Foreword Reviews

The Best of the Best Books of 2019

Best of the Best Books of 2019 banner

If you, too, feel like 2019 went by in a flash, and you’re wondering what books you missed in the whirlwind: we’re here for you. Below you’ll find a month-by-month round-up of our favorite titles of the year, guaranteed to make you instantly nostalgic when the calendar switches over.

Book Cover Thick
Book Cover I Am Yours
Book Cover Famous Who Never Lived

January

Thick: And Other Essays, Tressie McMillan Cottom (The New Press)

McMillan Cottom’s essays are “essential reading for our times. [They] examine race, feminism, and culture with fierce intelligence [and] weave … together details from McMillan Cottom’s life, observations on US society, and sociological research and theory in order to illuminate the fraught cultural space occupied by black women.”

Reviewed by Rebecca Hussey

February

I Am Yours: A Shared Memoir, Reema Zaman (Amberjack Publishing)

“‘Long ago I stopped trying to explain you to anyone,’ Reema Zaman says to her imaginary interlocutor, addressed simply as ‘Love.’ Caught ‘somewhere between formed and forming,’ Zaman archives a personal journey that’s intimate and attuned to a wider cultural moment. A staggering work filled with presence, I Am Yours provides a profound explanation of love, delivered as an act of witness.”

Reviewed by Letitia Montgomery-Rodgers

March

Famous Men Who Never Lived, K Chess (Tin House Books)

“K Chess’s magnificent speculative novel … straddles two among infinite worlds, ‘starting off the same and hurtling to two wholly different fates.’ It is an awesome and humbling literary achievement. … triumphant, darkly humorous, and mournful by turns.”

Reviewed by Michelle Anne Schingler

Book Cover If I Had Two Lives
Book Cover Light From Other Stars
Book Cover Me Myself They
Book Cover The Record Keeper
Book Cover No Friend But the Mountains

April

If I Had Two Lives, Abbigail N. Rosewood (Europa Editions)

The “compelling If I Had Two Lives begins in 1990s Vietnam as a young girl is brought to a military camp [where her] mother—an ambitious reformer who is thwarted by the corrupt Vietnamese power structure—has been exiled to … Haunting and harrowing, [it] is told with beautiful perception and detail, offering a unique view of late twentieth-century Vietnam and memories that continue to resonate, even in a new world.”

Reviewed by Meg Nola

May

Light From Other Stars, Erika Swyler (Bloomsbury)

“In Erika Swyler’s glittering novel Light from Other Stars, Nedda has sky-high dreams of following in Judith Resnik’s footsteps but finds herself subject to the reckless whims of others. … The book’s science fiction elements scratch at the barriers between nightmares and dreams, places where a person can become ‘a great convergence, a monstrous and beautiful flexing of bonds.’”

Reviewed by Michelle Anne Schingler

Me, Myself, They: Life Beyond the Binary, Joshua Ferguson (House of Anansi Press)

“‘Human diversity is neither a weakness, a threat, nor a fiction. Our diversity is a gift, and it is an undeniable reality,’ writes Joshua Ferguson, an activist who is the first person to receive a non-binary birth certificate with an ‘X’ gender designation in the province of Ontario. Their memoir … explores the personal struggle behind that ‘X’ and the great lengths Joshua has gone to fight for non-binary representation.”

Reviewed by Claire Foster

June

The Record Keeper, Agnes Gomillion (Titan Books)

“In Agnes Gomillion’s gripping science fiction debut … Arika is born in a postwar, resource-ravaged world and is plucked from her community’s nursery for a position of power. … As Arika grows to assume her most powerful place among the people, The Record Keeper—with its absorbing developments and clarion call to freedom—will hold its readership in thrall.”

Reviewed by Michelle Anne Schingler

No Friend But the Mountains: Writing From Manus Prison, Behrouz Boochani (House of Anansi Press)

“Behrouz Boochani is a young Kurdish journalist, poet, and refugee imprisoned on Australia’s Manus Island, and that his astonishing memoir No Friend but the Mountains exists at all is a miracle and a testament to his resilience.”

Reviewed by Kristine Morris

Book Cover Late Migrations
Book Cover Here There Are Monsters
Book Cover Meet Me In the Future
Book Cover Axiomatic
Book Cover Maybe

July

Late Migrations: A Natural History of Love and Loss, Margaret Renkl (Milkweed Editions)

“The short, potent essays of Margaret Renkl’s Late Migrations: A Natural History of Love and Loss are objects as worthy of marvel and study as the birds and other creatures they observe. … As startling images arise, each on their own clean pages, the book establishes a sense that Renkl must have an endless supply of closely observed incidents to her name. It is very easy, very early on, to progress with the absolute faith that this book is a very fine one.”

