Although Belinda and Emily, the alternating narrators of Cammie McGovern’s excellent YA novel A Step Toward Falling, attend the same high school, the two girls couldn’t be more unalike. Belinda is twenty-one and spends her days in the Life Skills class with other students who have physical or developmental disabilities. Emily is a high school senior who co-chairs her school’s Youth Action Coalition with her gay bff, Richard, but hasn’t ever really taken a stand, preferring to work behind-the-scenes..
At a high school football game, Belinda is attacked and Emily witnesses the event and does nothing – not because she’s a horrible person, far from it, but because her “brain couldn’t process what it was seeing.” Anyway, in the next instant she sees Lucas, one of the school’s football players, running from under the bleachers and she is sure he saved Belinda. The fact that he did nothing either, sends Lucas and Emily to the Lifelong Learning Centre where they must volunteer with young adults who have a variety of developmental disabilities.
As for Belinda, she retreats to the safety of her home where she lives with her mother and grandmother. She watches Pride and Prejudice, and avoids talking about what happened to her because according to her Nan “what’s done is done, sweetheart. The important thing is you’re home now and you’re safe. You never have to go back to that school or see those people again as far as I’m concerned.”
Navigating high school is hard enough, but everything about the girls’ journey – albeit different – feels honest. Belinda is in love with Colin Firth’s Mr. Darcy. She is quite sure that he is watching her from the television screen, and she’s “pretty sure he loves me, too.” Belinda’s innocence is what protects her from understanding that Ron, one of the football team’s star players, doesn’t actually care for her, even though he asked her to dance at a Best Buddies event.
Emily has spent all of high school hiding out in the library. She watches the table of football players and their picture-perfect cheerleader girlfriends and dreams about a post-high school life where everything will be better.
Lucas, who is seen only through Emily’s eyes, is huge and “a little scary-looking.” But, like all the characters in McGovern’s novel, there is more to him than first meets the eye. And that’s kind of the point. How can we ever truly know someone if we never bother to talk to them, try to understand them or extend the branch of friendship?
McGovern’s novel might have veered into ‘preachy-ness’ had it not been for the authentic voices of Belinda and Emily. I loved spending time with these girls. I loved how Emily and Lucas made a genuine effort to make amends and, in the process, became better people. There is certainly a lesson here, but it doesn’t feel instructive as much as it feels heartfelt and human.
So, a new year means a new year of reading and there’s nothing I like more than flipping my calendar over and anticipating all the great new books that might cross my path. A lot of my reading friends sign up for reading challenges and there are lots of them out there if you’re looking to expand your reading horizons.
Pop Sugar offers up a great list of suggestions for its reading challenge – everything from “a book set in a hotel” (The Shining, anyone?) and “a book with pictures” – here’s your opportunity to read a graphic novel. There’s also an advanced challenge which includes “a book over 800 pages” or “a book recommended by a librarian.”
Book Riot offers up the Read Harder Challenge for people who want to challenge themselves to up their reading game.
Goodreads also offers a reading challenge. If you are already a member of GoodReads, you’ll know this one. There’s no list to follow, you just set a reading goal – I’ll read 50 books this year- and then track them. 50 Book Pledge offers the same sort of thing, if you’re just interested in tracking books read. It’s kind of cool to see them all on a shelf and you can give yourself a part on the back when you reach your reading goal. I didn’t actually set a goal last year – I didn’t want the pressure, but I managed to read 60 books in 2016. Yay me.
If you are at all interested in directing your reading a little bit, or try reading new genres, just Google Reading Challenges 2017 and everything from reading Austen to reading the alphabet will pop up.
Another thing I like about the new year is the buzz around new books…not that I need any new books, mind you, but I still enjoy the potential for new books.
