While 2016 has felt a bit of a dumpster fire for everyone, we've decided to showcase some of the positive aspects of 2016: books. The literary universe saw stunning debuts from Ocean Vuong and Yaa Gyasi, as well as the release of a much awaited sequel from J.K. Rowling. Therefore, to end this year on a high note, the SugarRascals staff has compiled some of our favorite books we read in 2016.
This Way to the Sugar by Hieu Minh Nguyen
In his debut book of poetry, This Way to the Sugar, Hieu Minh Nguyen explores ideas of race, sexuality, and identity, revisiting both memories of childhood and recollections of life as an adult to tell his story. This book reminded me why I want to write poetry. That's a cliche, I know, but the raw, dirty, beautiful imagery and metaphors found in this book moved me. It made me want to learn how the hell Hieu could write like that, so that perhaps someday I could write something even a fraction as good. I began and finished this book on an airplane. Three, in fact (one coming back from Indiana after getting the book from the hands of the author himself, one going to Texas, and one returning home to California). It's not the kind of book you can read in one sitting. There were many moments when I had to pause and process what I'd read, and after a few poems I would feel so full that I'd have to wait till the next day to read more. Hieu is a magician, his black top hat is This Way to the Sugar and the poems are rabbit after rabbit being pulled out of the hat while the audience sits in awe, not believing such a feat possible. -Jodie Johnson
XO Orpheus edited by Kate Bernheimer
This is a collection of fifty rewritten myths from fifty different authors—including one from one of my favorite short story writers, Aimee Bender. As a poet who constantly struggles with fiction (plot? What’s plot?) it gave me an extremely helpful perspective to understanding the form, and basically made me no longer hate my fiction classes at school. It truly revitalizes these ancient methods of storytelling, and I’d especially recommend it if you’re not too fond of the stilted language usually found in traditional myths. It’s also pretty thick, so it’s perfect for throwing in your suitcase and whittling away at during vacation. Also there’s a story about an Emily Dickinson cult—and who wouldn’t want to join an Emily Dickinson cult? -Emma Camp
Blonde Girls in Cheongsams by Jenny Zhang
In today's increasingly divisive political climate, the simplifying and boxing of minorities has become commonplace. In Zhang's essay, the cheongsam symbolizes the cognitive dissonance of Western supremacy--artifacts of Chinese culture are dismissed as weird and a little jarring, but simultaneously, specific details that lend themselves to an exotic, fetishized aesthetic are lauded as "trendy". The narrator's shoplifting is a means of reclaiming selfhood, stealing her identity back from the society that marginalized her. As a Chinese-American girl, this essay resonated deeply with me, as I'm sure it will with many others. -Rona Wang
Between Shades of Grey by Ruta Sepetys
In the early spring of this year, I read the book Between Shades of Grey. This book follows Lina, a fifteen-year-old girl from Lithuania, as she and her family are captured by Soviets and forced to make the journey to Siberia. Throughout the journey, the author paints a vivid picture of the horrors of war and does not try to glamorize any of the situations. Lina was a very strong main character, but as the story progresses she starts to break down as her and her family are moved around the country. She documents their journey using a series of drawings and paintings that capture the effect World War II had on the Lithuanian people. The vivid descriptions, strong characters and historical basis are what drew me to the book. The strength Lina displayed throughout the book made me question whether or not I would be able to uphold my morals and show that kind of strength in the face of adversity.
This book was significant to me because during World War II my relatives that lived in Poland suffered similar fates. My Great Grandmother was captured and was forced to go to Siberia where she worked on a dairy farm. She was nearly killed and barely escaped the camp. This book showed me some of the horrors that she may have lived through and had a huge emotional impact on me. If she hadn’t persevered, even though her life was at risk, I may never have been born. This book helped remind me of that and made it the most significant book in my life in 2016.-Kate Burton
Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
“Dear old world', she murmured, 'you are very lovely, and I am glad to be alive in you.”
― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables
I loved Anne of Green Gables by L.M Montgomery because of the characterization and development of Anne. How care free she is, her long winded tangents, her appreciation for the beauty of nature, her dedication, and the way she learns lessons and changes as a character as the story progresses makes her character and the novel itself unforgettable and timeless to me.-Almas Khan
Will Grayson Will Grayson by David Levinthan and John Green
A few months back, I read 'Will Grayson Will Grayson' by David Levinthan and John Green. I loved this book. I had never read a book that involved gay guys. I loved the theme of the book and the plot was very interesting. This book is about love, friendship, teenage life, problems, struggles and many more. I love how two people from completely different walks of life became entwined in each other's lives. There are many instances in the book where readers will feel emotional and laugh so hard too. It is a package of emotions. Personally I liked how the writers have succeeded in making the readers understand about the lives of two Will Grayson through the layout of the pages of the book.-Rojina Pradhan
A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
A brief summary: Afghanistan. 30 years. Two very different women. Abuse. War. Pain. Hope. Love. My tears. Lots of them.
A Thousand Splendid Suns is the kind of book almost everyone should read (trigger warning for rape) and it's definitely deserving of it's 4.33 average on Goodreads. Hosseini writes beautifully and with description that connects universally, about the lives of people who we often don't hear about. And he does so without sugarcoating or objectifying these women into wartime maniac pixie dream girls or the way the West often imagines foreign places and people. Lelia and Mariam are not for your consumption.
Some have called the novel depressing. Will it sadden you? Yes. Depress you? No. It is not without hope. It is not without love or the sacrifice that stems from love. It is not without resistance or peace or strength. And that (bold or italics this) is why I love it the way I do. And to all the Afghani women, the Lelias and the Mariams; Godspeed to you all. -Yasmine A.
Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
This book is one that I hold dear to my heart for several reasons. We started reading it this year in my junior year for my French class, and since the day we started it I have only loved it more and more. It follows the journey of a little prince from a distant planet, as narrated by Saint-Exupéry. Although I've not yet finished the book, the characters and the style of Saint-Exupéry's language draw me into the story further and leave me grasping for more about this little prince. I love digging into each character and speculating about their representation, and I love the prose-like descriptions that give the story a sense of dreaming and new profundity. Additionally, reading it with my French class has brought me closer to them by sharing this book. It's given me something to look forward to in the stress of everyday life. This book has left an impact on me in the way that I perceive and think about others, about the stars and the meaning of life, and about myself, through self-reflection as guided by the characters in the story. In a world today where there is so much darkness, this book has been a blissful brightness this year. -Stephanie Tom