Come end of December, Top 10 and Best Ofs are all the rage. We get it. Everybody loves a (non-chore-related) list. But this year we’re taking a bit of a different spin and combining a mixed bag of standout titles from the last 12 months. No counting element involved - though you’re welcome to add your own (may we suggest by twos).
ADULT FICTION: The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
The highly anticipated follow-up to 1985’s Handmaid’s Tale will likely be on All. The. Lists. this year. And for good reason. Not to say the Canadian icon was ever unpopular (perish the thought), but the recent resurgence prompted by the television remake and, well, life mirroring art, continues to make the prolific author all the more relevant with time (we told you this would happen). Should we reiteratejust how big a fan we were well before said resurgence? Nope? Okay. Suffice it to say that ‘part two’ is well worth the wait.
PICTURE BOOK: Tiny T. Rex and the Impossible Hug by Jonathon Stutzman with illustrations by Jay Fleck
There was a lot of competition in this year’s picture book lineup. Llamas were big (what have we been telling you?), unicorns still going strong, and a number of lovely wellness titles were released, such as When Sadness is at Your Door by Eva Eland. But this tiny tale of a small-armed dinosaur desperate to comfort his companion was especially clever, cute, and subtly poignant in showing that sometimes you have to find a different way to reach your goals. Or not quite reach them, exactly. As in this case. We were going for a whole arm length thing there. But now we’ve over-explained and ruined everything.
GRAPHIC NOVEL: Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell & Sarah Stern with illustrations by Faith Erin Hicks
Pumpkinheads is a really sweet and visually appealing tale about Deja and Josiah – seasonal best friends & 'patch pals' (yeah, those are both things). Each autumn in high school the two have come together to work at a local pumpkin patch. But this year will be different as both are going off to school next fall. Ah, the setting for so many Halloween-based conflicts (yeah, that’s also a thing). Like most Rowell reads, it's humorous, quirky, and impactful. One of the many graphic novel releases this year (see also: Guts by Raina Telgemeier) that once again reinstates the exceptional storytelling power of the genre.
JUVENILE: Diary of an Awesome Friendly Kid (Rowley Jefferson’s Journal) by Jeff Kinney
We all know Kinney’s wildly popular Diary of a Wimpy Kid series featuring the lovably mischievous Greg Heffley. And while some successful creators may attempt to spice things up by adding a new character, Kinney makes an even smarter move – expanding an old one. BFF Rowley is sweet where Greg is suspicious, oblivious where Greg is jealous, concerned where – okay, hold on. It sounds like we don’t actually like Greg here. On the contrary, he’s one of our favourite children’s characters of all time. As is Rowley. And rest assured, there is plenty of Greg in this cute little spin on the original. And in case you were wondering, yes, he is extremely annoyed at the diary copying. Classic Greg.
YA FICTION: On the Come Up by Angie Thomas
Thomas’ 2017 release of The Hate U Give seemed a hard (impossible?) act to follow. We can’t remember the last time we witnessed such an impassioned response to a young adult novel – from much, much less young adults (i.e., people our age). The story had a way of hitting all the right marks at just the right time in the way that the odds of the author producing another such impressive tale were understandably slim. But On the Come Up hits surprisingly close. Inspired by her father, 16-year-old Bri hopes to become one of the greatest rappers of all time (don’t we all?). But making it as a hip-hop artist is an understandably rocky road filled with eloquently expressed controversy and drama.
NONFICTION: Beyond the Trees: A Journey Alone Across Canada’s Arctic by Adam Shoalts
We had the pleasure of hosting a talk with Adam around two years ago (we just say Adam now – naturally we’ve designated ourselves pals after one brief meeting). Author of Alone Against the North and A History of Canada in Ten Maps, the 'professional adventurer' was elected a Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society in 2013 and completed a nearly 4,000-km solo journey across Canada's Arctic in 2017 (the subject of this book). Not only an entertaining speaker, Adam is also a vivid storyteller that will leave you feeling both awed and inspired. Even if all the more thankful to be sitting at home in your new reading socks.