Book Recommendations (Vol. 04)

How have we reached the end of 2017? I know that to many of us, 2017 has been the year of continuous fighting back at the inequalities of the world, constant exhaustion from the 24/7 news cycle, stress and trauma and hurt. I think that is part of the reason why this year marks my highest reading total ever – I made a semi-conscious decision to back away slightly from being on social media as much, watching as much tv, etc. and have spent much more time this year just reading.

That said, everything that’s been happening has certainly affected my reading choices, and I think you’ll see hints of that in this quarter’s top 5.

This book recommendations post completes a full year of recommendations! I’ve really enjoyed putting these posts together, even though they get less views than my math teacher resource type posts (certainly that makes sense, I am a math teacher and this is ostensibly a math teacher blog, not a book/reading blog), because I like to go through and remember the best books I read each set of 3 months. Hopefully one or two of you picked up one or two books because of me this year.

I’m going to TRY to hit a top 5 of the entire year at the end of this post as well. That’s gonna be tough.

Read previous editions:

Vol. 01 | Vol. 02 | Vol. 03 |

I’ve now read 80 books this year – wow! – making that 20 books since my last recommendations post. It’s also fair to point out that I will probably finish a good 4-5 more books before the end of the year, since we’re only halfway through December, but as I don’t really want to write this post over winter break…those books will get included in first quarter 2018!

Here’s the top 5 for 4th quarter 2017:

Dear Martin – Nic Stone

Justyce is a high school student who excels. He’s bound for the Ivy League in the fall. He has a lot going for him…until he gets arrested for trying to help his ex girlfriend get home safe and not drive home when she’s drunk. After that, he starts noticing a lot of ways that people around him casually say and do things that are…pretty racist. He decides to start a self project – trying to live like Martin Luther King, Jr would have. It’s going pretty well and helping him figure some things out, until he and his friend Manny drive up to a stoplight next to a police officer one day.

This book is raw and so personal. I love the way Stone wrote it in a voice that really sounds like it came from Justyce – it’s the voice of a high school boy. He doesn’t understand everything that’s happening. He waffles back and forth about what upsets him and what he should let go. He can’t quite find the border between right and wrong, can’t quite figure out who is on his side. He can’t quite figure out what his side is. His emotions are real and on the page, you feel through every decision and scenario with him. Through his experiences, you’re forced to grapple with the casual racism that exists in our society and to think about which side you are on. Bonus that this one is a pretty short read, which means you might be able to get some reluctant readers to read a pretty important and stellar book.

Before the Devil Breaks You – Libba Bray

This is the third book in the Diviners series, set in 1920s New York. The Diviners are a group of people with paranormal powers – they can walk in dreams, feel the emotions in everyday objects, read minds, and see ghosts. In this installment, they’re faced with a strange group of ghosts out on Ward’s Island where the asylum is, and constant haunting visions of the man in the stovepipe hat.

Since this is a series, you should definitely start with book 1, The Diviners, but this one is the best yet. The ghosts and the man in the stovepipe hat are TERRIFYING, but still not too scary to read – I’m not normally a scary movie/story person, but these are creepy enough that maybe I didn’t want to read right before bed, but not creepy enough that I was losing my mind. Then there’s Libba Bray’s MASTERFUL inclusion of current race issues in America into this book that takes place in the 1920s. It’s a great reveal of how the things that we’ve been realizing in 2017 as being wrong with our country…have been wrong for a long time. A beautiful story about how we all matter, and how the American Dream that the country was supposedly built on is a lie for so many of us. This is probably one of my top books of the year.

Turtles All The Way Down – John Green

Aza didn’t mean to be a part of the investigation into the disappearance of her childhood friend’s dad. It just happened. She didn’t realize what reconnecting to this friend, Davis, could mean. All along the way, her brain is fighting against the rest of her, telling her she is dirty, contaminated, that her own biome is disgusting and needs to be cleaned. She’s fighting against the ever tightening spiral of her own thoughts and trying to be a good friend, good daughter, and a good investigator. It occurs to her – does she even want to know what happened?

I love John Green. I love his books, I love his YouTube works with his brother Hank, I love his philanthropic efforts. I was able to go to the live show that John and Hank did to celebrate the release of this book and it was one of the most beautiful nights I had in all of 2017. The book puts you inside Aza’s brain in a way that I had never seen happen before – after reading, I felt like I was almost capable of understanding what is happening in the mind of someone who has OCD or anxiety. It was harrowing to read the way Aza was fighting against…Aza. But there was also joy in the book, and an exploration of our purpose. This video would be a nice watch to get you in the spirit of that part of the book.

Refugee – Alan Gratz

It is 1939. It is 1994. It is 2015. This is Nazi Germany. This is Fidel’s Cuba. This is war-torn Syria. Refugee is the story of three children, in different times and different places, fleeing the countries they called home because they are no longer safe there. It’s the story of their journeys, and the heart pounding fear that they may not reach safety.

This story is juvenile fiction, but I enjoyed it so immensely as an adult. It was so well written, the three stories woven together seamlessly. You see the children go through the exact same fears, thoughts, victories and defeats at different times through history. You worry for them. You get angry at the people who made them need to leave their homes. I kept turning pages and turning pages, hoping that on the next page they would find their new safe home to stay in. I thought this was a masterful telling of the reality of refugees, with an intensely personal connection through the lives of Joseph, Isabel, and Mahmoud. There are so many lessons to be learned from this, so much to think about.

What Made Maddy Run – Kate Fagan

Madison Holleran was a freshman track athlete at the University of Pennsylvania. She was not having a good of a time running track as she had in high school – it didn’t feel fun anymore. Her parents were concerned about how she was doing. Her and her dad had a conversation at the end of winter break about getting help – seeing a therapist, quitting track, taking the time to figure out what was wrong and why she wasn’t enjoying things. It was the last time he saw her. Maddy jumped off a parking garage and committed suicide, leaving only cryptic clues about why she made that decision.

Wow, this book was devastating. It’s true, by the way. This happened. Kate Fagan is one of my favorite sports reporters, and I read her original piece about Madison on ESPN and felt a hugely heavy sorrow. It appears Kate did too – she got permission from Madison’s family to keep pursuing and telling the story. As she worked on the book, she kept finding more athletes who admitted that they struggled with mental health. College athletics are an intensely difficult world, and we definitely don’t give the athletes the mental help they need – in fact, we often push them away from that help, asking them to tough it out or suck it up. They should be happy, because they have everything. But being happy is not always a choice, as Kate discovered about Madison. There are so many heartwrenching realizations in this book: the realization that many of her friends saw things were wrong, but because of the stigma against discussing mental health none of them pushed her about it. The realization that this wasn’t just Madison, but a more widespread thing in college sports. The realization that she tried to get help, tried to take actions to help herself find happiness again, but it wasn’t enough. This book made me think so hard about so many things – still thinking about it. I’m thankful that Madison’s parents allowed her story to be told, because I think it will truly help many young adults find their way and avoid an ending like Madison’s.



*** 2017 Top 5 ***

Before the Devil Breaks You – Libba Bray

What Made Maddy Run – Kate Fagan

Homegoing – Yaa Gyasi


the princess saves herself in this one – Amanda Lovelace

Another Day in the Death of America – Gary Younge


Fantastic reading in 2017 – cannot wait to see what stories I discover in 2018!

Happy reading!


Author: missmastalio

Math teacher at an alternative high school. Living the best life.

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