As I think I’ve mentioned before, the Book Riot Read Harder challenges have always been the ones that intimidated me most. These challenges tend to really push outside my comfort zone with topics that I never would touch otherwise, and a lot of prompts that really promote diversity. This year, I decided to add the Book Riot challenges from 2015 and 2016 midway through the year to add a bit more to the challenges I already had. Since these challenges are each about half the size of the Around the Year and PopSugar challenges, I decided to pick my top 3 for each instead of a top 5. Here they are (in no particular order):
Top 3 Books from the Book Riot Read Harder 2015 Challenge
1) Enter Title Here by Rahul Kanakia
I’ll admit that I went into this book with very low expectations. I chose it for the prompt “a book by a person whose gender is different from your own.” The synopsis describes the book as a fairly typical story about a high-achieving but socially awkward girl who sets out to try and have “normal high school experiences,” this time under the guise of to write a YA novel as part of her application for Stanford. In reality, the book has a lot more depth than that, covering a range of topics from academic pressure, mental health, and the flaws in the education system. The book was incredibly well-written, with a protagonist who was unlikeable but still very compelling. I was absolutely blown away by this book, and it quickly became one of my favourites of the year.
2) The Madman’s Daughter by Megan Shepherd
This was another book that I was a bit reluctant to try, chosen for the prompt “a book that is a retelling of a classic story.” It was a book that I had in mind early on when I started planning my list for the challenge, but procrastinated on and even considered switching it out for another book. I’m so glad that I didn’t abandon it! This book is a retelling of The Island of Dr. Moreau, which I have never read. While I can’t necessarily comment on how successful this was as a retelling, I can easily say that it was one of the best books of the year. The main character, Juliet, interested me right from the start and I loved the writing style from the first pages.
3) Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon
I heard a lot of positive hype around this book throughout the year, so I was really looking forward to reading it. I chose it for the prompt “a book published this year,” and I chose 2015 because that was the year the challenge came out. The book is about a teenage girl named Madeline who has a medical condition that causes her to have severe and unpredictable allergic reactions, forcing her to remain at home. Madeline quickly becomes friends with Olly, the boy next door. The interactions between the two of them are so cute and I thought the development of their relationship felt very natural. What really pushed this book over the edge for me was the twist toward the end, which I didn’t predict at all! It came at a time just when I was starting to think the book was becoming generic, so for me the ending brought it to another level.
Top 3 Books from the Book Riot Read Harder 2016 Challenge
1) The Crucible by Arthur Miller
The Salem Witch Trials have always been a period in history that strongly interested me, and this is a classic that has been on my list for a long time. Arthur Miller’s play brilliantly covers the paranoia of the witch hunts, and how easily the fear spread. I chose it for the prompt “a book of historical fiction set before 1900,” and it was definitely a change from what I would normally pick. I don’t read plays very often because I typically think they are better when they are seen, but this one caught my interest from the start. It helped that I had some familiarity with the historical background, but I also thought it was very well-written.
2) Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu
I chose this book for one of the prompts that I was dreading — “a book about religion (fiction or non-fiction).” It is definitely a book that I never would have picked up if it wasn’t part of the challenge since I am not a big fan of religious fiction. To be clear, I enjoy reading and learning about other cultures and religions, but I’ve found that Christian fiction often does not appeal to me. This book is about a girl named Rachel who is part of a very strict religious sect, quite similar to the Duggar family on 19 Kids and Counting. Over time, Rachel starts to question her beliefs and whether she would really be happy following her family’s path. I thought this book was amazing because of how well it portrayed both sides of Rachel’s conflicting emotions, and left the reader to draw their own conclusions about her decisions. I was very impressed by this book.
3) When Elephant Met Giraffe by Paul Gude
To be honest, I seriously debated whether to list this book as one of my top choices but it was genuinely one of the choices that stood out most. I actually read this book before I committed to doing the Book Riot challenge, and fit it in after the fact to “read a book out loud to someone else.” I don’t usually retroactively count books, but I don’t often have the chance to read books out loud to others. I read this book to a young woman with special needs who I work with, and who is obsessed with elephants. The book ended up being one of the strongest picture books I’ve read, with three short stories about the interactions between the outgoing Elephant and her silent new friend, Giraffe. The book was hilarious, and also had some great messages about accepting others as they are. I especially loved the third story where Elephant wanted Giraffe to dress up in the appropriate costume for a game, and Giraffe kept coming back in more and more random costumes each time.This is a great children’s book that I think deserves more attention.
- Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi
- Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
- Emmy & Oliver by Robin Benway
- Wonder by R.J. Palacio
- Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling
- Cinder by Marissa Meyer
- Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai