A couple weeks ago I started a list of popular books that didn’t live up to my expectations, and now I’d like to even it out with another list: popular books that impressed me more than I expected. I believe this will be an ongoing series; I’ll add to both lists as the titles stack up.
A lot of these are YA books, and I could say the same thing about almost all of them: I expected a light, standard YA story, be it romance, supernatural, etc. I was expecting quick, easy reads with the usual tropes and story arcs that I could check off a list and then forget about– but none of these are forgettable reads. Instead of sharing a long synopsis of each, I’m going to stick to explaining why they surpassed my expectations. If you want to learn more about any of these books, follow the links to my full reviews of each title. Without further ado, here are five popular books I wasn’t expecting to appreciate as much as I did:
- The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis. There’s a bit of an exaggerated focus on rape in this book, but it’s put to good use. The Female of the Species is empowering, it’s positively moralizing, it has bark and bite and grit. It’s a story about standing up against all kinds of wrongs. But it’s also about forgiveness, about finding healthy relationships and giving chances to unlikely friends. There are some great parents in this book, a cop who knows how to talk to teens, and aid for abused and abandoned animals. McGinnis doesn’t just look at the big picture, she gets all the little details right, too.
- Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman. This is a book for readers of adventures. For readers who aren’t afraid to suspend their disbelief. It’s a story of gods in which even the gods are fallible. This is a collection of ancient stories brought to new life. They’re stories that test limits: the limits of immortality, of invincibility, of impossibilities and other absolutes. The characters aren’t particularly lovable, but the end of their world is as heart-breaking as it is exciting. In this realm of gods and magic, anything is possible and the reader can never know what to expect. The lessons don’t often apply directly to life as the reader knows it, but there are valuable lessons nonetheless, and there’s something so satisfying in learning about the traditions and beliefs of long-lost times and peoples.
- A Million Junes by Emily Henry. This book was described to me as a romance– a retelling of the Romeo and Juliet story, to be exact. And there is that, but it’s only one small part of this masterpiece. A Million Junes is a romance, but it’s also magical realism, it’s a family history piece, it’s a testament to grief, it’s a father-daughter relationship at its best. June is reconciling her family’s past with its future, she’s finding her place in school, she’s enjoying her senior year with her good friends. And she’s seeing ghosts, and ghosts’ memories, and traveling to an in-between place where love and life collide. This is a book for anyone who’s ever lost something, or doesn’t quite know who they are.
- The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater. This book seems like it should be a romance. It starts with a girl and a curse– the boy she loves will die when she kisses him. Seems like a pretty standard forbidden-love-romance-story, right? Wrong. Blue (the girl) finds the boy she’s going to try hard not to love and kiss and ultimately kill. But then she decides to try a relationship with a different boy, same rules, just in case. Except none of the four boys she’s freshly befriended are anything close to ordinary, and for that matter neither is Blue. She comes from a family of psychics, and her new friends are on a quest to find a lost king who may or may not be dead and buried. This is more a story of friendship and adventure than romance. The quality of the magic is strange and compelling– not quite serious but not quite a joke. Here are five teens being teens, and then stumbling upon secrets larger than life. The writing is gorgeous, and the plot unfolds like nothing I’ve ever seen.
- City of Bones by Cassandra Clare. Good is always battling evil. Angels vs. demons seems like no exception, but this book is not so black and white. The Shadowhunters are no angels, and demons come in all shapes and sizes: full-blooded horrors and creatures much closer to human. But this is good vs. evil in a whole new way, in the midst of a war for equality between the earthen races, five teens are struggling not only with literal demons, but with the complications of their mortal lives. It’s about the bond between parents and children, the cost of secrets, the difficulties of loving the wrong person, the responsibilities on the shoulders of almost-adults who didn’t ask to be heroes. It’s a story about growing up, about judging right from wrong, about treating other groups of people fairly. It’s a world hidden inside our own, but the same lessons apply.
Have you read any of these books? What did you think? Have you read other popular books that surpassed your expectations? Let me know in the comments below.
The Literary Elephant