What a year for books! I’m pretty sure I said something similar at this time last year, but there really have been so many amazing titles that have come out, and many others I’m sure I have not even read yet. I had to make some tough decisions, and I know there are still a lot of titles I want to read (like Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu and Release by Patrick Ness). Based on what I did read, here are my favorites all rolled into three very general categories.
Top Young Adult Titles of 2017:
10. They Both Die At the End by Adam Silvera – Death-Cast calls Mateo Torrez and tells him he is going to die today. Death-Cast is never wrong, so Mateo knows he needs to get his life in order before it happens. He needs to simply venture outdoors and say goodbye to his comatose father, his best friend Lidia, and his goddaughter Penny. Mateo’s fear overwhelms him though, so he tries out the Last Friend app and meets Rufus Emeterio. Rufus also received a call from Death-Cast that day. The teens decide to spend their last day together, and end up helping one another in ways they could have never imagined.
Yet another unforgettable book by Adam Silvera, and just the first of two on this top ten list. I will officially read anything he writes, no matter the topic.
9. Turtles All the Way Down by John Green – Meet Aza Holmes. She’s not nearly as talkative as her best friend Daisy, but she certainly has a lot in her mind. She always has, for her mind consumes her. When local billionaire Russell Pickett disappears, Aza and Daisy decide they can find out information that could lead to a large monetary reward. Daisy is out for the money, but Aza uses the adventure to distract herself from what’s really going on in her head. When they meet Pickett’s oldest son Davis, a former childhood friend of Aza’s, things take a romantic turn that Aza never expected. She also doesn’t know if she can handle it, for what’s going on in her mind is an ever-tightening spiral. I cried reading this book, but not for my typical reasons. John Green’s own personal battle with mental illness makes Aza all too real, for he gave me a glimpse inside the head of so many different people I’ve come to know and love. Green’s writing is gorgeous and intense. I will be thinking about Aza, Davis, Daisy, and Noah for a long time.
8. Solo by Kwame Alexander – Many might think that Blade Morrison has it all. He lives a rich life in Hollywood, all due to his rockstar father, Rutherford Morrison. Except, Rutherford isn’t much of a star anymore. Now he’s an addict who can’t stay clean, no matter what rehab he checks into. Blade has his girlfriend, Chapel, to concentrate on, but his sister Storm knows that he is falling head over heels too quickly. But Blade needs Chapel. He wants to forget about his father, and doesn’t want any connection to him. When the cameras appear, he wants to disappear. Pretty soon, however, Blade is faced with a harsh reality that has him running to Ghana for some answers. Solo is another musical gem by Kwame Alexander. I laughed, I cried, and I found myself singing along with the music.
7. A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas – As this third book in the Court of Thorns and Roses series opens, Feyre is back with Tamlin in the Spring Court. Feyre must put on an act for Tamlin and his entourage so she can learn about his recent actions and future plans. The King of Hybern is ready to invade, and Feyre needs information to save her court and the people she loves. Will she get what she needs from Tamlin before returning to her mate, Rhysand? This is a tense, exhilarating third book in the series! It concludes like all is wrapped up, but I know more is coming! If you haven’t read any of Sarah Maas’s books yet, it’s time to start.
6. History Is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera – Griffin doesn’t know how to live now that Theo is gone. He was told it was an accidental drowning, but Griffin can’t believe it. Theo promised him he would never die, and Griffin planned to make him keep his word. Ever since they fell in love, they planned to be one another’s end game. Except now that’s not possible. Now, Griffin must deal with not only losing his true love, but also playing host to Theo’s boyfriend Jackson. A truly realistic and heartbreaking story about love, loss, and never ending grief, and my favorite of the two Silvera books for this year. Anyone who has fallen in love will be able to connect with this story. Be prepared to shed a few tears.
5. American Street by Ibi Zoboi – Fabiola Toussaint and her mother want a better life. As the novel opens, they are flying from Haiti to Detroit to live with the mother’s sister. Unfortunately, things don’t go as planned, and Fabiola’s mother is detained. Fabiola has to navigate the new world she lives in by watching her three cousins and aunt, who live on the corner of American Street and Joy Road. She sees the have a lot of money. How? Fabiola’s Aunt Jo doesn’t go to work, but instead stays in her room all day. Her one cousin, Donna, a true beauty, dates Dray, who gives her all the jewelry and clothes she wants. Donna’s twin Pri is the exactly opposite of Donna. She is the brawn. Then there is Chantal, who is the oldest, and the brains of the sisters. Together they are the Three Bees. They make sure no one messes with their cousin. At first, Fabiola just wants good grades and her mother back in her life, but soon she finds that she is getting into trouble on her own. So many people have compared this book to The Outsiders, and I think that does it a disservice. American Street is its own shocking, yet amazing, novel. The author does a wonderful job showing all that some people need to do to make it in life. I loved it, and felt for so many characters in it, even Dray.
4. Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner – Teenager Carver Briggs had a wonderful life, that is, until his three best friends–Mars, Blake, and Eli–were killed in a car crash. The worst part was that Carver thinks he was texting the driver around the time the accident happened. He blames himself, and so do many others, including Mars’s father and Eli’s twin sister Adair. Meanwhile, Mars’s father is encouraging the district attorney to bring charges against Carver, and Carver understands why. He blames himself more than anyone. Thankfully though, there are others that support him, like Eli’s girlfriend Jesmyn, his own family, and soon some of Eli’s and Blake’s family members. Carver spends one day with Blake’s grandmother, who wanted a “Goodbye Day” for Blake. They shared their favorite memories of him, giving him a proper goodbye on their terms. I found myself obsessed with Zentner’s first book The Serpent King, but I connected with this one more. Anyone who has lost a loved one can feel for Carver and the overwhelming pain he and other characters have.
3. Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds – In Will’s neighborhood, there are three rules that every follows: no crying, no snitching, and get revenge. Will knows these rules as well as anyone else, and therefore knows he must follow them. The night before, his older brother Shawn was shot and killed. Will knows who did it, and he knows where Shawn kept his gun. He grabs it, knowing, as he enters the elevator, what he plans to do with it. It’s a long way down though–seven floors to be exact–and Will has a lot to think about. I have read all of Jason Reynolds’s books, and I have loved every single one. This one is one of my favorites (if that’s possible)! Jason is such a talented storyteller and poet. I’ve also listened to the audio with Jason reading the book himself, and it’s even better! I will be thinking about this book for a long time.
2. The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives by Dashka Slater – This true story is about two Oakland teenagers and an afternoon that changed both their lives. One teen, Sasha, is a brilliant student at a private school who identifies as agender. Richard is black, lives in a low-income area of Oakland, and goes to a rough public school where he is just one of many. Each day, both Sasha and Richard take the 57 bus to get to and from school. One day while Sasha sleeps on the bus, Richard takes a lighter and sets their skirt on fire. Sasha ends up with second and third degree burns, and Richard is arrested and charged with a hate crime. Is it a hate crime though? As the events unfold, its clear that Sasha and Richard are both victims. To say that this book is impressive is an understatement. I couldn’t put it down and will be thinking about it for a while. I’m sharing this one with all of my classes.
1. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas – 16-year-old Starr Carter may live in the poor neighborhood called Garden Heights, but that doesn’t mean her classmates at Williamson prep need to know that side of her. Starr is one of the few black students at Williamson and does all she can to be “Williamson Starr” there. Then one night she sees one of her best friends, Khalil, at a party. The two end up leaving together after shots are fired, and Khalil offers to drive her home. Not more than a few minutes later a cop pulls them over, and before Starr knows what happened, Khalil is dead and he was unarmed. What follows is the aftermath, and Starr is right in the thick of it. She always said she would speak up in a situation like this, but can she now? Will it even make a difference?
What a truly remarkable and powerful story. Angie Thomas’s debut is a must-read that is needed in every classroom. Teachers need to read it with their students. Students need to bring it home and share it with their parents. Out of all the titles on this list, I didn’t second guess where this one belonged.
Top Middle Grade Titles of 2017:
10. Midnight without a Moon by Linda Williams Jackson – Rosa Lee Carter is only 13 years old, but she knows she needs to leave the South. Her grandmother, Ma Pearl, treats Rosa so much worse that her siblings, Queen and Fred Lee. Rosa knows it’s because of her darker skin; Ma Pearl says she looks like “midnight without a moon,” and this embarrasses Rosa. She struggles to find her way during the beginning of the civil rights movement. When a 14-year-old African American boy, Emmett Till, is killed for whistling at a white woman, Rosa’s world is rocked. Instead of fighting, she feels the need to escape and move north like her mother and aunt did. It’s only because of her best friend, Hallelujah, that she starts seeing why others want to fight for change. Rosa wants to see change come about, but she doesn’t know if she can be a part of it. A beautifully written story with an important message. It was inspired by actual historical events.
