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  • These Are a Few of Our Favorite Books


    This year I vowed to read more. Despite giving birth to my third child, I read a lot of books and most of the the reading was done during feedings and in the night while my newborn wasn’t sleeping.


    This year I read some of the best books of my life. This made those long, sleepless nights bearable. Enjoyable, even. I looked forward to the quiet and as much beauty—in the words and the characters—as were in these pages, every single book also broke my heart in varying degrees.


    Keep reading to see what books some of us at 3Elements Review loved most this year!




    Mikaela’s favorites:



    EVERYTHING HERE IS BEAUTIFUL by Mira T. Lee


    I could hardly breathe after I finished this book. This was a very honest portrayal of mental illness and how it reverberates and affects everyone around the person inflicted by it. The story is centered around a Chinese-American named Lucia who struggles with the “serpents” in her mind and tries to outrun them.



    Though what’s unique is that the majority of the book is told from the perspectives of the people closest to Lucia—her rational sister who worries, her big-hearted Israeli husband, her Ecuadorian lover who fathers her child.


    We learn about and learn to love Lucia through those who love her most. Every single character is lovable, yet flawed, and so incredibly real.




    THE LEAVERS by Lisa Ko


    Oh, my heart. This is the story of a young Chinese-American boy whose mother goes to work one day and never comes home. He’s then adopted by white college professors who yank him from Brooklyn and take him upstate, changing his name from Deming to Daniel, hellbent on having him assimilate.


    As an adult, Deming feels lost but he finds purpose when he learns his mom is alive and travels to China to find her.


    A timely story about undocumented immigrants. One hell of a main character.




    EVERYTHING I NEVER TOLD YOU by Celeste Ng


    Lydia, a teenage girl, is missing and found dead in a pond.


    This book explores how her family deals with the loss, as well as what happened leading up to Lydia’s death and what follows it.


    It’s a dysfunctional family portrait filled with lovable, complex characters. In fact, I plan to read this again as a study of realistic characters and how I can make the characters in my own novel more real and round.


    Be prepared to have your heart smashed to dust.




    WE ARE OKAY by Nina LaCour


    Marin, a freshman in college, is the only person who stays in the college dorms during Christmas break. She doesn’t have anyone to go back to, because the summer before something tragic happened in her family and she fled, leaving her best friend, Mabel (who she’s in love with) behind without a word.



    Eventually Mabel comes to visit, and because she is hurt by Miran’s sudden disappearance and silence, it is no happy reunion.


    This book is about learning to be okay by yourself and learning to be with your grief. And it’s oh-so-gorgeously done.


    How can a story about grief be so ridiculously beautiful?




    THE SUN IS ALSO A STAR by Nicola Yoon


    I didn’t think this book was going to work (and I didn’t care for Yoon’s debut) but the cover was so beautiful that I picked it up anyway.



    Two people meet and fall in love in the course of one partial day? Yeah, right! But it happened in this book and I believed it with every part of my being.



    Natasha was born in Jamaica and though she’s been in the U.S. for most of her life, she’s being deported tonight. Daniel is a Korean-American whose parents think he’s headed to Yale to be a doctor.


    Natasha is all science and facts, doesn’t believe in love. Daniel is a dreamer, driven by his feelings, and he’s going to be a poet.



    This entire book takes place in mere hours and I think that speaks to Yoon’s writing abilities—holding readers’ attention through the course of such a small span of time, yet so many pages—and I loved every word of it. After I closed this book, I had to lie down and process the ending and my emotions.





    Megan’s must-reads:


    PROVIDENCE by Caroline Kepnes


    Part love story, part supernatural thriller, part taut and compelling mystery, Caroline Kepnes’ PROVIDENCE doesn’t fit neatly into any one genre. Instead, it pulls from the best of many to create a story that is all its own and completely unforgettable.


    Once I started this book, I simply couldn’t stop. The writing is evocative and engaging, and the characters were ones with which I quickly and whole-heartedly fell in love.




    SEE WHAT I HAVE DONE by Sarah Schmidt


     This book takes place in the infamous house in which Lizzie Borden’s father and stepmother were murdered. Following Lizzie, her sister Emma, and the maid Bridget in the days surrounding the brutal murders, Schmidt offers us a nuanced portrait of these women and their simmering resentments and desires.


    Not only was I amazed at how Schmidt dances between fact and fiction, conviction and reasonable doubt, but I was also stunned by the ending, which is absolutely perfect and demands multiple reads.


    (On a side note, this book has one of the best covers I’ve seen in a long time, not only for the arresting and haunting aesthetics of it, but for the “HA HA” revealed in the title on the bird’s body—so sinister and eerie and wonderful, just like the novel itself.)




    THE BOOK OF M by Peng Shepherd


    Brilliantly envisioned and beautifully executed, this book is STATION ELEVEN meets THE LEFTOVERS meets ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND—but it’s completely original too. It’ll be a new standard for post-apocalyptic literature and for fantasy.


    Shepherd has so vividly imagined the consequences of a world in which people are losing their shadows—and subsequently their memories—that I often had to check to make sure I still had my own shadow!


    To read this book is to become completely engrossed in its characters and their deeply human desires, even as their humanity is stripped from them more and more every day.




