2016 was kind of an odd year for books. There was a new Harry Potter (of sorts), more celebrity memoirs than we will ever need, and some Star Wars novelizations. A number of books were published to great acclaim—The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien and The Sellout by Paul Beatty, to name a few. But the books that made an impression on us this year weren’t necessarily the award winners and the best sellers—there are enough lists with those books. What we wanted to leave you with before 2016 (finally) comes to the end are the books that will stick us long after this year is over. These are the books that moved us in 2016.
Note: Spoilers range from light to severe. Continue at your own risk.
My sister has been bugging me to read this series for years. I love Atwood but just haven’t gotten around to until now. Thinking back, it seems almost fated to read this in 2016, a year of war, climate change, civil rights struggles, and a U.S. President-elect who is a racist, misogynist terror. But despite the chilling prescient events in this dystopian where a virus has wiped out most of humanity, the second book focusing on Toby’s life in the God’s Gardeners left me feeling connected to her and adrift in my feelings all at once. Growing up in a religious house while deeply loving nature, and recently finding solace in the comfort of liturgies, I wish the God’s Gardeners were real. I wish Toby with her fragility, strength, and wisdom was real. And I wish she was my friend.
Surviving and fighting back against assault of her own body and of the planet, she makes meaning where others find only nihilism. She creates and shepherds life in her bees and in caring for other women. Toby understands the importance of resisting the powers that seek to destroy but also opening yourself up to love even when it seems hopeless. I think about her all the time and at the end of the third book, I cried for her more than I’ve cried for a fictional character in a long, long time. I’ll tell the bees about Toby, and anyone else who will listen in the coming hard years.
— Anna Tschetter
October 11, 2016
I’m not sure what else I can say about this book that hasn’t already been said. I love it the same way I loved watching The Queen of Katwe. Its blackness was evident but not really the focus. It was about what the word “mother” meant to so many different people and that those people got to be messy because we’re all messy. I look forward to reading more from Brit Bennet.
— Ardo Omer
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
March 29, 2016
I love this series by Marie Rutkoski and it was the best finale to a series I’ve read this year. I wrote a short review of it in the Dogears section and it’s definitely an example I would use to explain how to tackle the topic of colonialism well. It has political intrigue, forbidden love, trauma, complicated families and the response to an oppressor as well as a self reflection of being one. It’s an end that sticks the landing.
— Ardo Omer
How to Find a Fox
Feiwel & Friends
November 15, 2016
For most of the year, I’ve been eagerly awaiting Nilah Magruder’s How to Find a Fox because the art was stunning. It’s also because a cute black girl was on the cover of a children’s book and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. It’s adorable and the character is a determined little girl who is focused on finding the tricky fox. It’s a book I can give my baby cousin and tell her, “Look! There you are!” I can’t get it out of my head and want to share it with all of my friends.
— Ardo Omer
Diane Guerrero and Michelle Burford
Henry Holt & Co
May 3, 2016
I had heard a number of positive things about this book and I love Diane Guerrero on both Jane the Virgin and Orange is the New Black, so in the wake of the American election this seemed like the perfect book to read. This was such an emotional read but it was so eye opening and informative. No one should ever have to go through what Guerrero did. No one deserves to have their family torn apart like that and to be left to fend themselves before they’re ready. There are so many people I know who could really benefit from reading this book.
— Christa Seeley
Every Heart a Doorway
April 5, 2016
We’ve all read stories of children finding a doorway into another world—to a place more exciting than the world around them. Sometimes they’re just looking for adventure or maybe trying to escape a bad situation. And I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s dreamed of finding my own way to Narnia and the like. But what happens to those kids when they come back home? This was a short book but it was beautiful and powerful. These kids were just trying to survive and to find their place. If you’ve ever felt like you didn’t fit in and that there was a community of people out there somewhere for you if you could only find them, this is the book for you.
— Christa Seeley
March 10, 2015
I came across this book as it was staff picked by my friend when I worked at a bookstore and he never staff picked books so I knew if he did, it had to be good. He warned me that this book was not for the faint of heart and boy was he right. Serious trigger warning of abuse, self-harm and suicidal ideation. Throughout the book, the subject matter is at times unbearably sad and heartbreaking (to the point that I could only read it in increments). But, it was ultimately beautiful and touching. It evoked emotions from me and stayed with me long after I put it down. It’s a sort of coming of age story that follows four friends in New York, largely focusing on the mysterious protagonist Jude. The prose is beautiful and I felt as if I knew each character personally. It’s vulnerable but brilliant and a story of love, friendship and the families we make for ourselves.