The Reading, Writing, and Me Book Awards 2019

I read so many amazing books this year. Tons of debuts, tons of 2019 arrivals, but also ton of backlist books. I've made a list of my favorite books every year I've had the blog at the end of the year, and I always make the list full of superlatives, giving each book a specific award. I always struggle, though, with my top of 20-whatever list with not being able to honor backlist books that I didn't discover until this year. I want to scream about books I didn't know about when they were brand new, so this year we're going to do things a little differently. This year, for my named awards, I'm going to include both new and backlist books. The only rule is that I had to read them in 2019 or after the 2018 list came out. But I do want to honor this year specifically, so I will be taking ten books from this list and in the next week unveil my Top 10 of 2019. This will allow me to celebrate more books than ever. Carrying on from last year's tradition, I'm keeping many of the same categories while adding a few new ones to fit all the books that need yelled about. So check out last year''s post here. Also, because I can and I love books too much, I'm giving multiple books the same award when I can't decide. (Click each book title to read the full review)

Best Debut

Best debut was by far the hardest category to choose because I read so many amazing debuts this year and focused on promoting new authors specifically. It's been so amazing to work with all the Novel 19s this year, and all of you wrote incredible books. I have to give this to Erin Hahn and You'd Be Mine, though, because I haven't been able to stop thinking about her book since I read it so many months ago. She is incredibly gifted at crafting a story, using small details to bring it explosively to life, sharing two distinct points of view, and sharing a story from a prospective I haven't encountered before. This is a book that centers on life after high school but still very much as a young adult still trying to figure everything out. While it's a love story, you find so much more in these pages from dealing with grief and lasting trauma, mental health issues, family, and what a dream means. If you read one book from this year, I'd recommend You'd Be Mine to anyone. Also, Erin is an amazing person and a great addition to the YA community. I enjoyed getting to chat with her when we did our first interview. 

Best Nonfiction
I actually started reading a lot more nonfiction books this year, which I never saw myself doing, but I'm so excited about it. So far, five of the books I've read this year, have been nonfiction. 
Talking to Strangers
This book had been incredibly popular at the bookstore I worked at, and so I picked it up to see what all the excitement was about. As soon as I started flipping through the pages, I was in. The premise basically revolves around the idea of how we're terrible at communicating with one another and understanding situations. The various points that are born from this argument are connected through historical anecdotes that really prove that sometimes the truth is crazier than any kind of fiction. The book loops into a satisfying circle, and Malcom Gladwell is a spectacular storyteller. You won't be able to put this one down. 
Me Elton John
I'm not usually a biography person, and I've never been an Elton John fan, but something possessed me to pick up this book. I think I liked the cover and the idea that the audiobook was read by the author, Elton John himself. So I downloaded it for a plane ride and was immediately pleased. I was completely swept up in the story and the narrative that tied together anecdotes with reflective wisdom to create the perfect balance in the storytelling. Regardless of your feelings about its subject, you'll find this life story fascinating. 

Best Sci-Fi/Fantasy

So this is the oldest book on my list by two years. It came out in 2012 when I was in fourth grade which means I missed it on its debut. Luckily, I found it on a random Goodreads list on books about mental health. It didn't seem like it'd be my thing, but I'm a fan of Summer's writing, so I decided to give it a try. I was blown away. The book is basically a contemporary narrative about struggling with intense depression but held against the peril of the zombie apocalypse. It's sort of a genius approach to telling the story of a depressed character because she begins the book suicidal but is thrown into an  environment where the only thing we know for certain is that you have to survive. And that's what she does in the abandoned high school with some of her classmates. It's really a quiet contemporary about these character's inner struggles, but it's brilliantly contrasted by the epic situation they're thrust into. 

Top Thriller/Mystery/Crime

The Best Lies
If you want a book with all the trappings of an amazing thriller without making it so you'll have to sleep with a lamp on, this is your book. Elise is being questioned because her boyfriend has been murdered and it seems like her best friend did it. She's the only witness. The only problem is that Remi is Elise's entire world, and she'd do anything to protect her best friend. With an unreliable narrator and well placed flashbacks to throw everything into question, you'll be guessing about what really happened. This was a book that left my jaw on the floor. 

