Here are my two picks for “Best Books of 2013” that I wrote for Book Riot. Only the Bennett Sims review made it, because I took too long in submitting my piece for Elliott Holt’s amazing novel.
1. A Questionable Shape by Bennett Sims (Two Dollar Radio)
This book’s cover is what attracted me first. But the book’s content makes it one of my favorite reads of the year. Sims crafted a book about zombies without ever needing to call them zombies. It’s not really even about them (I mean, it is, but it’s so much more). It’s about, I think, the human condition of fear motivated by isolation and isolation motivated by fear. But this isn’t a horror novel. It’s about the relationship between a son and his father (a young man tries to find his father, most likely dead, in the aftermath of an undead pandemic). It’s about the relationship between lovers (how can you trust the one you love, when that love is a liability in the face of contagion?). Sims’ narrative voice is clear and genuine, funny at times but always respectful of his characters.
This novel spoke to me. I finished it and immediately wanted everyone else to read it so that I could share that feeling. I’m thrilled that this is the first novel by Bennett Sims, but I’m saddened that it’s the only novel by Bennett Sims. Expect big things.
If you’re a fan of the zombie genre, you need to read A Questionable Shape. If you’re not a fan of the zombie genre, but you value thoughtful, moving, well-written prose, you need to read A Questionable Shape. Look. You need to read A Questionable Shape.
2. You Are One of Them by Elliott Holt (The Penguin Press)
Wow. I had no idea I was going to love this book as much as I did. This is a book about friendship, paranoia, and the lengths we’ll go to convince ourselves of what we want to believe is the truth. It’s hard to write about the plot without giving things away, but there are twists and turns throughout, and an ending that was particularly satisfying. My advanced reading copy passed through six readers before I saw it again, and everyone was crazy for the book.
I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Ukraine for two years. For two years, I lived in a world that felt like a distorted mirror of my own. A country that wanted to be Westernized, while simultaneously wanting anything but. It was cold, and dark, and I was (justifiably) paranoid. Reading You Are One of Them brought me back there. It felt like I was being let in on every inside joke, every subtle reference. That’s how well Holt has crafted the world of her novel. She nails the mood, the cultural nuances, and the paranoia. So much paranoia.
You Are One of Them is a book that you’ll read until you have to come up for air, only to plunge right back in again. Get to it.
Find the full Book Riot list here. Then start reading.