4.) Baddawi by Leila Abdelrazaq
Baddawi is the story of a young boy named Ahmad struggling to find his place in the world. Raised in a refugee camp called Baddawi in northern Lebanon, Ahmad is just one of the thousands of Palestinians who fled their homeland after the war in 1948 established the state of Israel.
Why I Recommend It:“Palestine is buried deep in the creases of my grandmother’s palms.”
Any explanation I give of Baddawi is doomed to fall short of expressing how important Leila Abdelrazaq’s illustrated account of her father’s early life is. A graphic novel accented with the designs used in traditional Palestinian embroidery, it tells not only her father’s story, but the story of an entire generation of children.
“This story is about one individual, but its anecdotes are uttered in countless families, at children’s bedsides, late at night. We stir the tales into our coffee with cardamom, and read our return in the grounds. That’s because for Palestinians, preservation of the past is an act of resistance. It reminds us that we must continue to struggle, until liberation and return.”
3.) Queen of Shadows by Sarah J. Maas
Everyone Celaena Sardothien loves has been taken from her. But she’s at last returned to the empire—for vengeance, to rescue her once-glorious kingdom, and to confront the shadows of her past. She has embraced her identity as Aelin Galathynius, Queen of Terrasen. But before she can reclaim her throne, she must fight.
Why I Recommend It: I could write an essay on Maas’s female characters in Queen of Shadows. After reading it I reflected that there was something different about them, something that left a more noticeable impression. And I realized it was that her women were written like men. They’re entirely in control of their lives and decisions and can rescue their dang selves, thanks very much. Occasionally a critic to some YA series will pop up and say that the lead female character isn’t “vulnerable” enough, and that makes her unlikeable. Another author I love recently replied to this with “When people say a female character isn’t vulnerable enough, they are literally saying they want to feel like they can hurt her.”
It’s true, and applies to many of the people who have problems with strong, independent, female characters. So I am going to go ahead and say that if you feel that way, if you like your heroines vulnerable and quiet and docile, you probably will not enjoy Queen of Shadows.
2.) Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
Nimona is an impulsive young shapeshifter with a knack for villainy. Lord Ballister Blackheart is a villain with a vendetta. As sidekick and supervillain, Nimona and Lord Blackheart are about to wreak some serious havoc. Their mission: prove to the kingdom that Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin and his buddies at the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics aren’t the heroes everyone thinks they are. But as small acts of mischief escalate into a vicious battle, Lord Blackheart realizes that Nimona’s powers are as murky and mysterious as her past. And her unpredictable wild side might be more dangerous than he is willing to admit.
Why I Recommend It: What I love the most about Nimona as a character is that she is a complicated heroine. Noelle Stevenson has acknowledged that Nimona is not exactly a good person all the time, has difficulty differentiating between right and wrong, and that readers will have a hard time casting her as their hero. She’s not someone who exists in a world where everything is either black or white. Nimona, as well as Ballister and Goldenloin, exist in many shades of gray. There aren’t pure and true heroes, or evil to the core villains. They are characters who have real flaws and doubts about themselves and mess up sometimes. Oftentimes they are unwilling to admit their true feelings. But Nimona is full of heartbreak and hope and is occasionally laugh out loud hilarious. And being a reader who has followed Stevenson’s work for a very long time, it makes me incredibly happy to be able to put her on this best of list.
1.) Archivist Wasp by Nicole Kornher-Stace
Wasp’s job is simple. Hunt ghosts. And every year she has to fight to remain Archivist. Desperate and alone, she strikes a bargain with the ghost of a supersoldier. She will go with him on his underworld hunt for the long-long ghost of his partner and in exchange she will find out more about his pre-apocalyptic world than any Archivist before her. And there is much to know. After all, Archivists are marked from birth to do the holy work of a goddess. They’re chosen. They’re special. Or so they’ve been told for four hundred years.
Why I Recommend ItOut of everything I read this year, Archivist Wasp was the most unexpected. It’s completely unlike any dystopia or post-apocalyptic literature that I have ever read. Personally, I think that Y.A. dystopia has been a shambling corpse of a genre for over a year now, overwrought with tropes and the same tired old storylines. Archivist Wasp is exactly what we need at exactly the right time, and props to Kornher-Stace for leading by example. I think a lot of authors needed to be reminded that it’s okay to step outside of that box that The Hunger Games has built up around us and try something else. Wasp’s journey, her stepping outside of herself and going into the Underworld, in combination with the story of Ghost and Foster, reads like a sci-fi fable. The parallels between the lives of the three of them runs deep. All of them shaped into weapons, but ultimately refusing to be used. It’s brilliant and original and it totally a book you can read over and over and still find new things you never picked up on. BEST BOOK OF 2015.