This is another old one that came out way before I started reading YA, but I discovered it because I love Brandy Colbert's other books. This one is my favorite though. I totally was not expecting the story I got from this book that seemed to be about ballet and a kidnapped best friend coming home. It wound up being so much more and hit me incredibly hard. It's really Theo's story of healing and understanding trauma in her past and also delves into some of the psychology around how predators are able to get kids to come willingly and keep them silent. It's an intense story but an incredibly rewarding one. 
This is another story that's a fascinating mental dive. Ally has always only lived with her dad. Her mom died when she was little, and she's gotten extremely close with her father. Life is simple and certain in small town Wisconsin until her social security number gets flagged as she submits her FASFA. Nothing is ever the same again as she discovers her father kidnapped her and started over again. Forced to return to a mother she doesn't really know and fall into a life that couldn't feel more weird, Ally is even given a new name. It's a lot to digest at the whirlwind pace everyone wants to move at, but it's a fascinating read that humanizes an experience you've probably only heard about on the news. Perfect for fans of true crime. 

Best College YA

Meet Me In Outer Space
Eddie has an auditory processing disorder and is facing foreign language requirements for sophomore year of college. Her processing disorder makes it complicated to engage is large social situations and lecture classes, but she's found ways to navigate that over the years. When her French teacher refuses to give her any help, she turns to the TA for help. She doesn't expect, however, to fall for her French teacher. I loved this one because I find a distinct lack of college stories in YA and YA that focuses on characters with disabilities and learning disabilities. And I love how this book is a romance first and a story of overcoming challenges second. 
This book delves into a large span of time so we see college and senior year of high school in this story. It's definitely on the older age range for YA readers. It's told out of sequence which I loved and is captured in the frame story of a cross country road trip. For this particular award, I want to spotlight it as a story that does a really great job of capturing the reality of starting college, the friendships that can be formed, and the problems that can come up along the way. I think this might have something to do with the author being a college professor.

Best Sports YA

Continuing last year's tradition of honoring a sports centered YA, particularly a female centered sports YA tackling major social issues, we have the perfect second winner. Michigan doesn't have a hockey team to play for when the girl's team gets disbanded. So she decides to play for the boys. While she has no problems keeping up on the ice, she's subjected to sexism and even abuse by her teammates who are the embodiment of toxic masculinity. Michigan decides that she won't let it stop her from playing and from fighting back for the young girls who will want a team to play for after she's moved on.

Most Mind-Blowing
The Best Lies
There was no other book that I could consider for this award. I think I spent a good five minutes staring at the wall when I finished the book just trying to process the entire experiences. I talked about its strengths as a thriller earlier, but there are so many more layers. The most captivating parts of the story for me are the discussions of toxic friendship, manipulation, and even abuse that can come from relationships that become far too intense far too fast. We see a lot of these stories framed through romantic relationships, which is extremely important, but it's just as valid and even more extreme feelings through the eyes of a platonic friendship. Everyone knows someone who's just too charismatic, and this presents the nightmare scenario. I dive into that with Sarah in our interview. 

Best Feel Good

This was a book that left me feeling like I'll be okay. It's one of my favorite books I've ever read because it's such a different story than anything else I've ever read. Scott goes out seeking to understand what grit is and why, but he comes back having learned a whole lot more than he bargained for through chance encounters with strangers who fundamentally alter his prospective.

Best Romance
All Our Broken Pieces
This book is amazing for its OCD representation, but I specifically gave it this honor because the relationship between Lennon and Kyler meant a lot to me. Lennon has OCD, and it impacts her life and the way she relates to the world in a lot of different ways. Kyler is not impacted by a mental health issues, but he makes an immense amount of effort to understand where Lennon is coming from when she has tough moments where she does just need support and love. Kyler never wants to or tries to "fix" her beyond encouraging her to get the care she needs, and, while neither of them are perfect and there are tons of misunderstandings, the way that they related to each other was really beautiful and important to me. 
While I minimized the romance when I recognized You'd Be Mine earlier, it is a great part of the book and it is executed so well. It isn't an easily won love story, and it isn't one that ignores the two individual's flaws. I also love it because Annie and Clay never lose their grounding as two separate people. They don't fall for each other so hard that they can't recognize when the relationship is no longer healthy for them or is hurting them on individual paths. It's a love story where you can feel the immense amount of love and respect they hold for each other even at their lowest moments. 

Best Music
You'd Be Mine
This is a new award for this year because I'm setting myself up for next year. I'm so excited to see books being built on a core of music. I never thought of that being possible in more than a passive way, but Erin's books are music through and through to its core. She's included original songs but also has playlists full of song references that make the atmosphere feel so pulsing and alive. There's nothing that more immediately articulates an emotion than a song. I'm a huge music fan so these books are perfect for me. I didn't think I'd be a major fan of a country music romance, but Erin showed me a new side to the genre and really made me fall in love. Her sophomore novel, which I have a couple more pages left of, More Than Maybe, is much more my musical speed though. If you haven't heard about her next book coming spring 2020, check out the cover reveal and excerpt we put together for you.
More Than Maybe
And to hear more about weaving music into books, you can read about Erin's process in our interview.

