Over the last ten years I have been lucky enough to have read some amazing books. Especially during the most pivotal moments of my life. Between 2010-2019, I graduated middle school, entered high school, realized how much I loved writing and wanted to write for a living, made some friends that taught me some vital life lessons, learned to drive, got my heart broken a couple times over, from various people, places, and things, got my first job, graduated high school, entered university, struggled through university, graduated university, got married, and now working hard to write my very first book that will hopefully one day be published.
In that time, I read an abundance of books that have made me who I am. Majority being Young Adult Fiction which you will evidently see is what my list below consists of. For the purpose of this post, and my own personal reflection, I will focus on the books that were published between 2010-2019.
It was so hard to narrow this list down. Like insanely hard! But, I found myself staring at the list of books and the authors that wrote them with such confidence knowing that the lessons, love, sadness, and humor in these books are definitely with me today and will be with me for the rest of my life.
Oh, and these books are in no particular order (that would have been harder than actually picking the books themselves)!
1. Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo (2015)
I discovered this book through a book club I was a part of in uni. It was the book choice of the month, by one of my good friends, around the time it had released. I devoured it in a day and profusely thanked my friend for picking it. Then mopped around for days knowing I had to wait a whole year for the sequel. The discussion that proceed the next meeting after having finished the book was one of the most incredible conversations I’ve had about a book in a long while.
I cannot really pinpoint why I loved the book. It had so many elements from an intricate world and magic system, to the diversity in characters, to the overall plot. I can pinpoint how it helped shape me into the person I am today and the writer I wish to be.
Six of Crows had this element of realism to it despite it being a fantasy book. It had the fight that came with overcoming something horrible in your life. The hustle and drive to look out for yourself when at times no one else had or will. It reminded me how important my mental health is and why it needs to take the front seat sometimes. It also reiterated the the fact that you are who you surround yourself with. Finding that balance of having positive friends and friends who challenge you to always be the best is hard, but Leigh wrote it so beautifully to show that those friendships not only exist but exist in people you least expect.
2. Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi (2011)
This book was a pivotal moment for me as a reader, writer, and overall human being. This book was written by a Muslim Hijab wearing woman. It is a fantasy novel published by someone who looks like ME!
I did not know that when I first picked the book up. I read it when I first entered tenth grade, around the same time the book came out actually. It was an enthralling read that had all the elements in fantasy, romance, and story telling I loved. The inner turmoil Juliette (the main character) had throughout the entire novel was beyond relatable to me at the time. The shy, timid, always afraid and anxious girl that she was, I knew all too well. And through her, I learned how to be brave. How it is not some crazy big motion or showcase of pride and power but it was the smaller things. The ability to say no. To speak up for yourself, even if it is one sentence. To not shut yourself out of your own mind and soul. It was also the first time I read about depression so intricately woven into character.
As soon as I finished, I had to know who this author was that wrote such a tale. When Tahereh’s picture popped up, and I saw her, I legit cried. I always loved writing. I loved telling stories almost as much as I loved reading them but until that point, I didn’t think I could be a writer. I didn’t think the world would be so kind to have a female hijabi writer of fantasy. No one would want to publish my work because of who I was. It wasn’t until Tahereh Mafi that I felt that I could. I knew then that I did want to be an author more than anything. I could not thank her enough for it.
3. All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven (2015)
I read this book about a year or so after it was published. It came to me as a recommendation through some online book clubs and goodreads friends. It was a contemporary which I loved to read and at the time I hadn’t really read that much of compared to previous years.
This book made me sob. It broke my heart in pieces and put it back together. I truly thought I was walking into another tortured young love with so much brooding and bad decisions, but instead I was pleasantly surprised with the dynamics the characters had but even their relation to their worlds. I can’t even mention this book without crying, but the realism in this book about how just one person can affect your life is beyond chilling. And sometimes the fact that, that one person, might not be able to help is also something rarely seen in books but very often seen in life.
The value I place on myself, on my opinions and thoughts, and what I wish to project into the world, came out of this book. I understood how important good energy is and how important it is to admit your faults and work to not only get better but the ways in which you need to alter your mindset is crucial achieving the best in yourself.
