Every year, we try to pick our favorites published that year--and every year we also try not to list 20 books apiece. It's the eternal book-lover's conundrum.
Without further ado, here are our top books of 2016!
Places No One Knows by Brenna Yovanoff
Brenna Yovanoff had me at “Waverly Camdenmar.” And not just because it’s the best name ever. Waverly is *this* close to being a sociopath, yet I found her to be one of the most compelling heroines I met this year. She’s also the (lucky!) target of affection for Marshall Holt, my 2016 nominee for the Mysterious Loner Dude (MLD) Hall of Fame, and together, they make for an epic couple. I don’t think I could sum up this book’s greatness better than the conclusion of my review, so, um, here’s a little of the ole copy & paste: With burning chemistry, gripping emotion and engrossing characters, Places No One Knows is the kind of novel I could spend the rest of my life revisiting, but that's not the only reason it made my Required Reading List. Its exploration of adolescent social dynamics and expectations is searing in its accuracy, yet at the same time, Waverly's story offers hope. (And kissing. The kissing is not to be overlooked.)
(seconded by Rosemary)
The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater
Look, you’ve either read The Raven Cycle and loved it, or… you haven’t read The Raven Cycle. There was a lot riding on this conclusion, and even though Maggie Stiefvater is a storytelling phenomenon, I would be lying if I didn’t say that I was a tad nervous about how it was all gonna go down. Thankfully for Blue, Gansey, Ronan, Adam, Noah and the world in general, Stiefvater CRUSHED IT. I can’t remember the last time I got walloped with such a raging case of TEABS, but fortunately, Cabeswater is a place I can revisit, and I plan to do just that for years to come.
(seconded by Mandy C., Rosemary, Jennie)
The Memory Book by Lara Avery
The premise--a girl recently diagnosed with early onset dementia begins writing a journal to help her remember-- sounds straight out of the Nicholas Sparks catalog, but Lara Avery’s poignant portrait is never saccharine, in large part thanks to the winning voice of Sammie McCoy. Hilarious, determined and insanely nerdalicious, Sammie is an unforgettable heroine who made me laugh my ass off… and cry all the tears. (Heed the DNRIP tag on this review or suffer the puffy eyed consequences!) Avery doesn’t hold back when it comes to emotion, and she ain’t stingy with the swoon, either. If you don’t fall head over heels in love with Cooper Lind, Sammie’s estranged childhood bestie and current king of the high school, then… GOOD, because I’M NOT SHARING HIM.
The Memory Book is FYA Book Club's August 2017 pick!
The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis
Out of all of the reviews I wrote this year, the one for this book proved to be the most difficult. I agonized over how to adequately describe the power of Alex Craft’s story; I grappled with the best way to communicate the darkly complex themes; I even consulted a thesaurus for different ways to say “devastating.” It’s a tough book to explain, and it’s a tough book to read, but damn, is it incredible. While McGinnis’ exploration of sexual violence and misogyny is piercing, she’s equally skilled at crafting those classic John Hughes-type moments, resulting in a strange but thrilling dichotomy of vengeful vigilantism and average adolescence. The Female of the Species is truly a novel like no other, and weeks after turning that last page, the severity of its impact continues to haunt me.
A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir
After being blown away by An Ember in the Ashes, I about died waiting for this sequel to come out. It’s gotta be tough to maintain the explosive intensity of Laia’s story, but Sabaa Tahir really delivered with another nail-biting saga of adventure, romance and truly unsettling violence. I loved journeying out into the world that Tahir has built and deepening my understanding of her wonderfully complicated characters, even as they made decisions that DROVE ME INSANE. The twists! The moral ambiguity! The hot-as-hell chemistry! This is not a book for the faint-hearted, y’all. Though we have to endure, like, two years before we can find out what happens next, I have no doubt that the next installment will be worth the wait.
(Seconded by: Jennie)
Mandy W.'s Picks:
The Midnight Star by Marie Lu
When I first read The Young Elites all those (OK, two) years ago, I never would have guessed that this fantasy trilogy about a vengeful villain would one day reduce me to a sobbing mess. But no other 2016 release affected me as deeply and as emotionally (read: made me ugly-cry) as The Midnight Star.
If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo
Amanda’s discovery of her true self and first love is a story that I’ll always hold close to my heart -- and one that I CANNOT WAIT for the FYA Book Club to swoon over next summer.
If I Was Your Girl is the July 2017 FYA Book Club pick!
Highly Illogical Behavior by John Corey Whaley
Boasting a colourful cast of characters, this tale of a teenage agoraphobe explores love, friendship, and anxiety with humour and heart.
