Best Books I Read in 2014

Eleanor and Park – Rainbow Rowell

I started the year in a reading rut specifically because I couldn’t bring myself to finish this book that I’d started in November of last year. I’d started it and I thought I saw something coming that I didn’t want to get to so I’d paused. Sometimes I pause when I think I’m not emotionally or mentally stable enough to handle something difficult. I also don’t go see horror movies or ride roller coasters during those stressful times. Self care is important. I finally felt well enough and got up the courage to continue and I’m so glad I did.

The first thing I would like to point out is that this book features a plus sized female protagonist and an asian male protagonist and an interracial primary relationship. All kinds of awesome representation being used here and representation in literature is so important.

Another important feature before the story even takes off is that you have a main character who is dealing with both abuse at home and bullying at school. The other main character is dealing with complicated gender roles in a culture that stereotypes his race as feminine.

And then there’s the sweet little romance between a boy who doesn’t fit the male love interest mold and a girl who doesn’t fit the female love interest mold. They’re both dealing with identity issues that underly their issues with family and peer relationships and they both have their own concerns and passions and they see each other floating in a sea of anxiety and all that eases a little when they hold each other’s hand.

This book is so beautiful and I got so attached to both these precious babies. It made me remember being young and falling in love so slowly that you don’t realize it’s happening till it’s happened.

Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro

This book was actually recommended to me by accident. I’d mentioned getting through The Fault in Our Stars movie and not crying as much as I had during the book and my Doctor asked me if I’d read this book and watched the movie. She described it with some spoilers but it sounded amazing and I picked it up the next weekend.

It’s hard to write a review of this book without giving away spoilers, but I’ll do my best. The narration starts with the main character, Kathy, as an adult. Her job is to take care of people after they’ve had surgeries to donate organs. When she’s done being a caregiver, she’ll start donating organs herself. She’s nearing the end of her time as a caregiver, so she’s starting to reminisce about the life she’d had at a special boarding school with some of the donors.

The secrets of the donors and caregivers starts to unravel in the flashbacks. For some reason, they’re taught to value creativity and especially the things created by their peers. Some special pieces of art are taken to be put in a mysterious gallery and no one knows why. When Ruth, Kathy’s best friend from school, dies after her final donation, Kathy is sent to find Tommy and take him to figure out what the Gallery is and why it was so important that they contribute to it.

The science fiction in this is actually pretty subtle. There’s no drawn out explanations of the way the system works, just the reality that there are children raised to donate organs and that a special group of these children were raised in a school that was gathering creative works from them. I think the subtlety is what made this book so satisfying to me.

Coming Clean – Kimberly Rae Miller

I was considering writing something with a hoarder in it and I was looking for some kind of biography to get an insider perspective. When I read this book, it inspired me to clean my apartment and also drove home the love you can have for your family even in the face of serious problems.

This is actually the only Non-Fiction book on my list, mostly because I don’t tend to read Non-Fiction. Kim grew up with her father being a hoarder. It would start with newspapers and magazines and pamphlets and it would gradually get to the point where they had to climb over things to get to other rooms and they couldn’t open the fridge and they were just eating what was not spoiled in the cabinets. They would just leave the house they were in and move to a new house where it was clean and cut their losses after some years.

Miller goes into details about what it’s like living in a house filled with garbage. She talks about the rodents and the mold and her mother adding to the problem. She talks about her own anxieties about ending up the same way. She talks about the shame she felt having to ask for help managing her parents’ situation.

One of the things this book helped me with was seeing her relationship with her father. He knows it’s a problem and he’s apologetic about it but it’s a compulsion he can’t seem to keep a grip on. It helps because it lets me know that people who really love me won’t turn their backs if I end up hoarding.

Because I’m always walking a thin line between chronic untidiness and hoarding. It’s a major anxiety in my mind that someday I’ll cross that line and not be able to pull myself back. It’s a serious relief to see that you can still be loved if that does happen.

David Copperfield – Charles Dickens

On my trip to Galveston, I had two books going: The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz (which was also awesome, I do recommend it) and David Copperfield. This was the audiobook that kept me happily entranced throughout the 5 hour drive each way. What could have been an insanely unpleasant drive became a wonderful, peaceful retreat into a Dickens masterpiece.

Most people would know the basic story of David Copperfield, since it’s a classic of British Literature. Boy is born in wealth but his mother dies and his stepfather puts him in a work house. He gets away from the work house and moves in with his great aunt, who raises him and takes care of him until he becomes a well situated young man.

Some folks I’ve talked to have called this book dry and hard to get through. And yes, it is a little dry. Dickens has a pretty dry style. But the characters were amazing. His adoring Pegotty and his crotchety great aunt and sweet but wise Agnes and the adorable and childish Dora and Mr. Micawber with difficulties. Every character is a complete and fleshed out person all on their own. The plot is good, of course, but I feel like it’s the characters that really make this story. And the Villain (if you can call him that) was the kind of person you just wanted to punch in the throat every time he showed up. I won’t say his name because that would be a spoiler and I don’t think I should spoil even a work of classical literature.

So those were the best books I read this year, out of a lot of really wonderful books. Since it was really hard to narrow to just a few, I think my goal for 2015 will be to write a full book review for every book I read. I’m gonna try for at least one per month.

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