4. Uprooted by Naomi Novik (2015)
This was one of the first adult fantasy books I read that gave me elements of magic and love that I think I was missing until that point. I read it during my time in uni, and possibly almost missed a mid-term because I wanted to stay up reading it instead of going to bed, or I don’t know actually studying for the freaking midterm?
All I could say about this that will truly capture it’s wonder would be that this is a tale of bravery.
I left this book wanting someone to fight me, to defy me, to push me just so I could show off how brave I was and how determined I am. Agnieszka (the main character) made me want to be stronger, work harder, and not take word of mouth for anything other than what it was. At the time, as a young uni student working part-time while trying to graduate in order to make a decent living to simultaneously write a book, this was the motivation I needed. The showcase of a woman working hard and pushing against all the odds.
It was one of the freshest and inspiring books I was lucky enough to read. The plot had a deeper and rich history, with twists and turns you’d least expect. It was Polish inspired, I believe, and carried diverse aspects unlike anything I’ve read in ‘European-based’ fantastical worlds.
5. Throne of Glass Series by Sarah J Maas (2012-2018)
This series is probably one of the most talked about series in the past decade. For me, there were elements that I loved and others I didn’t, but overall both the book and the author have impacted my life over this past decade greatly, and for the better.
I got into this series much later than it was published. For perspective, I read the first book around the time when the third or fourth was released. I instantly loved it. It had everything I could have wanted and loved in a book at the time, and the main character Celeana/Aelin, was unlike any other character I ever read before.
Those who have read it will automatically assume it was her fearlessness and her spunk, but while those things were exciting to read about in a female lead, that was not why she was unlike anyone I read about before. It was her relentlessness. Her showcase OF fear and HOW she overcame it, that shook me to the core. A girl assassin who is feared, is actually the one who is terrified herself, but overcomes by looking within to what she believes and what her survival truly means to her. How often do we forget to do that? How often have I easily accepted defeat because there was nothing more that I could do? I am all but one person.
Aelin taught me how wrong my thought process was. Yes, her story was very much ‘The Chosen One’ type, but even if she hadn’t been… she was written as someone who became fearless because she allowed fear to settle in and found ways on how to deal with it. If there is one thing I will take from this series, it’s that throughout life, we will be tested in all the ways that count. Fear and anxiety will come at us hard and true, but refusing to dwell in it does not make us stronger. Sometimes it helps to push past, but others, you need to dive into it to come out of it stronger.
Among many other things, I learned through this book that it is okay to cry, scream, get angry, and be happy. To live all these emotions and then stop, get my shit together, and figure out what it is I truly wish to accomplish and what it is I wish to be.
I cannot thank Sarah J Maas enough. I almost included her other series, A Court of Thorns & Roses, in this list, but had to be very diligent with my picks. She has genuinely been an inspiration. I am not only grateful for the character she wrote, but for the impact she had on me as a writer, to keep pushing through no matter what if writing and story-telling is truly what you love.
Note: People have various opinions on this author and the characters. While I mentioned previously, there are elements of this series I do not enjoy nor agree with, overall, I enjoyed it enough and indulged in it enough to appreciate it and Sarah for all it has brought into my life and all it will continue to do for me.
6. An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir (2015)
I want to start of by saying I LOVE SABAA! I think as human being, she is the most honest and raw as they come. Her stories and truth in how hard she worked on her book and struggled with self-doubt, makes me feel like I am not alone. That I can find success in writing, if she did.
This book is the first in the series, and while I love the series, I have to be true to this post and focus on this book in particular because it was the one that truly impacted me the most.
The premise is an interesting one with many tropes thrown in here and there, but done so gracefully that it did not feel forced or unrealistic. Not to mention the diversity in all the characters was so refreshing, especially at the time in which I read this book. I could also tell it was very much thought out and tirelessly worked over. Because it was really a book about how much the human soul goes through. How life is not always going to be what we expect but even in those moments we will be tested and taunted and questioned about what humanity really is. It showed me that if all else fails, you need to draw lines from within yourself with what you are willing to do and follow what your moral compass is telling you to do. It was evident through the characters, the world, the brutality, the conflicts, and the emotions that at the end of the day, no one but you has to live with what you have done, to the level in which you do.
