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Jim Picks the Best Books of 2011

One of my favorite things to do around New Year’s Day is look at different lists to see what people think are the best books of the past year.  This always ends up giving me lots of great titles to read in the first part of the year.  I also like to look back at my favorite books of the past year to see if they are on anyone else’s lists.  The lists that I looked at this year included Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Review, and Amazon.  Some of the books on these lists that I really enjoyed last year were:

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai – Lai’s first published book won the National Book Award and I think it was well deserved.  She tells the story of a ten year old girl who has to leave her home in Vietnam in 1975 and move to Alabama.  The story is told through short page or two long poems that describe her journey.  The characters are so real in this book that you will feel like you know them when you are finished.  I thought it was fabulous, and it’s also a really quick read (I started and finished it on my bus ride to and from work).

The Apothecary by Maile Meloy– Jaine Scott’s parents work as Hollywood writers in the early 1950s.  They are forced to move to England when they are threatened by the Red Scare that took place at that time.  Jaine doesn’t want to leave Los Angeles or move to London, but once there she meets a cast of fascinating characters who lead her on some amazing adventures.  This is a very evocative book that makes you feel like you are standing in a foggy London street.


Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick– Brian Selznick won the Caldecott medal for The Invention of Hugo Cabret (which was made into the Hugo movie released earlier this year).  His follow-up, Wonderstruck, presents two stories- one told in pictures and one told in words.  The stories are different, but similar.  They both concern young children who feel alone and are seeking something, and both of the main characters are deaf.  Both stories are wonderfully told and they end up coming together for a touching conclusion.

Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt– Both funny and tragic, Okay for Now is the story of Doug Swieteck, a 14 year old who moves from Long Island to a small town in upstate New York during the late 1960s.  There are lots of books about kids who have to move to a new environment and don’t fit in, but Schmidt separates this story from the others by creating complex characters who face numerous realistic problems.  He also presents some great minor characters and the small wonders that get people through their everyday life.

Some of the other books that I would include as my personal favorites from 2011 were not YA books, but might have appeal to some teen readers.  They were George RR Martin’s Dance with Dragons, Tom Perrotta’s The Leftovers, Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard, The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach, Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, and Erik Larson’s In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin.

One book that was on almost every “Best of” list that I was not a huge fan of was Maggie Stiefvater’s Scorpio Races, the story of Sean Kendrick and Puck Connolly.  They are both trying to win the annual Scorpio Race, in which the horses are actually bloodthirsty creatures who arise out of the sea every year.  Both Sean and Puck have a lot to win (and lose) in this year’s race and must compete against each other just as they are becoming friends.  Maybe other people will really like it, but it was kind of a struggle for me to finish.  It wasn’t bad, but I didn’t think it was one of the year’s ‘best’ either.

So that’s my list!  Did you read any of these titles?  Do you agree or disagree with me?  What were some of your favorite new books from 2011?  I hope everyone has a great year in 2012, and gets to read a lot of great new books!

2 Responses

  1. I just finished -Inside Out and Back Again- and I loved it too! I just wish it was longer because I really like the characters.

    My two most very favorite books from 2011 were both written by Marcus Sedgwick. -Revolver-, about a boy who’s in a remote cabin in Alaska with his dead fathers body when a stranger shows up and won’t leave until he gets what the boys father owes him, made me bite my nails down to nubs. And -White Crow-, which explores what happens to a person after they die, was like one of those movies where they never show the monster and it’s all the better for it. I can’t wait to read his next book!

    • Thanks Annica! I will have to try the Marcus Sedgwick books. Revolver sounds really awesome. Maybe I’ll start with that!

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