It’s actually been a few years since I’ve done a bookish gift guide around the holidays, but I’ve been itching to update my guide from 2014. (All those books still make excellent books though – I reread many of them from time to time!)
During finals, I found myself absentmindedly creating the graphics for these and figured it was probably a sign that I needed to actually put it together. It took me a while, but I’m happy with the picks and categorization.
Without further ado, here are some of the picks I recommend if you’re really scrambling to get a good book for someone this holiday season – divided into categories by reader! Some of them overlap but for the most part, it works out pretty well this way.
Starred are those that are especially great for reluctant readers.
The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider* | Goodreads
Newly disabled golden boy finds himself among a group of misfits – including the alluring new girl who’s queen of the debate scene, but won’t let go of the tragedy in her past. Read my review here.
Famous in Love by Rebecca Serle* | Goodreads
A small-town girl is cast in movie adaptation of the most beloved trilogy – and must navigate a real-life love triangle along with her new identity. My favorite part of this book is the absorbing rhythm of the language, and Paige’s inner musings. Read my review here.
Austenland by Shannon Hale | Goodreads
Bookish girl wants to find her own Jane Austen story. Need I say more?
Me Before You* by Jojo Moyes | Goodreads
Heart-wrenching depiction of a romance that isn’t meant to last. It blew up the box office this year, and it’s a little cheesy, but actually lovely.
The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh | Goodreads
Captivating retelling of One Thousand and One Nights with electrifying, complex characters. I threw this book across the room at one point (and embarrassed myself in front of my AP Lit class when I burst into tears.)
Burn for Burn by Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian | Goodreads
Burn for Burn is an intoxicating revenge story from a group of slighted high school girls. Vivid settings, vicious scenarios, and stunning relationship dynamics. (And I love love love both these writers – Siobhan is a great friend of mine.)
Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver | Goodreads
Sam has seven days to relive the last day of her life – and decide which legacy to leave. Brutally honest in its portrayal of high school dynamics – but breathlessly philosophical – Before I Fall is a hit for a reason. Bonus: it’s coming out in theaters this spring.
Rites of Passage by Joy N. Hensley | Goodreads
Sam is one of the strongest protagonists I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading, and not just because she’s in the first class of girls at a prestigious military academy. Her grit and her charm leapt off the page. Read my review here.
Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda* by Becky Albertalli | Goodreads
This is a heartwarming, funny exploration coming-of-age about a kid who doesn’t want to come out just yet – but he’s falling in love with his pen pal. A little blackmail, plenty of jokes, and a sweet romance.
This Song Will Save Your Life* by Leila Sales | Goodreads
This is an old favorite of mine. It’s battered, and well-loved. Elise is struggling to find the will to live, but her gig as an underground DJ helps her out with that. Throughout her stolen nights, she strings together parts of her identity again.
The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson | Goodreads
This is a book that will wreck you if you’re not careful. Beautiful, quiet, and dazzling, The Sky is Everywhere depicts the aftermath of a sister’s death. As Lenny attempts to navigate life without Bailey, she encounters some unexpected challenges.
Anatomy of a Misfit by Andrea Portes | Goodreads
Anatomy of a Misfit is weird and quirky and also blisteringly alive in a way that’s tough to pinpoint. It’s pretty hit-or-miss. I love it, but I’m definitely a person who likes out-of-the-box stories. If you have someone who likes literary risks or offbeat narrators – rooted in a backbone of fun and loss – this is one for you.
Juniors by Kaui Hart Hemmings | Goodreads
I don’t know why more people don’t talk about this one. It dredges up a ton of the tropes seen in YA coming-of-age stories – a magnetic best friend, a new environment – but is still rather quiet. I love the poetic fascination with the Hawaiian backdrop, and some startlingly realistic touches scattered throughout it.
I’ll Be There by Holly Goldberg Sloan | Goodreads
I’ll Be There is an old soul of a book. It’s original and emotional, but it’s told in this simple language that reverberates throughout the book and makes it somehow stronger. It’s warm, but also engrossing. A true portrait. Read my review here.
The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski | Goodreads
I read this entire trilogy over the course of two days. I’ve always heard people gushing about it, but never really gave it a shot. It’s dreamy, political, and not afraid to get messy. It’s rare that I find a book as dually plot- and character-driven. I’m a huge fan. Read my review here.
Throne of Glass* by Sarah J. Maas | Goodreads
This is a series that’s been dominating young adult for the past few years, and for good reason. The backstory is so tangled and well-developed that it does truly feel as if you’re dropped into something real and cinematic. It’s larger-than-life.
Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton | Goodreads
I had the pleasure of reading this one at the beginning of this year, and I wholeheartedly fell in love with it. I loved how vibrant the desert setting was, how insane the plot twists were, the chemistry between the characters. I wrote earlier on the blog that it has “A weathered protagonist [who] still manages to seem fresh, thanks to thoughtful world-building, a Western vibe, and a supporting cast that keeps her on her toes.”
An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir | Goodreads
I’m currently rereading this series now, and I’m in awe. On my book Instagram, I call it “an excruciatingly well-written fantasy reread. Political, atmospheric, and sharp.” It’s long, but it’s just absurdly brilliant – especially for those inclined towards fantasies with more military influence.
The Call by Peadar Ó Guilín | Goodreads
The Call is an inventive, malevolent take on the folklore of fey. It’s eerie, dark, and structured beyond compare. (Sublime pacing.) In my review, I said: “Every page of it was unfailingly compelling, and the mood was fiercely independent of any other novel I can think of.” Bonus for authentic disability representation.
