This was the year of discovering a bunch of family-centric stories that quickly moved their way into my heart. There’s something about these quietly moving portraits of contemporary life that affect me most of all. In total there are seven stories I’d like to feature on my favorites of the year:
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1. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
“It came, over and over, down to this: What made someone a mother? Was it biology alone, or was it love?”
I joined a bit late to this hyped up party, but once I started reading Little Fires Everywhere, it didn’t take too long till I couldn’t put the book down. Centering around a a memorable cast of characters whose lives intersect in complicated and sometimes surprising ways, while grappling with nuanced notions such as motherhood, interracial adoption, racism, and so much more.
Nothing in the book is ever done without intention; every detail has meaning. And it was a pure pleasure, watching the author click everything into place. I highly, highly recommend giving it a read just to experience it firsthand from the source. In the meantime, I went ahead and read Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng because I cannot get enough of her exquisite character studies.
2. Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin
This here is another family-driven read that kept me dazzled from start to finish. In all honesty, Zevin had already won over my adoration earlier this summer when I read The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry. Naturally, I was beyond hopeful with expectations to see what this one would hold in store.
Why Young Jane Young shines: The dynamic mother-daughter duo that was captured perfectly on paper. Like, when asked how Ruby came to be so wise, her answer gives it all away: “Books,” I said. “And I spend a lot of time with my mom.”
Plus, Gabrielle Zevin’s sly humor full of unflinching candor and brilliant wit shines as bright as ever.
3. The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem by Sarit Yishai-Levi
This sweeping multi-generational story explores mothers and daughters, stories told and untold, and the binds that tie four generations of women.
The fascinating thing about this book is that I was fully devoted to one particular generation, one particular love story:
“The extraordinary love story of Rochel Weinstein, the Ashkenazia from Mea Shearim, and Gabriel Ermosa, the Spaniol from Ohel Moshe, was the talk of the town.”
Something about the youthful years of Gabriel Ermosa had me head-over-heels unlike anything before. I was so utterly invested in his story with Rochel that I still, months after, feel it taking my breath away. I have yet to find a love story that can succeed at evoking such strong and real emotions out of me as that one did. It was a visceral reading experience. And I’m considering checking out the Hebrew version for my reread, so that I can revisit it in the original tone intended by the author, Sarit Yishai-Levi.
4. Letters to Talia by Dov Indig
Featuring another outstanding Israeli book on my list, Letters to Talia details the extensive correspondence Dov maintained with Talia, a girl from an irreligious kibbutz in northern Israel, in 1972 and 73, the last two years of his life. Dov Indig was killed on October 7, 1973, in a holding action on the Golan Heights in Israel during the Yom Kippur War.
The concept of a secular girl from a kibbutz writing letters to a soldier/ yeshiva boy about Judaism, and consequently learning more about faith sounded almost too good to be true. But it wasn’t, all thanks to the many shared insights from Indig’s brilliantly thought-out and put-together letters that made me want to SHOUT IT FROM THE ROOFTOPS. For readers that love to expand their horizons, I’d recommend this read.
5. One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter by Scaachi Koul
How am I supposed to pass up a title like that?
I’ve yet to find a more hysterical and comical read than Scaachi Koul’s essay collection. Her subjects range from shaving her knuckles in grade school, to a shopping trip gone horribly awry, to dealing with internet trolls, to feeling out of place at an Indian wedding (as an Indian woman), to parsing the trajectory of fears and anxieties that pressed upon her immigrant parents and bled down a generation.
The true stars of the show are, of course, her parents.
Why her mother shines:
“My dad first saw her at his cousin’s house—my mom was her friend—and was flustered by her beauty. Ask my dad and he’ll wax poetic about my mother’s cheekbones, her rich eyes, her long hair, how he needed to get to know her. My mom didn’t even know he was there.”
Why her father shines:
“Papa ends most of his calls with me the way you might close a conversation with someone you want to menace. “Anyway,” he’ll say, “I’ll be here. Staring into the abyss.” Or, when I have given him good news, “The talented will rule and the rest will perish in the sea of mediocrity.” Or, when I have given him bad news, “I am sorry for everything that happens to you, as everything is my fault.”
Scaachi Koul with her biting humor is definitely one to watch for the future.
6. Natasha and Other Stories by David Bezmozgis
This was my last read of 2017, and I couldn’t have chosen a better one.
Set around a Russian-Jewish immigrant family in Toronto, Canada, I’ve never felt as heard and seen as when I read this book. Like I mentioned in my review, Natasha and Other Stories is home in literary form for me. Certain turns of phrases in this collection of interlinked short stories brought me right back to my childhood, and I haven’t gotten to experience that feeling with a book in a while.
To give you a little taste, here’s just some of the memorable lines:
7. Motherest by Kristen Iskandrian
Last but not least, I’ll end my list on the book that started off my reading year on a bang. I was in a state of pure bliss with Motherest. I recently went back to reread the review I posted in February, and I can’t stop thinking about how relatable this tiny piece of writing I included of the main character seeing the guy she likes:
I keep walking. He slows down a little as if to chat, and I move faster. I want to turn around so badly that walking feels like pushing through the heaviest revolving door in the world, but I keep going.”
Motherest deserves so much more recognition than it has received. The blurb describes the book best as an inventive and moving coming-of-age novel that captures the pain of fractured family life, the heat of new love, and the particular magic of the female friendship — all through the lens of a fraying daughter-mother bond.
This moving passage on adolescence and growing up captures it all:
“I want a friend. I miss everyone I’ve ever known. I miss Tea Rose and Surprise and Joan. I miss that part of my life that happened not so long ago but that already feels ancient, older than my childhood, and I do miss my childhood also, or at least the childhood co-created by my memory. I want someone who will always stay and never die and never leave and never turn into a ghost.”
That concludes all my favorite books of the year, thank you for reading! Be sure to let me know your highlights of 2017. And check-out my 2016 edition of my favorite books of the year.