First, I wanted to thank everyone who’s subscribed to my new site, every single like means the world to me, as someone who’s always seemed a little uncool compared to the standard. So, for anyone who doesn’t know, I also own a Weebly website called Weldon Witness (Weldon because that’s the name of the high school I went to when I started the site) that I’ve operated for the last five years with hundreds of movie and book reviews, where I’ll link full reviews of the books I put on this list.
If you would prefer watching my YouTube video for this Top 10, you can click here to go to it. The rest of this post is the Top 10 in order. Also, only some of these books were released this year. This list is based on what I read this year.
10. If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say by Leila Sales
There have been better books I’ve read that aren’t on this list. And there’s something in the last chapter that I couldn’t believe slipped through publication. But if that scene weren’t in there, this probably would’ve been #5 or #4. Because the rest of the book is brilliant. This is a story about a girl who one day mindlessly publishes an interpretably racist social media post and is attacked and threatened to the point where her school, friends and future all crash in an instant. It’s a page-turner that sends all the right messages about what our online world has become and the importance of caution in an unforgiving universe.
9. Your Own Worst Enemy by Gordon Jack
This is a real reading-slump destroying machine. This is a book about a high-school student body president election that bursts like a water balloon on the three candidates. The politics and what the three individually stand for are refreshingly straightforward and suspenseful, the personal looks into what this election is doing to them is tough-nailing and makes them complex, and I was in constant intrigue guessing who the president would be. Just, the “Make Chocolate Milk Great Again” line Tony says was unnecessary and not a good choice of words.
8. Dear Evan Hansen by Val Emmich, Steven Levenson, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
This was not just the first book I’ve read based on a play, (and usually it’s not the book based on something, but a movie based off of the book) but it’s also the first book I’ve read with four authors attached. Dear Evan Hansen was a Christmas present I probably wouldn’t have picked up. Sometimes I’m not as daring as I should be. But it ended up being a heartbreaking, crafty, ethic-exploring story with one of the simplest yet prettiest covers I’ve ever seen. There’s something about all the shades of blue on that tree. Dear Evan Hansen takes slow, steady cracks before it smashes to emotional shards.
7. The Last Magician by Lisa Maxwell
I’m often hesitant to pick up giant fantasy novels, because sometimes I feel the details of how the world looks and the history of the world are given such priority that the trauma, dreams, pressure and adventure the characters are in takes a back seat. And it took me two weeks to finish this monster. Lisa Maxwell herself wrote in the acknowledgments it was a big book. But I didn’t mind that this time. There was enough going on, Esta and Harte were put under intense pressure that kept me caring, the fantasy was not weird enough to be distracting, and I was enjoying myself enough not to be impatient for the forewarned grand heist.
6. On The Come Up by Angie Thomas
Angie Thomas’ debut, The Hate U Give, is a masterful book I will never in my life live up to. And I am perfectly fine with that. It was #1 on my list last year, tied with Anger is a Gift by Mark Oshiro. So my expectations for her next book were huge, and I have to say, I love this one too! It continues the astronomically important message her last book began, while adding a few more thought-provoking themes, such as the dream of being a rap artist, being a mother and having to get help from your teenage daughter, and very unfair assumptions from school faculty. The rap music insights and lyrics Thomas comes up with are delightful. Also, props for referencing the romance in Simon vs. The HomoSapiens Agenda! Can’t wait for her next book!
5. Scythe by Neal Shusterman
I’ve read a lot of books that were the start of a series this year, especially ones which had a sequel released in 2019, but Scythe is the one that made me the most excited to keep investing my time in this utopia glossed with poisonous glitter. Neal Shusterman took one genius idea and made an entire world out of it, never leaving a stone untouched. Yes, it’s a little info-heavy, and so are the other two, but the haunting politics, and the personification of death itself (like a storm-cloud with a face staring maniacally into people’s souls as it readies to zap them,) is so troubling, the info is often more welcomed than groaned over. And if you missed this fact, I was so addicted I read the other two. Weren’t as good, but still a solid franchise.
