This is a year-end reading survey I’ve been using for a couple years now that I stole from Danika at The Lesbrary in 2014. If you’re not following The Lesbrary, you’re missing out on a lot of rad queer women’s bookish content!
Enough with the preamble! Now, on with the survey!
- Best book you read in 2017
Okay I always cheat with this question, because, really, who can pick ONE favourite from a whole year of reading. In no particular order, these were my absolute favourite reads from 2017 (some published in 2017, some older):
The Broken Earth trilogy by N.K. Jemisin (including The Fifth Season, The Obelisk Gate, and The Stone Sky)
We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby
Things to Do When You’re Goth In The Country by Chavisa Woods
Next Year For Sure by Zoey Leigh Peterson
Meanwhile Elsewhere: Science Fiction and Fantasy from Transgender Writers edited by Cat Fitzpatrick and Casey Plett
A Place Called No Homeland by Kai Cheng Thom
A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers
Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson
I’ll talk more about all of these in the other answers!
- Book you were excited about & thought you were going to love but didn’t?
Rough Patch by Nicole Markotic: oh boy was this a disappointing read. I REALLY wanted to love this bisexual Canadian YA novel. It has the word bisexual ON THE FIRST PAGE! Unfortunately the front-and-centre bisexuality and some good characterization were the only redeeming qualities in this book that just felt like it needed tons of work to transform it into a good book: lots of telling instead of showing; uneven plot where nothing at all happens and then everything is squeezed in at the end; repetitiveness and recycled material; violent homophobia as the only significant plot point. Ugh, I feel depressed again thinking about the great book this might have been with big revisions. Check out my full review for more (sad) details.
- Favorite new author you discovered in 2017?
Samantha Irby!! I listened to the audiobook of Irby’s latest memoir/essay collection We Are Never Meeting In Real Life and I completely fell in love with it. Its hilarity was matched only by its unwavering frankness while Irby tackles topics as diverse as growing up poor, awkward strap-on sex, depression, reality TV, dating, race, her bitchy cat, being fat, her parents’ deaths, changing relationships in your 30s (ie, your drinking pals become suburban moms), etc. I found myself laughing out loud a lot but also wowed by how she gets to the heart of things and voices emotional truths. Also, how did it take me this long to discover Irby, since she’s a bisexual writer whose sense of humour is so up my alley??? I didn’t even realize she was queer until I was already listening to the book. Everything else she’s written now has a top spot on my TBR.
- Best book from a genre you don’t typically read/was out of your comfort zone?
A couple years ago I did a reading project of reading some mysteries since it was a genre I had never really read before; it turned out that I actually do like mysteries (mostly the cozy/classic variety), so I’m not sure if the genre really counts as out of my comfort zone anymore, but I want to talk about Strong Poison by Dorothy L Sayers, so here we go! Originally published in 1930, it’s the sixth book in the Lord Peter Wimsey detective series. What’s especially fabulous about this one is that it’s the installment that introduces Harriet Vane, who kind of feels like she should have been the protagonist in this series and very well might have been except for the damn patriarchy probably. She’s a mystery novelist and in this novel it’s Peter’s case is to prove her innocence in the murder of her fiancé. The fiancé in question was poisoned in a way that Harriet herself is intimately familiar with, having researched poisoning methods thoroughly for her books, of course. Peter falls in love with her, and you will too.
- Book you can’t believe you waited until 2016 to finally read?
I can’t believe I didn’t read Little Women by Louisa May Alcott until 2017 but I also can’t believe I couldn’t even force myself to finish it?? I even listened to the audiobook, which usually can carry me through a book I’m not loving. Why have I ever heard that this is the American version of Anne of Green Gables? It is not funny like AOGG, nor heart-warming, nor empowering?? It is one of the most boring books I’ve ever (mostly) read. As I wrote in my Book Riot article about Classics I Hated That I Thought I Would Love: “I’m sorry, but Louisa May Alcott can neither write an interesting character nor craft any semblance of an interesting plot. What happened at the end that I never got to? I can’t tell you how much I don’t care.” I’m actually surprised I didn’t get more hate for hating on Little Women.