Some particularly intriguing book titles include:
Canadian Nick Cutter aka Craig Davidson is the author of the very disturbing novels The Deep and one I read a couple years ago called The Troop. His latest horror novel Little Heaven is getting a lot of buzz. It’s about three hired guns who go to rescue a woman’s nephew from a remote New Mexico settlement called Little Heaven. Stephen King said it scared the hell out of him and that he couldn’t put it down. I almost chose this book for my book club, but I didn’t want to freak my reading friends out. I can definitely vouch for Cutter, though. The Troop is total squicky fun and I will definitely be adding this one to my tbr list.
Fans of Paula Hawkins novel The Girl on the Train will be delighted to know that her second novel Into the Water will be hitting the shelves in May. All I can tell you about it is that it features a single mother and her daughter whose bodies are discovered at the bottom of a lake. I’m not sure that The Girl on the Train was the best of the bunch of thrillers that came out over the past couple years. If I were you, I’d add Claire Macintosh’s killer I Let You Go to my list…but since I’ve already read it, I’m looking forward to her second novel I See You.
Non fiction readers should be on the look-out for Sherman Alexie’s collection of essays and poems about his mother, with whom he had an emotionally fraught relationship. It’s called You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me and it’s due out in June. Before you read that, though, I encourage you to read Alexie’s amazing YA novel The Absolutely True Story of a Part Time Indian. Not only has it win lots of praise, it also has the distinction of being one of the most challenged books. It’s so good.
And most exciting of all, Celeste Ng’s follow up to Everything I Never Told You – my absolute favourite novel of 2016 – will be out at some point this year. There’s very little information about it other than the title, Little Fires Everywhere, but when it comes out it’s going straight to the top of my reading pile.
As for YA – because you know I am always on the lookout for the next YA book I can gush about to my students…I am going to cheat a little and suggest you add a book to your reading list that I have already read. That book is Jennifer Niven’s novel All the Bright Places. It is the story of high school seniors Finch and Violet who meet at the top of the school’s bell tower. They are both at dark places in their lives, but Finch manages to talk Violet down. The thing, though, is that Violet is beautiful and “cheerleader popular” and Finch is, well, kinda odd. Nevertheless, this shared experience and a school project throw them together and they become friends and then more than friends and OMG, this book will give you all. the. feels. It deals with mental health, grief, bullying, family dynamics…and it is so beautifully written. And it’s going to be a movie. So excited.
Niven started out writing general fiction and All the Bright Places was her first YA novel. Her second YA novel Holding Up The Universe also sounds terrific.
Finally, one more YA book you should add to your TBR list: A Step Toward Falling by Cammie McGovern. It’s the story of what happens after super smart Emily and a football player called Lucas fail to stop an attack on Belinda – a young adult with developmental delays – at a high school football game. Emily and Belinda take turns telling their story and the voices are pretty awesome. It’s a ‘message’ novel without being preachy and would certainly be a welcome novel in any classroom library.
Good luck with your reading list. I’d love to hear how you make out.
I have never returned a book to the bookstore before. In the past, if I read a book and didn’t like it, I would normally just donate it to goodwill. Zoe Whittall’s The Best Kind of People comes with Heather Reisman’s money back guarantee, though. Reisman is the CEO of Indigo, Canada’s largest book retailer. If she endorses a book with her Heather’s Pick sticker and you don’t like it, you can return the book – no questions asked – for a full refund. So, that’s where The Best Kind of People is going.
Although I was intrigued by the premise of Whittall’s novel, there were some negative reviews on Litsy and so I didn’t purchase it. Then it was chosen as our book club book and I had no choice but to read it.
George Woodbury is a local hero in Avalon Hills, a sleepy bedroom community in Connecticut.
George could be recognized by his trademark brown tweed jackets with the corduroy elbow pads, and his perpetual armload of books and papers. Everybody knew him, from school or from the many boards and committees he sat on. He was a fixture in town. He remained the man from Woodbury Lake who saved the children.
