A guest post by Maman Loup’s cousin, August Kirste-Yee
I just graduated from high school, which, if I’m honest, still doesn’t feel real. What feels even less real is the fact that my 18th birthday is next month … yikes. With all these huge milestones plus these wacky pandemic times, I’ve been feeling pretty nostalgic.
One thing that’s been a constant in my life is my appetite for books. I can’t get enough of them. So for the sake of reflection, and also to share the joy that books have brought me, here are eighteen books (for eighteen years) that shaped my life in some significant way (or just that I really loved).
A lot of these books are YA, but I read them grade four and onwards. Some, like Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, I’d recommend to younger readers, while books lower on the list I’d even recommend to adults.
In more or less the order that I read them, here are my top eighteen books (or series).
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
If not, this trilogy is about a dystopian society where, as punishment for their rebellion against the Capitol, twelve districts must send a boy and a girl between the ages of 12 and 18 to fight to the death in the annual Hunger Games. The trilogy kicks off when Katniss Everdeen, a girl from District 12, participates in the 74th Hunger Games in her 12-year-old sister’s place.
I read The Hunger Games when I was 9, and it basically changed my life. I know some people (and some of my friend’s parents) who insisted that this book was absolutely not allowed for their young kids to read. But here’s the thing: this was the first book I read where the story felt real.
Before this book, I was reading stories like Diary of a Wimpy Kid, so this was a massive step. For the first time, I questioned whether the story would have a happy ending. I practically held my breath the whole way through. I had to fight back tears in my fourth-grade class because I was supposed to be working on a project and not reading about characters dying.
Honestly, if I hadn’t read The Hunger Games when I did, I’m not sure I would’ve stuck to reading the way I have.
Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling
I almost left the Harry Potter books off this list, given all the recent controversy with J.K. Rowling. Tweet after transphobic tweet coming from my childhood hero is making it harder and harder for me, a trans person, to remember the joy that her writing brought me. Harry Potter just leaves this bitter taste in my mouth now.
But if I left it out, if I let myself grow to hate the series because of who wrote it, then that would be letting her win, right?
I read the Harry Potter series in grade five, shortly after I decided that a new book might be cool instead of reading The Hunger Games trilogy for the tenth time.
I stayed up late reading these books (or at least late for a 10-year-old), hiding my flashlight at any sound of footsteps outside my room. The world was all-consuming. I anxiously awaited my Hogwarts letter as my eleventh birthday approached, I took house quizzes over and over (especially when I was upset with my Hufflepuff result), I read the books more times than I can count, and I can still kick butt at Harry Potter trivia.
Even with everything J.K. Rowling’s said recently, I still think everyone should get a chance to enjoy the magical world of Harry Potter. That being said, buy the books second hand or borrow them from a library or friend (if they’ll let you) so you can enjoy them without supporting a person who uses her platform to bring people down.
Divergent by Veronica Roth
I always feel the need to defend myself for liking this trilogy. Yes, it’s flawed. I get it. But also, I loved the trilogy, the first book in particular. Besides, I read it when I was young enough to be excited by the story and not care about the plot holes.
The book is like Extreme Hogwarts Houses meets Dystopia. Set in an isolated city, everyone is sorted into one of five factions—Candor, Abnegation, Amity, Erudite and Dauntless—each representing a different value (honesty, selflessness, peace, intelligence and bravery). At 16, everyone goes through an aptitude test, which determines what faction they belong to. Then they must choose to stay with their parent’s faction or transfer factions and cut all ties from their family. But the main character, Beatrice (Tris) Prior, shows aptitude for three factions—something she must hide at all costs.
I got it as an eleventh birthday present, and I couldn’t put it down. Tris’s struggle to survive and prove her place sometimes felt so intense that I had to close the book to take a breath. The series kind of went downhill, but the first book was thrilling. The stakes were high. I felt that at any second, something could go wrong. It was the first book I had read with a proper romantic sub-plot, and the romance aspect made me kind of uncomfortable the first time I read the book, even though it’s pretty mild. But it stopped bothering me once I got to the second book.
It was also my first huge letdown in terms of movie adaptation. My friend and I left the movie theatre furious because they got all the details wrong. It’s actually rare that I watch an adaptation that’s good.
