The Most Brilliant Books of 2017
The year is out, but the results are in! After much deliberation, our booksellers have compiled a selection of titles that we consider the Most Brilliant Books of 2017. They are ranked alphabetically by author, and not by merit, as all are equally Brilliant. (After all, how can you compare The Ministry of Utmost Happiness with Life?) Each one brought something unique to the literary landscape of 2017. Which ones have you read?
"Newbery award winner Katherine Applegate has crafted an immigrant story told from the perspective of a mighty old oak tree. Told through short chapters with small deft illustrations, this thoughtful and well paced fable would be an excellent choice for a family read aloud." —Toni
"What happens when your family tree doesn't look like everyone else's? What happens when you're adopted, or spent years in the foster care system? What happens when you give your baby to another family to raise? Robin Benway's National Book Award-winning YA novel follows teens trying to answer these questions for themselves, crafting a story with compassion and humanity that gives this book appeal far beyond its intended audience."
"Egan, a two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist and reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, chronicles the lakes' industrial-era decline in a compelling narrative that weaves together science, history, culture and colorful personalities. His story evokes outrage at the callous short-sightedness driving the lakes' destruction, yet closes with hope that innovation, more enlightened attitudes and nature's incredible resilience may bring about healing and—dare we say it—make the lakes great again."
"Jennifer Egan is bound to draw swarms of new admirers with her latest novel. Beginning in Depression-era New York, it follows a strong and believable heroine as she comes of age working at the Brooklyn Naval Yards during WWII. Careful research, rich noir atmosphere and the allegorical overtones of the ever-present sea support a large and memorable cast of characters and a compelling plot." —Toni
"Monsters internal and external haunt the pages of this dark and moving graphic novel. In turbulent 1960s Chicago, 10-year-old Karen grapples with her mom's cancer diagnosis, a brother haunted by his past and the murder of a neighbor. Karen's story is told through her diary pages, with sketches of imagined horror comic book covers. The drawings tear across the pages with the desperation of a monster trying to get out." —Rachel
"A teen in rural northern Minnesota, Linda is desperate for connection, obsessed with her enigmatic new neighbors, and a classmate entangled in a relationship with a teacher. Narrating these threads is the adult Linda, who may have been villain, victim, or bystander in at least one tragedy. Fridlund builds tension & weaves a complex, multilayered morality tale." — Sharon
"The story begins in the 1930s with Ludo and his uncle Ambrose - a kite maker, letter carrier, and pacifist. An encounter with a beautiful young woman haunts Ludo until she returns to their village. The daughter of a wealthy Polish family, Lila gives Ludo a glimpse of high society. The outbreak of WWII throws their world into chaos, with Ludo in France and Lila in Poland. A powerful tale of memory, hope, and love in the face of adversity." —Jack
"The savage decimation of the Osage Indian tribe over the rights to oil that had been the foundation of their wealth for generations. Written with smooth narrative style, but all too hauntingly real." —Jodie
"The latest from award-winning, bestselling, superstar YA author John Green. With that kind of star-power behind it, there's no suprise this book started generating buzz the moment it was announced, but Green's unflinching and deeply personal take on living with OCD makes this a book that stands on its own merit."
"This slim novel is a compelling and nuanced refugee tale. The story begins in an unspecified country stirring with unrest just as the main characters, Saeed and Nadia, are beginning a relationship. Civil war brings the country to chaos and the young couple seeks a way out. Hamid's prose is reminiscent of a dark fairytale, and he alternates between elements of stark reality and magical realism to create settings that are simultaneously familiar and dystopian." — Sharon
"Oliver Jeffers' charmingly idiosyncratic introduction to the planet. With its saturated colors and fine details this book will certainly engage your little earthling." —Toni
"An exciting, quick paced, fantastical thriller for those who wished there had been more Kung Fu fight scenes in the Godfather movies. Set in a Japanese-esque Mafia underground, complete with black markets and smuggling, Lee has created a fantasy world with magical Jade as the dominant item traded in coin and blood. A powerful new drug has hit the streets, which allows anyone, even foreigners, to utilize the magical properties of Jade, undermining the previous ruling authority of the Green Bone Warriors. How far will they go to regain control?" —Jodie
"This dark, devastatingly beautiful debut novel updates Southern Gothic with a coming of age tale reminiscent of Edgar Allen Poe, William Styron, Harper Lee and Thomas Wolfe, its primary muse. Like his father, narrator Henry has a devotion to literature and classical music that marks him as a misfit in his North Carolina mountain community. In their shared story of tragedy and love, both leave and return to a home that binds and wounds. Lewis deftly transitions from family heartbreak to college ribaldry to the euphoria of falling in love, and his sentences astound with an erudite charm. Henry's description of a Chopin composition is almost otherworldly. Bonus: one of the best characters is a dog." —Sharon
"Drawing upon his training in the United States military, Admiral William H. McRaven speaks during commencement day to the students of the University of Texas - 'If you want to change the world, start by making your bed'. This and many more anecdotes give inspiration to everyone looking to change their world for the better." —Jodie
