BY SEAN CLARK
This is the second installment of this year’s best book series. Read the other contributors’ picks here.
Little Bee, by Chris Cleave
This is hands-down my favorite book of 2009. Cleave does just about everything right. The multiple voices are distinct and expertly rendered, the characters memorable, and the plotting tight. It is also a deep and moving book.
I really enjoyed the distinct voices, and the young boy, who considers himself Batman, is one of the most adorable characters I’ve read in a while. The book affected me in ways books don’t often do, and a lot of my respect for this novel stems from that.
It’s tough to explain the plot without giving things away. From my review (read the full review here):
I won’t spoil the plot, as the tangle of the characters’ lives is the crux of the book. Little Bee is a novel about a Nigerian refugee, self-named Little Bee, escaping to Britain. It is a novel about how one single moment, one action or inaction, can change the lives of many people, even those worlds apart. It is a novel about humanity. It is about the complacency and willful ignorance Westerners silently allow themselves at the expense of other humans just like them, in the name of comfort afforded by the imbalance of “global” economy. When confronted with these consequences of our lifestyle we’d rather sweep them under the rug like dust, or write a check to Unicef, or leave the world to politicians and businessmen because it’s easier.
I liked this novel because it was at once complex and simple. It’s easy to read and still the writing is excellent. Apparently it’s going to be a movie soon, so do yourself a favor and give this a read before Nicole Kidman steps in.
These were both books I really enjoyed. The audiences they target aren’t as broad as Little Bee‘s, nor do they explore as much depth. But they are both fun and get my highest recommendation. (Links go to full C4 reviews.)
The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman, actually came out in the fall of 2008, but it was late enough that I’m including it here. Gaiman is an expert storyteller, and his haunted retelling of Kipling’s classic, The Jungle Book, is truly a great read. It doesn’t tread much new ground as far as YA fantasy goes, but it still feels original and fresh because Gaiman hits all his notes pitch-perfectly.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, by Seth Grahame-Smith (and Jane Austen), does a fabulous job of modifying the 19th Century classic into a bloody zombie epic. It can be cheesy at times, as it should. The characters and the plot stay mostly true to the original text, just tweaked to fit the new horror setting. The added scenes of violence spattered throughout the book add a fresh–if decomposing–layer to a classic. It is readable and fun, and manages to hold reverently true to its source material (a trait lacking in its more philistinic sibling, Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters).
Not “best” but definitely worth reading:
This Is Where I Leave You, by Jonathan Tropper, is a zany family drama that is as humorous as it is sentimental. It reminded me a lot of Liars and Saints mixed with The Big Chill, which is actually one of my favorite movies. The plot is nothing new, and sometimes the dialogue feels a bit wooden, but Tropper’s writing shines the rest of the time.
The Original of Laura, by Vladmimir Nabokov, isn’t really a book. It’s a collection of notecards the late master was using to work on a novel he didn’t live to finish. What’s here hardly resembles a book, and a lot of the writing is pitifully unpolished. But some of it is really, really great. Any reader of Nabokov’s, or anyone interested in glimpsing his particular writing process, will enjoy perusing through this collection of notes.
Infinity in the Palm of her Hand, by Spanish poetess Giaconda Belli, retells the story of Genesis through the eyes of Eve. It’s a smart and sensitive story, and very well written while remaining accessible. It avoids being preachy or didactic, which I appreciate.
Jailbait Zombie, by Mario Acevedo, is far better than it deserves to be. The title and premise are silly, but it plays out as a satisfying horror-tinged hard boiled detective novel. Not literary fare by any means, but readable indeed.
And just for good measure, the worst book I read that came out this year: