Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Books That Ruined Me

My daughter and I recently had a conversation about the book at the top of this list, and then she asked me what some of my other favorites were. I stumbled a little because I've read so many books I've really enjoyed, a ton I'd recommend wholeheartedly, but they don't really rank as favorites. And then there's the question of how to define a "favorite." What criteria go into deciding rank order?

After our conversation I really gave it some thought and what I decided is that, for me, whether I categorize a book as a favorite is a function of how much a book sticks with me after I've read it. Or, as some have coined it, the "book hangover" effect. I decided to pull together a list of books I've read that have left me thinking about them long after I put them down. That's not to say I loved everything about each of them, so they may not belong on a classic "favorites" list, but they hit me in a way that didn't let me forget them.

So, in rank order of how long my book hangover lasted (as best as I can remember years later) here are the ten books that ruined me.
Side note: I intentionally left out classics as well as blockbusters. (Lolita, Wuthering Heights, and Harry Potter definitely stuck with me for different reasons.)
Side note #2: Click the covers for buy links if you want to check them out.

Where She Went by Gayle Forman
So here's the thing about this book. Adam. I obsessed over him for weeks, prompting this blog post, and also this one. Then, when I finally recovered from my Adam hangover, I sat down and, in the next three weeks, wrote the best book I'll ever write on the wave of angst and grief Adam left behind. Gayle created such an incredibly damaged and genuine character that I wanted to climb through the pages and just be there for him. Maybe it was my frame of mind when I was reading, but I honestly don't think anyone will ever top Adam on my list of favorite characters. For full effect, you'll probably want to read If I Stay first, since Where She Went is a sequel.

Dreamland by Sarah Dessen
This book yanked my heart out, fed it through a meat grinder, then almost succeeded in putting it back together again. Again, this all comes down to characters. Rogerson, specifically. Just like Adam, he is incredibly damaged, and Sarah captures that extremely well in her characterization. Everything, from the way he moves, to the things he says and does, reflect his brokenness. I wanted to shake him and tell him to pull himself together, because somewhere in there, you know there's a decent guy. You'll have to read to see if that happens, but make sure you've got a box of tissues handy.

Graceling/Fire by Kristin Cashore
I'm lumping these two together because I didn't want to take two spots back to back for them, but both left me with a lasting hangover. The writing is phenomenal, and the common thread with all of these books, I'm discovering as I write this post, is the characters. Katsa and Po are so well portrayed, and my favorite sex scene ever in a book happens between them. Archer from Fire is one I pined for long after I put the book down. So well done.

How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff
This speculative is so well done that I kept thinking through the plot for days after I finished. And the romance aspect--I'll just say that not too many books leave me in tears, but this one did.

Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma
Keeping with the incest theme (yeah...that romance I mentioned in How I Live Now, well...) I thought about this book for a long time after I read it. This is one that probably wouldn't make my classic favorite list because I found it pretty disturbing at some turns, but it was definitely thought provoking. I came away with so many questions I was (for the first time ever) contemplating contacting the author to ask what she was thinking as she wrote it. Was the romance innocent, or abusive? Was Lochan so socially stunted that he fixated on his sister and persuaded her into the relationship, or did they genuinely just fall in love with each other? Lots to think about here.

Before I Die by Jenny Downham
This is another one that made me cry. I thought Jenny did a lovely job portraying the whole process of dying young. I loved how real both that and the romance felt. It kept the wheels turning for a while after I was done.

Beautiful by Amy Reed
This is like watching a slow motion train wreck. The prose are very different than anything else I've read, but Amy's main character's motivations as she makes a string of really horrible decisions has you right there with her. This is another one that I'm not sure how I really feel about, but it had me thinking about it for weeks.

Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
I just sort of randomly picked this up one day and realize three hours later that I'd finished it. And then wished I hadn't. So, of course, I was incredibly excited to find, purely by coincidence, the movie was releasing on DVD the next day. I raced to my local Redbox and picked it up the next afternoon, watched it immediately...and then wished I hadn't. The beauty of the book is Stephen's main character and his inner dialogue. That, unfortunately, doesn't translate to the screen. But I thought the process of bringing this socially awkward character to life was done incredibly well in the book.

Cracked Up To Be by Courtney Summers
I read this eons ago and still sometimes think about it. Courtney's prose is sparse and she gets right to the point, which I appreciate. I've read some of her other books, and really enjoyed them, but this one left me rolling things over in my mind for weeks. It's a great study in how choices can change your life.

White Cat by Holly Black
I'm usually a pretty tough reader to get anything past. Maybe I was just so involved in the story that I wasn't paying close enough attention. Whatever happened, Holly surprised me in this one. I thought her main character was very well done, and, if you go back through this list you'll find one (okay, two) high fantasy novels at #3, a speculative at #4 and the rest until now are contemporary. I guess that's because in contemporary, it's all about the characters, and I've already mentioned that I'll follow a great character anywhere. In this one, not only was the writing great, but the premise was fresh and creative and held my interest in a way many urban fantasies don't. And it was twisty enough that it kept me rehashing the plot for a long time after reading.

So, there you go. My ten worst hangovers. Hope you find something in there that interests you. Help me find more. What books have given you your worst hangovers?