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5 of Jen's Favorite Reads of 2024 So Far



by Jen Moyers (@jen.loves.books)


Here we are once again, my friends: it's a "best of" list . . . of a sort. (Be sure to check out Ashley's list, too!) And, as usual, selecting some of my favorite reads of the year is painful because it requires me to leave out some books that I loved, and I'm regretting those omissions even as I write this intro. I'm composing this blog post on June 4. So far this year, I've read 155 books, and I have loved so many of them!


In narrowing down my options, I eliminated anything that was a main pick on the podcast and anything that I'd read previously (so, no re-reads!). I also tried to offer a variety that's representative of the types of reading I love to do.


With that said, there are SO many books that easily could have a place on this list, but here are the five I'm highlighting:


Percival Everett's James (Bookshop.org | Libro.fm) - I know that Ashley chose this one, too, but I can't not include what is sure to be one of the most powerful reading experiences of the year.


I've read Huck Finn many, many times, so I was happy to find this quotation from Everett:


[Huck Finn] doesn’t have any deficiencies that I’m addressing; [James] addresses what Mark Twain would not have been able to address. So I got to participate in this discourse. . . . The novel belongs to Huck, and rightly. Huck is dealing with slavery in that American way, which is, "How does this innocent person, who knows that this is wrong, reconcile the fact that the only father figure in the novel for him is property?" But Twain cannot put himself in the position of being a slave, nor in the position of anyone in his family being a slave. That part of the story cannot be there. To anyone with an imagination who is an ancestor of people who were serviced to that condition, I had to wonder what that story might be. . . .

(You can read the full interview with Cree Myles here.)


I know that's a lengthy quotation, but I think Everett's intention here is so important to articulating just why I found James to be such an impactful reading experience: he's broadening and deepening a book that he dearly loves but one whose point of view he sees from a richer and more complex perspective. The way Everett shows us the truth and nuance behind Jim's presence in Twain's novel is nothing short of brilliant.


Kristin Hannah's The Women (Bookshop.org | Libro.fm) - I opened The Women with some hesitation: Hannah's one of those authors who either really works for me or really doesn't. Wow, does this book work.


The Women focuses on Frances "Frankie" McGrath who—against the wishes and expectations of her family—joins the Army Nurse Corps and ships off to Vietnam. Her experience is revelatory. Hannah peels back the layers not only on McGrath's experience in Vietnam, which is filled with moments of horror but also with relationships that are forged in the trust and efficiency that are necessary for all medical workers who serve, but also what she faces when she returns. I've read books about the ways that men were treated post-Vietnam, but this is the first book that highlights the ways that women were discounted. Again and again, Frankie is told that women didn't serve.


The plot here is less important than the writing and the character, but I'll leave the rest of the novel spoiler-free. I'll close by sharing that this is my favorite book by Hannah.


Joanna Ho's The Silence that Binds Us (Bookshop.org | Libro.fm) - The Silence that Binds Us was a buddy read pick for us this year, and it had an unexpected impact. (You can read Ashley's review here.) Ho shares the story of Maybelline Chen and her family in a book that epitomizes all YA books can do.


The event that serves as the hinge of the novel is the death by suicide of May's brother, Danny. Though Danny's appearances in the book are relatively sparse, Ho does a wonderful job crafting a full character (at the beginning and throughout the book) so that we feel the grief Danny’s friends and family feel.


The author’s note at the end of the book, which revealed that Ho started writing it in response to the hate crimes against Asian Americans during the pandemic, was so powerful in sharing her inspiration. I also thought that she expanded the discussion beyond that inspiration.


May’s relationships with secondary characters—her best friend Tiya and Tiya's brother Marc (who was also Danny's friend—and the way those played out both as friendships and as relationships that were perspective shifting to her was another strong element of the book.


The Silence that Binds Us dealt with grief and healing, racism and advocacy, silence and sharing in the most beautiful and powerful ways.


Everina Maxwell's Winter's Orbit (Bookshop.org | Libro.fm) - It felt like a little while since I had happened upon strong sci fi, so Winter's Orbit was such a welcome read. In my review (which you can read here), I said, "[main characters] Iskat and Thea are both plagued by secrets, by machinations, by those who are power hungry. In the center of it all are Kiem and Jainan, both trying to make the best of an awkward situation, to find some sort of happiness, and to do their best not to endanger their planets' futures . . . or to hurt each other, particularly as they each start to learn the other's painful history.


"What ensues is a longing for things each thinks can never happen, a determination to save their worlds. The points of view alternate between Kiem and Jainan's perspectives, leaving the reader in aching suspense (both regarding the romance AND the central mystery of what actually happened to Taam—and a few other mysteries that develop through the story).


"This is a gorgeous novel, with fabulous world building. Both Kiem and Jainan are developed with a complexity that's never overshadowed by the plot . . . but that plot is also incredibly compelling. Winter's Orbit is a book that's well worth your time."


Hannah Ritchie's Not the End of the World: How We Can Be the First Generation to Build a Sustainable Planet (Bookshop.org | Libro.fm) - Hannah Ritchie's Not the End of the World: How We Can Be the First Generation to Build a Sustainable Planet was a revelatory book for me, one that offers an important, optimistic view of the fight against climate change and toward sustainability. Ritchie's viewpoint is not, as she clarifies, one of "complacent optimism." Instead, she advocates for "conditional optimism," the idea that—while the situation facing our civilization is incredibly serious—there has been progress toward a sustainable planet, and there's hope for continued progress in the future.


"Many changes that do profoundly shape the world are not rare, exciting or headline-grabbing. They are persistent things that happen day by day and year by year until decades pass and the world has been altered beyond recognition. . . . My job is not to do original studies, or to make scientific breakthroughs. It's to understand what we already know. Or could know if we studied the information we have properly" (5).

The book's chapters, after the introduction laying out her viewpoint, each take on a different issue (air pollution, climate change, deforestation, food, biodiversity loss, ocean plastics, and overfishing). In each chapter, Ritchie begins with a section "How we got to now," updates "where we are today," and then offers recommendations about what we can do to build on any progress that has been made. She also includes a section on the areas we often worry about that don't make all that much of a difference, systemically.

"Optimism is seeing challenges as opportunities to make progress; it's having the confidence that there are things we can do to make a difference. We can shape the future, and we can build a great one if we want to" (9).

What I loved most about this book is how empowering it is. She never shies away from acknowledging the seriousness of each problem she considers, but she also discusses the ways that false or confusing media narratives have driven us to misunderstand the implications of some statistics (or the statistics themselves). Ritchie never makes light of how difficult some of the changes she recommends will be, but they are eminently realistic.


(A note to our readers: click on the hashtags above to see our other blog posts with the same hashtag.)


Interested in what else we're reading? Check out our Featured Books page.


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