Enter Title Here by Rahul Kanakia
With her scathing sensibilities, academic overachiever Reshma Kapoor joins the ranks of my favourite unapologetic assholes.
Mandy C.'s Picks:
The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner
With my terrible (and I mean terrible) memory, it’s a rare novel that truly sticks with me. But I just can’t quit The Serpent King, and I consistently tell everyone I know to read this book when they ask for recommendations—and sometimes even when they’re just asking me what’s up. (I’m even telling all members of our FYA Book Clubs, as this is our official pick for January 2017.) I don’t usually cry while reading, either, but it took me months until I could talk about this book without tearing up. This book ran away with my heart, breaking it a little in the process, but I am so grateful for the experience. I really wish my memory was bad enough that I could re-read The Serpent King for the “first” time and lose myself in Zentner’s novel all over again.
(seconded by: Rosemary, Jennie)
A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas
When I finished the first novel in Sarah J. Maas’ A Court of Thorns and Roses series, I didn’t see the need for a sequel. Feyre had shown up all of her haters and found the love of Tamlin, a ridiculously dreamy dude who would do practically anything for her (regardless of the fact that she could easily do it herself, thank you very much). But I’m a sucker for anything by Maas, so of course I dove right in. Imagine my surprise upon discovering that there was someone WAY better than Tamlin for Feyre, and so much more of Prythian to explore and discover.
And the SWOON, y’all. THE SWOON.
(seconded by: Rosemary and Stephanie)
Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo
Although I really enjoyed Leigh Bardugo’s first series, the Grisha trilogy, it wasn’t until I read Six of Crows that I fell in love with Bargudo’s clever mix of serious plot and hilarious wit. I can’t resist a good heist story, and when said heist story also involves broken bad boys with secret crushes, gunslingers who find themselves attracted to the complete wrong people, and sassy magically gifted individuals who fight for love even when it seems impossible, I’m a goner. Plus: Crooked Kingdom connects to the larger Grishaverse through one of the best characters of the trilogy, who honestly fits in better with the Dregs than he does with anyone in his original series.
(seconded by: Rosemary and Stephanie)
My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows
You might not think a historical fiction novel about Lady Jane Grey, who was Queen of England for all of nine days before being beheaded—none of this through any fault of her own other than being born in the line of succession, mind you—wouldn’t be the most entertaining of reads. And you’d be right, if you were referring to a historically accurate story, not the one in the pages of My Lady Jane. As is their prerogative as writers, Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton and Jodi Meadows took it upon themselves to reimagine Lady Grey’s story … and add characters who, thanks to shapeshifting “gifts,” spend much of their lives as horses. This book also—spoiler alert—doesn’t end with anyone literally losing their head.
Nevernight by Jay Kristoff
Before writing this list, I didn’t realize what all of my top reads from 2016 had in common until I got to this blurb: Although each book I’ve chosen as a fave seems pretty different from each other, all include characters who are sassy and sarcastic—and whom I absolutely adore all the more for it. Nevernight is no exception to this rule, and is possibly even the book with the most scathing of the sarcastic characters … in the narrator, who drops his/her best lines in footnotes. Nevernight is unapologetically bloody, as one might expect from a book about a trainee assassin hell bent on vengeance, but also hilarious and heartfelt.
Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee
Stacey Lee’s second book displays her now-trademark warmth and humor even when times get very, very tough. Set in 1906 San Francisco, Mercy Wong crashes through barriers for Chinese-American girls just as a devastating earthquake and fire crashes through the city. I’m a sucker for books that effortlessly weave accurate historical detail alongside tough young women, so it’s no surprise that this beautiful book made my top 5 of 2016.
The Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry
This epistolary novel, set in medieval Europe after the Albigensian Crusade, combines many of my favorite things: medieval female mystics, warm and practical sisters, and a lush sense of time and place. Julie Berry has done an incredible job of bringing this somewhat obscure era to light, and making Dolssa and her almost-romantic visions of God seem gorgeously real. Plus, one sister owns a tavern. If it weren’t for those pesky threats to one’s life, the lack of running water and electricity, rampant disease, and oppressive patriarchal mores, I’d hop in the time machine now!
Roses and Rot by Kat Howard
Although not technically YA, this is a dark, sensual novel that intertwines art and magic with female ambition and sisterly relations. It’s one of the best modern fairy tales I’ve read, perfect for fans of Holly Black. Plus, parts of it are pure escapism: sign me up for an all-expenses-paid artists' retreat with hot men and a lot of whiskey, please. I can't wait for you all to read it as the FYA Book Club June 2017 pick!
Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
If you’re in the mood to have your heart ripped out, Ruta Sepetys is here for you. Once more, she takes a less-popular aspect of World War II history--in this case, the sinking of the Wilhem Gustoff--and writes a beautiful, character-driven tribute. DNRIP.
