2016 came with my own personal ear worm, a song from the Stephen Sondheim's Follies. On a tiny, dusty stage in a corner of brain, Elaine Stritch sang, "I'm Still Here."
Good times and bum times I've seen them all
And, my dear, I'm still here.
This has not been a year of fun and frivolity for anyone, and my reading seems to reflect that. When I looked at my end-of-the-year favorites I thought (in true Baby Boomer stye) "Wow. Heavy man!"
Half of them have WWII themes. There seemed to be lots of WWII books published this year. This puzzled me, until I realized (this week!) that it's the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor. (Duh). Most of them have death at the heart of the story. As usual, my picks are a mishmash of non-fiction, middle-grade and YA fiction and a graphic novel. My usual eclectic mishmash.
I'm a big fan of graphic novels, especially those of Raina Telgemeier. Her previous books always make me giggle, because this author/artist turns middle-school misery into something manageable for the young reader, without ever condescending or trivializing their issues.
Maya takes to her new town right away, especially when the boy-next-door tells them the secret of Bahia de la Luna...ghosts in habit the town. Meeting a ghost appeals to Maya; Catrina, not so much. The story culminates at a Day of the Dead celebration...in a way I did not see coming until the final pages. Ghosts is humorous in spots, but over-all a positive, life-affirming book.
The last title in my WWII fiction binge is Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys. Again, this one centers around a true event I've never heard of, the fate of the Wilhelm Gustloff, a transport ship, evacuating German military and citizens as the Red Army advance on Prussia. Narrated by three teen characters, whose paths unite, and fates intertwine, together, they make their way through battle scarred Germany, seeking salvation promised by the Wilhelm Gustloff. Septeys' research on this all-but-forgotten event is meticulous. I was in the heart and soul of each other narrators, every step of the way, as desperate to learn their fates as they were. Upper middle grade/YA.
On to the non-fiction, and guess what? My favorites are biographies of hero/martyrs of WWII.
Patricia McCormick's YA novels Sold, Cut and Purple Heart are so immediate, it is hard to believe they are fiction. The Plot to Kill Hitler: Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Spy, Unlikely Hero is her first venture into the equally gritty world of non-fiction. Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran minister in Nazi Germany, who I first learned about in (where else?) Lutheran Sunday School. He was referred to as a "Lutheran marytr" but no one ever bother to explain to the 6th grade class what he had done to merit execution by the Nazis and ensuing martyrdom. His life was more complex than I could've imagined. Born to wealth, and trained as a concert pianist, Bonhoeffer renounced "worldly pursuits" to become a Lutheran pastor. The death of a brother in WWI transformed Bonhoeffer into a pacifist. But with the rise of Hitler, what could a Christian pacifist do in the face of pure evil? Again, like the Scholls' story, this emphasizes the "power of one."
One of the joys of being the second person to post on this topic is that Esther and I had some of the same "best books" on our list. The ones that both of us agreed belong on a "bests" list are:
The Best Man by Richard Peck; Some Writer! The Story of E.B. White by Melissa Sweet; The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon.
Back on that small, dusty stage in my head, Elaine Stritch is belting out her big finish...
I got through all of last year, and I'm here
Lord knows, at least I was there, and I'm here
Look who's here, I'm still here
Yeah! Come on, 2017!
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