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5 More of Jen's Favorite Reads of 2023

by Jen Moyers (@jen.loves.books)

Oh, friends. I love shouting out books SO MUCH, but I have such a hard time narrowing down these year-end lists. I'm going to name five books here that I really loved this year . . . but if I started again tomorrow, I feel sure that I could list five different books that I loved just as much. (If you want to check other books I've highlighted this year, you can check out my mid-year list, our 2023 awards list, and Patreon, where we each name two more titles! You can find Ashley's most recent list of favorites here.)

Traci Chee's We Are Not Free ( | - Re-reading books is one of my favorite things, and picking up Chee's book again this year (it was an Unabridged Podcast Buddy Read pick) was such a rich reading experience. Chee's focus is the mass incarceration of Japanese-American citizens during World War II—she tells the story through the lives of fourteen teenagers. Each voice highlights a different experience, a new outlook, a process of individualization that heightens the impact of the book. Chee is able to create fourteen distinct personalities, fourteen distinct voices, in these interconnected short stories. I read this in print first and chose the audiobook this time, and both formats are amazing. Twelve narrators bring to life this remarkable book.

Claudia Gray's The Murder of Mr. Wickham ( | - In my second year devoted to Jane Austen—I read the six major works last year and spent 2023 focused on her short works, some biographies, and a bunch of retellings—Gray's retelling was a standout. She takes characters from those six major novels, creates a timeline that explains how they're all believably connected, and then crafts a perfect murder mystery centered on one of the worst Austen villains, the loathsome Mr. Wickham from Pride and Prejudice. I loved watching Austen's characters come to life again, working through problems that are deeply anchored in who they are and the challenges they faced in their original stories. And the mystery is fabulous! This is the first book in a series, and I look forward to readingThe Late Mrs. Willoughby soon.

Lauren Groff's The Vaster Wilds ( | - I went into The Vaster Wilds confident that I would love it: every Groff book is a five-star read for me, despite the variety of her settings and subjects. (She's gone from the contemporary twistiness of Fates and Furies to the brilliantly researched Matrix without a single misstep.) Somehow, I still wasn't prepared for the brilliance of The Vaster Wilds, the story of a servant who escapes from a colonial American fort into the barren winter wilderness. Groff balances a survival story with a novel of female empowerment, navigating the gorgeous language of literary fiction with a propulsive plot and a deep backstory, in only 272 pages. If you haven't read Groff yet, dive in: you can start anywhere.

Nina LaCour's We Are Okay ( | - We Are Okay, another Unabridged Podcast Buddy Read pick, is another small novel: it's only 256 pages, and it's confined to a college campus over winter break. It doesn't feel small, though. LaCour's writing is gorgeous and spare but so evocative as she explores the heartbreak of a girl who has left her life behind. After Marin moved away to college, she cut off contact with everything: her best friend, the only family who remained, her home. Now, as she's left alone in the new life she's resisted building, she has to contend with the absences she's been avoiding for months. This is a heartbreaking, hopeful, (yes, I'll say it again) gorgeous book that I found to be deeply moving.

Safiya Sinclair's How to Say Babylon ( | - Sinclair, a poet, brings such a rich point of view and beautiful language to her memoir How to Say Babylon that I just had to include this on my year-end list. (I listened to this one on audio—Sinclair reads it herself—and I highly recommend it. It would be perfect for next year's Reading Challenge: "audiobook read by the author.") Sinclair grew up in Jamaica, in a strict Rastafari home. Her early childhood was loving, but as she grew older and her father faced multiple setbacks in his career, he turned his rage outward against Babylon (the postcolonial Jamaican society) and inward against his daughters. As Sinclair strives to define her own identity, she has to fight against the definitions that others place around her, finding her own path to the woman she wants to be.

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