As the semester draws to a close and we wrap up the reading, writing, and studying we have been doing all semester, some of us may be looking forward to a winter break full of anything but reading. But for those who can’t wait to find a good book or two to read during the time off, here is a list of books that I have read in the past year and would recommend.
Beartown by Fredrik Backman
The best thing I can say about this book is that it captures the essence of humanity. Ice hockey is the lifeblood of this tiny Swedish town on the verge of collapse, and when a tragedy occurs, the town becomes divided and war ensues. Every effortlessly diverse character in this book is complex and central to the narrative, with each telling the story from their own point of view to illustrate their profound interpersonal connections. It is a heavy read and will provoke considerable self-reflection, but it is an incredibly moving story that will stay with you long after you finish.
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
Single mother Mia and her daughter Pearl move to Shaker Heights, a perfectly planned, cookie-cutter suburb, right before a divisive custody battle over a Chinese-American baby girl unfolds, and the Richardson children find themselves drawn to these newcomers, each in their own way. The characters in this book felt very real and I quickly became invested in their stories. The two timelines that develop throughout the novel finally connect at the end, culminating in an unpredictable ending. The excitement and intensity of the plot made this one hard to put down, while the characters made it a lifetime favorite.
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Le Cirque des Rêves, a traveling circus open only at night, is the stage for Marco and Celia, two magicians who have been training for this competition since childhood. When they fall in love, their relationship upsets the balance of the competition and maybe even the whole circus. The most stunning element of this book was the intricacy of the world that Morgenstern built and how craftily the setting weaved into the plot. Between the beautifully descriptive writing and strong character arcs, reading this book was truly like experiencing an elegant work of art.
Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
This novel is a saucy gay romance between the son of the (female) president of the United States and the prince of England. It also addresses the struggle that members of the LGBTQ+ community—specifically gay men—face when their families are not accepting of who they are. This book had two lovable characters, an exciting romance, and the added element of international political discussion. As more and more LGBTQ+ romances appear, this one will surely rise toward the top of the list.
I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez
From the first page, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter is emotionally raw and painfully relatable. The main character, Julia, is a girl who is navigating through her and her family’s grief after her sister’s death. She feels like she lives in several different worlds without really belonging in any of them, struggling to balance her family’s high expectations and the reality of who she is. This story refreshingly addresses the difficulties of growing up Latina in America, illustrating the added obstacles she faces atop her grief.
The Universe of Us by Lang Leav
If you are looking for a quick read, then this space-themed book of poems is for you. The collection is cohesive, and Leav’s dreamy metaphors capture the shifting phases of love and heartbreak. Leav also uses a pretty simplistic style, so this is a book to read if you appreciate a more minimalistic style or if you’re just beginning your journey into reading poetry.
The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
Full disclosure: This book, the first in a series of four, has definite elements of quintessential young adult fiction. While some of the characters are way too quirky to ever exist in real life, I found myself rooting for them anyway. The romance, while part of the main conflict of the story, is not over the top. Just by reading the inside cover, you get the YA fiction essence of the book, but I encourage you to not let that sway you. I was hesitant to put this book on the list at first because as educated and worldly college students, we are often embarrassed to admit we enjoy books that aren’t as elite. But if we can get past our aversion towards YA fantasy, this book offers an unforgettable story that includes a family of psychics, the search for a mythological Welsh king, and a group of teenagers trying to decide whether their lives are governed by fate or their own choices.
Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance
In this memoir, Vance recounts his childhood in an Ohio Rust Belt town and his journey to becoming a Yale Law student. It illuminates not only his own family history and how that has affected generations of his relatives but also their place in the white working-class’ “culture in crisis.” It is an important read that allows us to understand another part of America and the implications of this group’s decline.
For good measure, I have included two books that I have not yet read but would like to over break or in the new year:
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz
Oscar is a self-proclaimed nerd looking for love and success but held back by the Fukœ, the curse that has brought his family misfortune for generations. I have heard nothing but high praise for this Pulitzer Prize-winning novel and I am looking forward to reading about Oscar’s experience as a Dominican-American teenager with a touch of magical realism.
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
Surrounded by violence and civil war, Nadia and Saeed risk danger to travel through a door that can transport them to a faraway place. When they step through, they must navigate their completely new lives and try to hold onto each other—and their past selves. Although this book has an element of fantasy, it will be interesting to look for comparisons between the experience of Nadia and Saeed and the experience of a refugee in our own world.
Books are special. They offer the opportunity to spend quality time alone, but also the opportunity to bring people together. There is something unique about the connection you feel to a person when you realize you share an old favorite, or when you discover a new favorite per their recommendation. However you choose to enjoy your book, I wish you happy reading.