Our Favorite Books of 2017

OPL staff look back on their favorite books of 2017.

When the new year prompts you to look back on the previous twelve months, at least you can always count on good books. Here are a few of our favorites published in 2017.

Akata Warrior by Nnedi Okorafor
The long-awaited sequel to Akata Witch delivers on all its promises! Exciting, complex, coming-of-age fantasy with interesting characters, set in Nigeria. Sunny Nwazue, a young teen with magic she is just learning to use, must join with her friends to defeat a powerful spirit.
Recommended for: Children, Teens
Recommended by: Margaret, Children's librarian, Piedmont Ave

American War by Omar El Akkad
2074 United States is rocked by rising sea levels, plague, drought, severe storms, military occupation, foreign political interference and civil war. Sarat is a six- year-old refugee from mostly-underwater Louisiana who grows up to become a radicalized warrior. Author El Akkad is a war reporter who has covered the war in Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay and the Arab Spring, and his experience covering conflict no doubt contributed to the harsh realism of this story. American War is horribly grim, and seems all too plausible.
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Christy Thomas, Librarian, Main Library

Blitzed: Drugs and the Third Reich by Norman Ohler
I was shocked, but not surprised, by the extensive use of methamphetamine by the Nazis. They produced it as a vitamin and gave it to their soldiers. Blitzed is a fascincating history told through the lense of drug-use during WWII. The strengths of Ohler’s account lie not only in the rich array of rare documents he mines and the archival images he reproduces to accompany the text, but also in his character studies.
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Andrew Demcak, Senior Collection Development Librarian, Main Library

Bronze and Sunflower by Cao Wenxuan
Wenxuan's story, set in rural China during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s, is accessible, lively, dynamic, captivating, and full of details to give a sense of the place and living conditions, as well as the community and values from Wenxuan's childhood. The writing style and pace match the content - dramatic environmental events like droughts & fire, swarms of locusts, freezing storms, etc. are interspersed with many days of ordinary rural life, but they are relentless; one trouble follows closely on the heels of a narrowly-survived previous trouble, and they march along as impervious to basic human emotional needs as the seasons, with few moans or complaints from any of the characters. The two young, idealized characters -- Sunflower and Bronze -- seem to embody the best of a cultural/family value system of the time & place, which is probably familiar to Chinese readers and perhaps Chinese American readers as well. Wenxuan might have planned the parallels between Sunflower's father and Vincent Van Gogh, equally consumed by a passion for painting, and remembered for his famous paintings of sunflowers. As specific as it is, this feels like a universal story. Meilo So's occasional illustrations are wonderful, as usual.
Recommended for: Children
Recommended by: Erica S, Children's Librarian, Rockridge

Caca Dolce: Essays from a Lowbrow Life by Chelsea Martin
Reading the 18 personal essays here, by one of the leading figures in the world of "low-fi" publishing, supplies a vivid education into the sociology of the "Echo Boomers" growing up on the outskirts of the urban San Francisco Bay Area. The book explores such topics as the nuances of life as a "Goth" in a heavy metal world, the suffering caused by being "unfriended" on social media and of alternating between a low- and a high-income, non-cohabitant, parent. Of local interest is her efforts to shed parts of her earlier life by relocating to a shared quarters in industrial Oakland. So much to identify with!
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Steven Lavoie, Branch Manager, Temescal Branch

The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein
Occasionally a book comes along that dramatically shifts your understanding of something you think you know pretty well. Richard Rothstein's The Color of Law: The Forgotten Story of How Our Government Segregated America examines the various ways local, state and federal agencies established policies that created racial and economic divisions across the country. It also explains how these policies have led to generational poverty, rampant urban homelessness, corrupt banking practices, and homogenized suburbs. This well-researched yet accessible book blends public policy with social and architectural history. Rothstein, a research associate of the Economic Policy Institute and a Haas Institute fellow, has produced a book that will be read and reread for many years to come.
Recommended for: Adults         
Recommended by: Dorothy Lazard, Librarian, Oakland History Room

Everything Belongs to Us by Yoojin Grace Wuertz
It's a complicated story with a bit of a mystery at the core of it. If you are curious about post-war culture in Korea, the impact of American soldiers on that society, and the effects of a repressive dictator on young people's lives, but also want to feel involved in the lives of the main characters in a very emotional and moving way, this is the book for you.
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Emily Odza, Librarian, All over Oakland!