The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater | Goodreads
Anybody who knows me – or my reading taste – knows that I absolutely worship Maggie Stiefvater’s work. Every book of hers has struck a chord with me, in entirely separate ways. Her Raven Cycle series is one that I’ve relished over the past few years, and would make a great adventure pick. (I especially love the audiobook version!) Join a ragtag group of prep school boys and the local psychic’s daughter as they attempt to find a lost Welsh king.
All Fall Down* by Ally Carter | Goodreads
Ally Carter is the queen of intrigue, and the queen of stories about teenage girls. Her protagonist in this series is a lot grittier than her others, but carries the same quiet strength. Political intrigue on the Embassy Row of a fictional country? Marvelous. Intensity, thy name is…
The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig | Goodreads
This pick is a lot quieter than the others, admittedly. I’m uber picky about my time travel narratives, but this one meets the standard. The amount of research in this one is respectable, and I enjoyed the twists in the plot. It’s a solid read.
Cinder by Marissa Meyer | Goodreads
Fairy tales, meet cyborgs. Although it seems like a strange combination, Meyer pulls it off flawlessly. I still remember finishing this one for the first time: my heart pounding, in absolute awe. This series surprises me like no other. It has better action, world-building, and character development than anything else I can think of that’s out there. Stunning.
Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor | Goodreads
This book is a marvel. Take an ethereal protagonist, dump her in Prague, add a high-stakes battle between fantastical creatures to the mix. It captures the adrenaline and atmosphere of a worldly, glamorous, creative, colorful war. One of my favorites of all time.
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein | Goodreads
I don’t really read historical fiction much – and I should, considering that two of my favorites are of the genre. Still, I’m incorporating this one on the adventure list because it is an adventure – granted, one that will actually rip your heart out. It’s a clever, candid, and sobering portrait of the friendship between two women caught in World War II – one of whom is being interrogated by the Gestapo. Only read this if you want to be emotionally destroyed while simultaneously admiring everything about the book’s construction.
Blood and Salt by Kim Liggett | Goodreads
A good ol’ haunting cult-in-a-cornfield pick, Blood and Salt is a captivating slice of horror. I’m a huge fan of any books that can set themselves apart, and this one does so elegantly.
The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera | Goodreads
If you’re like me and enjoy having existential crises on the reg, have I got the book for YOU. Milan Kundera has a distinctive way of looking at the world. Part novel, part I-don’t-even-know-what-else, The Unbearable Lightness of Being is a philosophical and literary masterpiece. This is one that is definitely dear to me.
The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac | Goodreads
Kerouac – although one of my favorite writers – can be rather frustrating. I could talk for hours in book club about my feelings on The Dharma Bums. It’s a favorite. It’s pretentious. It’s also weirdly humble in a lot of ways? Either way, The Dharma Bums makes a great let’s-meander-through-the-mountains-and-get-drunk-and-muse-about-Buddhism-and-the-meaning-of-life book.
The Unfinished World: And Other Stories by Amber Sparks | Goodreads
I finished this one the other week at 3 A.M. in my common room, and couldn’t stop crying. It’s in my top three favorites of all time, and I’m not a huge short story gal. Either way, there is so much life between these pages: a time-traveler trying to destroy a painting, a pair of sisters growing apart, a taxidermist, love that doesn’t last, love that does last. And each line is worthy of a highlight.
The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra | Goodreads
When I try to attempt to describe this one, all that comes to mind is “dark…and very Russian.” It’s most definitely dazzling, but it’s also dizzyingly melancholy. Whether or not the ending is actually one of hope or of condemnation is a choice up to the reader. It’s worth the read, if only to think about, and I know plenty of people to whom it would most undoubtedly appeal.
Bone Gap by Laura Ruby | Goodreads
I’ve discovered a lot about my reading taste over the past year, and one of my realizations was that my favorite genre is magical realism. Bone Gap, the recipient of the Printz this year, is a lush mystery of sorts. It has that small-town dreamlike feel, woven with undercurrents of secrets and characters too big for their own skins. I’m a huge fan.
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas | Goodreads
The Count of Monte Cristo is another favorite book, although it’s much more old-fashioned. It’s a tale of long-winded revenge, unfolding over years, and the plot twists are insane. It’s still, to this day, one of the cleverest books I’ve had the opportunity to read. (I read the abridged version, though; I still need to get around to the unabridged.)
When Breath Becomes Air* by Paul Kalanithi | Goodreads
Although this book has been on the NYT list, and it’s forefront at almost every bookstore or airport, I still want to express my gratitude for having been able to read it. Paul Kalanithi has a measured, steady way of looking at life – thoughtful, but also conservative. He doesn’t use flowery language. He isn’t out to prove something. He puts his thoughts to paper in a way that’s honest, and deeply sad in hindsight. This book feels like a conversation, and that makes it all the more valuable.
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks* by E. Lockhart | Goodreads
Frankie’s out to prove that her preppy school isn’t just a boy’s club any longer. Definite #girlboss right there – drenched in that old-school, timeless feel.
The Awakening by Kate Chopin | Goodreads
Admittedly, I read this in my AP Lit class last year and wasn’t expecting to connect with it as profoundly as I did. It has pockets of real, unrefined emotion, and it’s also a good story.
The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality by Brian Greene | Goodreads
I am not a science person, no matter how much I would love to be. I watch Cosmos and read essays on string theory and attempt to wrap my head around all of it – and I love the process – but I’ll never be as big of a physics aficionado as I’d like to be. However, I spent a week during the summer getting through this read, and I’m grateful. Brian Greene manages to illuminate a wealth of information in a way that’s clear and understandable to the average reader (like me.) It’s a fascinating read that changed the way I think about the world.
A History of Glitter and Blood by Hannah Moskowitz | Goodreads
Told in fragments and strange stories and raw encounters, A History of Glitter and Blood is a wildly innovative look at a post-apocalyptic city of fey.