Best Conversation Starter

Let's Call It a Doomsday
Katie Henry makes a second appearance on the Conversation Starters award. Her second book does not disappoint. while sharing similar themes with Heretics Anonymous, this book took a totally different. Doomsday dives into anxiety and anxiety that manifests in ways that are super stigmatized. Ellis collects apocalypse gear for when some natural disaster inevitably happens. This weirds out her parents who try to understand but often fail to be able to get where she's coming from. It dives into the family aspects and complications extremely well. The book also takes on religion, this time from Ellis's prospective of being raised Mormon. While she questions her religion over the course of the book, this isn't the stark rejection of religion narrative, and, while there are things she realizes she doesn't like there's a lot that she does. 
This is another book I read a really long time ago that I still reference and think about often. I read a lot of intense, heavy books that deal with difficult topics, but this might have been the hardest. It's incredibly well crafted and a scary peak into the reality of being an addict. After Mickey is in a car accident, she starts taking opioids to quell the pain. When she's not healing fast enough for the softball season, she purposely ups her dose to be able to fake her way through practice. Before she knows it, she has an old lady dealer who seems benign enough and a new set of friends who also come to get their fix. You know what Mickey is doing is life ruining and horrible, but you also live in her head, understanding each justification and wrong decision. Her desperation is palpable, and it helps you understand how people fall into the isolation trap which starts with escaping pain and ends with unfathomable isolation that makes it almost impossible to seek help. Timely and important with the crisis we're facing in the United States, this is a book everyone should read before they comment on addiction issues. 
A detail that often floats back to my mind is from the acknowledgments where McGinnis states that she got the idea for the book after taking pain killers post injury or surgery, and she realized how easily she could've gotten addicted to it without a real support system. 

Girl Made of Stars
This book made me cry. Books rarely do that. But it has a lot going on and tells an incredibly complex survivor story. Mara's twin brother is accused of rape by her best friend. While Mara can't fathom it, she also knows her best friend would never lie about that. To her shock, her entire, originally quite feminist family, turns on Hannah in order to defend her brother. Her mother who'd always preached believing the victim was talking about misunderstandings. While it fractures the town and her family, it also forces Mara to grapple with her own sexual assault experience again that she'd never told anyone about. It's an amazing examination of our culture and the problems that only perpetuate tragedies and lasting harm while also reckoning with a very personal experience that Mara has suppressed. It's a book everyone needs to read and then sit and think about.

Blast From the Near Past

The Seven Torments of Amy and Craig
I can't believe I found another book I loved that fit this category for a second year in a row. This time, we go back to the 1993-1994 school year, when Amy and Craig are seniors in high school and in a constant break up patterns. Told out of sequence, we learn about their relationship through their seven different break ups. It's a weird way to learn about people's love by watching them fall out of it, but it works incredibly well. The thick layers of sarcasm and sensory details only add to the story. And it's kind of weird to read a book with characters who were about my parents age.

Top Mental Health Novel
All Our Broken Pieces
Like I mentioned above, this is an amazing novel that dives into mental health issues. Lennon struggles with OCD, and I immediately connected with her. There are so many manifestations of OCD, and, often, in books, we get a very narrow view of what it can be. I thought Crichton did an amazing job of showcasing the lesser seen issues by really diving into her intrusive thoughts, spirals, good days and bad days. She perfectly articulates Lennon's fears about how certain activities or not doing certain activities might cause a loved one to die or her paralysis when it comes to driving. We discuss how she pulled these thread together in our interview.

Let's Call It a Doomsday
Again, I talked about it before, but I love the anxiety representation here. Both her internal dialogue and how the world responds to Ellis are right on. I also love that there's a focus on her therapy experience as well. 
The Art of Breaking Things
This book goes deep into coping with trauma and dealing with stress without means to cope. It also dives into unhealthy coping mechanisms. I love how this book is so honest and on Skye's level as she deals with her suppressed memories and trauma to move forward personally and to protect her sister. This is a difficult read but worthwhile and ultimately hopeful. 

Best Diverse Read
Wild and Crooked
This book has a lot going on, but the aspects I want to highlight here are its disability and LGBTQ representation. So many characters in the book are part of the LGBTQ community without it being a huge deal. Both main characters are queer and Gus has two moms which is addressed in passing, but it's not the point of the book. I love that we have books where it's just a part of the characters and the world without it having to be the focus of the book. All of these diverse stories are important, but I love reading books where it's just another part of a larger murder mystery solving story. Also, Gus has CP which is discussed on a similar level. It's addressed and very much a part of Gus, but it does not define him or consume his story.