- Most action-packed/thrilling/unputdownable book of the year?
I read all three of the novels in N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy in 2017 (a clever plan, since the last one came out in 2017 so I never had to wait for the next book to come out!). Oh. my. god. I was expecting this to be good, but damn, N.K. Jemisin! She has skyrocketed to the top of my list of authors, dead and alive, who I would want to have at my dream dinner party. The Fifth Season (and its two following books) is an incredibly unique, inventive fantasy with a cast of complex, fascinating characters (human and sort-of-human). I especially appreciated the degree of unlikable the main women character was. I almost hesitate to even call this series fantasy, since it’s leagues ahead and more innovative and imaginative than any other fantasy I’ve ever read that it’s hard to even compare to any of the run-of-the-mill medieval Europe inspired fantasy. It’s one of the few books I’ve read (Octavia Butler’s and Nalo Hopkinson’s are also among them) that makes me just marvel at the capabilities of the human imagination. Like, how did N.K. Jemisin come up with all the concepts in this book??
The story takes place on a continent where “Father Earth” is angry, very angry, and the people who live there are under threat of extinction via earthquakes, volcanoes, and other natural disasters often enough that the idea of apocalypse hangs over them like a cloud all the time. Some people in this world, including most of the main characters, have a gift or curse, depending on how you look at it, of being able to move and control the forces beneath the earth’s surface. They are the people in this world “who have to fight for the respect that everyone else is given without question” (Jemisin’s dedication). Also: significant characters include a trans woman, bisexual men and women, and a gay man, and the majority of the main characters are Black.
In the first novel, three interlocking narratives take place at different times and places, following different characters until the stories come crashing together and continue over the course of the next two books. Not only has Jemisin achieved incredible world building that continues to grow over the trilogy, but the plotting is so tight. Damn!! Somehow Jemisin manages to sustain the awesomeness through the second book (always the hardest) and finishes with a final book that is pretty much a lesson on how to end a trilogy in the best way. I could not gush about this series enough, just read it ASAP if you have not yet.
- Favorite cover of a book you read in 2017?
I LOVE the cover of Next Year For Sure, Zoey Leigh Peterson’s debut novel. It’s actually a painting by Jarek Puczel, so I guess this choice isn’t really highlighting book cover design in the way another pick would. But it’s just so beautiful and fitting for this book: those soothing yet melancholy colours and the faceless woman and man looking awkward and sort of facing each other but sort of not, everything is just perfect for this character-driven book about relationships, romantic, friends, poly, and otherwise.
- Most memorable character of 2017?
I’ve already gushed about N.K. Jemisin’s books enough, but I do want to mention that Essun, the main character in the Broken Earth trilogy, is one of the most fascinating and complex characters I’ve ever encountered. But I also want to talk about Jared, from Eden Robinson’s Son of a Trickster. Oh, Jared. I just want to give him a big fucking hug.
Son of a Trickster came out in 2017 after too many years without any new fiction from Eden Robinson, who’s one of my favourite authors. This novel is SO worth the wait and it’s very much driven by its complex, fascinating main character. It’s about Jared, a sixteen-year-old burnout who drinks too much and smokes too much pot and lives with his mom, who he can’t trust to not bail on him and the bills or to not beat up guys who admittedly deserve it. His dad’s no better, and his grandma thinks there’s a dangerous trickster spirit in him. But Jared is not a culmination of the “youth at risk” factors that would seem so clear cut on paper. He is not what an outsider would think: he’s an incredibly compassionate person, to the point that others take advantage of him, and a person simply in search of not wanting to hurt or be hurt. He’s completely in love with his constantly farting dog, Baby Killer (“Baby” for short) and is devastated when she dies.
Jared’s coming-of-age story (which is really just beginning because this is the first book in a trilogy) is incredible in and of itself, but the small magical touches that Robinson has sprinkled throughout the story suddenly burst to the forefront of the narrative in a totally unexpected way at the end. In other words: the fact that Jared is stoned does not explain why ravens are talking to him.
