Best of the Year: 2018 Books Read in 2019
In putting together my end-of-year lists for favorite 2019 fiction and favorite back list fiction, I realized there were a handful of books I loved this year that were floating in a sort of no-man’s land. 2018 titles aren’t necessarily back list because they’re still their author’s most recent work, and there’s still buzz about them. But they’re also not the brand new books filling up 2019’s best of the year lists. Mostly to be able to mention as many favorite books as possible in my year-end wrap-ups, I decided to make this a category of its own and so here we have: Best 2018 Releases Read in 2019. I also included two 2018 bonus picks in my Best Book Club Books of 2019 post, so be sure to check that out as well!
Washington Black by Esi Edugyan. This episodic adventure follows Wash, a young boy formerly enslaved in Barbados, and Titch, his master’s brother. Spanning years and moving from the arctic to Canada to England and beyond, the novel depicts Wash’s coming-of-age and his beginnings as a scientist and artist. I really loved all of the characters in this book, but I also appreciated how Edugyan included space for readers to questions characters’ motives and actively critique the white savior narrative we see throughout literature. Read more of my thoughts on Washington Black.
A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza. This was the first book I read in 2019 that made me cry, and I think it remains the one that made me cry the hardest. A Place for Us is a family saga following the parents and three children of an Indian Muslim American family. Mirza depicts characters who love each other deeply and strive to do their best while regularly failing each other. It’s a gorgeous story that’s heart wrenching, but not without hope. Read more of my thoughts on A Place for Us.
The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai. I love books about found families and The Great Believers is one of the best I’ve ever read. Alternating between chapters set in Chicago at the height of the AIDS epidemic and in 2015 Paris, the novel focuses on Yale and Fiona, two loving and compassionate friends who lean on each other in the face of tragedy. I really felt like I got to know these characters and their entire circle through Makkai’s beautiful writing and careful articulation of their thoughts and desires. This book will break your heart in the very best way.
There, There by Tommy Orange. There, There by Tommy Orange is a powerhouse told in the voices of twelve Native American characters. The style of this book is complete propulsive, all building towards the crescendo of the characters all arriving at the Big Oakland Powwow. I loved weaving in and out of these twelve perspectives, learning new information about each of their lives and how they intersect. There, There also showed me the gaping holes in my own reading, and I hope to pick up more Native voices in the new year. Read more of my thoughts on There, There.
The Mere Wife by Maria Dahvana Headley. The Mere Wife is a retelling of the original epic, Beowulf, but instead of dragons and monsters, this story explores the Iraq war, motherhood, and the impossible expectations society puts on women. Sounds good right? This book is absolutely excellent and deliciously weird, and you certainly do not need to be a fan of Beowulf to enjoy it immensely. The plot of The Mere Wife follows Dana Mills as her son Gren befriends Dylan, the son of wealthy suburban queen bee, Willa Herot. The fallout from this friendship is brutal and heartbreaking, and this novel will continue to surprise you page after page.