The theme of this year's list seems to be "Read 'Em and Weep." And, in fact, that's what I did. I read them late into the night, completely swept up in these magnificent, soul-shaking stories. Below are not synopses, really, but explanations of why I each of these books moved me.
All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Genre: Historical Fiction
Read If You: Want a book you can fully fall into (warning: tears may ensue)
This book won the Pulitzer, so really...how much more is there to say? Only that this is the book I want everyone--no, really, everyone--to read. It is the kind of book that picks your heart up and throws it at the wall, but in a good way. It is beautifully written and researched, full of gorgeous detail that brings the characters' lives into full, living focus. You fall in irreversible love with the two characters whose slow, wending way towards each other is as heart-warming as it is painful. This is the kind of story that haunts you long after you're read it. It's still haunting me now.
Wolf By Wolf by Ryan Graudin
Genre: YA Alternate History
Read If You: Want a totally engrossing story about hunting Hitler, and a badass heroine
I had the privilege of reading Wold by Wolf in its infancy, when it was still a wiley first draft. Even in that form, I knew that Ryan had a true beauty on her hands. This historical 'what-if?' story about what life might have been like if Hitler had won the war manages to be both heart-wrenching and amazingly fun. Once you start it, you won't want to put it down.
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
Genre: YA Historical Fiction
Read If You: Want a heart-rending story of female friendship
This story of friendship and sacrifice during WWII is one of the most heart-wrenching things I've ever read. It made me sob in public. It also painted an amazing picture about two best friends in wartime; about how love and loyalty can sustain you in times of horror, and about the things that hold us together even when we should despair. The voice here sweeps you away with its clarity, beauty, and bone-deep truth.
I'll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson
Genre: YA Contemporary Fiction
Read If You: Are looking for something totally fresh, original, and moving
I don't remember what made me pick this book up--which is funny, as it's turned out to be one of the most memorable books I've read in a very long time. The narrative voice here is like nothing else I've ever encountered: quirky and unique and crazily eccentric, these characters are so very unique in how they see the world. Even so, their view feels so intimate and personal that it's one you can find your own way into. It's a story about loss, art, friendship, and family; it's so uniquely beautiful that I can't really describe what it's really about, so I'll leave it at that.
A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab
Genre: YA Fantasy
Read If You: Want some swashbuckling magical awesome in your life
I'm not an easy sell on fantasy. I am, however, very much obsessed with parallel universes. This book, which has our hero hopping between parallel Londons in a really badass reversible coat, has many things I enjoy immensely: courtly manners, takeover plots, and a girl who wants to be a pirate. It was such a surprisingly fun and engrossing read, particularly because they writing was so confident and so very good.
Rooms by Lauren Oliver
Genre: Mystery/Ghost Story
Read If You: Want a thoughtful ghost story that's more about family than ghosts
As we move from room to room in an old country house, the Oliver deftly takes us through its history, both past and present. She does an amazing job of mixing memory and action, making them seem hopelessly intertwined. This is a book that has several different stories and threads running through it that all, miraculously, end up weaving together to form a picture you didn't know was forming. I loved this book from beginning to end for its flawless execution and enjoyably flawed characters.
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
Read If You: Want to become very wary of strangers
In full disclosure, I listened to this book while on my honeymoon. I listened to it mostly in a tent, trying not to freak out every time a shadow passed across the thin sheet of nylon. This book has so many unenjoyable characters in it, and yet I found their story--and the taut weave of the mystery--totally compulsive and pleasantly unsettling. I love a good mystery, and this one kept me on the edge of my seat.
The Old Ways by Robert MacFarlane
Genre: Nonfiction, Travel/Nature
Read If You: Liking beautiful writing and long hikes. A lot.
This book is, simply, about paths and way finding. In it, the writer takes us down many of the world's old paths and the people who keep them open. What I loved is how, when MacFarlane talks about nature and walking, he also talks about memory and history and roots, and about how landscape shapes us as much as we shape it. It is a book that will strike home for anyone who finds solace and inspiration in landscapes. His writing, too, blew me away, perhaps more than any other book this year: his writing is so beautiful that it makes you want to swim in it for a long, long time.