This post is inspired by @booknerdnative on Instagram. As she puts it, “These are not the best books of the decade. Not the most well written or the most profound or the most extraordinary. These are the books that shaped who I was and who I’ve become over the last 10 years.”
I was eight years old at the start of the decade and I’m eighteen now. I haven’t had a ton of life experiences, but I’ve read a lot of books that have shaped me as a person. I still have a lot of growing to do and I’m sure my books for the next decade will reflect on me differently, but I’m going to do this anyway.
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling: this is probably the book of the HP series that I’ve read the most, which is surprising considering it’s the thickest and I’ve also read nearly every book in that series upwards of ten times each. But I’ll always come back to this one for reasons I can’t even put into words. It just feels like home. It’s my favorite book in the entire world and of the series. So, there’s that.
- The Sisters Grimm series by Michael Buckley: It’s been so long since I’ve even really thought of this series, but it was one of my favorites in late elementary school and early middle school. It would be wrong of me to not include it, considering it’s what really pushed my interest in mysteries and crime fiction. (And it’s also just one of the cutest series out there!)
- Wonder by R.J. Palacio: I haven’t read this book since I was in seventh or eighth grade mourning the death of my sixth grade teacher and family friend. It was my second time reading the book; the first time was in my sixth grade teacher’s classroom when she read it out loud to us. While being an incredibly heartfelt and important novel, that’s not why I love it. I love it because it reminds me of my teacher and her importance in my life.
- A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass: This is one of the most heartfelt, sweet children’s books there is. It wouldn’t mean half as much as it does to me if I hadn’t been recommended it by my sixth grade teacher, but I think a lot of books can be described that way. Nevertheless, it’s very important to me.
- Divergent by Veronica Roth: I think if I reread this series for a third time it would lose its magic, and the same can be said for if I rewatched the movies. But at some point in my life, this series was incredibly important to me. And, to top it off, that same sixth grade teacher had recommended them to me. Some books aren’t good in hindsight, but in sentimental value.
- All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr: To this day, this will always be my favorite book about World War II. It’s such a wonderful novel and I know most people have heard of it or read it, so I’m not special for saying how much I love it, but I really, really do love it.
- City of Glass by Cassandra Clare: This isn’t even my favorite of The Mortal Instruments series, but it holds a special place in my heart. It reminds me to be fearless and brave. This is another series that probably won’t withstand the test of time, but I don’t really care. It’ll always have value to me.
- I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson: I was sitting against the side of my bed reading this book when I realized I was in love with a boy for the first time. Of course, I can look back at myself and say that I didn’t even know what love was, that he would end up breaking my heart even though we would never date, and that he was one of the worst things for me, but I still remember that moment so vividly and somehow even cherish it. As Jandy Nelson said, “When we fall in love, we burst into flames.”
- Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt: You haven’t heard of this book? Well you should read it. It’s the book that taught me about the AIDs crisis, which has become something I’m incredibly passionate about. I finished this book in math class and started crying and as somehow who rarely cries around other people, that says something about how heart-wrenching this story is. It’s one of the first books my mom recommended to me that I actually read. (I’ve learned to take her advice when it comes to books.)
- The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater: I distinctly remember descending into Scotland on a plane. I had just finished reading The Raven Boys. My eyes were filled with tears. I was ready to read the rest of the series then and there, but I had to wait until I got home. I didn’t know how much this series would grow to mean to me then, but it still plays a huge role in my life. This series helped me to become friends with one of my best friends to this day and I’ll be forever grateful for it bringing us together. (The two of us actually went and met Maggie Stiefvater together and it was wonderful.)
- The Wrath & the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh: This series marked my turn away from Sarah J. Maas. I had finally found young adult fantasy that was diverse and discussed healthy relationships and I haven’t gone back since. While it may not be one of my all-time favorites, it marks a change in my relationship with the young adult genre, and especially with fantasy.
- Turtles All the Way Down by John Green: Am I a big John Green fan? No, but I won’t hesitate to support this book. When I was first understanding my own relationship with anxiety, this was the book that made me feel seen. I don’t have OCD like the main character, but I understood her panic and anxiety, and it’s one of the best books with anxiety representation that I have ever read.
- Radio Silence by Alice Oseman: You were probably waiting for this one to show up. This is possibly the most influential book of the decade for me, so much so that when people ask what my favorite book is, I can so easily say this one. Of course, the answer is still technically HP & the Order of the Phoenix, but Radio Silence is always the current favorite. And that’s because this book is about the academic pressure of high school and college and for someone growing up in a high school that felt like a pressure-cooker, that’s a really important theme. It’s about fandom and finding your place in a world completely separate from school. It’s about following your passions instead of what you think is expected of you. It’s about putting out a different version of yourself on the Internet than in real life, or in your home versus in school. And I just…there aren’t words to convey how much I felt understood when I finished this book.
- Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli: Yes, I reread this book, and yes, it didn’t really hold up as much as I hoped and kind of lost its magic. (I’m so sad about this, so I don’t really talk about my fraying relationship with it.) But at one point, this book meant a lot to me and I may have sobbed through the last half of it.
- East of Eden by John Steinbeck: Somehow this book left a lasting impact on me and I can’t really even say why. I just really, really enjoyed it and all the symbolism and the religious allegories. I’d never felt that passionate about a book for school until I read this one. Also, it became a bonding thing for me and my friends in that class, so much so that our discussions of it seeped into my book club.
- Imagine Us Happy by Jennifer Yu: Barely anyone has read this book and that makes me SO SAD. It’s not really an easy read, but that’s why it was important to me. I read it when I was in the middle of ending a very toxic friendship and it was an important reminder to me that manipulative friends aren’t friends. Cut off anyone who makes you unhappy and that’s the lesson of the decade, folks. 🙂
- The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver: A book about Christian missionaries in the Congo while it was under foreign rule? Sign me up. This book really put into perspective the damage imperialism caused upon what we consider to be third-world countries and is one of my main reasons why I struggle to align with organized religion while being a Christian.
- Angels in America by Tony Kushner: I urge anyone with any interest in the AIDs crisis to read both this and Tell the Wolves I’m Home and if they’re interested in a young adult perspective, Like a Love Story. Angels in America is a play that is nearly impossible to analyze or understand, yet very easy to understand at the same time. It goes into the politics of it, especially with the liberties it took involving Roy Cohn’s life. I highly, highly recommend it, especially if you want a more political take on it. It’s not hard to believe that I’m a political science major when this is on my list of most influential books of the decade. (And guess what? I read this for school and wrote an 11 paged paper on it.)
- A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab: This book reminds me of what I aspire to be. If I could pinpoint the kind of author I want to be, it’s Victoria Schwab. Her writing is exquisite and captures emotion and action so well, and it’s just everything I want mine to be. And more than that, she’s one of the most honest and transparent authors in the business and I have so much respect for her. She marks a change in me: J.K. Rowling was once my literary idol (and to some degrees she still is, but in many ways she isn’t too), but Schwab is especially mine now.
- And I Darken by Kiersten White: Apparently my favorite niche genre is reimaginings of history, so sign me the heck up for any that you can find. It’s actually a miracle that I am not a history major in college considering how much I just fell for history in high school. And if you haven’t read this series, what are you doing with your life? When I listened to her speak at Comic-Con, the thing that got to me the most was how she said she wrote is as an exploration of how the same trauma can cause two siblings to react differently: Radu is softened and Lada is hardened by it.
- The Diviners, but particularly Before the Devil Breaks You by Libba Bray: I gotta support books that dismantle the problems of past generations. I just…this novel tackles things people still refuse to talk about today, like eugenics and racism and sexism and homophobia, yet, it tackles them in the 20s. Please for the love of God read it and when you’re done read the author’s note of Before the Devil Breaks You.
“We are a country built by immigrants, dreams, daring, and opportunity. We are a country built by the horrors of slavery and genocide, the injustice of racism and exclusion. These realities exist side by side. It is our past and our present. The future is unwritten. This is a book about ghosts. For we live in a haunted house.”
- Red, White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston: If you could have told me last year that I would be impacted by a book about the Prince of Wales and the First Son of the United States falling in love, I would have laughed, but here we are. Yes, it’s a romance novel. Yes, it’s one of my favorite books of both the year and the decade. I think the part of this that got to me most were the letters from historical figures, how it discusses the relationships many people had to hide, ages ago, for the sake of acceptance, how the world has come so far, yet not so far at all. Also…the politics of this just reminded me why I’m going to be a political science major. “History, huh? Bet we could make some.”
- The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien: I reread this for my first-year seminar in college, a class about Tolkien, Lewis, and the impact the world wars had on their lives and their writing. This is one of the best classes I’ve ever taken and really made me love their respective novels more. Lord of the Rings has always played a role in my life. My family has a tradition of every winter watching the movies (extended editions!) and both the books and movies just remind me so much of home.
I’m probably forgetting something, but there we have it. Some of my favorite books aren’t on this list, but if they’re not listed, then I only really enjoyed them for enjoyment. They weren’t life-altering. If it’s on this list, then it played a role in my life, shaped me as a person or as a writer. It’s my true belief that we are molded by the content we intake. Without these books, I wouldn’t be half the person I am today, and that’s on that.
I’m sorry I’ve been so inactive on my blog. In 2020, I will do better. Hold me accountable please.