The Fault In Our Stars by John Green
By sixth grade, I was pretty comfortable with reading YA. So when The Fault In Our Stars was the only thing people were talking about, I had to read it, even though I didn’t consider contemporary or romance my genre.
The book follows Hazel Grace Lancaster, a 16-year-old girl with lung cancer, as she meets and falls in love with Augustus Waters, a boy she meets at a cancer support group for teens.
This book messed with my emotions. Because it’s a love story, but a really depressing one. It was sad, then happy and beautiful, then heartbreaking. I loved it and found it compelling even though the characters weren’t fighting some supervillain or tyrannical dictator.
Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare
Set in the Victorian era, this book follows 16-year-old Tessa Gray as she arrives in London to find her brother, now her last living family. Instead, she is kidnapped by the Dark Sisters, who show Tessa that she may not be entirely human.
When Tessa is freed by the Shadowhunters, warriors who protect the normal world from demons, she finds the family she never really had. In exchange for their help in finding her brother, Tessa helps them fight perhaps the biggest threat they’ve ever faced.
It’s got historical fiction, fantasy, an amazing cast of characters, and possibly the only love triangle that doesn’t make me want to vomit. What more could you possibly want from a book?
Clockwork Angel is the first in The Infernal Devices, a prequel trilogy to The Mortal Instruments. I actually prefer this series to the original. You don’t need to read The Mortal Instruments to read this trilogy, but I think knowing it makes this book more exciting.
I read these books near the end of grade six, and then spent the whole summer reading them over and over again. The characters are some of my favourites, and more than that, returning to Cassandra Clare’s Shadowhunter world is like going home. I’ve read these books at least once a year since and still consider it one of my favourites.
The Maze Runner by James Dashner
I first read this book in grade seven and was obsessed. Looking back, the first book was really the best part of the trilogy, but I loved it nonetheless. The story follows a group of boys who wake up in a maze with no memories. The main character, Thomas, is the last of the boys to arrive, then suddenly a girl shows up, which has never happened before.
Something about this world drew me in, and I was hooked. I started looking at Instagram posts about it, and then made my own account where I posted memes and pictures about it. I made a lot of friends through it, who ended up being some of my only friends throughout eighth grade. Six years later, one of them is still one of my best friends.
It was also my first venture into fanfiction (yikes), but it really got me going on the whole writing front. I already knew I wanted to be a writer, but I’ve never written more than when I was writing about The Maze Runner. I just didn’t want to leave the universe behind when I finished the book, so I made up my own characters and worked them into the story.
Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan
After spending quite a bit of time looking at book memes on Instagram, I realized pretty quickly that I missed out on a really great kids’ series: Percy Jackson and the Olympians. Everyone talked about this book, especially because the last book of the sequel series was about to come out.
Like Harry Potter, Percy Jackson is one of those kids’ books that everyone can read. And I’m so glad I went back to read it. I was a diehard Percy Jackson fan in grade seven and eight. Had my own Camp Half Blood (basically this series’ version of Hogwarts) T-shirt and everything.
The basic premise is that the Greek gods and goddesses still exist, only they’ve moved to the US. The book is focused on a group of demigods, the half-mortal children of Greek deities. The series follows Percy Jackson and his friends as they go on quests to stop Kronos the Titan from destroying Olympus.
These books are just So Much Fun. Percy is funny and snarky, the chapter titles are wonderful (for example: “Three Old Ladies Knit the Socks of Death” or “We Get Advice from a Poodle”), and who doesn’t love Greek myths?
I actually just reread this series during the lockdown and even now, they’re just as awesome as I remember them being when I was 12.
Legend by Marie Lu
Another YA dystopia … except for some reason, this one felt a little different. It wasn’t someone trying and failing to write the next Hunger Games. One of my friends recommended this book to me in grade seven. I read it, loved it, and was immediately upset that not enough people were paying attention to it. I still think this book deserves more than it got.
The book is narrated by two characters, Day and June. Day grew up in the slums of the Republic and is now their most wanted criminal, while June is the Republic’s beloved child genius. The two are brought together when June’s brother is killed—she is desperate for revenge, and Day is the prime suspect.