    SELF-PORTRAIT WITH BOY by Rachel Lyon


     A young artist takes the best photograph of her life, one that will surely put her on the map among the superstars of the art world. The problem is: it’s a photograph of a boy falling to his death. Now she must decide whether to use the photograph to jumpstart her career or hide it from everyone—including the boy’s mother, who she’s just befriended.


    In this book, Rachel Lyon deftly explores moral gray areas, the sacrifices we make for art, and the price of a lie. I couldn’t tear myself away from its electrifying pages.  




    HER BODY AND OTHER PARTIES by Carmen Maria Machado


    I fell in love with this collection of stories before I’d even read it. First learning about it through Machado’s gorgeously haunting story “The Husband Stitch,” I knew that if the rest of the collection offered even half of the same brilliance, it would be my new favorite book.


    Most of Machado’s stories begin with bizarre, even supernatural, premises, but the characters within them are so exquisitely explored, their emotions so palpable and relatable, that it’s easy to believe that the worlds Machado creates exist within our own.




    Katy’s best books:


    SING, UNBURIED, SING by Jesmyn Ward


    Can I say anything about Jesmyn Ward’s genius that hasn’t already been said? She’s a two-time National Book Award-winning queen. This is a beautiful story of how families fail each other, how they haunt each other, and how they imperfectly love each other, with lovely prose, gorgeous images, and characters that stay with you.




    SADIE by Courtney Summers


    Courtney Summers is the master of humanizing “unlikable” characters, and she allows girls in her books to be angry in a way that we often aren’t permitted to be in real life. This book makes me want to cry and scream along with its characters, and it simultaneously shows me that it’s ok to do just that.




    THE IMMORTALISTS by Chloe Benjamin


    I enjoy a lot of books; this is the first in a long while where I looked forward to my commute to continue reading. Without being depressing, it’s a thoughtful look at the effects of grief, the sometimes tenuous but unbreakable bonds between siblings, and the decision whether or not to believe in magic.




    LITTLE PANIC by Amanda Stern


    A fascinating, heartbreaking, funny memoir about growing up with a panic disorder in the incredibly dynamic setting of 1970s and 80s Greenwich Village. For anyone else who was an anxious kid (ahem, and adult): Amanda Stern sees you.




    LESS by Andrew Sean Greer


    This book is a great example of the kind of book I that really love (which often happens to be the kind of book Pulitzer committees love): literary and accessible, thoughtful and funny, hopeful but not saccharine. Greer captures the awkward emotions of being a writer, and of being in love.




    Sionnain’s favorites:



    FRESHWATER by Akwaeke Emezi


    A debut novel of truly inhuman talent and insight. The main character (like the author themself) is an “ogbanje,” an Igbo term for trickster spirits that inhabit human bodies.


    The book tells the narrator, Ada’s, story coming to terms with their multiple inhabitants, their move from Nigeria to the States, and the trauma and aftermath of a sexual assault.


    The myriad voices that make up the narration are distinct and unique, and the assembled whole is at once both magical and rooted in a deep truth.



    Yes, I definitely cried.




    AN ABSOLUTELY REMARKABLE THING by Hank Green


    Another debut novel based in the author’s own experiences, Green tackles the strangeness of viral internet celebrity through a science fiction first contact story.


    When huge humanoid sculptures appear all around the world at the same time, humanity doesn’t quite know how to react. But through the narrator, April May’s, perspective (as the discoverer of the first sculpture), we see both the divisiveness and the vast teamwork that can result from such a life-altering event.


    I sped through this book, but I so wanted to stay in this world. The sequel setup at the end was perfect and agonizing.


    I don’t think I cried, but there were a lot of feelings happening.




    THE BIRTHDAY OF THE WORLD: AND OTHER STORIES by Ursula K LeGuin


    This is a really great collection of stories from an always stellar storyteller. The kind of science fiction that gives you the escapism of an incredible story while also managing to leave you with new thoughts and ideas about the world we live in.


    When interviewed many years later about her classic novel, The Left Hand of Darkness, Le Guin expressed regret about not exploring the idea of sexuality more deeply in that story. In this collection (published in 2002), Le Guin establishes queerness as a given in almost every story, which feels like the comfortable/comforting result of many years of further thinking and exploring and writing on her part.


    The kind of collection that had me weepy at the end of each story, sometimes inexplicably.




    CONFLICT IS NOT ABUSE by Sarah Schulman


    A challenging and difficult read about the ways we conflate normative conflict with abusive situations, to the detriment of everyone involved. Schulman explains how this conflation and inability to deal with conflict responsibly and constructively manifests everywhere, from the most personal of relationships between two people, to the diplomatic (or not so much) relationships between nations.


    There were parts of this book I didn’t agree with, parts I had a lot of trouble with, and parts that pushed me to think differently about myself and the relationships I am a part of. It is well-worth the read.


    I don’t think I cried, but there was heartache.




    KINDRED by Octavia Butler


    A classic novel from one of the greats—Kindred is a time-travel story that revolves around Dana (a black woman from the 1970s) being pulled back in time against her will, in order to save a distant ancestor of hers (a white slave-owner in antebellum Maryland) from his multiple near-death experiences.


    The novel explores ideas of family lineage and national lineage, and the time-travel premise lends itself well to Dana’s internal struggle—her (in)ability to redeem her ancestor or save the very real people who lived, suffered, and died during that time.


    I definitely cried at the end.




    Did you read any of these books and what did you think? What were the best books you read this year? Let us know what we should be reading next in the comments! 

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