9. Flying Lessons by various authors and edited by Ellen Oh – A truly wonderful collection of short stories that will hook the most reluctant readers. Popular authors like Matt de la Peña, Kwame Alexander, Tim Federle, and Meg Medina make this collection a must-have!
8. A Boy Called Bat by Elana K. Arnold – Bixby Alexander Tam, or Bat for short, is thrilled when his veterinarian mother brings home a skunk kit one day. The very moment Bat meets this young kit—who he names Thor—he knows that he was meant to care for it. Thor gives Bat a chance to concentrate on something he loves, instead of worrying about tough situations at school, or “every other Fridays” with his father. He decides to prove to his mother that Thor belongs with him by aiming to be the best caretaker possible. His sister Janie sees him as a nuisance most of the time, but there are a few heartwarming moments that show how much they care for one another. Bat’s story is a lovable one.
7. Matylda, Bright and Tender by Holly M. McGhee – Sussy and Guy are best friends, and Sussy knows that their friendship is a special one. Guy is the type of best friend who is willing to miss the bus to school to run to her house and grab her jacket on a cold day. One day, Sussy and Guy decide to buy a pet together. They choose a leopard gecko and name her Matylda, for Guy says she is unqiue so her name should be too. Guy and Sussy enjoy their new pet, until one day when a tragic accident occurs. Then all of a sudden Sussy is left without the one person who meant the most to her. This book is beautifully written, and definitely a tear-jerker. Everyone deserves a friendship like the one Sussy and Guy have.
6. Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk – Crow is not your typical 12-year-old. Left in a boat as a newborn, she was found by Osh, the man who found her and raised her on an island off the coast of Massachusetts. Crow doesn’t have any other companions besides Osh and Miss Maggie, a grumpy older woman who is a neighbor of sorts. Crow has always been curious, wanting to see what’s out there, but she doesn’t realize what she is really in for. The mystery elements of Lauren Wolk’s first book, Wolf Hollow, show up in this novel as well. The only reason Beyond the Bright Sea is lower on my list is because I am not quite done with it yet. (I may be changing the order of these titles up soon.) I know an amazing book when I see it though. Lauren Wolk is the real deal. First Wolf Hollow, and now Beyond the Bright Sea. I look forward to sharing this mystery with my students.
5. The Shadow Cipher (York #1) by Laura Ruby – The Morningstarr twins were the geniuses behind the City of York. Back in the late 1700s, they came and created it all: the tall, gorgeous buildings, the futuristic machines, and the train system. Years later, they disappeared, but not without first leaving their city with the Old York Cipher. This gigantic puzzle was hidden within the city itself and has a treasure at the end, but no one had ever been able to solve it. There was even the Old Cipher Society for those that were devoted to solving it. Years later, Tess and Theo Biedermann live in one of the few remaining Morningstarr buildings, 354 W. 73rd Street. They know about the Cipher, and it’s history, like everyone else in York. When wealthy Darnell Slant decides to buy their home, Tess and Theo team up with Jaime Cruz, a neighbor down the hall, to save their building. Unfortunately, the only way they think they can do so is by solving the Cipher. What follows is a truly epic adventure. The Shadow Cipher may be a middle grade novel, but YA fans will love the intricate layers found within. Just like when reading Ready Player One, I found myself excited to watch the puzzle unfold as Tess, Theo, and Jaime discovered new pieces. I loved The Shadow Cipher, and I’m anxious to read the rest of the series.
4. Patina by Jason Reynolds – Patina “Patty” Jones is the female newbie on the Defenders track team. She also happens to be the fastest. Like Ghost, she runs for a reason. Ever since her mother got “the sugar” and lost her legs, Patty has cared for her little sister Maddy. Maddy looks to her big sister for guidance and support, so Patty has had to grow up a lot quicker than most girls her age. She has a loving aunt and uncle who take care of them and their mother, who is on dialysis. It’s a lot to handle, so Patty runs. She runs for her mother, her sister, and even the fake girls at school. Patty wants to do it all, but sometimes even a tough girl like her needs support. All of Jason Reynolds’s books impress me, but Patina is something special. This is his first novel with a female protagonist, and he nailed it. Patina is a book for all the girls out there who need a little extra inspiration, for “Patina Jones ain’t no junk.”
