Bookish Hall of Fame, Second Floor (Nos. 49-72)

This Spring I’m working through my ‘Bookish Hall of Fame’ pyramid — what are for me, the ‘best’ one hundred books I’ve read through the end of 2022:

Today I’ll unveil the second tier of the pyramid, covering numbers 49-72. I will list them in reverse numerical order with some basic information and a very brief setup.

My Bookish Hall of Fame, Second Floor

71-72. The War that Saved My Life (2015, Winner: Newbery Medal) and The War I Finally Won (2017), Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

This pair of middle grade novellas is in equal parts charming, informative, and moving. It tells the story of a girl who has poor mobility due to a clubfoot and her younger brother, who are evacuated from their London home and abusive mother during the Blitz.

70. The Poet X, Elizabeth Acevedo (2019, Winner: Carnegie Medal, National Book Award)

This is a stunning YA novel in verse about a girl coming of age in New York City, torn between her desire to create and her mother’s rigid religious beliefs.

69. Mary Jane, Jessica Anya Blau (2022)

Another YA coming of age story, this is set in 1970s Baltimore, where a teenager takes a summer job as a nanny for a family that challenges the conventions and ideas of her own home.

68. Sleeping Giants, Themis Protocol 1, Sylvain Neuvel (2016) 🇨🇦

A fantastic introduction to a science fiction trilogy about what happens when humanity discovers the remains of ancient robots buried deep in the earth.

67. Pachinko, Min Jin Lee (2017, Shortlist: National Book Award)

A moving multigenerational story of the challenges faced by ethnic Koreans living in Japan in the last century.

66. Not Wanted on the Voyage, Timothy Findley (1984) 🇨🇦

This is a harrowing story of obsession and the dangers inherent in a strong sense of calling, based on the Noah story.

65. Sweet Sorrow, David Nicholls (2019)

In this touching and surprisingly hilarious novel, a mediocre teenage boy in late-90s England joins a Summer production of Romeo and Juliet in an attempt to impress a girl. (Why else?)

64. Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi (2016, Winner: National Book Critics Circle Prize for Debut Novels)

At the start of this multigenerational epic, the paths of two half-sisters in what is now Ghana diverge when one is sold into slavery. The subsequent chapters show the lasting impacts of the slave trade, colonialism, and anti-Black racism on both sides of the Atlantic across several generations.

63. A Town Called Solace, Mary Lawson (2021) 🇨🇦

A small stakes, small-town story revolving around a well-meaning woman who became attached to a neighbour boy and the lasting consequences of this over the decades.

62. The Red Tent, Anita Diamant (1997)

This is a beautiful retelling of the story of the biblical patriarch Jacob’s wives and daughters from their perspective. The author is honest about the liberties she took — we simply don’t know much about the lives of women in nomadic pastoral societies during the Bronze Age — but it’s a gorgeous thought experiment.

61. My Sister, the Serial Killer, Oyinkan Braithwaite (2018, Shortlist: Women’s (formerly the Orange) Prize)

This dark comedic look at just how far the bonds of family extend offers a wonderful glimpse of life in contemporary Lagos and also happens to be the most impactful discussion of social media I’ve seen in print.

60. The Nest, Kenneth Oppel (2015) 🇨🇦

This is a middle grade horror novel that is both age-appropriate for its intended audience and still genuinely creepy for adult readers. It tells the story of a boy who starts having dreams promising the healing of his critically ill baby brother. (See here for a fuller review.)

59. The House in the Cerulean Sea, T.J. Klune (2020)

A charming, feel-good story about a man who is sent by a government department that oversees the care of ‘special’ children to investigate the goings on at an orphanage, where one of the children is listed as being the antichrist.

58. The Mirror and the Light, Thomas Cromwell 3, Hilary Mantel (2020, Shortlist: Women’s Prize)

The excellent conclusion of Mantel’s multiple-award-winning trilogy that started with Wolf Hall, covers the period in Cromwell’s life from the downfall of Anne Boleyn to his own execution.

57. The Guncle, Steven Rowley (2021)

Rowley is one of my favorite authors, but as much as I wish there had been room in my Hall of Fame for The Editor and Lily and the Octopus, his 2021 release, The Guncle, stands out as a clear favorite. It tells the story of a washed up actor who has to take in his niece and nephew for the Summer following the death of their mother — his sister-in-law and best friend. It’s a truly wonderful novel that deals with difficult issues of grief and loss, family and connection, all the while being a lot of fun.

56. The City We Became, N.K. Jemisin (2020)

This is a dazzling and inventive piece of speculative fiction that imagines the world’s great cities as becoming embodied as living, breathing human avatars; the trick for New York City is that it isn’t one city but five and the boroughs must band together to save the city from a nefarious threat. It’s really an allegory of sorts on the threats of gentrification to the lives of cities, and it works really really well.

55. The Lincoln Highway, Amor Towles (2021)

In Towles’ third novel, a teenager newly released from juvenile detention tries to escape the Midwest for a new life with his younger brother in California. But, their trip West turns out to need to begin with a trip East to New York City.

54. The Signature of All Things, Elizabeth Gilbert (2013)

The story of a young American woman engaged in studying mosses at the start of the nineteenth-century, just as religion, philosophy, and the natural sciences were parting ways for good.

53. The Mysteries of Pittsburgh. Michael Chabon (1988)

This debut from Michael Chabon (who would win the Pulitzer in 2001), follows a young man who just wants one more Summer of fun before settling down after college, but ends up falling into a crowd come too close for comfort to his father’s mob connections.

51-52. The Kingdom of Copper (2019) and The Empire of Gold (2020), Daevabad Trilogy 2-3, S.A. Chakraborty

The second and third installments of the much-beloved Daevabad Trilogy both expand the universe established in The City of Brass, which is based in Arab and Persian legends and myths, and eventually bring the story to a very satisfying conclusion.

50. Piranesi, Susanna Clarke (2020, Winner: Women’s Prize, Shortlist: Whitbread-Costa, Nebula, and Hugo Awards)

This short novel is part mystery, part modern myth. It tells the story of a man who lives alone in what appears to be an infinitely large house, large enough to have its own tides and weather systems, and plenty of mystery. It’s as weird as it sounds, but is a spectacular read.

49. The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)

In this quintessential novel of Jazz-age America, a young man falls in with the fabulously wealthy crowd of Long Island’s north shore, but quickly discovers the glitz and glamour can only barely conceal harsh realities lying beneath the surface.


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