Ten years ago, George stopped a lone gunman who entered a school to kill his girlfriend. Now George is a beloved and respected teacher at the local private school. George has the added privilege of being extremely wealthy because of his father’s business acumen: doctor turned real estate tycoon. His two children, adult lawyer Andrew, who lives in New York City with his partner, Jared, and seventeen-year-old, Sadie, are used to being part of the inner circle. Joan, George’s wife, is a nurse who dotes on George and loves him without question. Until there’s something to question.
And there is. In present day, the police come to the Woodbury estate to arrest George for “sexual misconduct with four minors, attempted rape of a minor.” Of course, everyone believes it’s a huge misunderstanding. George assures his wife that “it’s just an error.” But it’s an error that throws everything Joan has ever believed about her marriage and her life into question. It also throws Andrew and Sadie’s life into turmoil.
It’s a pretty good hook for a book. And it might have been a pretty good book, too, if Whittall had written characters that were even remotely believable. There’s the “stand by your man” wife who is so overwhelmed she lets her daughter move in with her boyfriend, Jimmy, and his mother. There’s Andrew, the angry gay son who races to his mother’s side but who hates the small-minded town he grew up in. (The town, by the way, where he came of age in a relationship with one of his teachers.) There’s Clara, Joan’s shrill sister who used to be a “staple on the 1990s New York City party scene.” There’s Kevin, the parasitic writer who lives with Jimmy’s mother. There’s Amanda, Sadie’s supposed best friend, whose younger sister is one of the complainants. Her comment to Sadie: “I know your dad is a fuckin’ perv and all, but you don’t have to act like I’m dead.”
The dialogue is one of the things that irked me the most about Whittall’s narrative. I read whole sections out loud to my son because it was just so…unrealistic. For example, when Kevin moves out of the house, Elaine, Jimmy’s mother explains his absence by saying: “Right now he’s staying at the Hilton while we work through some…grown-up issues.” It’s a ridiculous comment to make to the son for whom she is providing condoms and looking the other way while he sleeps with Sadie.
The Best Kind of People offered a good opportunity to raise all sorts of questions…without being didactic (which the book often is). Instead, wooden people moved through a series of hoops towards a conclusion which is neither satisfying or brave.
I’ve had a slow start to the 2017 reading year. Usually I power though a handful of books over the Christmas break, but this year I tended to binge-watch Netflix (The Fall – check it out if you haven’t already seen it) and sleep. I have about a half-dozen novels started, but none of them really grabbed me. Although it rarely happens to me, I’ve been in the book doldrums. I needed something to grab me by the throat and swing me back into reading gear. I chose what I was sure was going to be a winner, but I was disappointed. I did finish though.
Where They Found Her is the second book by Brooklyn-based novelist Kimberly McCreight. I read her debut novel, Reconstructing Amelia last year and loved it. It was one of those books that you just couldn’t put down and was well-written to boot. A literary win-win. Where They Found Her didn’t work for me at all.
When the body of an infant is found floating in the creek at Essex Bridge, Molly Anderson gets the call to check it out. She’s the Lifestyles reporter for the Ridgedale Reader and crime wouldn’t normally be her beat, but she’s the only one available to cover the story.
Molly’s at a fragile point in her life. She and her husband, Justin, are new in Ridgedale, a bedroom community in New Jersey. Justin teaches English at the local college and their daughter, Ella, is in kindergarten. Life is just starting to settle down after the death of Molly’s unborn baby, so the discovery that the body at the creek is also an infant is almost more than Molly can handle. She’s plucky, though.
On the other -shittier – side of town lives sixteen-year-old Sandy and her floozy of a mother, Jenna. Sandy is the adult in that relationship. She loves her mother, but she’s also tired of being the adult.
Barbara is the Stepford-wife of Steve, the town’s police chief. Her daughter, Hannah, is tutoring Sandy so that Sandy can graduate. Her young son, Cole, has been sucking all the oxygen from the room with his odd behavior.
