Below are ten 2016 titles of novels (+ one autobiography) that I read and enjoyed (mostly). One list is for readers, ages 10-14. One list is for ‘grown-ups’.
AGES 10 – 14
A BOY NAMED QUEEN Sara Cassidy
Queen, a young boy in grade 5 is proud of his name and brushes off any taunting he receives because of his name, his flamboyant clothes and his carefree attitude. At only 75 pages, this short Canadian novel tackles bullying, boy/girl friendship and gender issues. I didn’t love this book. Too many holes and non-fluid narrative.
THE OTHER BOY by M.G Hennessey
As expected, the children’s literature world has paid attention to the reality and complexity of transgender issues. In this novel the central character Shane Woods provides a strong case study of young people who recognize that they do not want to live the gendered life of that they were born with. It is a story of the journey and struggle into acceptance, of self and by others.
EITHER WAY: The story of a gay kid by Sandra Levins; Illus. Evan Cook
A short, graphic novel exploring the complexities of coming out. In less than 100 pages, the author presents 3 different narratives and Either Way is more than a story of a gay kid who is trying to find out who he really is. It is also provides background information about civil rights and marriage equality as well as a story about one gay man who served in the military.
WHEN THE SEA TURNED TO SILVER by Grace Lin
This title is the third in a trilogy (Where the Mountain Meets the Moon and Starry River of the Sky). The novel is a self-contained fantasy adventure of a Chinese girl who embarks on a journey to rescue her grandmother who has been kidnapped by the emperor’s soldier’s. The book features a number of Chinese folktales. When the Sea Turned to Silver is a strong testimony to the power of stories and the gift of storytelling. Applause also goes to the detailed drawings and rich illustrations that appear throughout – all created by the author.
THE MIDNIGHT GANG by David Walliams
WOW! Two new books from Mr. Walliams in one year. (see also: The World’s Worst Children) Oh what fun! The Midnight Gang is the story of five children being treated in a London hospital ward and each seeking a dream and a daring adventure as the midnight hour approaches. Always funny you are Mr. W. Always with a little bit of naughty. And dare I say a bit of heart with this one!
SAVE ME A SEAT by Sarah Weeks and Git Varadarjan
Fifth graders Joe and Ravi each have to contend with fitting in and acceptance. The novel is presented in alternating chapters that describes each boy’s story: Joe, a Special Needs student and Ravi (Rah-VEE, not RAH-vee) Suryanarayanan a recent immigrant from India. Joe and Ravi’s must separately learn to cope with the turmoil of the class bully, Dillon. Though the two boys have much in common, the don’t seem to ‘connect’ during the first week of school, and then not until the final Friday (Pizza Day) when they realize that they can confront their problems – and sit – together.
FOR THE GROWN-UPS
WALK THROUGH WALLS by Marina Abramovic (this one’s an autobiography)
Abramovic’s claim to fame is being one of the most recognized performance artist’s in the world. The biography provides a detailed journey of her art and life her life as the child of Communist parents in postwar Yugoslavia to a life of fame in Amsterdam, New York, Beijing and beyond. A fascinating read of a fascinating, driven, complex artist. I was intrigued more with the artist’s bizarre visions and ‘wild’ love life and extensive travels and spiritual devotion than the art itself which often seemed disturbing and esoteric that included cutting, walking The Wall of China, lying down on blocks of ice, partner-slapping, eating a dead hare, and lots of nudity. I became especially drawn to Abramovic when I saw her live at the MOMA for the performance of The Artist is Present where she sat on a chair each day over a three month period staring face to face with strangers who sat directly across from her. Fascinating. Provacative. Mmmm?
THE WONDER by Emma Donoghue
Donoghue’s claim to fame seems to be the remarkable novel Room, the story of a boy and his mother trapped in a room for several years. In The Wonder, we enter a different room along with the main character Lib, a nurse who has been hired to watch over Anne O’Donnell, a ‘miracle’ girl who has survived without eating for many months. The setting is an Irish Village in the 1850’s. Questions loom (for Lib and for the reader): How is it possible for Anne to survive without eating? Is this all a hoax? Is someone secretly feeding Anne? How could Anne’s family not intervene and force feed their daughter? Why do the clergy think that this is a religious miracle? Why is Anne doing this? Will Anne die by starvation? How can Lib take responsibility and take control of the situation despite protests from the family, the clergy and Anne herself?
HERE I AM Jonathan Safran Foer
A failing marriage and a family falling apart: i.e. A Jewish family falling apart. And there’s an earthquake in Israel. Mr Foer is certainly inventive and funny and wise and verbose (too often). ( Get me the scissors!). Still, this is an author that fascinates me (I loved Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close) and even though I didn’t always ‘get; what was written on each page, I was often pensive and frequently entertained.
ALL THAT MAN IS by David Szalay
This novel, a contender for the Brooker Prize, is the story of nine men – nine European men – each at a different stage of life. Taken as a whole the book presents different stages of manhood from young adulthood to senior years. Really, the book is presented as short stories and I found myself (of course) intrigued by some characters more than others. Upon reflection, All That Man Is invited me to think about the connections of the nine stories and in the end I realized that my enjoyment of the book was the intrigue of travel, the spontaneous building relationships (sexual and otherwise), the excitement of confronting fate, and the issue of appreciating the material things you have, and the desire of wanting more. Is this all that man is? Mmm?
DO NOT SAY WE HAVE NOTHING by Madeline Thien
Winner of The Governor General’s Award as well as The Giller Prize, 2016, this novel has great pedigree. Thien does a masterful job of intertwining generations of Chinese family and pays a heartfelt tribute to the significance of playing an instrument, of composing and of performing. The details of Mao’s Cultural Revolution is encyclopedic. Fine writing indeed, but I found it to be a very dense read moving back and forth in time with a rather complex narrative of the character’s lives.