Best Books of 2007
I'm a month late with this, but better late than never, right? (Ah, the motto of the perpetually tardy. I should embroider it on a pillowcase.)
My favorite book last year was, of course, J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I've been a big HP goober nerdball fangirl for almost a decade now. So this was basically my favorite book before I even read it. And although I loved it - LOVED IT - I'm not going to discuss it here further because either: (A) you've already read it or (B) you're waiting to read it aloud to your children or nieces or nephews.
Or (C) You think Harry Potter is satanic, and in that case, probably don't read my blog anyway.
Now, on to my less obvious selections!
I'm quite passionate about young adult literature, especially fairy tale re-tellings, and last summer I had the pleasure of discovering Juliet Marillier's first novel for teens, Wildwood Dancing (she has several for adults, and is a contributor to my favorite writing blog). Oh. My. Bedazzler. This book had me kicking my legs in the air and squealing like a seventh grade girl at a rock concert.
"The Twelve Dancing Princesses" is my all-time favorite fairy tale (cough, cough - this one). I've wanted to turn it into a YA novel for years, but I couldn't figure out how to do it. I mean, we're talking about TWELVE sisters here, and thus the major challenge is preexisting: How to make each princess a separate, interesting individual? Add to this the fact that there's not much actual plot, just a lot of fancy dresses and dancing, and the novelist is really up Poo Creek. I've seen this story attempted a few times, and it's never worked. Until now.
Cut twelve princesses to six. Add a dash of frog prince, a Transylvanian forest, and well, other native Transylvanians, and you've got a kicky little story for any girl who's ever wished she were a princess. Best. Fairy tale. Ever. And you KNOW there's a good love story if I'm recommending it. Who knew amphibians could play the hero so convincingly?
The other standout this year was Philippa Gregory's The Other Boleyn Girl. It's a compelling, page-turning monster of a historical fiction. The Tudors - Henry VIII in particular - were like the GREATEST SOAP OPERA EVER. You probably already know the plot, since the movie is opening soon and the amazing trailer is up and running.
Or maybe you already know it because you paid closer attention in history class than I did.
The first fifty pages made me nervous. Mary Boleyn is young and self-absorbed, and I wasn't sure that I could swallow a Very Large Novel from her point of view. Thankfully, once Mary realizes the trap that she's in, she quickly matures and the whole thing just EXPLODES into this delicious world of devious ladies and terrifying uncles and handsome men (beneath one's station). And, like all good historical fiction, when it was over I only wanted to learn more.
Speaking of more . . .
More great adult fiction:
Atonement by Ian McEwan - So you know that library scene in the movie? Even hotter in the book. I still cannot for the life of me figure out how he did it - wrote the sexiest scene in all of literature, that is. This book is a work of art. (Not to mention, a fascinating meditation on the power of writing.) The whole thing was like Mrs. Dalloway meets The Things They Carried. But better.
I Love You, Beth Cooper by Larry Doyle - Okay, so it's not Great Literature, but by golly, this one is hilarious. Doyle is a former writer for The Simpsons, and the rapid pace and snappy dialogue prove it. It's practically a screenplay for the next Harold and Kumar. Very funny, fluffy reading about an uber-nerd and his crush on a hot cheerleader. Example: "Denis jerked his face to the side--universal body language for 'Yes, I was staring at you'--while maintaining his casual yet defiant pose against the wall. It made him look like a male underwear model, except not."
(Lots) more great YA:
Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli - Why oh why did I wait so long to read this? I am so insanely jealous of Mr. Spinelli's talent. The plain truth: I wish I had written this. A great story about individualism vs conformism, with a memorable (and very real) narrator and a memorable (and very unreal) title character. The desert has never been lovelier.
The Bloody Jack series by L.A. Meyer - For people who find comfort in Pirates of the Caribbean. Meyer knows naval history and puts it to good use with his spunky, strutting, trouble-making narrator. Jacky is a rollicking gal who makes as many friends as she does enemies. The first few chapters of the first book throw some off (especially children) because they are written in Street Urchin English, but once aboard ship, Jacky quickly adapts to a more grammar-friendly way of speaking. Fun, fun, fun.
Stoner and Spaz by Ron Koertge and Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr - These two gave me a serious case of the Gotta Know What Happens Next. I read each one in a single sitting, late at night. Stoner and Spaz was memorable because it avoided the usual cliches that come with teen drug novels, and it gave me a startling insight into cerebral palsy (plus it was funny - really, really funny). Story of a Girl was memorable because it wasn't easy. The main character was caught having sex when she was thirteen and is still dealing with the repercussions at seventeen. It's heartbreaking and hopeful, and it's about shedding your past and moving on.
Girl at Sea by Maureen Johnson - Ignore the cover art (to paraphrase the author, she once remarked "Oh yeah. Because that's what my books are about. Girls with hot abdomens.") and just enjoy. It's a fun Mediterranean adventure story with a very likable protagonist. I'm a big fan of Maureen (and her hilarious blog).
Gingerbread by Rachel Cohn - I can't stop thinking about the main character. Or her super-hot, super-short boyfriend Shrimp. The only way to describe this was that it was the most Weetzie Bat book I've read since Weetzie herself, and that, my friends, is no small potatoes.
I didn't read much nonfiction this year, and only two really struck me: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver and Can I Keep My Jersey?: 11 Teams, 5 Countries, and 4 Years in My Life as a Basketball Vagabond by Paul Shirley.
I wish everyone would read Kingsolver's book about her year of eating only locally grown food. Ambitious in nature, it succeeds in producing a strong argument for the local movement. I found especially interesting her reasons for eating meat after years of being a vegetarian (she raises and slaughters her own chickens and turkeys), the chapter on making her own cheeses, the columns written by her teenage daughter, and the delicious recipes and menus.
Paul Shirley's book will only appeal to sports fans - I picked it up because he is a former member of The Only Team I Follow - but it's a hilarious journal of his first four years in professional basketball. It's biggest strength is that Shirley comes across as someone very normal, someone you'd want to share a cheese pizza with. Plus, I will never think of benchwarmers in the same way again. Or tall people. Or anyone who has to work in freezing-cold, middle-of-nowhere Russia just to keep the job they love. Shirley also gets a nice dig in about my arch nemesis, Kobe Bryant, and several about the strange relationship between God and ego in superstar, super-rich athletes.
Best Picture Books (published in 2007): Mo Willems' new Elephant & Piggie series are the greatest easy-readers since Frog & Toad. There are four so far, and all are GENIUS. Willems proves once again why he's the best thing in picture books right now. My current favorite is My Friend is Sad.
Best Children's Novels: The Midwife's Apprentice and Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman. The Midwife's Apprentice won the Newbery in 1996 and Catherine, Called Birdy won a Newbery Honor in 1995. Both are set in medieval England, but Midwife is grittier and Birdy is funnier (a bit like The Princess Diaries, really). I loved them both.
I also loved The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, which - amazingly - won the Caldecott this year. I say amazingly because it's a NOVEL and this is the first time that a novel has won the coveted illustration award. Of course, it's not a novel novel by any means, nor is it a graphic novel. It's a unique hybrid (lots of wordless pictures, then lots of text, then lots of wordless pictures), and it's fantastic that it's been noticed. I was especially charmed because it introduced a new generation to the crazy, beautiful world that is Georges Méliès, one of my favorite silent film directors.
Best Short Story Collection: The Littlest Hitler by Ryan Boudinot. I don't normally read short stories, but Boudinot's were so dark, so outrageous, and so hilarious that I couldn't resist. The stories ranged from a serial killer entertaining the kiddos at his son's school (with quips about his "job"), to a zombie working at a frozen pea factory, to three young field hands raising money to attend a Dr. Who convention. I don't use the word "original" very often, but there it is.
Best Graphic Novel: Blankets by Craig Thompson. I devoured this (bio)graphic novel like a hot fudge sundae at the Ghirardelli chocolate factory. Thompson has a legion of devoted fans, for good reason. So beautiful and so sad and so funny and so perfect. I'd recommend this to anyone who wanted to try a graphic novel for the first time.
Best Novel About an Artist or Painting: Couldn't help myself. This is an oddly specific subject that has really taken off in the last few years. My favorite this year was I Am Rembrandt's Daughter by Lynn Cullen. Like all good art novels, I walked away with a new respect for the artist and his place in history. The Amsterdam setting was vivid and alive, the father-daughter relationship was spot on, and - yes - there was a very sweet romance.
Most Read Author: For the second year in a row, Meg Cabot wins! Of course, she releases a new novel every other month, so it's only natural, but still. I love her, and I love her smart female protagonists. My favorite this year was Jinx, the first book in a new series for teens.
AND MY FAVORITE NEW AUTHOR IS: Shannon Hale!
This year I read everything she's written, something that I rarely do. Usually I spread out books by my favorite authors to make them last longer, but I couldn't wait with her. I mean, fairy tales (The Goose Girl) AND Jane Austen (Austenland)? What's not for me to love?
Shannon is so talented that I get all squirmy and happy just thinking about her. She's firmly on the literate end of the YA fantasy scale, always combining beautiful language with a definite sense of place. Her Bayern series is fantastic - I think the third one, River Secrets, is probably her strongest novel. Or perhaps it's Princess Academy, a very non-traditional princess tale about quarries and education and mountain flowers (which won her the Newberry Honor in 2006).
Oh, for goodness sake. Read them all!
Thus concludes my Longest Post Ever. Yikes. I'm going to bed.