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Here are my favorite books of 2015. I had a very difficult time ordering these. You can basically consider them equal, except for #1, which slightly edges out the others. I actually read a lot of good books this year. It wasn’t easy to narrow this list down to five.
5. The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
Young Adult Fiction
This novel revolves around the lives of four boys, Gansey, Ronan, Adam, and Noah, all students at the fictional Aglionby Academy in Virginia, and their local-girl friend, Blue. It’s essentially fantasy, involving psychics, magic, and the quest to find a long-dead (But is he really?) Welsh king. At the same time, it explores some very sensitive topics, such as child abuse and economic gaps between friends, with an impressive amount of understanding. It’s the first book in a series of four. I finished it right at the close of the year, immediately put the second on hold at the library, and have been unable to read anything else while I wait for it to come in, because I’m too distracted by this beautiful, intricate tale.
4. A Thousand Lives by Julia Scheeres
In 1978, over 900 members of an American cult called Peoples Temple committed mass suicide in Guyana. This book explores the history of the cult, including the background of its charismatic leader, Jim Jones, taking you on a journey through its hopeful, well-meaning beginning to the depressing, heartbreaking end. It’s not the first book I’ve read about this cult but I would say it’s the best. Scheeres used the files that the FBI collected on Peoples Temple, which include journals of those involved, and interviewed survivors, so you feel like you really get to know these misguided people. A truly gripping read.
3. The Skies Belong to Us by Brendan I. Koerner
In the tumultuous America of the 1960s and 1970s, skyjacking was used as a form of mostly non-violent protest. In fact, it was so common that travelers could buy insurance for it. Pressured by the powerful airline lobby, the American government was slow to react, although the issue ultimately led to the security measures that stayed in place from the mid 1970s to 2001 (when they were tightened). This book covers a particular skyjacking case, interweaving its tale with a history of skyjacking in general. It’s a piece of American history that I previously knew nothing about (I was familiar with maybe a handful of these cases; I had no idea that there used to be dozens per year). I could hardly put it down.
2. The Big Truck That Went By by Jonathan M. Katz
The January 2010 earthquake that struck Haiti was bad enough, killing over 100,000 people and leaving many more homeless and jobless, an unimaginable disaster in a country where daily life was already a struggle for survival. Unfortunately, the international response to the disaster only made things worse. This book is an incredibly frustrating read in that you want to bang your head against a wall every time the international community patronized the Haitian people and shut them out of the recovery process . . . so, basically, the whole book. It’s infuriating. It’s also an important read. Written by the only full-time American reporter in Haiti at the time, it restored some of my faith in modern-day journalism. It was going to be my top book of the year until I remembered that I read the below in 2015.
1. The Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard
A book about James Garfield, the second U.S. President to be assassinated (after only six months in office), is probably a tough sell. What would motivate you to read this? Perhaps the fact that he was a really amazing human being. Completely self-made, intelligent, well-read, little-known for his Civil War heroism, humble, and thoroughly uninterested in being President. He was nominated as a compromise, at a time when his party was rife with corruption. Although he didn’t want the role, he embraced both it and reform, immediately angering everyone who expected him to continue the corruption game. By the end of the book, I was truly mourning the loss of a man who would’ve likely made a great president (a loss that could’ve been prevented on so many levels). I credit Millard’s excellent writing for bringing this forgotten President to life. After finishing it, I realized that I already had another of her books on my reading list. I can’t wait to get to it.