Goodreads is more than a place for readers to keep up with their reading targets for the year. It fosters a vast worldwide reading community that can be particularly useful for debut or self-published authors to find an audience. With the annual Goodreads Choice Awards, that reading community votes in the tens of thousands for their favourite books of the years across genres, after 15 nominees are selected in each category based on ratings and reviews. In contrast to jury-dictated prizes like the Man Booker, these awards champion and offer insights into the books that the average reader cherished the most in the year.
This year’s winners were announced on December 5 and apart from throwing up some popular names (JK Rowling proves she can do no wrong for readers even when she writes a screenplay instead of a novel), it also reflected a strong preference for writing by women. Books by women writers won in 16 out of the 20 categories of the awards. Here are seven that stood out.
Fiction: Little Fires Everywhere, Celeste Ng
With 39,000 votes, American author Celeste Ng’s novel about race, identity and motherhood was voted as the best fiction book of the year, beating other favourites like Fredrik Backman’s Bear Town and Gail Honeyman’s Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine. This is Ng’s second novel after her New York Times bestselling Everything I Never Told You. Set in her hometown of Shaker Heights, Cleveland, the novel tells the story of two families, asking critical questions of love and identity in the process.
Mystery and Thriller: Into The Water, Paula Hawkins
Zimbabwe-born British author Paula Hawkins knows how to generate chills among readers. After four books of romantic comedy that did not garner her much success, she struck gold with her fifth novel The Girl on the Train, tackling much darker themes in her fiction. The book won her the Goodreads Mystery and Thriller Award in 2015. It’s a decision that has paid off a second time with her psychological thriller Into the Water, a story about a woman’s murder in a small town that throws up a history of secrets and scandal.
Romance: Without Merit, by Colleen Hoover
Colleen Hoover is a romance writer who seems to have her audience constantly demanding more. The American author has written eleven novels and five novellas and with her latest Without Merit, Hoover takes home the award for the romance category for the third time in a row. The novel is a departure from her usual style, going darker to flesh out an unusual heroine who harbours a dark secret. It’s easy to be sniffy and dismissive of commercial romance but over 32,000 voters found joy in this book, and why should anybody argue with that?
Non-fiction: How To Be a Bawse, Lilly Singh
Lilly Singh aka Supaarwoman is a household name for many. The Toronto-born comedian has over 12 million subscribers on YouTube and 7 million followers on Instagram. In How To Be A Bawse she lays out the path to her stunning success. Singh’s book was a bestselling phenomenon, finding readers among young women (and men) across the world, particularly among South Asian communities. Each leg of her extensive book tour attracted hundreds of screaming and adoring fans whom she encouraged to be ambitious and aim for success. With the continued dearth of South Asian representation in the entertainment industry in the West, this is yet another feather in the comedian’s cap.
History and Biography: The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women, Kate Moore
A true account of hundreds of women who worked in radium-dial factories in the First World War, Radium Girls by Kate Moore sheds light on the gruesome fate of an overlooked group of victims of the war and scientific development. The book tells the story of women as young as 14 years old who worked closely with radium, earning the glamorous tile of “radium girls” because of the distinctive glow of the material they worked with. They remained oblivious to the very real danger to their health, until the symptoms and deaths began. Moore writes a gripping and revelatory account of their quest for justice and how they remain glowing in their graves till date, poisoned with a material that can’t be destroyed.
Graphic Novels and Comics: Big Mushy Happy Lump, Sarah Andersen
Cartoonist Sarah Andersen has been brightening up the internet since 2011 when she began her webcomic Sarah’s Scribbles, a disconcertingly accurate take on life as a millennial. Capturing the peculiar social anxiety, body image issues and lethargy that define a generation, Andersen’s comics have a dedicated following. Her first collections of comics to be published as a book, Adulthood is a Myth, won the same award last year and her new collection has just as many readers rushing to get their dose of self-deprecating humour.
Young Adult Fiction: The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas
One of the most exciting voices to have emerged in Young Adult fiction this year, Angie Thomas was voted as the winner in the genre for her riveting book about a 16-year-old black high school student who is drawn to activism after she witnesses a police officer shooting her unarmed best friend. Thomas, who grew up in Jackson, Mississippi, witnessed police shootouts while growing up and went on to study creative writing at a predominantly white university. Born out of her own life and the Black Lives Matter movement, the book has won over readers and critics alike. And you know you’re doing something right, when your book is banned because you’re upsetting the status quo.