A Tyranny of Petticoats edited by Jessica Spotswood
Is there anyone here who doesn’t love badass girls? No? I didn’t think so. Which is why you’ll fall in love with the diverse American historical heroines of A Tyranny of Petticoats, from an aspiring pilot, to a cross-dressing bank robber, to a girl riding the rails with her siblings.
The Love That Split the World by Emily Henry
2016 saw its fair share of books about time travel and alternate dimensions, but this one was my favorite. In her debut novel, Emily Henry managed to pull a Steifvater and write a magical realism book in which the magical realism takes a backseat to the gorgeous writing, wonderful characters, and dreamy rural setting. I wanted to be best friends with Natalie Cleary, and Beau Wilkes gave off some heavy Tim Riggins vibes.
A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro
A gender-reversed Sherlock Holmes retelling with a cover I’d wallpaper my living room with? Sign me up. This was my most anticipated book of 2016 and it did not disappoint. Cavallaro stayed true to everything I love about Sherlock Holmes while still managing to create her own characters and story. Charlotte and Jamie were flawed but fun - and in many cases, fun because of their flaws - and I can’t wait to reread this before the sequel comes out next year.
(seconded by Mandy C.)
The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson
Just like I need a beach vacation every year, I also need a summer beach read. Morgan Matson always delivers with relatable characters, cute boys, and books that transport me to the carefree days of summer breaks. The Unexpected Everything had all of this and more. Plus dogs. This one had lots of dogs.
The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder
Leder’s debut novel managed to be both adorable and cringingly awkward. She captured adolescence in a way that felt so real-- sweet and swoony moments were juxtaposed against less glamorous realities that had me sighing, tearing up, and snort-laughing all in the same chapter. Penelope reminded me of a less cynical version of my high school self, and I enjoyed watching her bump and bumble her way through finding her first love.
When We Collided by Emery Lord
In her third novel, Emery Lord tackled the tough subject of bipolar disorder with grace, charm and her signature sense of humor. When We Collided was heartbreakingly beautiful, and I found myself rooting for Jonah, Vivi, and Jonah-and-Vivi, even when it felt like those three things couldn’t peacefully co-exist. I love contemporaries in general, but this book felt like it was painted in brighter brushstrokes than the rest.
P.S. I Like You by Kasie West
Enemistry and You’ve Got Mail vibes. I don’t think I need to say anything more, but I will, because I loved the shizz out of this book! Kasie West’s characters talk and act like real people, and she manages to get the feels just right in this sweet and light story. You can devour it in an afternoon, or read little-by-little to let it soak in, but either way you take it you’ll be happy you did.
Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum
On the surface this book and P.S. I Like You have some similarities (both teens are writing to anonymous penpals, though Jessie’s penpal knows who she is), but the vibe is tonally quite different. Jessie is still grieving her mother’s death and the loss of her friends and home, so that lends a melancholy cast to the writing. The exchanges feel a little more poignant, and I was super invested in S/N and Jessie’s friendship. Plus, who doesn’t enjoy a good game of guess-who?
(seconded by Mandy C.)
Firsts by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn
My first read of 2016 held my interest long after I finished it. Mercedes was a great character: totally messed up in the head, a bit prickly, and hard to relate to (I mean, there’s probably very few people (I hope) who’ve been in her situation, i.e., sleeping with other girls’ boyfriends to teach them how to give their girlfriends a good first time), but even with all that she’s still utterly sympathetic. It’s one of those stories that I want to physically place into every person’s hand who has ever felt the urge to slut-shame or harrass another person in public for their sexual choices.
Truthwitch by Susan Dennard
I also read this waaaay back in the first few days of the new year, and there have been a lot of books between then and now, yet I still remember a great deal about Safi and Iseult and can’t wait to see what happens next. There was plenty of swoon, but the best part was the great friendship between the two main characters. This book had tons of hype around it, and I went into it thinking that it wasn’t going to be that great...and then I totally ate my words and suffered horribly the next day at work when I stayed up until three a.m. to finish the darn thing because I could. Not. Put. It. Down.
(seconded by Mandy C.)
Goldenhand by Garth Nix
Ah, the long-awaited sequel to a great fantasy series! Perhaps not the most amazing book ever on its own (I could’ve used some tightening up of Ferin’s storyline), but for fans of the Abhorsen novels, this hit all the right notes and wrapped up some burning questions. This could be a wonderful wrap-up to the series, but is this the end? If we know anything about Garth NIx, we quickly learn never to say never.
Did we include all of your 2016 favorites? Which books make your own personal "best of" list? Let us know in the comments!