Well, another year has come and gone and SO many books have crossed our paths. So, as I’ve done in previous years, I wanted to summarise my personal favourites from what I’ve read this year (not necessarily 2016 releases). I’ve given myself a little leeway this year (remember when I was only going to choose my top five? HA!) and allowed myself a separate list of graphic novels, because there were just too many I’ve loved and I’m getting into them more.
Welcome to Orphancorp by Marlee Jane Ward
Bleak, sexy and powerful, is how I describe this novella that packs a punch and holds so much heart. Children in detention, mistreated youth, pillaging our planet at the expense of future generations: the horror is not just hypothetical.
I’ve combined these as I read them at the same time. Red Spikes to myself and Black Juice aloud to my partner (quite something to read Margo’s writing for the first time aloud with an audience!). Her writing challenges the reader emotionally, intellectually, linguistically. It makes me feel alive. Finally read ‘that story’, too, for all those who couldn’t understand how I loved her so much and had not read it. It is astounding.
Stunningly written and illustrated, this tender and tense adventure ponders otherness while raising the stakes. Bullies are bad, but are they the worst thing out there? The atmosphere created is palpable.
The Nest by Kenneth Opel and illustrated by Jon Klassen
Speaking of atmosphere, it’s hard for me to decide which of these two illustrated novels I enjoyed more (a happy problem to have). The Nest is by far the creepier of the two. I absolutely loved how unsettled I got while I read this book. Almost as much as when I read Margo’s ‘Winkie’. That said, this book is great for any reader over 10 with a penchant for the creepy.
This is character driven YA at its best. Especially because Melbourne’s Collingwood is a secondary character and plays as much a role as any of the others. Frankie’s pretty pissed off. It’s easy to see why, and satisfying to share her moods vicariously.
It Looks Like This by Rafi Mittlefehldt
Devastating. When I started reading this book I panicked. Oh no, thought I, too much of this is exactly like my own work in progress! But it’s not at all like mine. And as frustrating as particular tropes are, Rafi has used it so effectively that rather than being another version of a story we’re sick of hearing it becomes a story that feels like it must be told.
It’s true, I personally might have loved this more had it been entirely from Ryan’s perspective – so convincing and engaging his voice was – but that is not the point. The Sidekicks achieves it goals regardless of my own frivolous wants. It also captures that feeling of sharing a friend with acquaintances, something that is not limited to high school, I assure you.
Words In Deep Blue by Cath Crowley
A book for book lovers. If you love books and are in any way partial to Young Adult literature, just read it.
Beautifully written magical adventure with two very different girls working together to take control of their lives and the fate of London, perhaps the world. I’ve basically been recommending this to anyone who’s read Harry Potter, even though they’re very different.
The Other Side Of Summer by Emily Gale
A gorgeous book about grieving, healing and guitar, with the perfect dash of magic realism. It also sits very nicely in that sparsely populated in-between land with children’s fiction and young adult on either side.
I’m just such a fan of David Levithan that I’ve tried to catch up a bit on his books this year that I haven’t read. This one is a sweet mix of short stories about love (not necessarily ‘love stories’). I was able to get it signed along with the other 13 books by him I own. This one is inscribed: “To Michael, This book and its author are very happy to meet you, David Levithan.” The feeling was mutual, David, perhaps even skewed a little. A story about love, if not a love story.
Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertall
I had picked my 10 novels and started working on this post before I read this book, but it would be a crime not to include it. The ‘I fancy myself a cynical teen’ narrative voice is perfect. I also feel I read this at the right time for me, as it reminded me that there’s no right amount of ‘stuff’ happening in a novel, it’s all about how it’s told. (I’ve been worrying I needed to make my own novel jam packed with dramatic events – I know I don’t, now. If it turns out half as good as Simon, I will be so proud of it.)
Penguin Problems by Jory John and illustrated by Lane Smith
This book brings me so much joy. Who knew that a penguin complaining about life would be so hilarious?! I mean, there’s all the heart and philosophy to appease those who think kids’ books need ‘a message’, but it’s subversive enough to be just as cynical as it is life affirming.
Books about books are definitely a thing. Booklovers appreciate the tip of the hat towards the object(s) of their affection. But rarely are they done as beautifully as this. The homage to the written word that Sam Winston’s art stunningly achieves goes hand in hand with Oliver Jeffers’ deceptively whimsical line and ink drawings. A book for the home of any person who loves books.
Molly & Mae by Danny Parker and illustrated by Freya Blackwood
This is a friendship to melt your heart, as steady and rocky as a train journey. There’s one line in it that gets me EVERY time! I won’t put it here, but it’s the punch line of the page called ‘Timetable’. You’ll just have to go find a copy to read it.
Jon Klassen’s books are always a delight. This is, after all, his second appearance on this list. But the moral dilemma of two turtles + one hat = tension, suspense, potential end of a friendship, and eyes that speak volumes. Beautiful, humorous and what a way to complete a hat trick. (look at me, using sports speak for book related puns…)
Odd Dog Out by Rob Biddulph
THIS! Not only are there adorable sausage dogs ALL OVER this book, the main character is wearing a rainbow scarf that wraps right round her whole body! AND it’s told in such a brilliant rhyme and has a message about individuality. It basically has all the things.