"You don't need recipes, just this cookbook. By examining four elements of cooking, Nosrat explains how to get it right every time. Combining some science and a lot of accessibility, this book offers something for everyone: from novices looking to build a basic cooking foundation to the more experienced cook wanting a deeper understanding." —Rachel
"Like an Indiana Jones flick, this true to life tale drops the reader into the unexplored regions of Honduras, where a fabled lost city is thought to be hidden. The expedition is set upon instantly by jaguars, poisonous snakes and the all-too-violent soldiers of the Honduran army, but these are nothing in comparison to the horrendous incurable curse. Thought to be nothing more than a legend, the curse quickly becomes reality for the crew. An adventurous non-fiction account of the dark corners of our world that might best remain undiscovered." —Jodie
"This long awaited addition to Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials saga is sure to satisfy admirers of his carefully crafted fantasies. The newest installment introduces us to a new hero, Malcolm and his trusty canoe, La Belle Sauvage. I was swept away." —Toni
"No announced book release of 2017 filled me with as much anticipation and trepidation as Arundhati Roy's second novel, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness. Her The God of Small Things, published 20 years ago, was so achingly beautiful and perfect that Roy could've continued to rest on her Man Booker Prize laurels while campaigning tirelessly for human rights and environmental causes (her day job). How glad I was to find she had not!" —Sharon
"A fantastic opening to a new fantasy series with unique, well developed characters, a compelling mystery reminiscent of The Westing Game and a deeply imaginative urban setting. Sure to engage teen series lovers and precocious middle grade readers." —Toni
"Nothing about this complicated family drama feels easy but the sustained intensity of its images, sometimes harrowing, sometimes blissful, kept me riveted. The story is stitched to the awesome, menacing mountains of Idaho and a small family living close to the land. It's an idyllic life with a piano and animals but also a perilous freedom. The story unfolds from a single devastating incident. As time passes, there are new characters and changing circumstances but the inscrutable mystery at the heart of this novel does not budge. Fans of Marilyn Robinson will appreciate this thoughtful and gifted writer." — Toni
"If you've stopped by looking for kids' books anytime since June, it's likely you left the store with this one. We can't stop recommending it, and you only have to open it to see why. A beautiful book for young and old alike." —Toni
"This is a lovely retelling of a classic nursery rhyme. Dan Santat offers readers a beautifully illustrated journey through the emotional strength required to recover from an accident. Serendipity leads Humpty Dumpty, and readers themselves, to an uplifting surprise ending." —Aaron
"Saunders has taken a pivotal historical moment as inspiration for this wildly imaginative, gorgeously written, deeply moving novel. Complex and satisfying, this Man Booker award winning novel transcends yet illuminates life's daily dramas." —Toni
"The beautifully detailed illustrations support a tale of adventure, inquiry, resilience and friendship. A wonderful story that will captivate children and charm adults." —Toni
"Topping bestseller lists since it was published, this is a book that deserves every bit of the attention. The narrator, Starr, walks a fine line between two worlds: the poor, predominantly black neighborhood she calls home, and the wealthy white prep school she attends with a handful of other students of color. When her best friend Khalil is killed by a police officer, the rift between those worlds only widens. One side is marching in protest of police brutality, while the other writes off Khalil as a "thug" who must have deserved his fate. Only Starr was there, and can tell what really happened, but with one foot in each world, can she afford to speak up? More importantly, can she afford to stay silent?"
"There are so many reasons to love this book- Start with the unusual collaboration between a national treasure (Mark Twain) and a local hero (Philip Stead) add the refined and evocative illustrations (Erin Stead), the exceptionally executed book design, a very compelling fable with sly political overtones for the adults and you have the perfect family read a loud and a book any bibliophile would cherish." —Toni
One of our Most Brilliant Books of 2016, Hillbilly Elegy is back for 2017 and still as relevant as ever.
"Essential reading for anyone wanting to better understand the realities of life for the white working class poor of rural America.
Author J.D. Vance moved beyond the community in which he was raised, amidst brutal abuse and addition, to graduate from Yale Law School. The price he pays in alienation from deep cultural roots, with which he still identifies, are a stark epiphany of class in America."
"What is Borne? Both the novel and the book's namesake defy definition in this bizarre and beautifully written dystopian fantasy. Giant flying bears, a couple of humans, Rachel and Wick, and a whole bunch of strange biotech creatures are struggling to coexist in a decimated landscape, scavenging what is left of a city ruined by corporate greed and dangerous scientific endeavors. Scaling the flanks of Mord, a giant biotech bear that terrorizes the city, Rachel finds a strange creature she can't identify. Is it a plant, an animal? Naming it Borne, we follow their relationship, Borne gaining consciousness and Rachel struggling with the reality of what it is to influence another being's existence. In this highly literary work, Vandermeer has created something truly captivating, both a dark look at a possible future and a question of what it is to be conscious." —Rachel