Everyone knows that Angie Thomas is brilliant and taking over the YA world and everywhere beyond, but I have to take a second to give Angie props here. As much as I loved The Hate U Give, I loved Bri's story even more. Angie makes her book so current and in touch with the world and the most pressing moments, and Bri is in it while also generally following her dreams. I love her family story and connections. Also, I love that her books have gotten so many people reading. My brother wouldn't stop talking about it after I gave it to him, and two girls freaked out at the bookstore when I showed them that Angie had another book. 

Taking on New Territory

Kiko deals with extremely intense social anxiety and has always used her friend as her lifeline, but when her friend leaves and her Uncle Max comes back to town, Kiko is forced to confront many problems. Kiko had been abused by her uncle before and her mom wouldn't listen when she tried to tell her. Her mother has extremely intense clinical narcissism and only points out Kiko's flaws. Her father is kind but emotionally unavailable. Kiko is left with her own great struggles to parent herself which is intense and reverses the parent-child roles in a way I rarely see in YA. There's a lot to think about after reading this book. 

Tash Hearts Tolstoy
This is the first book I ever read that depicted an asexual main character and did it really, really well. It's a sexuality that isn't often acknowledged, I mean, it's rarely included in the acronym even when LGBTQIA isn't used. I get that it makes for a super long abbreviations, but things like that only make these books more important. I've seen more and more books lately featuring asexual characters, but I'm a huge fan of this book specifically. Beyond its representation, Tash is a YouTuber and makes classic literature adaptions which she's gotten recognition for. It's so cool to see her navigate some amount of online fame, and it really shows how hard teens work to produce amazing internet content. Also, it's just a super heartwarming friendship story. 
This book hit me hard. YA is set in high school most of the time, yet I'd never read a book so focused on the reality of senior year of high school and specifically focusing on academic stress and pressure. I related to Ariel so much and all of his internal and external struggles. I also loved that his little sister was highlighted to prove that intense expectations start extraordinarily young. I say it all the time, but this book should be required reading for teachers, parents, administrators, and admissions teams.

Laugh Out Loud
Have a Little Faith In Me
Send an atheist and her best friend ex-church going best friend to bible camp to win back her born again ex-boyfriend, and you're promised at least a few laughs, but Sonia takes it up a level from sarcasm to crazy camp experiences. CeCe is church camp's worst nightmare, but, as she gets to know the girls, she realizes she has more in common with them than she thought. She also realizes that some of the things they've been sheltered from have left them woefully misinformed. As CeCe makes friends, shares lessons, and turns the camp upside down, you're left with a thought provoking, hilarious single day read. 

The Seven Torments of Amy and Craig
I can't tell you how many times I laughed out loud reading this book. Zolidis's dry humor is exactly in-step with my own which makes this a hilariously heartbreaking book as he find humor in even the biggest relationship tragedies. So if you're looking to laugh without the traditional antics that come with funny books, this one is side-stitching without even trying. 

Tweet Cute
This one doesn't debut till 2020 so it's more of a preview for next year's list, but I wanted to make sure it was on your radar. It's funny, fast paced, and extraordinarily current without even trying. 

Made Me Cry
Girl Made of Stars
I already basically said it all earlier, but I wanted to throw it in here because I was sobbing when it was over in that happy-sad-seen way. Again GO READ IT!!!!

The Art of Breaking Things
Same as above. I figured I had to include all the books that made me tear up on this list! The ending is so sweet and beautiful after everything you go through reading it that it's a smile-cry too. 

This book is one of the darker, more intense ones on the list. Glasgow's writing style forces you to sit in every single emotion Tiger feels as she loses her mother and goes through the foster system, losing everything that she once knew. Tiger and her mom were best friends and reminded me of me and my mom so I immediately started crying when she died. It honestly brought forward some terrifying thoughts, but I find that all the best books do. It means they really hit you.

Best Existential Question
Permanent Record
I'm a HUGE Mary H.K. Choi fan, so I was beyond excited to hear about Permanent Record. It's a gorgeous book, but it also goes places I haven't seen YA go before. It fits fine in YA because it's still very much a growing up and finding yourself story, but it's also a glimpse of what NA would be if publishers would let it happen. Pablo dropped out of college and is working at a bodega. He's barely scraping by in NYC, and he doesn't know what he's doing besides drowning in credit card debt. There's so much to explore in a world that expects you to already have everything figured out, and I felt for Pablo deeply. These identity questions is further exacerbated by his whirlwind romance with Leanne Smart, pop star, with so many identities it's hard to keep up. Permanent Record asks a lot of Pablo but also a lot of the reader. It'll make you think as you experience every minor thought Pablo has. 


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