books, Reading

5 Star Reads in a 1 Star Year: 2017 in Review

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Over the past month my writing has limped along, overshadowed by year-end responsibilities, winter holidays, school vacation for my little one, and seasonal elevations in anxiety. Fortunately for my overall mental health, my reading has kept apace.

Just as 2017 was a year, for me, of unprecedented anxiety, fear, and frustration with the outside world, it was a banner year for reading. Not only did I read more books this year than any time in my adult life, I also read broader – by geography, genre, and culture.

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As the public discourse became more and more heated and, too often, hateful, I turned again and again to books both as an escape from, but also as an insight into my world. REPRESENTATION is the word that bubbles up when I look at my intentions and my outcomes in my reading year. More than half of the books I read were by people of color. More than half were written by people from countries other than the United States, and many of those written by Americans were written by first generation Americans.

I swear to you I am not an easy grader, so I can tell you with honest awe and genuine excitement that I read 26 five star books in 2017. These are books I would strongly urge each and everyone to read. I’ve grouped them below a bit thematically, with links to my reviews. Congratulations! You’ve got yourself a healthy TBR for the foreseeable future!


Heartwarming and Life-changing


Immigration, Displacement, and the Wounds of War

  • Home Fire – Kamila Shamsie
    The story of intertwined siblings, the constant challenge of anti-Muslim sentiment, and the radicalization of a young Muslim man
  • Look – Solmaz Sharif
    A stunning, stark collection of poetry from an Iranian writer and the ravages of a war-torn world
  • The Kindness of Enemies – Leila Aboulela
    A complex novel of contemporary Scotland and 1850s Russia in which religious conflict and the multigenerational struggles of immigration and cultural assimilation inform every aspect of life
  • The Good Immigrant – edited by Nikesh Shukla
    A collection of stunning and bold essays about the modern immigrant experience
  • Exit West – Moshin Hamid
    A gorgeous novel about modern refugees in which Moshin Hamid speaks compellingly about the interconnectedness of the world through blended borders, periodic “asides”, and literal doors through time and space
  • The Sympathizer – Viet Thanh Nguyen
    Framed as a confession, this novel tells the story of a captain in the South Vietnamese army and a communist sleeper agent who is currently imprisoned back in Vietnam

Wet-My-Pants Funny and Clever


Race and Racism


Dazzling Debuts


Flex Your Feminism

  • The Widow Nash – Jamie Harrison
    An historical novel of thrilling intrigue and daring do, in which a woman in the ‘wild west’ takes extreme steps to forge a lift for herself
  • The Power – Naomi Alderman
    In this electrifying novel, girls and women slowly awaken their inner power and begin to resist the patriarchies which have dominated the world since time immemorial
  • All Grown Up – Jami Attenberg
    This is a character novel which never wanders, never slows, and never loosens its grip

Life and Love

  • The Book of Harlan – Bernice L. McFadden
    Beginning in Macon, Georgia with the whirlwind courtship of his parents, this gorgeously heartbreaking novel develops alongside Harlan – from a spurned youngster being raised by his grandparents to a burgeoning musician in the midst of the Harlem Renaissance to one of the under-acknowledged victims of fascist oppression in Nazi-occupied Europe
  • Another Brooklyn – Jacqueline Woodson
    This novel tells the story of a group of inseparable girlfriends growing up in Brooklyn in the 1970s, exploring the various iterations of poverty and the complexities of family life for these four young girls coming of age in a time and place of turbulence
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