By Brandon Marie Miller
This year I’ve kept a little flowered notebook with a list of what I’ve read, the book titles written in different colored inks. I’ve found this gratifying and fun and feel like I’ve accomplished something. A few of these books are old friends, comforting and cozy to visit again. The notebook also includes pages with lists of books I want to read— and this is stressful. Where will I ever find the time! Will someone please just let me READ in peace? I’ve read all sorts of books this year, novels and nonfiction, books for adults, books for young readers. So how do I choose a favorite book for 2019?
I don’t. I just can’t. But I’ve narrowed things down to the three books I’ve loved the most, books I think about, books that have lingered with me long after I turned the last page, books I recommend to other readers. One standout from early this year is Annette Gordon-Reed’s masterpiece The Hemingses of Monticello, An American Family. The book won a Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award, so I’ll only add that this is a complex and intriguing, meticulously researched, heartbreaking story of an enslaved family and their relationships with Thomas Jefferson. One of my favorite things about this book is how Gordon-Reed reminds us that every person is an individual and makes decisions based on their own experiences, beliefs, and needs.
I’ve just finished a hauntingly beautiful and mystical historical novel by Choctaw author Tim Tingle and it goes right on my list of favorites for this year. House of Purple Cedar is told through multiple perspectives in compelling stories of love and forgiveness, hate and brutality. I fell in love with the Choctaw grandparents and their granddaughter, Rose, with Maggie, a shopkeeper who doesn’t let a wooden leg slow her down, and Ona Mae, an abused wife struggling to find her strength. Tingle’s villain is one of the most detestable I’ve ever read, yet you can’t stop turning the pages, even as you fear for the other characters. The writing and the tiny details Tingle includes of this late 1890s world are so beautiful, I often had to stop and reread sentences just to drink up his words, before I could go on.
I had already read Splendors and Glooms and The Hired Girl by Newbery-winning author Laura Amy Schlitz. So I was prepared for another wonderful story when I picked up her historical middle-grade novel A Drowned Maiden’s Hair, an atmospheric gothic with beautiful prose, perfectly drawn characters, and fascinating details.
Orphaned Maud lives a miserable existence in an asylum before she is taken in by three mysterious sisters. Maud idolizes the youngest sister, Hyacinth, who is charming and beautiful, but absolutely selfish at her core. Kept out of sight and never allowed outdoors, Maud yearns to please in order to keep her place in this strange household. The sisters train Maud to assist in their work fleecing wealthy bereaved patrons with elaborate séances to call back the dead. When Maud meets the mother of a drowned child, she starts to feel uneasy and wonders if the séances help or hurt the grieving.
The book features a stunning betrayal, a look at spiritualism, how people perceived death, and wonderful details of the tricks and cons used during the séances. This is a quick read for adults, but so beautifully written, with a wonderful heroine, it is a perfect book to pick up and escape inside.
Lastly, I must mention my most favorite book of the year, my new young adult biography, Robert E. Lee, The Man, The Soldier, The Myth. Ta Da!
Happy reading to all!
Brandon Marie Miller is an award-winning author of U. S. History for young people. She earned a degree in American History from Purdue University and now lives in Cincinnati, OH. Her books have been honored by the International Reading Association (IRA), the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS), the Society for School Librarians International, Voices of Youth Advocates (VOYA), Bank Street College, and the Junior Library Guild. She is the author of ROBERT E. LEE: The Man, The Soldier, the Myth (Calkins Creek, C2019)