I wrote a whole article at Book Riot last year about Eden Robinson, in order to convince everyone of the writing goddess she truly is. If you haven’t read her, definitely check it out.
- Most beautifully written book read in 2017?
Oh my god, Kai Cheng Thom’s poetry debut A Place Called No Homeland is just a fucking phenomenal collection of poetry. I can’t even believe it’s her debut! Hers are poems with strong roots in oral traditions and spoken word; you can really hear them in your mind and heart. They’re tough, tender, and incredibly powerful meditations on family, race, being trans, femininity, trauma, relationships, community, sex, books, and love. She writes:
someday they’ll cut this body open
and discover that my flesh is made of sky:
azure, sapphire, cerulean, turquoise, ultramarine
cirrus and cumulus clouds stirring behind my eyes
cumulonimbus, alight with lightning,
crackling through the capillaries of the heart.
i am oh so full of rain
you could fall through me forever.
dear scientist, mortuary explorer, search me thoroughly
tenderly catalogue all my wayward parts.
find somewhere in me
the forgotten moon, the faded stars.
re-member, reassemble, this tattered heaven, this
Read my full glowing, gushing review here.
- Favorite passage/quote from a book you read in 2017?
From Things to Do When You’re Goth In The Country by Chavisa Woods:
“There is a moment, for every child, when the adults around them…decide that the child’s dreams must be obliterated. Adults do this so that they can replace the noble and ridiculous aspirations of children with the ignoble and ridiculous aspirations of grown-ups. They do this because they too, in a moment where they were on the other end of this awful thing they are doing, were taught that only the most ignoble and ugly things are attainable. For this reason, disappointment with one’s life becomes a much more believable outcome. And, as Americans hate failure, this actually becomes the grudging goal of how one’s life should be lived–passing time with hated tasks, thankful and even possessive of the most basic aspects of survival: family, roof, clothing, food.”
“Since she was young, she’d believed. But also, she’d questioned, and when her husband died, it was like someone had struck her in the face with the knuckled back of a strong hand made of nothing but that question.”
From Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson:
Close your eyes. Concentrate on your breath. Remember that you were not always earthbound. Every living creature, every drop of water and every sombre mountain is the by-blow of some bloated, dying star. Deep down, we remember wriggling through the universe as beams of light.
- Newest fictional crush from a book you read in 2017?
Innon from The Fifth Season! He’s a charismatic man who somehow manages the impossible, like making characters who are awkward / kind of hate each other—ahem, Syenite and Alabaster—somehow end up together in a poly marriage of sorts. He’s first introduced as a “big man, black-skinned like most of the Meovites, built more like a Strongback than a Resistant and with personality enough to outshine any Yumenescene Leader” which is a description that will only make sense if you’ve read the book, but it basically means he has all the best parts of all sorts of different kinds of people. He’s one of those very big and tall and strong people with a sweetness to him that belies his tough looking exterior. Also, he’s bisexual!! (PS: I will probably imagine him as Idris Elba from now on due to this great Fan-casting The Fifth Season article).
- Best worldbuilding /most vivid setting you read this year?
Becky Chambers and N.K. Jemisin have a tie here, but I’ll talk about A Closed and Common Orbit since I don’t want to repeat myself. A Closed and Common Orbit is the second novel set in Chambers’s Wayfarers universe (although it’s fairly stand-alone, since it focuses on secondary characters from the first book). I had almost forgotten how much I love her world-building.
The future universe (“the Galactic Commons”) she has created somehow feels totally humanly familiar and mind-blowingly imaginative at the same time. Centuries into the future, humans have left Earth and have made contact with other intelligent life across the galaxy. In fact, humans have only survived due to the grace of one particularly altruistic species who rescued them essentially from destroying themselves. This isn’t hard science fiction by any stretch, but it also feels like a completely believable future, for the technology, yes, but more for the continuation of and subtle changes in 21st century Earth cultures. It’s a universe where spaceships tear apart time and space to create wormhole tunnels from one galaxy to another and artificial intelligence has developed to a point where legislation tightly regulates its use and human-appearing cases for AIs are illegal. But it’s also a universe where relationships between sapient beings and quests for purpose in life are at the forefront.
