told through a series of chapters that read like individual stories, this novel, like its protagonist, defies convention as it brilliantly captures one woman’s relationship to the ever-shifting definition of what it means to be “all grown up.” In Andrea, Jami Attenberg creates a sharp narrative voice that brings us deep into Andrea’s internal monologue, complete with contractions, fears, and desires that many so-called adults (like myself) are sure to recognize. This book had me nodding along, laughing out loud, and cringing at the brutal truth of it all.
When Elle Burns, a free black woman with an eidetic memory, goes undercover in the household of Confederate sympathizers and potential conspirators, the last thing she expects is to fall in love with her partner in spying, a young Scottish immigrant posing as a Confederate officer. The two don’t start on the best foot, but easily learn to work together, even as their attraction for each other complicates things. Alyssa Cole’s spectacular story of espionage and romance doesn’t pull punches when it comes to the time period and the challenges Elle and Malcolm endure, and the emotion it evokes lingers long after reading is done.
One of the great things about Attica Locke – besides the fact that she writes a great mystery – is how real the world she creates is. She doesn’t ignore the problems of our world, in fact she often faces them head-on. In her latest book, Texas Ranger Darren Mathews, who is Black, investigates the murder of a black man and a white woman in a small town. Locke explores the complexity of a black man poking around in a small town where he is not welcome and how race impacts everyone involved. A tense mystery that keeps you turning the page, with an ending that knock your socks off.
Don’t Call Us Dead by Danez Smith is an evocative, spellbinding book of poems centered around the life of today’s black youth. It is a gorgeous, poetic call to arms. Smith uses masterful language and metaphors so skillfully it’s hard to believe this is only Smith’s second book. These poems force the reader to confront their ideas of blackness, of young black men, of poetry itself. Don’t Call Us Dead is the perfect catalyst to bring action and awareness to notions of police brutality, black sexuality, and the AIDS crisis.
How much of your identity remains with you when you leave the only place you’ve ever known? That is at the heart of this remarkably powerful story of love and war, about two young people whose escape from the violence of a civil war in their country leads them to a foreign land and an uncertain future. Hamid has constructed a dizzyingly beautiful novel, not just about the contemporary devastations of displacement, but about the emotional tethers that bind us to the place that shaped us, and how those bonds fray the farther you get from home. Let this book’s quiet power wash over you.
I’ve been a fan of Alisha Rai’s since she was first recommended to me, and her new contemporary series, Forbidden Hearts, has cemented her status as an all-time favorite. Hate To Want You features feuding families, a strong and complex heroine, and an ambitious hero with a dark secret. It is so real and frank about so many things, whether it’s the inconvenient realities of sex in the woods or dealing with depression and family dysfunction. And Rai does that while also delivering a smoking hot, beautifully romantic novel, which is both astounding and refreshing. I’ll be thinking about this book and recommending it for a long time to come.
Her Body and Other Parties is an intoxicating combination of folklore and pop culture, fabulism and realism. With language so deft and elegant, it’s hard to believe this is Machado’s debut collection. These stories dig into the wounds inflicted upon women by society, their peers, and themselves. Women’s bodies fade and are stitched into garments, the apocalypse is recounted through sexual encounters, Law & Order SVU is retold as the ghost story it truly is. At turns seductive and sickening, this collection will enchant you and make your skin crawl. I recommend you read it slowly and not before bed.
Sometimes we tell our stories and emotions with our facial expressions. Sometimes, we tell stories and emotions with our whole bodies. In Hunger, Roxane Gay tells us the story of her body, what it’s like to live in such a story, and how it is to have such a painful, lasting story live inside her. Hunger is so intimate and personal that it leaves readers feeling spoiled by the author’s candor and authenticity. It is difficult to read about the physical and psychological assaults, while then being faced with thinking about the stories our own bodies tell. Hunger is an amazing book that is completely worth the time and tears.
I was skeptical about this book before I read it. I wasn’t convinced the Saunders’s style could work for a whole novel, and I was worried that the book would be nothing but plotless introspection about death and grieving. I needn’t have worried. Saunders uses voices from history and those of the dead to tell a universal story about how death is part of life and how death makes every life matter. There’s genuine suspense in the question of whether young Willie Lincoln will be able to move on and whether his father will allow him to do so. Once I got oriented to the world Saunders created, I was enraptured.
Celeste Ng’s second novel is everything you would want it to be and more. In gorgeous prose that urges you on through the pages, Ng tells the story of Mia and her daughter Pearl who arrive in Shaker Heights, OH, and begin to stir things up. Mia is a nomadic artist, while Pearl has always wanted to experience a normal American life. She finds it with the Richardson kids who live in the lap of upper middle class luxury and privilege. Mia, meanwhile, befriends Bebe, her colleague at a restaurant in town. Bebe is a Chinese immigrant mourning the loss of her daughter… except that her daughter isn’t so far away after all.
