This was a hard list to make. I read some really great books this year, and I actually read a lot (by my standards). The older I get, the less I read for fun, and especially from here on out since I'm on a career path that involves a lot of dry, dense reading normally which somewhat kills my desire to read MORE on top of what I have to, I'm going to have to make more of an effort to get myself to read fiction.
Note: I realize not every single one of these books was published in 2012. These are the books I actually read in 2012. Some were published earlier.
For the record, I only put down one John Green book, but as his books are all my favorite books and I read them all this year, it would have been a really boring list had I only included him. And you should read all John Green books. But going into the new year, if you haven't read these five books, you have to.
I mean, you actually have to. Go do it now.
1. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
It is perhaps a cop-out that my number one is also the number one on almost every Best Book list of 2012. But, then again, maybe that's why it makes sense. Yes, everybody will tell you this book is incredibly sad, and of course, I cried the entire last third of the book -- not just tears, but huge, ugly sobs. TFiOS goes first, though, for more reasons than its ability to elicit visceral emotions. John Green is one of the best writers alive, I truly believe this, and this is the best of his work (Looking For Alaska being a close second). He is best at telling us the truth in fiction, the wonderfully evocative art form we love best. He can capture the small, profound moments in our lives like nobody else can. He respects the intelligence of his readers, and he has done a great part in expanding the YA audience to various ages. This book is one of the best I've read in my life, not just this year. I like John Green because he does what every author -- what every human being -- aspires to do before dying: he creates beauty.
This was my runaway unexpected favorite of the year. I've read Peaches by the same author, and it was good, but Tiger Lily is a very different kind of book. Told from the perspective of Tinker Bell, it is a retelling of Peter Pan, one of the best retellings of anything I've ever seen. Four of the five books on my top 5 list are love stories, and that's not weird, because I love reading about love, since it's the most consequential human experience. The thing is, I don't like reading the same love story over and over again. I like books that look at love in a new and unique way. I don't know, I think it's easy for prose describing love to get familiar after awhile, but the love between Peter Pan and Tiger Lily is so feral and appropriately awkward between two creatures who don't really know what love is. I haven't seen anything like it. It's broken and strange and glorious. I think if you read it, you will find it a delightful surprise. And I think you will be touched, because I was, and I don't even know why. I guess that's the best kind of book.
I hate horror. The fact that Long Lankin makes it into my top five is pretty huge, as it may be the only horror novel I've ever read. Firstly, it's a prerequisite of any book I like to have good prose, and Long Lankin has really excellent writing. It has a perfect, shivery location and atmosphere, and it's a great book for winter while you're alone under the covers. It actually makes me pretty glad that there's some good YA horror, and I've been seeing a lot of ghost stuff on shelves, and that's a nice change. You know. For one day, when I might be brave enough to expand my tastes. So, take it from someone who literally hates anything scary: this book is worth it. But you might want to read it during the daytime. (Look at that stunning cover, too!)
(Published in 2011) This book was just straight-up fun. Perkins makes magic with her stories, and it doesn't matter that they're full of eccentric people who would never exist in real life and that she likes her romances sugar-sweet, everything she writes is like a hot fudge sundae. It's delicious, and she believes in her words, which makes her books enchanting instead of campy. Also, she writes the best characters. Maybe I just like Lola because she's zany, and you kind of want to follow her for any adventure she gets into, but this gets even higher marks than the original (Anna and the French Kiss). And maybe it's just because it's set in San Francisco, and I have an unshakeable fascination/obsession for the city by the bay. Whatever the reason, I can't imagine a more charming story, led by a more lovely heroine with such a marvelous love interest: his name is Cricket, and you know exactly what's going to happen, but you'll never have more fun getting there than you do in this book.
(Published in 2005) Gabrielle Zevin has a gift. First with Elsewhere, a story of the afterlife where everyone ages backwards until they're reborn, and then here, with Margarettown, about a woman who is actually many different women rolled into one. Zevin comes up with the most thought-provoking premises, and what's best -- she actually does them justice. N., the main character, falls in love with the maddeningly irrational and lively Margaret (alternatively known as May, Mia, Maggie, Marge, and Old Margaret), and he finds that in order to love a woman, you must love all of her. I like this love story because it's more about how love falls apart rather than how it comes together. Margarettown is darkly humorous, tragic, and utterly transformative. It is one of those books that makes you glad to be a reader. You feel like a better person afterward for having read. And it's pretty spectacular for a book to be able to do that.
Also loved and rounding out the top ten:
Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
All These Lives by Sarah Wylie
The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson
The Mark of Athena by Rick Riordan
Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver (published in 2010)
Happy reading, everybody. I hope 2013 brings us many more great books!