Here's the content you've been waiting for . . . my favorite young adult reads of 2019! As a reminder, these aren't all books that were published in 2019; they're books that I read this year. I also recommend that you follow me on Instagram, where I post a book rec every Friday.
Let's jump in, shall we?
Birthday by Meredith Russo (2019)
I really looked forward to this book's release, and it didn't disappoint! It's super beautiful and touching and I didn't want to put it down. It's about two best friends, Eric and Morgan, who were born on the same day and always celebrate their birthdays together. The story alternates narrators and checks in on them on their birthday every year from when they turn 13 to 18. Morgan is trans and figuring out how to tell people, especially Eric, and both characters are figuring out who they are. The story takes place in rural Tennessee and I really appreciated that - the setting plays a big part, and Meredith Russo addresses class more than a lot of YA authors do. Plus, there are so many feelings!
The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee (2019)
The Downstairs Girl is about Jo, an Asian-American teenager living in Atlanta following Reconstruction, who starts secretly writing an advice column for her local newspaper. And by "local," I mean that Jo and her guardian, Old Gin, live hidden beneath the printshop. Jo has a lot of secrets! I love Stacey Lee's writing and spunky characters, and Jo is no exception. She's clever, resourceful and radical, especially for the time. I love her relationship with Old Gin, and how the stories that Jo overhears from the newspaper staff upstairs helped raise her. She's a super memorable character, and an inspiration in how she finds ways to get ahead even though almost everything around her tries to keep her down. This book also contains a lot of interesting info about Atlanta society, hats, horses and about what it was like to live in Atlanta and not be white.
The Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds (2017)
I chose this one for the Popsugar Reading Challenge prompt of "A book that takes place in less than a day." The story takes place over an elevator ride to the first floor, as Will decides whether to go after the man who shot his brother. As he rides, he's visited by the ghosts of several friends who were killed by guns. I listened to the audiobook, so I didn't realize initially that this book was written in verse. I did notice several lines that were beautiful and poetic, so learning that it was written in verse made a lot of sense. It seems like Jason Reynolds spent a lot of time choosing his words and picking just the right ones. It's a short book with a lot of emotion, tension and meaning. I recommend it highly!
Girl Mans Up by M-E Girard (2016)
This one was on my TBR list for a while, and I finally read it this year. I'm glad I did! It's a really sweet, super feminist story about Pen, a teenage girl in Canada who doesn't want to be feminine. She and her best friend Colby have a routine where Pen helps Colby get girls, but things start to change when Pen wants to get to know one of Colby's crushes for herself. She also befriends one of Colby's exes and learns more about how her best friend treats the girls he dates. I loved Pen's relationship with her older brother Johnny, and I really liked reading her journey to accept herself. I love books that remind us that there are lots of ways to be a woman. (note: I've seen some reviews criticize this book for promoting the "not like other girls" trope, like that Pen is superior for not being feminine, or that the book maligns femininity. I didn't feel that way, but I know it's a hard line to walk - how do you express that these things don't feel right for you without criticizing people for whom they do feel right? So just a heads up before you dive in, and I'd love to know what you think!)
Vivian Apple at the End of the World by Katie Coyle (2015)
I read this one for my Young Adult Book Club. It's about a future where the Church of America runs most things in daily life, like commerce and TV, as well as religion. The Church of America also predicts that rapture is coming, and that true believers will be taken to Heaven. Vivian Apple doesn't believe this, but when she comes home and finds her parents gone and two parent-sized holes in the roof of their house, she's not sure what to think. In the chaos following the disappearance of so many people, Vivian, her BFF Harpreet and cute boy Peter head out on a cross-country road trip to find some answers. I thought Katie Coyle did a great job of setting up the world and the religion, and there were a lot of really exciting twists in the last half of the book. I also liked the diversity of the characters. After I finished this book, I went right on to the sequel, Vivian Apple Needs a Miracle, which I also recommend!