4. Retribution Rails by Erin Bowman
Perhaps the best historical fiction novel I’ve ever read. I sped through it in less than three days. Retribution Rails has two protagonists which are both encompassing of great concepts: Charlotte desires to be a journalist out telling stories that will save people’s fates and protect them from corruption and criminals, but her gender has prevented anyone from ever listening. Reece is a notorious outlaw for a train-robbing gang who’s both blackmailed into staying in the heartless group, and has the desire to get revenge with the gun to grant him that wish. With Charlotte and Reece in the picture, there is never a dull moment, and the history Bowman teaches us, about how in the 1870’s, the construction of railroads forced farmers and messengers out of business by building over their homes and promising faster transport, so these were tough, uncertain times with salt added to the wound. It’s a gem of a book with a heart-stopping climax and swoon-worthy romance.
3. Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
It’s been 11 years since Little Brother was published, yet its story is just as resonant today. Hackers are dangerous and inspirational people at the same time. Sometimes they do dastardly stunts, and sometimes it only seems what they are doing is dastardly on the surface. Either way, they’re powerful, and this story about a traumatized geek-rebel navigating his way around a city that is now a police state after a massive attack is a daring, rebellious riot of a book. Doctorow did something very different; he dove right to the computer screen of a hacker and explained to us in tremendously complicated terms how he is able to get into mainframes and install wiretapping. I’m unashamed to say I don’t remember any of the terms, but the expert adventure, exciting rebellious stunts, intuition, and even the acknowledgment of racism and homophobia that was ahead of the book’s time, are all spectacular.
It’s not just about my sexuality. Love stories about same-sex couples I feel are often more powerful than the alternative because they show the desire to be with who you love in spite of possible retribution, love conquering hesitation. And when I read One Man Guy by Michael Barakiva a few years back, it was the most adorable book I’d ever experienced. Now I can say its sequel stands alongside it that way. Now, romance novels can be hard for me, because a relationship between two people is never going to be as important to you as your own situation. Also, what I want in a romance is for neither person to be perfect, and both showing heartbreak and care. Hold My Hand takes place six months into the relationship of Alek and Ethan developed in the first book, opening the gates for serious themes, and they are the embodiment of both cute and extreme. There’s also a massive conflict in their relationship that is handled with the care and responsibility it deserves. There are numerous parts worth swooning and crying over in its 276-page length.
There’s also the book that tied at the last minute with Hold My Hand. If Barakiva wrote the two most adorable books I’ve ever read, then Heartstopper is the most adorable comic book. The simple yet beautiful story of getting a crush on the guy from rugby who you now sit next to, but still facing turmoil from being outed and scared to want to try something that might never happen, yet it seems he might be interested as well…it’s a simple yet beautiful story, but the visuals are the definition of magic. Or should I say the expressions. Charlie and Nick’s faces whenever they blush, worry, laugh, tease each other, or cry in misery, and the way they interact with each other, are so pure, so frighteningly resonating, and are so mirroring of us in our darkest moments, whenever those were, that you might just want to hug your pillow after you speed through the book in an hour. This is also a web series on Tapas and Tumblr, where I first read it. If you check it out, I dare you to stop reading after the first 300 pages.
But even the cutest books in the world couldn’t stack up compared to this:
1. Internment by Samira Ahmed
I almost skipped out on this book because I did not like Ahmed’s previous one. But in this book she gives it her all and has proven that her all is as masterful as Angie Thomas and Mark Oshiro. This is the most terrifying book of the year, because its realistic plot of American Muslims now forced out of their homes into Nevada camps only for their religion and not for committing a crime, with their books burnt and laws of protection not applying to them anymore, it’s the same thing happening right now with immigrants, whether they came in by the system or couldn’t because they had no choice. (With 45 having just been impeached, I have light hope things will get better, but nothing will stop my hesitation to celebrate early.) But yeah. Everything in this book was amazing. Taking place only in the camp instead of switching points of view between Layla Amin and her boyfriend on the outside makes it feel like these people are really confined and may not ever get out. Layla’s slightly untrustworthy accomplice among the guards, her parents wanting to wait this out to avoid trouble and their daughter hurt, but Layla wanting to do something to help everyone get out, the tension from the scary Director, the brutality, the messages about standing up and fighting, they’re all the top of the chain!
Thanks for reading my list! In a few days, I’ll have a video and list ready for my Worst reads, and then Best and Worst Movies I saw that were released in 2019!
I would also love to hear what your favourite books you read were, or favourite movies or TV shows.