Fantagraphics is putting out some of the most beautiful-looking books (Sophie Goldstein’s House of Women is also a sight to behold) and My Favorite Thing is Monsters is no exception. Made to resemble the young protagonist’s sketchbook/diary, Emil Ferris’s wildly accomplished debut graphic novel is a gorgeous and harrowing coming of age story and the story of a city on the edge: Chicago in 1968.
Every heavy subject gets its due here: race, sexuality, sexual assault, art, the Holocaust, murder. Yet despite its heaviness (both physical and metaphysical), Monsters moves lithely, buoyed by the wide-eyed wonder of 10-year-old Karen Reyes, who takes in the horrors of the world and turns them into something dazzling.
ODWABDANOTWM is a debut essay collection about “growing up the daughter of Indian immigrants in western culture, addressing sexism, stereotypes, and the universal miseries of life.” Koul is great at moving easily between funny and poignant moments. The stories about her parents contain a fair amount of frustration, but she always writes about them with a sense of generosity. Chapters are punctuated with brief email exchanges between Koul and her father that are succinct, funny, and give some depth to the last (and best) essay in the book, about the consequences Koul faced telling her parents about her long term relationship with a white man.
In a fishing village in pre-WW2 Korea, a plain peasant girl catches the eye of a wealthy, but married, yakuza. When her pregnancy threatens to shame her family, a young pastor offers her marriage as escape. She follows him to Japan, beginning an epic charting the lives of three Korean generations through the war and after. Industrious and fiercely independent, Sunja and her family struggle to survive poverty, persecution, and discrimination in a new land. In honest and simple prose, Pachinko, titled after a Japanese game similar to the slot machine, captures the ups and downs of family life as a marginalised race strives to master the vagaries of fate and come to terms with their identity.
Patricia Lockwood has always felt out of place in her insular Catholic family, but she understands them as she does no one else. In Priestdaddy, she examines the forces that shaped her, from her aggressively nurturing mother’s devotion to pro-life activism to her boisterous father’s complicity in protecting abusive fellow clergymen. Lockwood leans into both her family’s strangeness and her own with a poetic specificity that makes every word simultaneously jarring and just right. Years from now, we’ll turn to Priestdaddy to understand how poets and priests like Lockwood and her father coexisted in the same America—and the same homes.
If you’re wondering who the next Toni Morrison is, Jesmyn Ward’s newest novel cements her in that role. It’s the tale of one family’s small journey that takes on epic form, as drug addict Leonie travels with her estranged children, wise Jojo and young Kayla, to pick up their father when he’s released from prison. These characters struggle not only with the day-to-day struggles of life in poverty, but with ghosts that haunt them without ceasing. Leonie and Jojo circle each other warily, but each comes alive through their narration, and the book will leave you more than a little heartbroken for these characters and our country.
The delicious creepiness of The Changeling comes from Victor LaValle’s mastery of the “we’re all fine here until we’re not” tale. The terrifying and sublime lurk just beneath the everyday, invisible but somehow palpable until they emerge, all at once, to surprise, horrify, and fascinate. A story of family, love, revenge, magic, and forgiveness, permeated by darkness and bursting with light, The Changeling uses, while inverting, twisting, and rebuilding, fairy tale conventions into something at once familiar and wholly new. Utterly, brilliantly riveting.
As a law student, Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich worked for a death row defense firm, a cause she was passionate about—until Ricky Langley, a pedophile accused of a child’s murder, challenged her beliefs on justice. The further she dug into Langley’s past, the more her own memories as a victim of child abuse surfaced from repression. The Fact of a Body is a meditation on trauma and a chilling exploration of nature and nurture, whether monsters are made or formed. It’s impossible to read The Fact of a Body and not feel it change you. This haunting debut will linger in your body and mind, scars felt long after you read the explosive ending.
The Gauntlet is an action-packed novel with a headstrong and brave protagonist. It tells the story of young, Bangladeshi-American Farah who gets sucked into a mechanical board game called The Gauntlet of Blood and Sand. The stakes are high because if Farah and her friends can’t defeat the mechanic of the game, they will be trapped inside forever. Farah meanders through this Jumanji-like game world, using her wits to defeat various obstacles in her way. The world of The Gauntlet is also an intricate Middle-Eastern inspired setting that feels vibrant and real, aided by Riazi’s rich prose.
Just as The Gentleman’s Guide’s reluctant hero Monty takes utter glee in flouting society’s conventions, author Mackenzi Lee seems to delight in flouting genre conventions: yes, historical fiction can be laugh-out-loud funny. Yes, romance can be diverse, in multiple senses of the word. Yes, a teen from the 18th century can be immersed in rich historical detail and yet compellingly, heartbreakingly modern. And yes, all three can miraculously be found in the same delightful book. I couldn’t have put this book down if highwaymen had demanded I do so at musket-point – a common peril, I’ve learned! – and I can’t wait for the sequel.
Nothing I write about this book will do justice to how great it is and how well it understands our current social and political climates. Read it to learn about representation and the Black Lives Matter movement, read it to undo and question racist stereotypes, read it for characters and relationships which poke at your heart, and a powerful, engaging narrative that leaves you a little choked up. Angie Thomas’ debut is a masterpiece, and one of those books which deserve to be put in a time capsule to represent the year 2017. It made me take a beat and think about how much good stories matter when the world is unfathomable and disheartening.
