2012 was a very strong year for novels, so this was a hard list to narrow down! I read 62 novels last year; here are my top 10. The first three are ranked; everything else is listed in alphabetical order by title.
Second Person Singular by Sayed Kashua (2012)
Two men must suppress certain aspects of their Arab identities in order to find success in Jerusalem. One man is an intensely jealous lawyer who is convinced his wife is having an affair; the other is a social worker in a period of transition. It’s complex, satirical, and thought-provoking…hands down my favorite! Read my review here.
The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin (2012)
Two pregnant girls show up on William Talmage’s farm, clearly runaways. He tries to help them as best he can, leaving them food and trying to earn their trust, but his solitary way of life is turned upside down when it becomes clear exactly what the girls are running away from. It’s a breathtaking debut. Read my review here.
The Round House by Louise Erdrich (2012)
A woman is brutally raped on the Ojibwe reservation, but the authorities have their hands tied as to how to proceed. Told through the eyes of the woman’s son, the book shows the devastating effects on the family. It’s nuanced and timely, considering how closely it reflects current events. Read my review here.
The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty (2012)
Cora Carlisle agrees to chaperone fifteen-year-old Louise Brooks from Wichita to New York City in the summer of 1922. Louise is still years away from fame, but she’s already a self-centered handful. No one can figure out why Cora would volunteer or why her husband would let her go, but Cora has her reasons. Read my review here.
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (1844)
Edmond Dantes is framed for a crime he didn’t commit. He is able to escape his cruel imprisonment, then spends his days reinventing himself as the Count of Monte Cristo and plotting his heartless revenge against the men who ruined his life. It’s not my usual type of book, but I ended up devouring it in all its 1200+ page glory!
The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck (1931)
Wang Lung and his wife O-lan work their way up from peasants to landowners in early twentieth century rural China amidst famine and revolution. Living modestly and working hard is what makes them prosper, but as their wealth grows, Wang Lung’s priorities change and turn to greed. Read my review here.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (2009)
When her younger sister is chosen to compete in the Hunger Games, a government-mandated death match between 24 youths, Katniss Everdeen steps in to take her place. She and her fellow contestant, Peeta, will be facing people who have trained their entire lives for victory. The movie is pretty faithful to the book, but the book is better!
The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman (2012)
Tom and his wife live on an isolated Australian island where he works as lighthouse keeper. Isabel desperately wants children but can’t have any. Then one day she hears a baby crying and discovers an infant in a washed up boat. They must choose between keeping the baby or reporting its appearance. Read my review here.
The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey (2012)
In this retelling of a Russian fairy tale, a childless couple named Jack and Mabel live in Alaska. They make a child in the snow one evening and soon begin seeing a little girl hanging around their homestead. Faina spends time with them, but always returns to the cold Alaskan wilderness at the end of the day. Read my review here.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple (2012)
When her daughter gets straight As and claims her reward, a family cruise to Antarctica, Bernadette balks. Not because of the outlandish request, but because she can’t fathom having to interact with people. Then other aspects of her suburban life begin to crumble, and Bernadette bails. It’s a fun book! Read my review here.