It was also the most poetic and lyrical, with so many amazing quotes that I live by. I have some written in my notebooks but my most favorite one is: “Life is made of so many moments that mean nothing. Then one day, a single moment comes along to define every second that comes after. Such moments are tests of courage, of strength.” It is so true and so simply put yet so effective and ignited a fire in my soul. A fire that reminded me to watch my step, to work silently in strength, and again allow fear to settle in just the right moments, at just the right times. I am currently looking to buy a big print of that quote to plaster behind my desk for that added umph of motivation.
7. The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson (2016)
This was the loveliest and most heart warming books to read. The story itself was so genuine and creative but I think the reason why this made the list is because of the nostalgia it gave me. I read this book due to the same book club previously mentioned, which by the way aren’t book clubs amazing? I need to get back into one, I swear!
I read it in the summer, which is probably why it was so nostalgic, because it took me to my 13/14 year old self, reading Sarah Dessen books in my backyard, on the grass right under the sun.
This story brought me back to basics. It brought me to understanding the true joy in reading a book where the character not only struggles to find themselves but constantly attempts to try and find themselves. It was romantic in all the right places, showing what first love looks like and what can become of true love. Showing and teaching me, how often it was that I did not consider the unexpected things that happen to me as blessings. As good things. I found myself re-reading sections of the book my first read-through because I just loved the honest vibe of it so much. The kind where authenticity in how the character’s emotions speak loud enough for the reader to know what is going on in their mind. As a writer, I made a mental note.
If I had to recommend this book, I would offer it to someone who needed a reminder that the urge to do everything right is not realistic. Do things at your pace, for yourself, and for the best of intentions.
8. The Wraith & the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh (2015)
I still remember downloading the e-version of this book and staying up well into the morning reading it. This was the book that truly showed me the type of strength one should and can have in a relationship.
It is not often that YA shows the truth when it comes to internal struggles someone has when in a relationship. It usually is spurred on from a fight or some conflict that arises throughout the relationship. This book captured the inner turmoil someone might feel when in a relationship that is constantly push and pull, and more so, it showed how to come out of that into a healthier bond. Of course this was all set in a fantasy-King-is-super-evil-until-he’s-not type of world, but the relationship Sharazad had with Khalid grew as she did. Not to mention Arab names in a book for once and all the diversity it had. Seriously, I loved this book.
9 A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi (2018)
Another one by the great Tahereh Mafi. This woman can do no wrong in my eyes.
I’ll keep it short and simple with this one. It had a Muslim Hijabi girl, living in a Westernized world. Enough said. It was dynamic, honest, insightful, and super relatable to us who saw ourselves in Shirin, by actually looking like her (Hi!) and by having that internal conflict constantly there in a place that keeps reminding you, you don’t belong.
Shirin’s drive to prove them and herself wrong, was and is the running force I go to when it comes to writing and wanting to achieve all my dreams. It didn’t matter how big that open sea was and how quickly it wanted to drown her. She overcame it because she WANTED to. And if you want something bad enough, go for it, go until your lungs are about to burst.
10. MockingJay by Suzanne Collins (2010)
I know I said that this list is in no particular order, but of course I somehow left one of the bests for last.
The series has ended and all the movies have come out, and I wish I could say I read this series before the films blew up the way they did, but unfortunately I did not. I still remember seeing Catching Fire in theaters and beating myself up over not having read the books first. So I quickly ran to my local library and picked up the books. When I got to Mockingjay, I cried before I even began reading it.
This book has really empowered me in all the ways a book can. Suzanne CollinS’ drive and effortlessness when it came to composing these books also inspired me to have that same energy, the same passion for story-telling. I still and will always continue to think that Katniss is one of the greatest heroines of the last decade. She was compelling without being too forceful or fake. She was honest and raw and dependable just as much as she was independent regardless of whether she wanted to admit it or not. She was flawed and consistent in her growth to being the strong woman who defeated the Capitol. In her position, she was empathetic but also a leader, which is a hard balance to perfect.
Katniss taught me to stand up no matter what may come at you, no matter how weak or lost you are, and no matter what you lose. Just as long as you never lose sight of yourself.
What books have shaped you in the last ten years? I would love to know! Also – while going through my bookshelf, I realized how much I truly loved reading. It is such a thing, to escape your world and into another one where you feel, love, and learn from the people there.