It’s not easy to narrow down a year full of great literature down to a five-book list, even if I only read so many of 2016’s new books. But, after thinking about which books impacted me the most and which books best embraced diversity, here are my top five favorites and the honorable mentions that almost made the cut.
Let us know your favorite books of 2016 and why you loved them in the comments!
You Know Me Well by Nina LaCour and David Levithan
100-Character Breakdown: A well-paced novel about a new friendship, filled with queer characters, depth, and a lot of heart.
Genre: Young adult, LGBTQ
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin (June 2016)
Just a hair away from the top five, this young adult novel embraced queer characters and the importance of friendship beautifully. The combination of LaCour and Levithan’s writing gave the two main characters, Katie and Mark, strikingly unique voices while also maintaining a consistent tone and pace. The relationship between those two characters fills this novel with a ton of heart. Read the full review.
Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn
100-Character Breakdown: A superheroine novel filled with elaborate, diverse characters, demonic cupcakes, and a lot of fun.
Genre: Urban fantasy
Publisher: DAW Books (July 2016)
With a brilliantly diverse cast, this superheroine novel is top notch urban fantasy. The novel most excels when it doesn’t take itself too seriously and just lets itself be what it is meant to be. Kuhn creates something so original and fun here. The voice is strong, the humor is geeky, and the characters are elaborate. But this isn’t the extent of the action-packed book; it’s also loaded with emotional depth. Without any doubt, Heroine Complex is a genre novel, but if you love the idea of demonic cupcakes and Asian superheroines, you’ll think it’s a home run. Read the full review.
The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig
100-Character Breakdown: A vivid, emotional, and diverse novel about time travel, myth, and family.
Genre: Fantasy, young adult, historical fiction, sci-fi, diverse lit
Publisher: Greenwillow Books (February 2016)
A sweeping debut novel with loads of heart, The Girl From Everywhere is vivid and emotional in a really beautiful way. The novel has a complex system of Navigation, allowing characters to travel through time and to places of myth and legend through the use of maps. This system is so original and opens up so many possibilities; I can’t wait to see where the sequel takes the characters. Wherever Heilig takes the characters in this book, she breathes life into the place with vivid, tangible descriptions, especially during the portions of the novel set in Hawaii. The cast of characters is very diverse, and they all feel very real thanks to their depth and flaws. With such a deft mix of romance, adventure, action, emotion, and morality, this is a truly elegant novel. Read the full review.
The Midnight Star by Marie Lu
100-Character Breakdown: An emotional, character-focused conclusion to a stunning and diverse fantasy trilogy.
Genre: Young adult, fantasy
Publisher: Putnam (October 2016)
The unflinching conclusion to a powerhouse series, The Midnight Star doesn’t waver from the success of the books that came before it. Lu’s world is intricately imagined, the plot is woven tightly, and the characters are beyond captivating. Not to mention, the series never shies away from diverse characters. This is all on top of the series’ incredible protagonist Adelina, who is so original and atypical. It’s simply fascinating to follow her on her journey. And when the stunning narrative reaches its end, it has an utterly heartbreaking and emotional conclusion that makes the series that much more powerful. Read the full review.
5. Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire
100-Character Breakdown: A poignant portal fantasy that explores differences with elegant prose and carefully drawn characters.
Publisher: Tor (April 2016)
Every Heart a Doorway is the kind of novella that sticks with you, a novella you wish was a novel. This poignant portal fantasy takes place in Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children, filled with children who at some point found a door to another world, magical lands where they felt they belonged. But all of them, one way or another, ended up back home. And so they must learn to accept the world they have returned to. Every Heart a Doorway beautifully represents what it’s like to be different and out of place, whether it is exploring Nancy’s asexuality, another student’s gender dysphoria, or simply how the teens’ experiences have forged the specifics of their personalities. This novella is altogether whimsical, original, and full of heart. Read the full review.
4. A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir
100-Character Breakdown: A worthy sequel bursting with high-stakes story, multifaceted characters, and an imaginative world.
Genre: Young adult, fantasy
Publisher: Razorbill (August 2016)
An excellent followup to An Ember in the Ashes, this novel somehow manages to meet the incredibly high expectations set by the first book in the series. Sometimes it’s hard to keep up with the sheer amount of characters, complex allegiances, and the elaborate and mystical world, but this is all part of the beautiful breathlessness Tahir has achieved in the series. The reader is as enveloped and invested as the multifaceted characters. And with good reason: this grim yet hopeful novel is an absolute powerhouse. Read the full review.
3. Boy Erased by Garrard Conley
100-Character Breakdown: A heart-shattering memoir about identity and empathy with elegant prose and nonlinear storytelling.
Genre: Memoir, LGBTQ
Publisher: Riverhead Books (May 2016)
Elegant prose, nonlinear storytelling, a heart-shattering narrative — Conley’s memoir is a profound exploration of his time in ex-gay therapy. The memoir pieces together his experiences at Love in Action, the two-week long ex-gay therapy, but it focuses more on the moments that brought him there. The artful and well-crafted prose drives the reader to empathy, even as Conley uses the space of the narrative to empathize with his parents. It is powerful when a book can simultaneously forge empathy while also demonstrating how damaging something like conversion therapy can be. Boy Erased is a phenomenal, emotional memoir about an essential topic. Read the full review.
2. Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin
100-Character Breakdown: As captivating as it is educational. An evocative, important debut and portrait of a gender fluid teen.
Genre: Young adult, LGBTQ
Publisher: Balzer + Bray (February 2016)
A novel just as captivating as it is educational, Symptoms of Being Human is a beautiful portrait of what it’s like to be a gender fluid teen. Garvin achieves a perfect balance between education and narrative. He weaves in information intricately, educating the reader about gender in a way that makes this vivid novel sharp with impact. The protagonist Riley Cavanaugh is a beautiful character with deep complexities and development. In addition to Riley, the other characters also bring in numerous other important issues to the novel, and Garvin treats each of these stories with care and successful craft. This important, evocative, and educational novel is one we can all learn from. Read the full review.
1. We are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson
100-Character Breakdown: A profound, emotionally complex YA novel with a brilliant and subtle sci-fi theme.
Genre: Young adult, sci-fi, LGBTQ
Publisher: Simon Pulse (January 2016)
This remarkable, genre-blending novel has a profound and emotionally complex narrative that is only enhanced by the brilliant sci-fi undertones. The sci-fi theme is beautifully subtle, giving the book a central point to orbit around while also acting as a strong character device for protagonist Henry Denton. Our main character has a chance to save the world from destruction, but the pain in his life and in the lives of those around him makes him question if its worth it. Hutchinson manages to explore a variety of complex issues: suicide, bullying, sexual orientation, dementia, love, pain, hope. Even as We Are the Ants tackles such a wide range of moral questions, somehow the book never seems to fall off track. Hutchinson gives each plot point the space it deserves. This novel is a heavy, evocative work of art full of emotion and nuance. Read the full review.