Carolina De Robertis
It’s 1977 in Uruguay, and the military government in power is ruthless, punishing homosexuality with violence. Five women flee for safety to an isolated cape, which becomes their sanctuary for the next 35 years. The writing in this novel is absolutely stunning—it took my breath away. It’s a rich story that will spark all of your senses and bring them to life. Cantoras explores what it means to be a fierce, queer woman in a world that tells you your existence is wrong. This is a truly timeless story you won’t forget, no matter how much time passes after you turn the last page.
Meg and Jo
I know we’re all excited for the latest Little Women movie coming out on Christmas Day (I’m most excited to see Emma Watson on the big screen, tbh). While you semi-patiently wait for its release, check out Meg and Jo by Virginia Kantra. It’s a modern-day retelling of the classic Alcott tale that follows two of my favorite March sisters, Jo and Meg, as Jo follows her ambitions to New York City to pursue a career in journalism, and Meg finds herself wanting more than the suburban family life she’s living. This lovely story brings the powerful sister tribe into the 21st century and will surely find a space in everyone’s heart.
The Bluest Eye
It is quite possible that The Bluest Eye is one of the best books I’ve ever read. It centers around a young Black girl named Pecola Breedlove, who believes that possessing beauty means having blue eyes because that’s what society has led her to believe. With this novel, Toni Morrison questions beauty, racism, and conformity. It’s powerful and profound and enlightening. I will always recommend this book to everyone because it’s a story that needs to be read over and over again. I like to believe that great writing immortalizes authors—though they might be gone from this world, they live on through the work they leave behind. That’s definitely true for Toni Morrison. Her legacy is endless, and I’m forever changed by her words.
I love a well-thought-out tale that reimagines history—twists it and shapes it to become something new but familiar and unforgettable. Inland takes readers back to the lawless, drought-ridden American West in the late 19th century, where a frontierswoman named Nora crosses paths with a former outlaw who is haunted by ghosts. With glimmers of magical realism, this novel is a reflection on immigration, death and what follows, the consequences of our actions, the depth of personal relationships, revenge, and all the roads and waterways that make up America. It’s the perfect read for fans of Cormac McCarthy—unsettling yet beautiful.
Juliet Takes a Breath
I believe that Young Adult literature can move people in ways no other form of literature can. I think I’ve cried the hardest and laughed the loudest while reading YA books because they evoke a special kind of emotion—all the protagonists, in some way or another, all possess a certain kind of innocence. In Juliet Takes a Breath, we follow Juliet Milagros Palante, a Puerto Rican lesbian from the Bronx who, after coming out to her family and being shunned, embarks on a life-changing journey. The best way to know if you love YA is to give it a chance, and I promise that picking up this book is the perfect way to do just that. You’ll fall in love with Juliet and find yourself understanding the need for intersectional feminism even more.
The Bride Test
Helen Hoang made a name for herself in the world of modern romance with her debut novel, The Kiss Quotient, because it was sexy and diverse and everything a romance should be. With The Bride Test, Hoang creates another protagonist with autism, Khai Diep, who struggles with expressing his emotions. When Khai’s mother sets him up with Esme Tran, a mixed-race girl from Vietnam, he is exposed to an entirely new range of feelings. Esme falls hard for Khai and learns, slowly, to accept his differences and not fight them. This book is filled with steamy scenes, great romance, and serves as a reminder to us all there’s no “right” way to love someone—everyone does it differently, and that’s what makes each relationship so special.
When We Left Cuba
I read Chanel Cleeton’s Next Year in Havana in the first half of 2019 and was captivated by the beautiful dual-narrative storytelling that transported me to Cuba during two turbulent years: 1958 and 2017. I loved all of the characters in the story but felt most drawn to Beatriz Perez, the drop-dead gorgeous, bad-ass sister to one narrator and great-aunt to the other. I—and many other readers—longed to know more about her, and thankfully, Chanel Cleeton has given us the opportunity to do just that with When We Left Cuba. This exhilarating story is all about Beatriz, her quest for revenge, her rise in power, and what she gains and loses through it all.
Everyone—myself included—continues to rave about Dark Matter, the 2016 sci-fi thriller from Blake Crouch that explores human consciousness and parallel worlds, and definitely channels Michael Crichton. With Recursion, Crouch creates another relentless thriller about time, identity, and memory. I think he must secretly (or not-so-secretly) love making readers’ heads spin because this novel is seriously mind-bending. Maybe his most irresistible work to date, and the inspiration for Shondaland’s upcoming Netflix film, this is a thriller you won’t want to miss.
Dustin Lance Black
As you can probably tell by this list, I’m a huge fiction fan. That being said, I occasionally pick up a nonfiction read to ground myself in the experiences of another real-life human. Mama’s Boy reminded me of the power of memoir and the necessity of the genre. In this book, Dustin Lance Black, who wrote the Oscar-winning screenplay for Milk, takes readers back in time to his childhood days outside San Antonio, Texas. Raised in a conservative household by a devout Mormon mother, Dustin’s coming out was not received well in the slightest. All about an enduring mother-son bond and the difficulties of being a gay, poor Black man in the South, this is a stunning story that will rock you to your core.
The Lost Night
We’ve all had those drunken nights that go too far—the ones we can’t remember but change our lives, in big or small ways. Since moving to New York City, I’ve had a lot of nights like this, and honestly, my experiences have made me consider the cost of alcohol multiple times. The Lost Night is about a group of friends who black out during a night of heavy drinking in 2009. When someone in the group commits suicide that night, everyone’s in shock, and no one remembers exactly what happened. A decade later, one of the friends finds something that brings her back to that dreadful night, and she makes it her mission to uncover what really happened. This mystery thriller is captivating and easy to plow through—you won’t be able to put it down.
I find it difficult to choose my favorite books because—to put it simply—the list is constantly changing, growing, and evolving into something greater than it was before. There are always new books by fresh voices on the horizon that tackle a range of human experiences, from the minor to the monumental. No, the book industry is not dying. It’s living and thriving because readers, like me and like you, breathe life into it every day with every conversation we have about a story, every book we share with others, every page we turn, and every shelf we fill. Reading it forward keeps it all alive… how magical is that?
And so, as hard as it is for me to choose my favorite books, I’ll do so for the sake of reading it forward. One of the most amazing things about my job is that I get to witness, firsthand, the life-altering power of books. Whenever someone identifies with a story, whether it’s someone I know or a complete stranger, my heart sings. I’m so lucky that I get to play a role in placing books into the hands of others because I really do believe that I’m making a difference, somehow. I’ve never poured more of myself into my work and—though I’m utterly exhausted—I’ve never felt better.
Without further ado, as a chronically ill, first-generation American woman, here are some books that impacted me this year. I really hope you find them to be just as special and share them with others in the same way that I’m sharing them with you.
Featured photo by Jinny Kwon