sprite writes
broodings from the burrow

February 9, 2011

best reads of ’10
posted by soe 2:56 am

Six weeks into the new year, I thought I’d better release this into the wild before it becomes too late to do so. (That’s what happened last year — and the year before. I get behind on my reviews, think I should get caught up before I tell you what I like, and then spend too much time not getting things done.)

So this year I thought I’d do things a little differently. I’ll give you a paragraph about why I liked each book. If I reviewed the book, I’ll include a link to it. If I didn’t, well, then, I won’t.

I’d also like to note that the top five were really easy to narrow down. The rest were harder, which is why you’ll find a group of honorable mentions at the end. Because I’m not the Nobel Prize committee, after all, and I can do that if I want.

The best books I read in 2010:

  1. When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
    I wrote back last January that I was gladdened to read such a good book so early in the year. 2009’s Newbery winner, this young adult novel is the story of a girl in 1970s New York who receives mysterious, prophetic messages and which asks for a letter in return. Miranda, who’s already having a rough year with her best friend no longer talking to her, must decide what it all means and what her role ultimately is going to be. Mostly, though, it’s just a story where you like the main characters and are rooting for them to make their happy ending
  2. Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork
    When Marcelo’s father tells him that he’d like his son, who suffers from an Asperger-like syndrome, to mainstream at the public high school for his senior year, Marcelo is understandably upset. His father instead offers him the possibility of a reprieve: if Marcelo comes to work in his father’s law firm for the summer and successfully completes all real-life, job-related duties requested of him, he can return to his beloved private school which caters to students with emotional issues. Marcelo reluctantly agrees, and a chain of events is set in motion that will have repercussions for everyone. This is a character whose life you will continue to think about long after you turn the final page.
  3. The Help by Kathryn Stockett
    Set in Mississippi in the early 1960s, this novel is told in alternating chapters by two African American maids (Aibileen, a quiet, conscientious woman whose adult son recently was killed in a workplace accident, and her best friend, Minnie, a brassy woman whose mouth keeps getting her fired (most recently by the nastiest, most powerful woman in town)) and a white, college-educated, aspiring journalist known as Skeeter, who has recently returned to town only to find that her family’s beloved maid seems to have disappeared off the face of the earth. When Skeeter lands herself a job writing a household advice column for the local paper (without any idea of how to actually cook or clean), she turns to her best friend’s maid, Aibileen, to actually get people’s questions answered. Times are changing — both in terms of gender and race — and these three women will bond together in surprising and unusual ways as they create the waves that will rock Jackson to its core. This novel was powerful and heart-wrenching and serves well as a reminder both of how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go as a society.
  4. Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson
    Although this novel took me a while to get into, I’m glad I stayed with it. Somewhere around page 75, I stopped being irritated with the main character, Major Pettigrew of the title, a fuddy-dud of a man stuck in time and trying desperately to hold the line against the onslaught of incivility in his rural English village. After a lifetime of class-dictated proper behavior, the death of his younger brother cracks the Major’s reserve, leaving him feeling weak and vulnerable. When Mrs. Ali, the village shopkeeper, happens upon the Major ailing on his own doorstep, their lives become tied together in ways neither can begin to imagine. This is a novel filled with people trying to figure out how to do the right thing when they aren’t sure the things they’re expected to believe are, in fact, right.
  5. Stargirl by Jerry Spinnelli
    Leo, a sophomore who aspires to work in tv after he survives high school, is infatuated by an eccentric girl who calls herself Stargirl who suddenly shows up at school. She wears odd clothes, carries a rat with her, and sings songs to classmates. She does mitzvahs for people, some of which are appreciated, while other acts are misunderstood. People stare and, not only does it not seem to upset her, standing out doesn’t bother her at all. All of which just serve to make her more intriguing to Leo. But after their dating starts to affect his school relationships, he asks her to try to blend in more and she does, but at what cost? Will it ultimately matter to the high school students who by turn despise her and idolize her? A delightful book for those who don’t fit in.
  6. The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender
    I know! I’m surprised to find this novel of magical realism on my end-of-the-year list, too, given my mixed feeling about it this fall. But it, the story of a girl who wakes up one day forced to taste every emotion of every person who handles her food, has stayed with me, rattling around inside my head in odd ways. I still can’t say that I liked it. But I will reiterate that it was moving in remarkable, astonishing ways and that it touched me deeply.
  7. Savvy by Ingrid Law
    A tragic accident disrupts the preparations for a birthday celebration for to-be-13-year-old Mibs, the middle child of a family whose superpowers always arrive with the onset of their teenage years. When Mibs realizes that her savvy must be to awaken people, she, two of her brothers, and two of the preacher’s kids stow away on a bus headed toward the town where her father lies in a coma. Mibs is a charming young woman and, as I wrote in my review last spring, “her desire to be useful and to get to her father are palpable and urgent. [Ingrid] Law has done a good job of creating an ordinary girl from an extraordinary family and allowing her to grow up on the page before our eyes. I’d recommend it to any reader without hesitation.”
  8. An Abundance of Katherines by John Green
    After being dumped by his 19th Katherine, Colin and his best friend Hassan head out on a road trip to clear the math prodigy’s head before he heads off to college in the fall. They make it as far as a small factory town in Tennessee, where they encounter a cute girl named (are you ready for it?) Lindsey. Really. And that’s precisely what Colin thinks, too. She’s funny and cute but stuck with the wrong name for him. Her mother, who owns the factory and lives in a mansion, invites the boys to spend the rest of the summer with them, chronicling the life stories of everyone in town into a comprehensive history of her family’s legacy. Hassan and Colin agree, the latter with the belief that this job won’t detract him from his true calling — to mathematically deconstruct relationships to find out how long they are likely to last. John Green gets teenagers (in the same way Sarah Dessen does, for those of you who like her) and writes smart, interesting ones who come into their own in unexpected ways.
  9. Heat by Mike Lupica
    Michael is the star pitcher for his local Little League team, which is poised to go all the way this summer. Now if he could just forget about how hard his brother works, the questions everyone has for Papi, and the mysterious girl, Ellie, maybe he could focus on doing just that. But when an opponent throws a legal monkey wrench in Michael’s baseball dreams, it’s just one more thing for Michael to stress about. This ultimately is a sweet story about a boy who just wants to throw a baseball — hard — and the people, his family, who make that possible.
  10. Frindle by Andrew Clements

