‘Sup readers? Welcome to a special year-end edition of On The Shelf, Fan Fest’s original book review column. On The Shelf has been, since its inception, an exercise in saving you room on your shelf to dedicate to geeky goodies. Books are awesome, but so are sculptures, FunKo Pops, figures, etc. and not every book you read is an automatic gem. It’s been quite a year in books— some were good, some were great, and some… well, they’re better left a memory— but since 2018 is right around the corner, I figured it would be appropriate to rehash the best of the best that OTS’s 2017 experience had to offer:
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
Honeyman’s debut novel is a heartbreakingly real portrayal of loneliness, a bone-deep, well-researched dive into the complex human psyche, and a solid case for the fact that while love may not make the world go ’round, in all its forms— including the oft-ignored platonic affection— it is a salve for an otherwise randomly cruel universe. Eleanor Oliphant, the title character, is an awkward, jarring woman who skipped straight past the “learning how to play well with others,” stage and huddled right into the “avoid people like the plague because humanity makes no sense,” stage. This is where she has remained, stagnant, for years. But when the sharp-edged, reticent Eleanor and her coworker, Raymond, a sweet but bumbling I.T. guy, save an elderly man named Sammy, Eleanor’s small, cold, orderly world expands in wonderful ways. This book is hard to read. The characters— particularly Eleanor and her awful, awful mother— are so true-to-life, their experiences so poignant, you can’t help but feel a little tied-up when you read it. However, it’s absolutely earned its spot on this list. I can’t wait for Honeyman’s next literary foray. You can check it out here.
Everything Beautiful Is Not Ruined by Danielle Younge-Ullman
Oof, this novel is the reason the term “book hangover” exists. We follow main character Ingrid as she struggles through a “survival camp” surrounded by at-risk teens. Ingrid is there at the behest of her high-maintenance mother, former opera star, Margot-Sophia Lalonde, whose approval her daughter desperately covets, while at the same time desperately struggling to step out from the wide cast of her shadow. But this book digs way deeper than the typical snarky fare of the YA genre. With Everything Beautiful Is Not Ruined, Younge-Ullman tackles the precarious riot of mother-daughter relationships, the delicate reality of living with mental health issues, and the ups and downs that everyone experiences in life. Ingrid is one of my favourite YA protagonists of the year— she’s sharp but vulnerable, smart but naive, young, but with a plethora of life experience expected of someone double her age. Want a copy? (Yes you do). Check it out here.
Henchgirl by Kristen Gudsnuk
Another debut, Henchgirl is the comic everyone’s talking about. Mary Posa just wants to be a normal adult— which is kind of ironic, given her current status as a henchgirl for The Butterfly Gang, a C-list crime ring led by the doofy-if-earnest Monsieur Monarch. Hey, even if she doesn’t have a typical nine-to-five schedule, being part of The Butterfly Gang is proof that crime really does pay—. Aside from the obvious drawbacks of criminality, Mary isn’t exactly a natural at villainy, and prefers to do the right thing, much to her organization’s detriment. Henchgirl has got it all: witty dialogue, a fun art-style, eye-catching colours, and a story that both plays with comforting nostalgia and confronts the timeless anxiety of growing up. Plus, there’s superpowers and stuff! Check it out here.
Caraval by Stephanie Garber
The book that started it all. Caraval was my first On The Shelf read, and the first YA book I’d picked up in years. A spellbinding fantasy that is wrongly compared to Erin Morganstern’s The Night Circus (it’s nothing like that), Caraval follows 18-year-old Scarlett Dragna. Since she was a child, Scarlett has dreamed of seeing Caraval, a magical show put on by the elusive Grand Master Legend. Be careful what you wish for: Scarlett is personally invited to Caraval, but her younger sister, Donatella, is kidnapped as the game’s “prize.” Forced to play by Legend’s strange rules and reckon with magic she has only heard of in bedtime stories, Scarlett must find Donatella, win the game, and get home before their abusive, volatile father takes matters into his own hands. Click here if you want to get your hands on a copy.
It’s A Bird by by Steven T. Seagle and Teddy Kristiansen
This one might be cheating, because it’s technically a reprint, but whatever. It’s A Bird is Steven T. Seagle’s semi-autobiographical tale about the time he was asked to write Superman. A timely exploration of the unchanging truths of the human condition, morality, and whether or not the world still needs/can still identify with Superman. This was so powerful, and to be honest, I’m not sure whether it’s more fiction or nonfiction (particularly the aspects dealing with the main character, “Steven”). You can check it out here.
Archie Vol 4: Over the Edge by Mark Waid and Pete Woods
If you haven’t picked up Archie Comics’ modernized line— spearheaded by Mark Waid’s take on the gang with his Archie book— you definitely should. Consistently delivering excellence since its inception, Vol 4: Over the Edge steps into another level of greatness. Archie, perennially everybody’s buddy, is baited into a car race against the universally-reviled Reggie Mantle, a proposition that girl next door, Betty Cooper, heartily objects. With his ego jabbed and his pride on the line, Archie— clumsy, disaster-prone, carelessly chaotic Archie— accepts the challenge. Over the Edge takes the established Archie-verse and cranks everything all the way up, shattering the idyllic town of Riverdale and rocking everyone to their core. Haven’t caught up with the Archie-verse yet? Click here to check out Archie Vol 4: Over the Edge.
Are You Sleeping by Kathleen Barber
If you’ve listened to and loved the true-crime podcast Serial, Are You Sleeping, the quiet thriller by debut novelist Kathleen Barber, might just scratch that itch. Are You Sleeping revolves around the fictionalized murder of a college professor, Chuck Burhman. Years later, his adult twin daughters (one of whom was a witness to the murder. She spiraled down into drug addiction following the heinous crime and their mother’s subsequent abandonment; the other sister was left to pick up everyone’s broken pieces), estranged by choice, are forced back together when a new podcast dominates the media. It drags the case, and their lives, back into the public eye. I know my opinion on this is the unpopular one, but I really loved the domestic aspect of this mystery. Our main character, Josie, is steady and reliable and utterly frustrated by the fact that, after all the years and all the distance, she is beholden to her twin sister’s bad decisions. I really appreciated the fact that Barber explored Laney’s drug addiction through Josie’s eyes— too often, contemporary thrillers glamourize unreliable narrators in a bid to find the next Gone Girl. It’s really difficult to find a contemporary book that unflinchingly deals with the emotional cost of living and dealing with a self-destructive addict, usually, the addict is the one who is championed, while their loved ones are long-sufferingly shoved into the background. This book balances sympathy for Laney with the cold, hard fist of reality, and Josie managing to squirm away from her to live her own life. Check it out here.
Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills
The most recent On The Shelf read, Foolish Hearts follows Claudia after she overhears Breakup Of The Year, between affable Paige and snarly Iris at a party. As if that’s not awkward enough, Claudia is then partnered to work with the highly-contentious Iris for an English project, which turns into both girls’ mandatory participation in the school’s stage production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Claudia, a wallflower by nature, is suddenly confronted with a plethora of things, including unexpected friendships, an unexpected bond with an adorable boy, and an unexpected affinity for a ragingly popular boy band. I finished this book in one sitting— it’s the funniest, most heartwarming book I’ve read all year. Wanna check it out? Here you go.
Which books were your favs this year?