Although it won’t be immediately obvious how the lives of these women intersect, their paths will cross and that’s when the gears started to grind for me. (It took me about 100 pages just to keep all the names straight – and that’s only a slight exaggeration.)
In all the ways that Reconstructing Amelia was a tightly focused story about a mother and daughter who are close, but still keep secrets from each other, Where They Found Her borders on melodrama. As Molly starts to unravel the identity of the baby and what happened to her, the reader will, too. There’s a fair share of red herrings, but everything gets tidied up in the end.
I turned the pages (once I got going), but I can’t say that I cared very much about any of the players and, for me, that’s one of the failings of McCreight’s novel. Where They Found Her just didn’t resonate on any level with me. I’m definitely in the minority, though. Critics loved it.
So – decent mystery (red herrings and tidy-ending aside). McCreight can certainly write and I would definitely read her again. But Where They Found Her was only so-so for me.
I am not one for making New Year’s resolutions, but I do enjoy a little bit of reflection. I like to think back on the year and contemplate what changes I might make to make my life, and the lives of those around me, better. The world seems to be moving faster and I think we could all benefit from taking a breath. Reading is one of the ways that I do that. I also think we need a lot more kindness in the world. I have a wonderful opportunity to model kindness every day in my classroom and I think showing tolerance, compassion and empathy is the only way forward. It’s the direction I am taking at any rate.
Once again, thanks to Jamie over at The Perpetual Page-Turner for starting this survey seven years ago and for sharing her questions and graphics. If you’d like to take a peek at her survey and see what loads of other readers read this year, you can do that here.
Number Of Books You Read: 60
Number of Re-Reads: 1
Genre You Read The Most From: Fiction
I was really looking forward to this book. Stephen King loved it and I trust his taste. It just didn’t do it for me. Maybe I missed the point because although the writing was good (and I would certainly read Tremblay again), I just felt like the book was trying to be too many things and I never really settled in to the narrative.
3. Most surprising (in a good way or bad way) book you read?
I was actually quite surprised with how much I enjoyed this book. I didn’t know it was a zombie book when I purchased it and had I known I might have left it on the shelf. That would have been too bad because I really like it.
This is the second post Promise Not To Tell book I’ve read by McMahon. I loved Promise Not To Tell, but haven’t liked anything else I’ve read by her. The Winter People was a hot mess.
4. Book You “Pushed” The Most People To Read (And They Did)?
I urged a lot of people to read Tim Johnston’s fine novel Descent. I really liked this book a lot and the people I suggested it to also enjoyed it. Of course I encouraged everyone to read Everything I Never Told You and I also suggested I Let You Go by Clare McIntosh to a lot of readers who like a page-turner.
5. Best series you started in 2016? Best Sequel of 2016? Best Series Ender of 2016?
This is always a hard question for me to answer. I kinda hate series, to be honest. That said, I did promise my daughter that I would start Harry Potter this year and I did, but I only made it through Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and half way through Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban before I got sidetracked by other books. I did read the first of C. J. Daugherty’s Night School series and I really liked it. I would have read more, but they are almost impossible to find. I also read Tammara Webber’s novel Breakable, which is a companion to her novel Easy.
6. Favorite new author you discovered in 2016?
I think I would read anything by Celeste Ng. I’ll definitely read more of Jennifer Niven.
7. Best book from a genre you don’t typically read/was out of your comfort zone?
The Girl With All the Gifts – M. C. Carey
Vampires – yes. Zombies – no. But this was terrific in every way.
8. Most action-packed/thrilling/unputdownable book of the year?
I actually read several thrillers this year of the can’t-put-it-down variety. Top of the heap goes to I Let You Go by Clare McIntosh. That book had an early twist that had me scrambling back to the beginning and then racing like a demon to the end. Tim Johnston’s Descent was also a pulse-racing, page-tuner. I also had a hard time putting down The Book of You by Claire Kendall
9. Book You Read In 2016 That You Are Most Likely To Re-Read Next Year?
Hahahahahaha. I often re-read books that I teach, but other than that I have too many books on my tbr pile to make a plan to re-read anything.
10. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2016?
I was attracted to the cover of In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware. I’m sure there are prettier or more dramatic covers than that, but I liked the black and white. That said, I also loved the cover of Martin Short’s memoir, I Must Say, probably because Short is on the cover and just seeing his face makes me smile. As soon as I see him I start thinking about all the characters he’s played over the years: Ed Grimley, Jiminy Glick, Franck from Father of the Bride and then I have to go watch some clips on YouTube. Be right back.
11. Most memorable character of 2016?
Gosh – this is tough because I have encountered some truly memorable characters during this reading year.
Honourable mention goes to Ryan Dean West from Andrew Smith’s terrific YA book Winger.
Another character that deserves a mention is Melanie from The Girl With All the Gifts. She was a beautifully complex character.
Tied for the win: Finch and Violet from All the Bright Places. I just fell madly in love with these two damaged, smart and beautiful characters.
12. Most beautifully written book read in 2016?
Egads – another tough category. Or maybe it’s just that I read a lot of terrific books this year. Gotta be Everything I Never Told You, though. The writing wasn’t overwrought or ornate, but so much of that book felt like a punch to the gut. Simple and beautiful.
13. Most Thought-Provoking/ Life-Changing Book of 2016?
Perhaps I would slot Iain Reid’s mind-bending novel I’m Thinking of Ending Things in this spot. It wasn’t a life-changing read, but it sure was thought-provoking and one of those novels that you really had to puzzle your way through. It was also the kind of book that you wanted to pass on, so you could have a conversation with another reader about the book’s wtf qualities.
14. Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2016 to finally read?
If I have to choose a book for this category, it’d have to be Harry Potter just because I probably should have read them (or started to read them) way before now.
15. Favorite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2016?
“You loved so hard and hoped so much and then you ended up with nothing. Children who no longer needed you. A husband who no longer wanted you. Nothing left but you, alone, and empty space.” – Celeste Ng, Everything I Never Told You
19. Favorite Non-Romantic Relationship Of The Year
Melanie and Helen Justineau from The Girl With All the Gifts
20. Favorite Book You Read in 2016 From An Author You’ve Read Previously
That would have to be All the Rage by Courtney Summers This was my third book by this Canadian author and once again Summers proved herself to be a fearless writer. Not an easy book to read, but certainly an important book.
21. Best Book You Read In 2016 That You Read Based SOLELY On A Recommendation From Somebody Else/Peer Pressure:
I don’t really have a book for this category. I don’t generally run out and buy books other people recommend because my tbr pile is too big. I do, however, add them to my tbr list and I might get to them sooner than other books. That said, I was pressured into getting on the Harry Potter series. I told my daughter I’d read the whole thing in the summer, and only got one and a half books finished before I got distracted by other books.
22. Newest fictional crush from a book you read in 2016?
Well, it’s not a new crush but I continue to be enamored with Lucas from Tammara Webber’s books Easy & Breakable.
23. Best 2016 debut you read?
Everything I Never Told You. C’mon, whose debut is as good as that!?
24. Best Worldbuilding/Most Vivid Setting You Read This Year?
The Girl With All the Gifts did an excellent job of putting the reader right into a post-apocalyptic future. I also thought Breanna Yovanoff created a super creepy world in her novel The Replacement.
25. Book That Put A Smile On Your Face/Was The Most FUN To Read?
I Must Say by Martin Short. I could hear all his characters in my head when I read the book. Love him.
26. Book That Made You Cry Or Nearly Cry in 2016?
I love a book that makes me cry. Everything I Never Told You and All the Bright Places both made me cry. Tom McNeal’s To Be Sung Underwater definitely put a lump in my throat on more than one occasion.
27. Hidden Gem Of The Year?
I wonder if many people read Bittersweet by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore. I really liked that book a lot. New Brunswick writer Riel Nason’s second novel All the Things We Leave Behind also fits into this category because she certainly deserves to be read.
