I used to read a lot as a kid, but by high school I typically found myself reading no more than five books a year for pleasure, and by college, even less. It wasn’t necessarily that I lost interest, but more that I just didn’t give myself time during my busy days to kick back with a good book.
That all changed in 2012. In 2011 I started writing young adult fiction, but I wasn’t reading much of it, and therefore I was ecstatic to start a YA book blog last June to start forcing myself to read as many books as possible. Now, at the start of 2013, I’m that voracious ten-year-old reader again, gobbling up everything in sight. I enjoyed a mix of YA, middle grade, and adult literary fiction in 2012, and had trouble narrowing it down to ten favorites.
Two notes about the list below. Unlike my upcoming Top Ten Films list, which is strictly films released in 2012, my Top Ten Books List is of books I read in 2012, not necessarily books that were released that year. Also, I’ve elected not to include books I read in 2012 that I read before. For example, I re-read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Wizard of Oz, and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, but it wouldn’t seem fair to include those on the list. How could I compare something like The Wizard of Oz with The Fault in Our Stars, anyway?
Now, without further ado, here are my ten favorite books of 2012…
1. Looking for Alaska
I discovered two new favorite authors in 2012, and the most influential to me was John Green. A fellow writing friend told me about his work back in January, and I decided to start with his debut novel. I had no idea it would end up being not only my favorite novel of the year, but one of my favorite books ever. This book is amazing. It made me laugh, cry, cheer. The big twist of the second half was totally unexpected, and made for a truly rich reading experience. It has everything you could possibly want in a novel, YA or otherwise. One of the best debut novels I’ve ever read.
2. Boy Meets Boy
I wish I could’ve found this book when it came out in 2003, when I was living in Los Angeles, in the closet, scared and alone. This would’ve been the greatest gift back then, but at least I finally found it in 2012. All I knew when I started reading it was that it was a love story between two teenage boys, but it’s so much more than that. You know what really stood out about this story? It’s not depressing, it’s not cynical, it’s not tragic. Boy Meets Boy was the first truly uplifting gay love story I’d ever read, and it changed the way I looked at what a young adult novel can be and do. Like Looking for Alaska, this book should be shared with every teenager on this planet.
3. The Fault in Our Stars
So the next author I fell in love with in 2012 was… oh… wait, it’s John Green again. Everyone’s favorite YA novel of 2012 was certainly one of mine as well, a book I devoured in just two days last July. One of the successes of this novel is that it could have been so maudlin, so sentimental, a downer of a book that tries too hard. But Green can even find the humor in cancer, and he gives his two main characters the kind of voices all we writers hope to find in our work. The journey the characters take is a memorable one, and the ending left me breathless. A masterpiece worth all the acclaim it’s been given.
4. Every Day
Seeing a pattern yet? Yes, I know I’m being predictable but now, but Green and Levithan wrote my four favorite books of the year. The top two books were these authors’ debut novels, and the next two books were the authors’ newest novels, so I’m happy to report none of their talent and skill has diminished! Shaunta had an issue with a chapter toward the end, and while I agree with her on this one overlooked issue, I still found Every Day to be a glorious, imaginative book, with the most intriguing premise of anything I read all year. I just read Six Earlier Days, a short prequel companion to this, and loved it, too. Green and Levithan are the best, and I can’t wait to see where they’ll do next.
5. The Perks of Being a Wallflower
So I’m cheating here a little bit because I did read this book once back in college, on a recommendation from a friend. I didn’t remember it very well though, so when I read it again last August I was surprised to find how much more of an impact it had on me on the second read. How did the book not mean anything to me back nearly a decade ago? What a treat this was, spending time with these characters, following their joys and their pains, and then getting to see the film, which is a beautiful companion to the book. I guess I needed to be more well-read, or more willing to get in touch with my emotional side, but this second read of The Perks of Being a Wallflower was one of the great joys of the year.
My last read of 2012 was easily one of the best and most engrossing, Stephen King’s newest behemoth of a doorstopper. One of my favorite reads in 2010 was his 1000-plus page Under the Dome, and going into 11/22/63 a couple weeks ago, I sincerely hoped I was in for a good time. When a book is 849 pages, it has to be great to keep you going, and never did this one fail to keep me completely absorbed. Time travel novels can go so wrong in so many ways, but King keeps this imaginative book stayed away from too much of the fantasy aspect and instead centered on a moving, realistic relationship between two complex teachers, to great effect. I blocked out two weeks to read this one, but it only took me half that time. I loved this book. Stephen King is still, after all these years, my writing hero!
7. Where Things Come Back
The other great young adult discovery in 2012 was this unusually effective debut novel by John Corey Whaley, which won the Michael L. Printz award for 2011. This one reminded me of a modern day To Kill a Mockingbird, with its setting and tone and small town of memorable characters. Even better, Whaley takes your expectations and flips them upside down, giving you a final act of harrowing suspense that constantly keeps you on edge. A former English teacher, Whaley is now focusing solely on his fiction, and great for all of us: this young author is a huge talent worth getting excited about.
8. You Came Back
Christopher Coake’s beautifully written, compulsively readable literary novel You Came Back is another terrific debut novel I read in 2012. The central idea is a great one: what if you had a son who tragically died, who returned as a ghost and who is now haunting a family living in the house he died in? At the heart of You Came Back is the complex relationships between the protagonist Mark Fife and the two women in his life, as well as Mark’s attempt to come to terms with his son’s potential reappearance. But while the book is more literary than all out horror, there are plenty of creepy moments that got under my skin. With this book, and his dark, fantastic short story collection We’re In Trouble, Coake has proven himself to be an author to keep an eye on.
9. The Borrower
I read this marvelous book earlier in 2012, and it hasn’t left my mind since. For a creative writing class I read a short story by Rebecca Makkai, the only gay-themed one in the Best American Short Stories 2011 collection, and decided to check out her debut novel (yep, another debut!). It’s a book about books, and about libraries, and about people who love books and libraries. So obviously this was up my alley. The Borrower is a lighter read than some of these others, and it’s super fun. The relationship between the librarian and the little boy who loves to read will make you grin throughout the three hundred pages. I can’t wait to read more from this author.
10. The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell
Chris Colfer continues to amaze me. Ever since his Single Ladies rendition on Glee back in 2009, I’ve been following this handsome guy with great interest. Who would’ve thought back then he would’ve released both a novel and a movie in 2012? The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell is the only middle grade book on my list, but it’s no slim read by any means; at 400-plus pages, there’s a whole lot of imagination at work here. I’ve always loved the Grimms Fairy Tales, and all those classic animated Disney movies based on them, so I found a lot to love in this superbly entertaining debut novel. Colfer writes with a lot of heart and wit and brings his fantastical world to life in a way only he could. This book is a blast. I love Chris Colfer, and I can’t wait to see what he does next!