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
In an unnamed country in the Middle East, Saeed and Nadia fall in love amidst the chaos of a burgeoning civil war. As the repression, terror and hardship mounts, they seek their escape. This brief novel is beautifully written and offers a painfully sharp view into the lives of refugees.
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Christy Thomas, Librarian, Main Library

The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater
Local headlines of a teen setting the skirt of another teen on fire on the local 57 busline made headlines in Oakland and around the country several years ago.  Looking at issues of gender identity, criminal justice system failures, race and the vibrant city of Oakland, Slater fleshes out the actors and the tragic story in memorable ways.
Recommended for: Teens
Recommended by: Helen, Children's Librarian, Main Library

The First Rule of Punk by Celia Perez
Celia Perez brings her amazing DIY Zine Making skills to her first novel.  The first rule of punk, according to Malú’s dad, is to be yourself – as if yourself is a single, easy-to-define, tangible something.   But when you’re in middle school, figuring out who you are is a lot more complicated than that.   Malú is a delighful character, working on figuring out how she can be her mom's Mexican daughter AND her dad's punk rock daughter.
Recommended for: Children, Teens, Families
Recommended by: Sharon McKellar, Community Relations Librarian

Goodbye Vitamin by Rachel Khong
San Franciscan Ruth Young is still hurting from a bad breakup when she decides to move home to be with her father Howard, a history professor falling under the grip of Alzheimer’s disease. Told in episodic vignettes, I love how the story unfolded. A brisk read that is both funny and poignant. 
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Christy Thomas, Librarian, Main Library

Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly
The lives of four middle schoolers converge on the first day of summer, leading to a very mean prank, new friendships, and self-discovery. While each character has eccentricities, their unique outlooks are treated with compassion and a dash of humor.
Recommended for: Children
Recommended by: Lolade, Librarian

Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World by Kelly Jensen, ed.
Editor Kelly Jensen has gathered contributions - some written, some drawn, some playlists - from an array of sources on an array of interconnected topics. Actors, authors, activists, and more offer accessible information and insights on engaging feminisms in the 21st century.
Recommended for: Teens
Recommended by: Janine deManda, Temporary Part-Time Library Assistant, Main, Eastmont

I Love It Though by Alli Warren
The most recent collection of the Oakland poet's work shows her ascending yet another rung toward her climb into the pantheon of contemporary American poetry. These latest poems show her voice becoming stronger and her vision even broader as she mesmerizes readers with the subtle complexity and beauty of her verse.
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Steven Lavoie, Branch Manager, Temescal Branch

Jaya and Rasa: A Love Story by Sonia Patel
Jaya and Rasa takes some tips from the Shakespearean play that shares its initials (Romeo & Juliet). Sonia Patel deftly blends those shared elements of reckless, urgent adolescent romance with the complex realities of life in 21st century Hawaii.
Recommended for: Teens
Recommended by: Janine deManda, Temporary Part-Time Library Assistant, Main, Eastmont

The Legend of Rock, Paper, Scissors by Drew Daywalt
The Legend of Rock, Paper, Scissors is an adorably hilarious children's picture book by Drew Daywalt, (who also wrote The Day the Crayons Quit). I love the intelligent humor that both children and parents can enjoy and the dynamic illustrations.
Recommended for: Children
Recommended by: Judy Kim, Library Aide, Cesar Chavez, Temescal and the Main

The Life and Adventures of Jack Engle: An Auto-Biography by Walt Whitman
The University of Iowa may seem an unlikely place to be publishing the definitive work and criticism of New York's (and the nation's) singularly most important poet & the English Department at the University of Houston might seem equally unlikely as a center of Whitman scholarship. Nevertheless, Houston is where Jack Turpin was a student when he discovered this fascinating "lost" work of Whitman in the newspaper collection of the Library of Congress in Washington, D. C. Turpin learned of its possible existence somewhere during his careful study of the great poet's notebooks, where Whitman had sketched out details of the story. An early edition of the New York Times contained an ad for something to look for inside a rival newspaper, the Sunday Dispatch, that drew Turpin's attention. This led Turpin to the Library of Congress, where some of the only extant copies of the Sunday Dispatch are held, in which this highly-entertaining and brilliantly innovative (for the time) a fun and fascinating pseudo-autobiography of young wry orphan rambling the social whirl of New York City in the middle of the 19th century.
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Steven Lavoie, Branch Manager, Temescal Branch

Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert
Suzette, aka Little (as in sister), and her brother Lionel, aka Lion, are both teenagers in Los Angeles spending the summer together after a school year apart. Brandy Colbert brings them, their struggles and joys, and their family and friends to life in a novel that gives life's complexities more room to be.
Recommended for: Teens
Recommended by: Janine deManda, Temporary Part-Time Library Assistant, Main, Eastmont

Looking for Lenin by Niels Ackermann & Sébastian Gobert
The toppling of propagandizing statues of Vladimir Lenin characterized the sweeping popular unrest that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. In the Ukraine, this phenomenon, known as "Leninfall," was particularly widespread, until by the end of 2013, all representations of the great Russian revolutionary leader were purged from public view. Two Western European photojournalists ventured to document the fate of these statues with their cameras. This collection of the photographs serves as a droll but stunning visual testament to this dramatic piece of modern history and its consequences, as well as an interesting look inside the war-torn nation.
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Steven Lavoie, Branch Manager, Temescal Branch

Lost Ballparks by Dennis Evanosky & Eric J. Kos
The ever-productive partnership behind the Alameda Sun add to their growing list of historical works with this heavily illustrated coffee-table book that recalls storied facilities across the country and in Canada and Japan where professional baseball has been played. Of course, they a section to Oaks Park in Emeryville, home field of the Oakland Oaks of the Pacific Coast League. Well-chosen and well-reproduced archival photographs, with text based on the coauthors' trademark authoritative research, make for a splendid experience for any true fan.
Recommended for: Adults, Teens
Recommended by: Steven Lavoie, Branch Manager, Temescal Branch

Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran
Two mothers struggle over the custody of a “lucky” child. Soli is an undocumented immigrant who loses her child when authorities discover her status. Her story is a tragic one that exposes the treacherous risks people take to cross into the USA and the injustices of our broken immigration system and our corrupt prisons. Kavya’s story is also affecting—she should be much less sympathetic due to her selfish actions as a privileged foster mom who wants to adopt at any cost but I felt myself just as lashed to her longings. The local Berkley setting is a bonus. Engrossing, heartbreaking, compassionate.
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Christy Thomas, Librarian, Main Library

Mad about Trump by The Usual Gang of Idiots (i.e., members of the Mad magazine staff)
One thing's for sure, 2017 has brought a bombardment of Trumpism to our electronic media and our public sphere. Its dire consequences are no laughing matter, which can make the tweeting and the saber-rattling even harder to cope with. Somehow, the screwball masters at Mad magazine have managed to supply some of the good medicine of laughter to help restore at least some perspective on today's challenges. A few frames of "The Trump Family Circus," or Kenny Keil's "No, Donald!," a revision of David Shannon's children's classic "No, David!," or any of the other extracts from Mad magazine dating from 2004 that constitute this compilation, might prove to be just the right dose of that time-tested medicine to get a good night's sleep after watching the news at 11.
Recommended for: Adults, Teens
Recommended by: Steven Lavoie, Branch Manager, Temescal Branch

Midnight without a Moon by Linda Williams Jackson
Midnight without a Moon is a coming-of-age novel set in the 1950s in Mississippi. Thirteen year-old Rose Lee, her family, and community grapple with family dynamics, violent racism, religion, and conflicting understandings of success in a page-turner of a first novel from Linda Williams Jackson.
Recommended for: Children, Teens
Recommended by: Janine deManda, Temporary Part-Time Library Assistant, Main, Eastmont

My Favorite Thing Is Monsters by Emil Ferris
The art and writing transcends the graphic novel genre as Emil Ferris explores and blends many themes and styles.  It's part mystery, pulp fiction, horror, and also an emotional coming-of-age story that explores race, history, and many other themes.  In addition to the amazing narrative the art is stunning and expressive. 
Recommended for: Adults, Teens
Recommended by: Rachel Sher, Senior L.A./TLL Library Manager, Tool Lending

The Nutcracker in Harlem by T.E. McMorrow
T.E. McMorrow's retelling of a familiar Christmas classic reaches back to the tale the ballet was based on and moves it forward to the Harlem Renaissance. Lush, lively illustrations bring to life this story of a young girl finding her voice through a bit of holiday magic.
Recommended for: Children
Recommended by: Janine deManda, Temporary Part-Time Library Assistant, Main, Eastmont

