Best Book I Read in 2015

This book wrecked me. I usually like to start the new year with the best book I read in the previous year. I’m done. Nothing I will read in the few month remaining in 2015 will rock my world as much as Pointe by Brandy Colbert. It’s one of those books that makes you feel like whatever kind of writing you do, that you should just stop because nothing you write will be that good. It’s the type of book that, when people disagree with you about the amazingness of the story, makes you wonder if you were even reading the same book. It’s the kind of book that wakes you up in the middle of the night because you’re worried about the characters. EVEN AFTER YOU FINISH THE BOOK.

It’s a total fluke how I found out about this book, too! I had gone to the LA Festival of Books at USC in the spring which was a terrible good load of fun – I highly recommend going if you have the chance. Anyway, I had gone to the Young Adult Fiction: Outside the Margins panel with authors Anthony Breznican, Jo Knowles, Sarah Tomp and Andrea Portes. It was a ridiculously hot day and we were sitting in the direct sun on those little white plastic chairs on the grass lawn. We had tried for the little bit of temporary shade. I think we had been hoping to move to the left as the sun moved so we could remain in the shade. But hopes were dashed as a woman came just after the panel had started and sat beside us. The 3 of us had the market on shade for all of about 5 minutes.

The panel was interesting. The authors were pretty candid about writing YA, but not the typical YA. These heroes and heroines were broken and daring and weird and fearless and real. Anthony Breznican was discussing this genre of YA where the characters are facing genuine peril, that the situations they’re in are real, adult and dangerous with permanent consequences. They are kids in circumstances that would make headline news. Breznican’s book seems a little too real for me – I had that moment of wanting to read/not wanting to read his book that tells me I will eventually read it. I think the question he answered was something about the violence or tragedy of his storyline and how he came to write the book from experiences in his Pennsylvania hometown. He said something to the effect of just because a story has no violence, doesn’t hinder it from being a violent story – I’m totally paraphrasing here. Then he pointed in the audience saying that Brandy Colbert had written a devastating novel without a hint of physical violence. He was pointing at the woman sitting next to me.

I’m not gonna lie, the fact that this young black woman with her shoulder length dreadlocks was getting props from a man on the panel for writing an incredible book completely sold me on Pointe more than the other novelists’ books (which I will still read!) I’m more likely to read recommended books if I know nothing about the storyline. “This is the best book ever!” will capture my interest faster than “This is the best book ever because the heroine fights this evil dragon and her sister is a sorcerer who wants to tame the dragon and then they end up on opposite sides of a war!” I guess because when you give me the details I usually tend to guess most of the story. Or at least the ending.

So first you have a black female lead character. She’s upper middle class, goes to a nice private school and has her eye on becoming a principal ballerina for a big dance company. Already the story is bucking the norm. She’s managed to overcome anorexia and is getting on with her life despite the fact her best friend and neighbor was kidnapped. It’s a complex story with a twist. I thought I knew what it was going to be about, how it was going to end and how it was going to resolve but it didn’t go where I wanted it go. It went somewhere way better.

The supporting characters are interesting and not entirely likeable 100% of the time. That only makes them more real to me. Theo’s relationship with her friends is good. Her budding romance with Hosea is rocky and tense. Her actions and her really bad decisions make sense with her backstory – I love that. Consistency of character is an important thing for me. Sometimes characters in books do things only because the plot demands it. Theo’s storyline is strong, well-crafted and beautifully consistent. I’m trying very hard not to include any spoilers, so let’s just say that the cause and the effect are very clear and thought provoking.

It’s definitely the sort of book I would have loved as a teen. The YA stories of my youth were largely about middle class white girls who had a crush or a bad teacher. If I managed to find a story with a black female she was usually struggling in the ghetto and wondering if her family would survive. It’s probably the reason I ended up reading a lot of fantasy.

Colbert has a new book in the works for 2017 that looks interesting. I’m hoping she does a continuation of Pointe. I’d really like to spend some more time with these characters. I would like to think that this book could become recommended reading for freshmen and up because it offers great discussion topics without being preachy and judgmental. However, I think the casual (but not gratuitous) drug use and sex will turn off the prudish.

If you’ve read it, please let me know what you think!

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