Carson Ellis’ illustration is beautiful, detailed but understated. Du Iz Tak? reflects our lives in the world of bugs. It holds friendships, family, changing seasons, building forts, bullies, and a touch of romance. It’s entirely told in the language of bugs and is perfect for exploring with kids, teasing out what the strange words might mean is relation to everything that’s going on in the pictures. A must.
King Baby by Kate Beaton
The perfect book for new parents. Because the baby rules the house, in case you weren’t aware. The tone in this book never fails to make me laugh. “Yes, come! You have been waiting for me. I will give you many blessings, for King Baby is generous.” Love it!
I would not have thought that the topic of refugees could be so beautifully and sensitively told as it has been by Francesca Sanna. It is accessible and not at all overwhelming while not shying away from the harder parts of the story.
Sleeping Beauty illustrated by David Roberts and retold by Lynn Roberts-Maloney
I love fairy tales. I love retellings of them. But often retellings fail to address some of the more problematic elements of the original (or classic, rather) versions. That’s why I was so pleased to discover this fantastic picture book with an all-female cast of characters. That, and David Roberts brilliant take on the 1950’s! She pricks her finger on a record needle!
This is one of those books where the first time I looked through it I was moaning with how beautiful the illustrations are. It is as much an art book as it is a book on animals, and for that reason is perfect for any aged person. I cannot wait for Wild Animals of the South to come out in 2017.
Geis: A Matter of Life and Death by Alexis Deacon
I have been a fan of Alexis Deacon since I started bookselling nearly 15 years ago when a fellow bookseller put Beegu in my hand. But I have been waiting for Geis (pronounced gesh) for over two years since Alexis started posting sketches from its progress on his Instagram account. It is stunningly crafted and expertly told. By the end, I was racing with the characters to make it back to the castle before dawn and it genuinely got my heart pumping. Then, BAM! Wait for book two.
This has been sitting on my shelf for years unread. What a shame I wasted all that time. It is powerful, compelling and works on a mythological scale. At the time of its CBCA win I was unconvinced because how could something like this win ‘Picture Book of the Year’? But if integration of words and pictures is the criteria and brilliant storytelling the goal, then Matt Ottley is a genius.
Hilda and the Troll by Luke Pearson
Ok, so really I want to put the whole series on this list, I read them all this year. But I figure if I put the first one on then that’s enough to get people to go and read them! They are so delightful! I’m also very excited for the Netflix series, but we have to wait to 2018 for that! In the meantime, I’ll just re-read them again and again.
Being disconnected from the world as I am, I completely missed all the media about Small Thingsand just picked it up off the shelf at work because the cover intrigued me. Shortly after, I was crying in the shop, luckily there were no customers just then. This wordless picture-book-format graphic novel is heart breaking and hit home for me in a way I was not expecting. The worry, negative thoughts and expectations that kids and teens carry around with them really do eat away you and it can be impossible at times to say anything to anyone.
The Marvels by Brian Selznick
I wasn’t sure whether to class this as a novel or graphic novel because it might be considered illustrated fiction, but as more than half its pages are purely illustration, and it worked better for my lists of 10, it ended up here. This is a great story about how we our own fictions can get caught up in our lives and the power grief has to hold us in place.
This is a self-published graphic novel that took me by surprise. Set in the Victorian bush, it teases apart the pecking order of natural and introduced species, hunting dogs, foxes, rabbits and more. It’s somewhat nihilistic mood was skilfully achieved with an ending that felt right for the story.
The Spectators by Victor Hussenot
A stunning and thoughtful book on identity, self and the nature of being human. Beautifully highlighting the dis/connectedness between us all.
Told in “2 Autumn Stories”, Dockwood is a spectacular, reflective graphic novel. The necessities of living are set on a backdrop of the astounding stillness and peace of the ever-changing earth, tress, birds and sky. Then, it also highlights how branded so much of our world is, and how that contrasts greatly with the natural beauty that surrounds us. Definitely worth reading.
Phoebe and Her Unicorn by Dana Simpson
When Phoebe meets a unicorn and saves her from eternally being trapped gazing at her own reflection, Phoebe is granted a wish. Naturally, she wishes that she and Marigold Heavenly Nostrils will be best friends. Filled with the light cynicism and cheek of a nine year old, this series is so much fun!
So remember what I said about fairy tale retellings? Here’s another Sleeping Beauty that achieves more than you would expect from a fairy tale. Told from the point of view of the Queen of a neighbouring kingdom to the one enchanted by sleep, it is a kick ass girl power book where nothing is quite as it seems. And it’s pretty clear why it won the Kate Greenaway award. Again, slightly more of illustrated fiction than graphic novel, but hey, a good book is a good book!
Well, that’s all for 2016. What have you read this year that’s worth talking about? If you want to revisit my 2014 and 2015 favourites, you can!
Here’s to some great reading in 2017!