28. Book That Crushed Your Soul?
Everything I Never Told You. Absolutely wrecked me. So did All the Bright Places.
29. Most Unique Book You Read In 2016?
The Dead House by Dawn Kurtagich was pretty unique as it incorporated journal entries, police and psychiatric reports, transcribed found video footage, etc.
30. Book That Made You The Most Mad (doesn’t necessarily mean you didn’t like it)?
Fictionophile She’s a prolific reader and she’s from my neck of the woods. What’s not to love?
2. Favorite review that you wrote in 2016?
Looking back over the reviews I wrote last year…I’m pretty happy with the majority of them, but I’ll mention The Paris Wife by Paula McLain, just because I haven’t included the book anywhere else and it’s worth a look.
3. Best discussion/non-review post you had on your blog?
I celebrated eight years of blogging back in September and I invited readers to tell me about their eight favourite things about my blog or list their eight favourite books. I got some awesome comments.
4. Best event that you participated in (author signings, festivals, virtual events, memes, etc.)?
I joined Litsy this year. The downside is that it’s an app so I have to do everything on my phone, but the upside is that it’s all books all the time. One of the Littens, BookishMarginalia, organized a #secretsantagoespostal event. We were all sent the name of someone else and we had to send a bookish gift. Then, on December 21, we all opened our presents and found out who our Secret Santa was. Fun!
5. Best moment of bookish/blogging life in 2016?
My book club read Nina de Gramont’s novel The Last September. At our gathering to discuss the novel, one of our group suggested something about the murder of the narrator’s husband (not a spoiler – we know he’s been killed on page one) that launched a huge debate. The next day, I tracked the author down on the Internet and put the question to her. She sent a lovely reply. That was cool. In fact, any interaction I have with an author is cool. Also – read The Last September. It’s terrific.
6. Most challenging thing about blogging or your reading life this year?
I actually think I did a pretty good job keeping up with my blog this year. I also didn’t set a reading goal for myself, but still managed to read 60 books in 2016.
7. Most Popular Post This Year On Your Blog (whether it be by comments or views)?
I always get a lot of hits the morning that I do my book column on CBC’s Information Morning. That’s generally the day with the heaviest traffic. You can listen to all the columns I’ve done over the past couple years by visiting the links provided on the right side of my blog under the heading Off the Shelf.
8. Post You Wished Got A Little More Love?
Well, I always wish I had a little more interaction with people, but that isn’t what drives my blog. Mostly, it’s a record of what I read.
9. Best bookish discover (book related sites, book stores, etc.)?
Litsy. You should all join. I am @TheLudicReader
10. Did you complete any reading challenges or goals that you had set for yourself at the beginning of this year?
I always do the 50 Book Pledge. Anything after 50 always feels like a bonus.
1. One Book You Didn’t Get To In 2016 But Will Be Your Number 1 Priority in 2017?
Nope. Not gonna say. Because I don’t know. It’s not the way I read, to be honest. That said, I will try to read some more Harry Potter to appease my daughter.
2. Book You Are Most Anticipating For 2017 (non-debut)?
I am looking forward to reading Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien. It won the 2016 Giller and the Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction and it was shortlisted for the Man Booker and longlisted for the 2017 Andrew Carnegie Medal.I am not usually dazzled by prizes, but this book appeals to me and I got a hardcover for $15 on Boxing Day!
3. 2017 Debut You Are Most Anticipating?
No clue. Haven’t even looked to see what’s coming out.
4. Series Ending/A Sequel You Are Most Anticipating in 2017?
5. One Thing You Hope To Accomplish Or Do In Your Reading/Blogging Life In 2017?
I am pretty happy with my reading life.
6. A 2017 Release You’ve Already Read & Recommend To Everyone:
Can’t help you. But I am looking forward to seeing what everyone else suggests.