    Smart-alec fifth-grader Nick has been used to doing little work and coasting along on his charm and imagination in order to distract teachers from his lackadaisical habits. However, he may have finally met his match in Mrs. Granger, who is not about to allow an impudent student to derail her lessons. When Nick takes on his dictionary-loving disciplinarian of a teacher in a battle of wills, who will win the war? A story of the power of imagination and societal change for the elementary school set.

Honorable Mentions:

Category: books. There is/are 5 Comments.

An Abundance of Katherines!! Stargirl!! Such great books!

Comment by Jenn 02.09.11 @ 6:17 am

I really enjoyed The Help. LOVED IT in fact. It’s becoming a movie, did you know? I wanted to be sure I read it before I went to see it. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1454029/

Hey Have you read “Room” I STRONGLY recommend it!

Comment by laura 02.09.11 @ 9:10 am

Well, when you’ve got When You Reach Me, The Help, Major Pettigrew, Stargirl and An Abundance of Katherines on your list of best books of the year, I really need to pay attention to your other five books. (plus Let it Snow!)

Might I recommend The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, The Girls by Lori Larsens, Motorcycles and Sweetgrass by Drew Hayden Taylor. Oh, yes, and Room.

Comment by raidergirl3 02.09.11 @ 9:58 am

Your first book reminds me of Cynthia Rylant’s Missing May, which I adore. It is the story of a young woman mourning an aunt who has touched her life deeply.

I am in the same boat as you are; I need to write a book review post and I keep getting behind with it.

Comment by Debby 02.09.11 @ 3:26 pm

@Jenn: Thanks! I agree.

@laura: I’d heard it was becoming a movie, but I have my concerns it’ll never live up to the book. And I’ve heard about Room, but I’m worried it’d be too intense for me.

@raidergirl3: Henrietta Lacks is on my list, but I’ll look for the Taylor and Larsens books, too. Thanks for the recommendations!

@Debby: I’ll look for the Rylant book, too. Thanks!

Comment by soe 02.17.11 @ 11:56 pm