The end of the year is almost here, so that means it's time for best-of-2019 lists! This year, I'm doing two best books lists. They're not necessarily books that were PUBLISHED in 2019, but are books that I read this year. This first list is non-fiction and adult fiction that I read this year, and I'll post my second list shortly, of my favorite young adult reads from 2019.
For more Shelley book recommendations, follow me on Instagram! I post a book rec every Friday.
Shelley's Top Adult Fiction Books of 2019
My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite (2018)
This book is really clever and surprisingly funny, especially considering the topic. It takes place in Nigeria and is narrated by Korede, whose sister Ayoola has a tendency to murder her boyfriends. And after Ayoola is done, she calls Korede, a nurse and meticulous cleaner, in to deal with the mess. When Ayoola sets her sights on Korede's crush, Korede has to decide whether to continue protecting her sister, or to look out for the man she secretly in love with. This is an adult novel, but the sisters live with their mom and the story is fast-paced like YA. I got wrapped up in the story right away, and I thought the author did an awesome job of describing awful acts in a way that made them seem understandable.
Borderline by Mishell Baker (2016)
I participated in the Disability Readathon in October of 2019 and spent the month reading almost exclusively books by disabled authors. This book was one that I probably wouldn't have found if not for the readathon, and I'm so glad I did find it! The protagonist is Millie, who has borderline personality disorder and had both of her legs amputated after a suicide attempt. She's recruited to join the Arcadia Project, which monitors traffic to and from a parallel world full of fairies, witches, magicians and monsters. She's tasked with tracking down a fae who's gone missing in Hollywood, and moves in with a house full of other Arcadia Project staff while she looks for him. I loved how diverse and fleshed out the side characters were, and I also loved watching Millie navigate relationships with her BPD. This book is the first in a series, and so far I've read the second book (Phantom Pains) and loved it too! I recommend this one if you like urban fantasy and mysteries.
Shelley's Top Non-Fiction Books of 2019
White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo (2018)
I recommend this to white Americans everywhere! I've never read a book before that's explicitly about whiteness. I feel like being white isn't something we're supposed to talk about or acknowledge, but this book is about the ways that we're trained to be white. It talks about the ways that white people segregate ourselves from people of color, the ways that different lives are assigned different value by media and society, how we're taught that people of color are dangerous to white people when it's really the opposite, and the way that white people tend to focus more on proving that we're not racist than on actually fighting racism. I think that, since the information in this book is coming from a white person, it's going to be a lot more digestible for white people than it would be if coming from a person of color. Which is shitty but true.
Strangers Assume My Girlfriend Is My Nurse by Shane Burcaw (2019)
Another one I wouldn't have known about if not for the Disability Readathon. Shane Burcaw has Spinal Muscular Atrophy and has used a wheelchair since he was two. This is his second memoir, and talks a lot about his interactions with other people and how they treat him. It's a funny, interesting memoir, and seemed really honest. I liked the juxtaposition of humor (lots of dick jokes) with really personal, vulnerable writing. I especially appreciated the points he made about people treating him like he's sad or like his life must be sad, when he doesn't feel like his life is sad at all. It doesn't feel like a political book, and I feel like that makes it a really accessible introduction to ableism. The funny stuff makes the deeper stuff kind of sneak in.
Rescuing Penny Jane: One Shelter Volunteer, Countless Dogs, and the Quest to Find Them All Homes by Amy Sutherland (2017)
I've enjoyed every Amy Sutherland book that I've read, so I was super excited when, shortly after I adopted a shelter dog, I learned that she has a book all about shelter dogs! One funny thing about this book, though, is that she prefers dogs that are the opposite of my dog - older big dogs that have health conditions or trauma. She mentions puppies briefly, only to say that she feels embarrassed to admit that she's not that interested in them. She writes about her experience volunteering at her local shelter, and then goes in-depth into different shelter styles and techniques to get the dogs adopted. I learned a lot about dogs and shelters, and I also liked learning about Amy's personal experiences with individual dogs. I'm glad this book came into my life when it did!
I like cats, feminism, queers, making things and writing, apparently.