OG Told Me by Pendarvis Harshaw
The author shares his intimate reminiscences of growing up in Oakland, utilizing the urban parlance of the period, incorporating the wisdom he gained from the elders he encountered along the way. The ingenuity of his approach to a simple coming-of-age memoir is excitingly creative. The wisdom the book imparts is valuable, besides, and the African-American tradition of paying homage to the elders is sustained into the 21st century in a highly enjoyable and fascinating way, whether the reader is from the culture or looking in from the outside. It includes colorful and artistic graphics that help to communicate the integrity of the elder neighbors who populate this little gem of a book.
Recommended for: Adults, Teens
Recommended by: Steven Lavoie, Branch Manager, Temescal Branch

The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein
Fifteen-year-old Julie returns home for the summer and finds herself tangled up in a deadly mystery. Set in Scotland between the two World Wars, this historical fiction gives brilliant insights into class divisions and gendered expectations. A prequel to the stunning Code Name Verity, but stands alone.
Recommended for: Adults, Teens
Recommended by: Margaret, Children's librarian, Piedmont Ave

Recovery: Freedom from Our Addictions by Russell Brand
Comedian and movie star Russell Brand shares a range of interesting stories based on his fourteen years of recovery. His personal addictions serve as examples for the full spectrum--from drugs, alcohol, caffeine, and sugar addictions to addictions to work, stress, sex, bad relationships, digital media, and fame. His writing is creative, thought-provoking, compassionate, funny and even profound.  By helping to better understand what drives our addictions, this book will help tackle any New Year's resolutions from the small to the most difficult behavioral changes.
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Jamie Turbak, Associate Director, Main Library

Royals by Cedar Sigo
Sigo's poems show glimmers of the Zen and jazz-inspired musicality of the mid-20th century Bay Area poetry scene combined with expressions from his own literary DNA as part of the Suquamish people of the Pacific Northwest to shimmer on the page. To all that, he adds the cries of social exasperation and exhausting resistance that the present day demands.
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Steven Lavoie, Branch Manager, Temescal Branch

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
Thirteen-year-old Jojo and his sister Kayla have been brought up by their loving maternal grandparents. Their mother Leonie is a drug abuser who lacks any maternal instincts, their father Michael is incarcerated, and they’ve never even met their white paternal grandparents. When they learn that Michael is being released, Leonie piles the kids and best friend in the car to pick him up from prison, anticipating a joyous family reunion instead of the traumatic journey that unfolds. This brutal story of poverty and racism in the American South is cut with moments of hope, tenderness, resilience and mystical power. Jojo’s tale is especially vivid, and I found myself absolutely immersed in his story.
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Christy Thomas, Librarian, Main Library

Unforgivable Love by Sophfronia Scott
The fiction of the Libertines of France's Baroque period of the 18th century has had my attention, with its subversive intent, since I first discovered it as a pubescent student of the French language. The masterpiece of that genre, whose title translates Dangerous Liaisons, has inspired at least three ballets, seven feature films, television miniseries in France and Brazil and now Scott's novel set among well-to-do African Americans in Harlem, New York City, in the halcyon days following World War II. In Scott's retelling, presented in the brisk style of most popular fiction, the surreptitious exploits and manipulations of the leading characters renders a very similar fate in Harlem as similar conduct did in the timeless original to members of the pre-revolutionary French aristocracy. The lesson of this tale really helps to sustain the faith during puzzling times.
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Steven Lavoie, Branch Manager, Temescal Branch

We Are Okay by Nina LaCour
A beautiful novel with layers of story about a girl who has experienced loss in multiple ways over her life, and in especially impactful ways very recently.  Marin learns that no matter how hard she tries, she can’t run away from loss or from love, even when the love is no longer requited and the loss is so profound you think you will never heal.  San Francisco is the background to Marin’s previous life, when her best friend became her girlfriend and her grandpa was still alive, but the cold winter better suits her current mood.  When her best friend shows up, she is forced to remember what she is trying to forget. 
Recommended for: Teens, Adults
Recommended by: Sharon McKellar, Community Relations Librarian

Windows by Julia Denos
Windows is a quietly lovely picture book perfect for bedtime reading. Sleepy youngsters can follow the child in the book on a walk around the neighborhood with the family dog, then drift off to the final image of the child curled up on the couch with Mom and dog.
Recommended for: Children
Recommended by: Janine deManda, Temporary Part-Time Library Assistant, Main, Eastmont

What were your favorite books of 2017? We'd love to hear from you in the comments.

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