In the first two chapters of The Prey of Gods, a dolphin and a crab have sex while a sentient robot achieves consciousness, and it only gets stranger and more fabulous from there. Blending urban fantasy and science fiction, this South Africa-set novel is packed with wild, raucous fun: demigods reclaim their powers, robots rise up, a new club drug gives humans godlike abilities, a trans politician embraces her inner diva, queer teens fall for each other, a dik-dik infestation gets adorably out of control, and more. Somehow, thanks to a rip-roaring story and Drayden’s expansive imagination, it all coheres into the most fun you can have in 2017.
Monique Grant is a writer for the magazine Vivant and Evelyn Hugo is an enigmatic movie star from Hollywood’s golden age. Evelyn is in her seventies now, and decides it’s time to tell her story—her whole story.
The question is, why now? Why tell it to Monique, an unknown reporter writing mostly puff pieces? As we follow Evelyn through the decades, we learn how she got to where she is, why she chose Monique, and the difference between forgiveness and absolution.
With a sometimes unlikeable, but not irredeemable, woman at the forefront, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is a great story about perseverance, ambition, friendship, and forbidden love.
The Wanderers was one of the best books of 2017. It explores the human condition through the lens of politics, exploration, and the boundary between what was real and what was imagined. This is a must-read for anyone who agrees with me that sci-fi and fantasy are the perfect media in which to address some complex and difficult social issues such as racism, balancing family dynamics, or discovering the innermost depths of the human spirit. It may have been marketed as science-fiction and genre fiction, and it is, but The Wanderers is also a masterful work of literary fiction. I think I will find something new in it every time I read it.
When her grandfather disappeared, Marin fled to New York, leaving everything—and everyone—she loved behind. After months of isolation, her best friend Mabel is coming to visit whether she’s ready or not. Told in alternating chapters before and after her grandfather’s death, this book tells the story of how Marin’s life fell apart…and how she starts to put it back together again.
We Are Okay is one of those books that snuck up on me. It’s equal parts grief and healing, loneliness and hope. Despite all that, this book has a gentleness that makes it feel like a break from the fast-paced world of YA. You’ll smile, you’ll cry, you’ll want to reach through the pages and give all the characters a hug. And you’ll finish the book feeling like you’ve just taken a breath of fresh air.
Each of the brilliant, searing essays in Ta-Nehisi Coates’ We Were Eight Years in Power is like a puzzle piece that, when joined with its mates, forms a challenging, essential statement on race and American identity. If you’ve read all or even some of these pieces, previously published in The Atlantic, you may be tempted to skip this book. Resist that temptation. Not only has Coates added new material to contextualize each piece, but each of the essays (ranging in subject from respectability politics to reparations to Trump’s election) is given fresh life by the presence of the others. Their collective impact is a thing to behold.
It is difficult to overstate the stunning talent on display in Lesley Nneka Arimah’s debut story collection. The collection as a whole is a gut punch, moving easily between magical realism to dystopia to fable to gritty realism. Despite varying genres, each fits in concert effortlessly, strung together by themes of home, family, and trauma. From the first page, I was floored by the remarkable way in which she turns the expected on its head. Each story is imbued with freshness, empathy, and imaginative twists. If this utterly captivating collection is any indication, Arimah, a master of the short story form, is surely only getting started.
Dimple wants nothing to do with marriage and wants only to study coding and win Insomnia Con. Rishi can’t wait to be married, and when he agrees to be matched with Dimple and meet her at Insomnia Con, he does so believing she’s in on the plan. (She isn’t.) Dimple and Rishi completely charmed me with their earnestness and their romance. What I loved about this book was how solid Dimple and Rishi’s senses of self are. That’s Sandhya Menon’s magic – as sweet as their coupling is, Dimple and Rishi develop foremost as individuals, becoming more authentic, more deeply themselves, the closer they draw to each other.
A literary thriller about blues? Yes, please. Two white men, Seth and Carter, record an unknown singer in a New York City park and pretend it’s a lost 1920s blues song by invented artist Charlie Shaw. But after a record collector tells them both song and Charlie are real, Seth and Carter are caught in a maelstrom of darkness, greed, and revenge. Kunzru builds the tension so slowly and effectively that you won’t even notice you’re on the edge of your seat—until you’re about to fall off. The book’s haunting final act, and what it says about black bodies and talent and the white people who exploit both, will stay with you for a long time.
Honestly, I love everything Sherman Alexie writes. But his memoir about his relationship with his mother, You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me, combines childhood stories familiar from Absolutely True Diary, his refreshing frankness about his struggle with mental illness, and his skill with poetry. It’s a long read, but every word is worth it. It’s funny and moving and devastating at once and Alexie openly and lovingly writes about his relationship with his flawed but real mother. Get ready to cry. But they are the good kind of tears, I promise.