And the coolest part of this book? Day’s chapters are in a different colour: gold in Legend, blue in the sequel, and red in the third.
Just last fall, Rebel was published, which takes place several years later and focuses on Day’s little brother Eden.
All of the books were amazing, and the epilogue of Champion (book three) is one of two books that actually made me cry.
The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer
In the four-book series, each introduces a new character based on a fairy tale: Cinder is based on Cinderella, Scarlet on Little Red Riding Hood, Cress is Rapunzel and Winter is Snow White.
In the first book, you meet Cinder, who is a mechanic and a cyborg and probably my favourite character in the series. Set in the future, the Earth is threatened on one side by a plague (which I’m sure hits a bit differently now), and on the other by the Lunars, a humanoid species from the moon with the ability to manipulate minds.
This is one of the last impactful series I read before I started high school, and it still reminds me of good times with my elementary school friends. It brings me back to the “calm before the storm,” so to speak.
I also read it during my fourth and final round of science fair in grade eight, in which I somehow ended up winning a bronze medal. I found the whole experience terrifying and lost myself in these books at every available opportunity. I kept a book on the table in front of my tri-fold poster at all times. In between rounds of judging, I ended up getting through all four books plus two bonus short story compilations in that weekend alone.
Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
This is a coming-of-age story about a boy named Simon and his struggles when a classmate discovers his secret emails to a boy named Blue and uses them to blackmail him. But more than that, it’s about friendships and awkward teenagers, and Simon is probably one of the most relatable characters I’ve read about.
I like to read this book when I need something to cheer me up. Simon is sarcastic and funny without being the typical sarcastic-snarky-kind-of-a-jerk character that a lot of male YA protagonists are. It was also the first time in a long time that when I watched the movie adaptation (Love, Simon), I didn’t feel the need to tear it to shreds. Really, the most annoying part was the fact that they changed the title. But hey, I get it. Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda is a bit of a mouthful.
Most importantly, the story normalizes LGBTQ kids and shows the world that we’re just like everyone else.
A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab
This is probably my all-time favourite series. It’s about a guy named Kell who is one of two people in the world who can travel between parallel universes. There’s Grey London, our London back when it was ruled by King George III; Red London, where Kell is from, alive and prosperous and where magic thrives; White London, a society full of death and cruel magic; and Black London, a dead world, a cautionary tale.
The idea of parallel universes is portrayed really well in these books. Each of the four worlds are uniquely their own but at the same time you can see how they overlap. I also loved the way she uses magic to show how power can lead to a prosperous, vibrant world (Red London), but it can also lead to utter destruction (Black London).
I recommended this book to two of my English teachers and they both loved it, so if that doesn’t speak to how amazing it is, I’m not sure what else does.
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
I really need to reread this book. It’s been a few years, and I only read it once, so the details are a little sketchy, but I remember loving this book. It has this underlying dark and mysterious tone and overall is just amazing. I love the writing style and I hope that one day, I can write a story that leaves someone else with exactly that impression.
It’s about two people, Celia and Marco, who have been trained to compete in a game since childhood. Neither of them knows that it can only end with one of them standing.
They Both Die at The End by Adam Silvera
This book is set in an alternate reality where the day you die, you get a phone call from the Death Cast warning you that it will happen in the next 24 hours. Teens Mateo and Rufus both get the call and then meet through the Last Friend app, both trying to make a new connection on their last day.
I thought this book was beautiful, and though it was sad, it wasn’t as heartbreaking as I thought it would be. It was actually really sweet for the most part. Mateo is painfully shy, and it’s great to see him slowly open up.
And because of this book, Adam Silvera is now one of my favourite writers.
Vicious by V.E. Schwab
I had a hard time deciding if I should mention this book or This Savage Song. I didn’t want to do both, since I already have one of her series on this list, but in the end Vicious seemed like the better choice.
This book is without a doubt the story that inspires most of my writing (and for those of you who don’t know me, I’m a writing major. Or, will be once school starts). I remember reading it and at one point thinking I can’t figure out who is more evil: the protagonist or the antagonist. I don’t come across that many books with morally questionable main characters, but I love reading from the perspective of the “villain.”
