We’re admittedly a little eager for calendric milestones, with the turning of the page to 2020 presenting us with new opportunities to shake things up a bit. After all, as poet TS Eliot once intoned, “For last year’s words belong to last year’s language. And next year’s words await another voice.” Allow us to take that a trifle too literally and guide you gently toward a possible new resolution: the expansion of your reading habits — and, perhaps, the discovery of new reading tastes. Here are some recommendations for books within new genres you may have yet to try out — challenging young adult fiction, subversive and thrilling romances and heartfelt comic reinventions.
Laura Deen Keeps Breaking Up with Me
Perhaps it’s time to kick-start a comic-consuming habit. We know that the world of super-powered beings on glossy pages can be daunting, but there are other roads to visual narratives, with some more grounded in reality. Case in point: Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me, a 2019 graphic novel by writer Mariko Tamaki and illustrator Rosemary Valero-O’Connell, that has been celebrated for its earnest take on the bloom of young love, thorny variety and all. Heroine Frederica Riley is crazy about Laura Dean, the most popular girl in high school, full of charm and confidence and cuteness. Laura Dean, though, isn’t quite the best girlfriend. Cue us readers tagging along “a sweet and spirited tale of young love that asks us to consider what happens when we ditch the toxic relationships we crave to embrace the healthy ones we need”.
Needless to say, the art is mesmerizing, and the cover is an indication of the clean and dreamy line art that populates the pages within — mostly in black and white, but with punches of color. It’s the perfect introduction to the contemporary graphic novel genre. It eases you into a medium that nimbly balances visuals and storytelling. Laura Dean is a show-and-tell featuring a young, queer girl navigating not just this day and age, but also the pitfalls of finding yourself within complicated loves.
Romance: Bringing Down the Duke
Ever been curious about the billion-dollar juggernaut that is the romance novel industry? In recent years, we’ve been given evolutions in everything from heavy-handed tropes to clichés of yore — even what were once derisively tagged as “bodice-rippers” have evolved into emotionally nuanced stories of female empowerment and, loftily enough, examinations of the human condition. What makes excellent romance novels, we’ve found, is how they work within the confines of the genre — which means having to end with a “happily ever after”.
There are so many examples of this. One of them is Bringing Down the Duke, Evie Dunmore’s debut novel. The story features a scholarly heroine — standing with her comrades in the suffragist movement in the time of Victorian England — and a privileged yet dangerously ambitious hero who’s worked too hard to let picketing ladies get in the way of his career in Parliament.
The two are, naturally, at political odds. The two are, gratifyingly, well-rounded characters driven by compelling motivations and emotions that ring true. The two, of course, fall in love against their seemingly better judgment — and Dunmore assures the reader of page after page of heady chemistry amid the two leads’ begrudging camaraderie (think of this recommendation, too, as a peek into next month’s stories of all things love in literature).
Young Adult Literature: Patron Saints of Nothing
Young adult novels have grown more and more fearless in taking on contemporary issues, as bookshelves fill up with thought-provoking works that dare examine issues both personal and social.
Philippines-born Randy Ribay offers up his third novel, Patron Saints of Nothing, as an examination of the country’s war on drugs. This is intertwined with the usual guideposts of a coming-of-age story, with a dash of identity politics thrown in. The narrative is led by Filipino-American Jay Reguero, born to immigrant parents, who leads a pretty normal life. It begins with Jay having had a pretty laid-back final semester in his senior year of high school — he has plans to head to the University of Michigan for college. But tragedy strikes the family, with Jay’s Filipino cousin Jun murdered back in the homeland — and no one’s eager to talk about what really happened. And so, Jay takes it upon himself to uncover the truth.
Patron Saints of Nothing was a finalist for the 2019 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, and has rightly been a mainstay on reading lists in the Philippines and abroad for its “page-turning portrayal of the struggle to reconcile faith, family and immigrant identity”. It’s no doubt a brave book, and for that, should be added to your reading list for the year ahead.
Set Yourself A Reading Goal!
Have you made the resolution that 2020 will be a year for reading? We wish you all the luck, but do check out Goodreads to keep you on track. It lets you organize your virtual library into personalized categories that run the gamut from the straightforward (“books to be read”) to the specific (“books to be read where the heroine rescues a kitten during a thunderstorm and names it Frank Castle”), and is handy for keeping track of your reading goals. As the year opens, the site is abuzz with an annual reading challenge that has users setting a number of books to read. Go forth and conquer! goodreads.com
This story first appeared in the January 2020 issue of Smile magazine.