3. Me and Marvin Gardens by A. S. King – Obe Devlin is a loner, but he’s okay with that. He spends his free time by Devlin Creek, which is on a little patch of land that his family still owns. His family used to have acres and acres, but Obe’s great-grandfather had to sell it to pay for his drinking problem. Now developers are moving in, but Obe still has his creek. This is where he meets a new “friend” that he eventually names Marvin Gardens. Marvin is part dog, pig, and who knows what else. Obe has never seen anything like him before, but he grows to care for him. Soon a former friend of Obe’s, Tommy, meets Marvin too, but Obe doesn’t trust Tommy anymore. Tommy left their friendship a while back for another group of kids, and now Obe is worried that Marvin could be in danger. I loved this book just as much as Amy’s other novels. I look forward to sharing this one with my students, and someday my son, who is a true scientist at heart.
2. Wishtree by Katherine Applegate – Red is a giant red oak who has lived to see a lot in its 216 years. It has accrued many animal families, and is famous throughout the neighborhood. Why? Red is a wishtree. Every May 1st, people come see Red and leave a wish on a piece of fabric or scrap of paper. Red and the animals have always sat back and watched this tradition, but this year it’s different. This year Samar’s family has joined the neighborhood, and not everyone is welcoming. It’s only when Samar leaves her own wish for Red that it decides it’s time to become more of a buttinsky than it already is. Wishtree is such an important story. When I closed this book, I made sure to open it again soon after, reading it to my own children. I won’t stop there.\
1. Refugee by Alan Gratz – Josef, Isabel, and Mahmoud are all refugees seeking hope in a new world. In 1939, Josef and his family board the MS St. Louis, in hopes to make a new life away from Hitler’s regime. Josef must be the man in his family, for his father has not been the same since he returned from Dachau. In 1994, Isabel and her family board a small rowboat in Havana, Cuba in hopes of making it to Miami. Her family, and some of their friends, want to escape the riots that plague their country. Finally, in 2015, there is Mahmoud, who is trying to escape war-torn Syria and make it to Germany with his family. All of these families know they are against great odds, but they’re determined to make it to a new land where they have the freedom they deserve. Oh, what a book! I had many moments while reading it where I just broke down sobbing. The stories of Josef, Isabel, and Mahmoud will connect with all readers. This is the first book I have read by Alan Gratz, but it will not be the last.
Top Picture Books of 2017:
10. Claymates by Dev Petty and Lauren Eldridge – A gorgeous tale with clay sculptures that move. Lots of action and emotion from these characters, and a new favorite with my 6 and 8 year olds as home.
9. Be Quiet! by Ryan T. Higgins – The hilarious mice from Hotel Bruce are back for their own adventure. All Rupert wants from his friends are for them to be quiet for the wordless picture book he wants to make. What follows is laugh-out-loud funny!
8. Life by Cynthia Rylant and Brendan Wenzel – A gorgeous book that explores all the wonderful things about life. A true treasure.
7. Miguel and the Grand Harmony by Matt de la Peña and Ana Ramírez – Matt de la Peña is a genius when it comes to picture books! La Música is the main character who ends up finding a boy who has no music in his home. She decides she will help this boy find his passion. What a gorgeous and musical story!
6. Her Right Foot by Dave Eggers and Shawn Harris – This nonfiction picture book is about how the United States came to have the Statue of Liberty. My children and I loved this book so much! It’s definitely a must read for all, especially now. I think I need to send this book to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
5. Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth by Oliver Jeffers – My children and I are big fans of Oliver Jeffers, but my son especially loved this one. The illustrations are gorgeous, and there is something new to notice every time you read it. A gorgeous book that is a perfect gift for new parents.
4. The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors by Drew Daywalt and Adam Rex – Drew Daywalt creates some hilarious dialogue for three characters that are in search of someone who can beat them. Talk about amazing! I think my kids and I have read this one at least 20-25 times, and that was just in the first week we had it! My son even took it to his 1st grade classroom to read last year.
3. It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk by Josh Funk and Edwardian Taylor – Another hilarious take on a popular tale that will hook all readers (and listeners). Jack does not want to be a part of his narrator’s story, so this new tale will surely get laughs as he reluctantly goes through an adventure.
2. The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet! by Carmen Agra Deedy and Eugene Yelchin – A loud town becomes a quiet one when a new mayor named Don Pepe comes in and promises to bring change. But soon the town loses more than just their voice, and it’s up to a noisy little rooster to stand up everyone. An important story that reminds all readers we need to find our inner voice. Share this one with young and old alike.
1. After the Fall: How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again by Dan Santat – A truly remarkable take on what happens to Humpty Dumpty after his fall off the wall. Dan Santat just impresses me more with every book he makes.