Vicious is a non-chronological book about Victor and Eli, college-roommates-turned-enemies as their ambition that once brought them together drives them apart.
It’s really just an amazing book. It’s dark and gritty, everyone’s a bit evil, and did I mention they also have superpowers?
The Cruel Prince by Holly Black
I actually read this book out loud with my girlfriend, so it’s tied to good memories, but aside from that, I thought it was great.
The story is about a human girl named Jude who’s parents are murdered by her half-sister’s father. He brings Jude and her two sisters to raise them in Faerie. But faeries are cruel and see humans as their playthings.
It’s another book has a main character driven by ambition, as Jude seeks to prove herself as more than some weak mortal, which leads to her making some questionable choices.
History Is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera
Okay, I know I just mentioned Adam Silvera, but I really couldn’t leave this book out. This is the heartbreaking novel I thought I was going to get with They Both Die at The End. I stayed up all night reading this book.
It alternates between “Then” and “Now.” The present chapters are about the main character, Griffin, grieving his dead ex-boyfriend Theo, talking to him in his head and struggling with OCD and resentment towards Theo’s boyfriend Jackson. The “Then” chapters are about Theo and Griffin’s relationship, which ended when Theo graduated and went to university a year early.
The “Now” chapters were heart-wrenching for obvious reasons, but the “Then” chapters are so much sadder just knowing how it ends. The book is just so sad and so well written and I just … ugh.
The Illuminae Files by Aime Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
I first read this trilogy at the beginning of the school year and am currently rereading it, and wow, some parts, again, hit a little differently. A major part of the plot is the fact that a spaceship gets overrun by a deadly plague because people weren’t quarantined properly—sound familiar?
The books are probably the coolest books I’ve read. They’re like a compilation of files: emails, text messages, surveillance footage summaries, and so much more. It’s one of a few sci-fi books I’ve read. Basically, the story is about these characters who try to survive an attack from BeiTech Industries as they run from their home planet, Kerenza IV and BeiTech pursues them across space. Faced also with a plague that turns people into zombie-like killing machines and corrupt AI with questionable ethics (think Thanos), Kady Grant and Ezra Mason try to survive long enough to expose BeiTech and tell their story.
Like I mentioned, I was drawn to this book because it’s not written like your traditional novel. I think the format of the pages is really inspiring as a writer because it shows how doing something different can capture people that wouldn’t normally pick up the book. If you ever see these books in a store or library, I highly recommend just flipping through one of them.
And while I may have only picked it up because the pages looked neat, I found it super compelling. It’s a great read to get lost in and forget your own problems because you constantly want to know if these characters will survive the next page. I didn’t get much sleep once I got into the story.
Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
This isn’t the most recent book I’ve read, but I’ve been spending this quarantine rereading a lot of the books on this list, so it’s about as close as I can get. I actually read this back in 2015 when it first came out, but I didn’t remember any of it, so when I read it recently, it was like reading a brand-new book.
Carry On is actually a spinoff from Rainbow Rowell’s book Fangirl, which is about a girl, Cath, who is obsessed with this Harry Potter-like series, Simon Snow. Cath writes fanfiction about Simon (who is basically Harry) and Baz Grimm-Pitch (who I think is based on Draco Malfoy). Carry On is Rowell’s own take on Cath’s fanfiction, but it pretty much works as its own story.
It took me a few tries to get into this book, but the sequel, Wayward Son came out last year and I decided to give it another chance.
I don’t know what it was this time around, but I read it in a couple of days and was completely hooked. I can’t wait for the third one to come out.
The thing about Carry On is you can clearly see the Harry Potter inspiration: Simon Snow, the chosen one, goes to a magic school and has to defeat the Insidious Humdrum, this world’s version of Lord Voldemort. But I read this book just after Christmas, so shortly after J.K. Rowling did her first round of transphobic tweets. I loved how it gave me this new magic world to get lost in while I tried to forget the horrible feeling of being, well, betrayed by J.K. Rowling.
Some of these books are great for voracious young readers ready to move to the next level, while others are actually adult fiction. If you end up picking up any of these books, either for yourself or for your kids, I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.