Chambers’s unique alien species are a big part of the world-building and they provide fascinating contrasts to humans in a distinctly anthropological kind of way. There are obvious physical differences between the species, such as whether they have fur or scales and how many limbs they have, but the more interesting contrasts are between their fundamental worldviews and assumptions. In addition to aliens, in A Closed and Common Orbit we get the perspective of an AI named Lovelace. She was built to be housed in a spaceship, but due to a tragedy that happens at the end of the first book she wakes up in an approximation of a human body. Chambers approaches her characterization the same way she does the non-human species: diving deep into the truths of what makes her ‘species’ unique, while at the same time underscoring her fundamental ‘humanity.’
- Book that made you cry or nearly cry in 2017?
Ugh, there are a few 2017 books for me to recount for this question. Actually, three: They Both Die At The End by Adam Silvera, a particular story in Meanwhile Elsewhere edited by Cat Fitzpatrick and Casey Plett, and A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers. I think the reason Silvera’s queer YA book (which I listened to as an audiobook) made me cry is probably obvious, given the spoilery title. A Closed and Common Orbit has such a beautifully happy and up-lifting ending that I cried, but in a good way. But the short story “Imago” by Tristan Alice Nieto in Meanwhile Elsewhere. I’m just going to plagiarize myself and take out an excerpt from my review of the collection:
This story wrecked me, breaking me apart but then putting me back together, albeit in a bittersweet way. It is one of the best stories I’ve ever read. Tabitha lives in a future world where an epidemic that came to be known as the “White Death” has decimated humanity. A wonder drug called “Revivranol” was at first heralded as a miracle in response to the White Death and other kinds of dying, extending
viability for cardiopulmonary resuscitation from thirty minutes to twenty-four hours, and allowed the body to function in spite of massive physical trauma…But soon the promise gave way to reality. Those we revived came back broken, cold and distant…it was usually a confused and perverse confrontation as people tried in vain to locate a tiny fragment of the person they once knew within the talking pile of human remains that wore their lover’s skin.
This is the setting for this remarkable story, which integrates tidbits of butterfly biology, superstitions about and prejudice against people with albinism, grief over lost love, the impossibility of conceiving of your own death, the peculiarities of memory, and the cruel directions capitalism leads people in dire circumstances as well as those willing to capitalize on the miseries of others. Midway through the story Tabitha thinks.
I can’t shake the feeling that I should feel something more than mild disappointment at the thought of being dead. I think about all the things I never got to do, all the people and places I’ll never see again, but it doesn’t stir anything. Perhaps it’s a blessing, perhaps I’m protecting myself from the immeasurable cognitive weight of truly comprehending my own death.
You will weep and be forever changed by “Imago,” I promise. Honestly I’m getting a little teary just thinking about it.
- Hidden gem of the year?
I know poetry in general doesn’t get a lot of spotlight, and this is a debut poetry collection at the intersection of multiple marginalizations and with a few factors against it (written by an Asian Canadian trans poet published by an indie press), but I wish I could somehow push A Place Called No Homeland onto everyone in the world, because it deserves to be so much more than a hidden gem! I’ve already quoted an entire poem above, and you should really go read my review if you haven’t already.
- Best 2017 debut you read?
Next Year For Sure is a beautiful book, one of those novels that keep me up reading it, and kept me up for weeks after thinking about it. I’m still thinking about it. It’s one of the longest reviews I wrote last year. I love character-driven, thought-provoking novels about relationships like this, and Zoey Leigh Peterson’s first entry into this literary sub-genre is so sure-footed and pitch-perfect it’s hard to believe it’s her first novel. Also read this book if you’re looking for represetation of asexual spectrum characters and if you’d appreciate a very Vancouver setting.