Reviewed by Meredith Grahl Counts

August

Here There Are Monsters, Amelinda Bérubé (Sourcebooks)

“With elegant and terrifying wood creatures reminiscent of Guillermo del Toro, the story seems simple: about a girl lost in the swampy woods as her sister lay sleeping. But these are not ordinary girls. Between them, they have created kingdoms. … Thick with atmosphere and tension, Here There Are Monsters does what fairy tales do: it edifies as it terrifies.”

Reviewed by Camille-Yvette Welsch

Meet Me in the Future: Stories, Kameron Hurley (Tachyon Publications)

Meet Me in the Future is an episodic jaunt across distant stars whose sixteen short stories bubble with laughter, thrills, tears, and questions. …The stories’ settings are as diverse as their characters, ranging from familiar to surreal. Elements of magic swirl among spaceships, while a body mercenary proves able to jump between corpses. … A trek across galaxies that hits home, Meet Me in the Future is a love letter to the best of science fiction.”

Reviewed by Danielle Ballantyne

September

Axiomatic, Maria Tumarkin (Transit Books)

“Though categorized as a book of essays, ‘essay’ doesn’t do justice to Tumarkin’s lengthy, probing, literary reports. It is made up of five forays into seldom-explored crevices of society, including teen suicide, the strange case of a grandmother’s abduction of her grandson, the footsteps of a community lawyer, the history and memory of personal trauma, and friendship. … The reader’s equivalent of catching lightning in a bottle, Axiomatic showcases a brilliant and perceptive mind writing on a variety of subjects. Full of grace and insight, it is an exceptional book.”

Reviewed by Peter Dabbene

Maybe: A Story About the Endless Potential in All of Us, Kobi Yamada (Compendium)

“Dream, discover, love, speak your mind, and above all follow your heart, encouraged by this collection of reveries exploring a myriad of beautiful what-ifs and maybes. Enchanting images play with scope and perspective in nature as a winsome figure in an avian-leaf hat and Mary Janes wanders and wonders. The book is a solid choice for children of any age who are in need of inspiration, encouragement, or a gentle reminder that anything is possible.”

Reviewed by Pallas Gates McCorquodale

Book Cover The Dollmaker
Book Cover Patience Miyuki
Book Cover They Will Drown in their Mothers’ Tears
Book Cover Stand Up

October

The Dollmaker, Nina Allan (Other Press)

“Nina Allan’s exquisite and strange The Dollmaker is a postmodern fairy tale, both whimsical and aching in its appeal. … Andrew [is] lonely and ill-fit within society. Most people see and interact with him only as a dwarf. Yearning for a real connection, he responds to an ad in a collector’s magazine for a pen pal and falls in quick, long-distance love with the correspondent, Bramber. …Every careful step the story takes is magic … whether [it’s] read as a romance, a fairy tale, a lament, or combinations of the three.”

Reviewed by Michelle Anne Schingler

Patience, Miyuki, Roxane Marie Galliez (Princeton Architectural Press)

“Bursting with enthusiasm at the first signs of spring, Miyuki ignores her grandfather’s reminders to be patient and wanders far from home in search of the purest water to entice a promising bud to blossom. The book’s springtime scenes, lucky cats, and colorful yukata in origami paper patterns pay cheerful tribute to traditional Japanese style and customs. Miyuki’s diminutive size and kokeshi-doll looks are reminiscent of Japanese folktale hero Issun-bōshi, the inch-high samurai. It’s destined to be a modern classic.”

Reviewed by Pallas Gates McCorquodale

November

They Will Drown in Their Mothers’ Tears, Johannes Anyuru (Two Lines Press)

“Johannes Anyuru’s stunning They Will Drown in Their Mothers’ Tears is a rare, powerful multiverse novel that reflects the best and worst of human potential. … Narrated in and out of time to a Muslim writer for whom Sweden’s slide toward fascism is frightening but surreal, the girl’s story is full of hard revelations, including that those who want to justify genocide will always find a way, whether bombs go off or not. Only love can subvert such impulses; only it can fill the spaces between times and realities.”

Reviewed by Michelle Anne Schingler

December

Stand Up! Be an Upstander and Make a Difference, Wendy L. Moss (Magination Press)

“[D]esigned to help teach children how to stand up and support fairness and respect with the hope of decreasing bullying and injustice. …Stand Up! is an actionable and practical learning tool. [Its] necessary work is about creating positive change and helping to improve the world, one person at a time.”

Reviewed by Rebecca Monterusso

Michelle Anne Schingler

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