2015 is in the rearview mirror and loads of folks have regaled us with their “must read” lists, so I thought, why not me? I’ve never done this before, mostly because I don’t like telling people what to read, especially since I indulge in vast amounts of filth and raunch, much of which I am certain is not the average reader’s cup of tea.
But 2015 was special.
I read some amazing books, met some brilliant writers, and just generally thrilled to the literary landscape. It was a great year for wondrous and varied writing; the stories haunted and chilled, excited and educated, and I feel fortunate to have gotten lost in a few of them over the last twelve months.
So here you go – my list of must-read books for 2015
ALL AMERICAN BOYS by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely – if you haven’t read this yet, you must. If you haven’t heard about this book yet, goodness. Find it, read it, then pass it on to someone else. Buy it for yourself, your parents, and your children. It is just that important. Every single one of us needs to read the story of Rashad and Quinn, written by Reynolds and Kiely respectively. A unique creative formula, both Reynolds and Quinn embrace the challenge fully, giving authentic and poignant life to their characters, trading off chapters as the story unfolds in all of its brutal honesty. BOYS begins as a typical adolescent Friday night of messing around with friends and prepping to party, but quickly turns into something altogether adult and dangerous following a violent run-in with a police officer. The experience forever changes Rashad and Quinn in ways neither ever imagined. Told through both boys’ eyes, the story is haunting and uplifting, a testament to our lives and times, a hope that we can become better. Trust when I say, the hashtag #RashadIsAbsentAgainToday will stay with you long after you close this book.
THE TRUTH ABOUT AWITI by CP Patrick – told through a series of interconnected stories, CP Patrick brilliantly weaves her historical narrative of the slave trade and its continued effects on people, society, and the human spirit in Awiti. An incredibly powerful piece of fiction – so much so that many times I had to step away from it for a few days to let my body and mind recover from the horrors relayed – Awiti is also beautifully written, Patrick’s prose sometimes brutal, other times soothing, always enchanting. Historical fiction is rarely my go-to genre, but Patrick is so skilled she manages to make you forget the “historical” aspect and simply get lost in her fiction, and what a world it is to get lost in. This is a story and these are characters that will find a place in your bones, a room in your soul, and that’s not a bad thing.
WE SHOULD ALL BE FEMINISTS by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – simply stated, this tiny book is a gem. My notes throughout FEMINISTS are copious, the book is marked up and annotated everywhere because damn near every word is perfect and moved me in some way or another. It’s feminism and the belief that all people should be treated equally, broken down into brilliant, evocative vignettes on what it means to be a woman around the world today, and what we need to do to improve the state of womanhood. It’s so well-written, interesting, and important, especially in this day and age of misinformed and misguided young women taking to social media to state “I am not a Feminist”. It explains in the simplest, most human of terms why there is nothing wrong with being a feminist and there is nothing dirty about the word feminism and if it’s not already on your TBR list, please do me a favor and add it now.
MONSTER by Kayti Nika Raet – with her fourth installment of The Outsider Chronicles, Raet does it again, bringing the fierce and amazing. Set mostly in the city of Cherai, MONSTER recounts Niko’s desperate struggle to maintain control of the city while killers roam the streets, Slithers haunt the dark spaces, and death and desire commingle in such unfair interplay that one can only close their eyes, hold their breath, and hope. There is not a single extraneous word anywhere in Kayti’s manuscript, each one matters, and you get the sense they’ve been pored over and considered and studied with the eye of a meticulous word warrior determined to bring her readers to their knees. And here she succeeds tenfold. MONSTER, for all its horror and despair, is full of the feels. Everywhere. It’s brutal and gorgeous and stunning and you find yourself wanting to stay lost in Kayti’s world of perfect words forever.
SHADOWSHAPER by Daniel Jose Older – I’ve been waiting to meet Sierra Santiago for a long time. Thank you, Daniel, for bringing her to life in such bold and badass color. There is so much good on these pages – the characters, the stories, the streets of Brooklyn – but what stands out for me most is Daniel’s way with women and love and race and words, hardly the usual themes for an urban fantasy and probably why I enjoy Older’s prose so much. Yes, there is the exciting and unique story of Sierra and the legacy of the Shadowshapers, from which she’s been “shielded” until it’s impossible to do so any longer, and the epic battle that unfolds between Sierra’s Brooklyn crew and the antrolpologist Wick, but there is so. much. more. There is gentrification (“it looked like a late-night frat party had just let out”) and colorism (“Not light enough. Morena. Negra. No matter what she did, that little voice came creeping back, persistent and unsatisfied. Not enough.”) and girl scientists (“Bennie had spent every year of the decade that Sierra had known her obsessed with one branch of the natural sciences or another.”) and the pain of racism (“But the words crept in, made a home in Sierra’s mind no matter how much she fought them off. her wild, nappy hair.”) and love (“he looked at her like she made sense, like they shared some secret language that no one else knew, and that they spoke it even when they weren’t speaking at all.”) and it’s all so damn good. Grab this for Sierra and her badassery, enjoy it for all Daniel gives his readers because it’s one hell of an adventure.
Bonus: THE BOY IN THE BLACK SUIT – I know Jason already made my list once, but I couldn’t not include Matt and Lovey, Chris and Mr. Ray in this missive because I love them so much. So much. I met them a year ago and they still sit in a teeny-tiny place of my heart, the one space that isn’t black and cold, but resonates with all of their light, love, and raw honesty. For me, BOY is a love letter to Brooklyn – whose streets and characters and bodegas are so vivid and real and perfectly captured by Jason that I often felt like I was back on my old block in Bed Stuy. Told through the eyes of Matt Miller, a high school kid coming to grips with the death of his mom and the downslide of his dad, we pay witness as Matt tries to hang on and make sense of life and death and loss and love. Helping him along the way are Chris, Mr. Ray, and Lovey, well-crafted, poignant characters, each playing their own, very unique roles in moving Matt forward one step at a time. Towards the end of the story, Matt is gifted with a Sempervivum, a plant whose name originates from the latin roots semper and vivus and means “live forever.” That’s exactly what these characters will do with me – live forever. Thank you, Jason, for being fierce and amazing and for giving us awesome books (and a month of unforgettable poetry) in 2015.
Happy 2016, gorgeous people, and happy reading.