My 2024 reading challenge

by Claire Zhu

Getting caught up in schoolwork and social activities, it can be hard to set time aside for my hobbies. In 2024, one of my goals was to read more books, as it’s the perfect activity for relaxing while still feeling productive. I’ve challenged myself to about one book a week for a total of 52 books this year. Here’s my ranking of the 10 books I’ve read so far!

10. All Eyes on Her by L.E. Flynn (Book #3)

One of my guilty pleasures in reading is the genre of young adult thrillers that has a basic whodunit mystery and multiple POVs. I picked up this book at the library looking for a fun read and hoping to get immersed somewhere along the way, but ended up more annoyed than anything. The author attempts to address the phenomenon of girls being perpetually labeled and misunderstood, and fails by shoving it down readers’ throats while also flattening the characters into shallow boxes. The book is like the print version of a bad CW show, with woeful mischaracterizations of Gen Z teens, irrelevant parents and bad comebacks.

9. It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover (Book #5)

This book was my first and only foray into Colleen Hoover, to settle once and for all how bad it could really be. Between speeding through it in my room and diligently hiding the cover while reading at Northern Lights, I finished it in about a day. “It Ends With Us” is an extremely juvenilely-written book about a very serious topic, with narration that borders on childish at best. I felt that the book did ultimately romanticize Ryle’s character instead of trying to complexly portray the cycle of abuse, painting him as some drool-worthy leading man who has a tragic backstory, is adorably loving to his family, is dedicated and hardworking, and not to mention sooo attractive, who also just happens to get uncontrollably angry sometimes. It all left a bad taste in my mouth.

8. The Hating Game by Sally Thorne (Book #10)

If anything, this little reading challenge of mine may have opened my eyes to my incompatibility with the romance genre (if “It Ends With Us” even counts). The writing slightly does edge out the bottom two books in this ranking, but it’s ultimately wasted on objectifying Joshua’s character for 365 pages: I get it, he’s hot. Combined with tropes such as the doomed side love interest who never stood a chance, the main male lead with daddy issues, and creepy gestures of devotion, “The Hating Game” didn’t do it for me. As an enemies-to-lovers fan, this one let me down.

7. Babel by R.F. Kuang (Book #4)

“Babel” is clearly a huge academic feat, with 545 pages, hundreds of literary and historical references, and notes on each page. However, it reads more like a manifesto or an essay than a novel, with the narrative fleshing out the spine of Kuang’s ideology. The characters, dialogue, plot points and even minor scenes or actions are all in service of her message, which ironically feels like a disservice to the point. Instead of being truly developed and complexly written, every character became an almost cartoonish caricature of people under colonialism.

6. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (Book #8)

I think my favorite thing about “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” was Larsson’s writing style. As a journalist, his narration is quite simple and effective, keeping me invested all the way through. I was compelled by the main mystery and set up with intrigue right from the beginning, as well as with Lisbeth’s part of the plot. The problem that kept this book from being higher in my ranking was the main character being a typical main male lead: roguishly charming, skilled and worst of all, an inexplicable chick magnet. He gets with so many of the women in this one book that I got continuous whiplash, like the author just couldn’t resist sprinkling such useless nonsense into an otherwise focused narrative.

5. The Help by Kathryn Stockett (Book #1)

I see “The Help” everywhere, from bookstores to the library to being sold in airports, and I finally decided to see what it was all about. The first book to start off my year, “The Help” sucked me in and kept me hooked, with an emotional ending. While it was enjoyable, however, I was put off by some of the choices that the white author made, such as inconsistent usage of African-American Vernacular English (AAVE) for the point of view of Aibileen, a black maid in Mississippi in the 1960s and one of the three heroines. It was also interesting to me that while Skeeter, another protagonist (and white savior), wanted to write about the treatment of black workers through their testimony of lived experiences, the author herself did not.

4. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen (Book #7)

I realized I can’t call myself a Jane Austen fan while having only read “Pride and Prejudice” and “Emma” (and having watched a bunch of Austen adaptations), so part of my 2024 reading goal is to complete her entire body of work. The first in achieving that is “Sense and Sensibility,” her earliest novel. I could actually tell, as it was a tad more dramatic and lacking in subtleties compared to her later books. The result was a page-turner with lots of entertaining characters, amusing dialogue, and even some plot twists.

3. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller (Book #2)

This one may be a little of a cheat, as it’s technically a reread. However, it made me cry the first time (around four years ago), and since I finally bought my own copy, I decided to read it again. I’m a sucker for Greek mythology, and “The Song of Achilles” combines it with a really touching story of love and fate (I guess I like a romance), which makes this book an instant favorite. The writing is beautiful and some of the characters resonated with me in a way I wouldn’t expect from an age-old tale. The intimacy, sheer devotion and tragedy of Achilles and Patroclus are the main highlights of the novel and are sure to break your heart like it has mine (twice now!).

2. Yellowface by R.F. Kuang (Book #6)

Although I was disappointed by “Babel,” “Yellowface” by R.F. Kuang definitely deserves this spot on my ranking: I ate this book up. The author’s voice suited the story so well, and you can tell that she has great insights about being a writer and the publishing industry. It was hilarious at some parts, and perfectly balanced in its moments of satire and authenticity. I felt strung along emotionally and trapped inside protagonist June’s web of deception, simultaneously scared to see her trip up but also hoping for her to get caught. “Yellowface” was a wild ride, and I highly recommend it.

1. Persuasion by Jane Austen (Book #9)

I went ranting off in Goodreads as soon as I finished “Persuasion,” my second Jane Austen of the year. This book, a story of restraint, lost love, opportunities and second chances, had me reviewing it in all caps. It has one of my favorite Austen confessions, which, without too many spoilers, felt so well-deserved and cathartic after so much pining by the characters on both ends. While not as fiery or prone to witticisms as Elizabeth Bennet, or charmingly meddlesome as Emma Woodhouse, Anne Elliott cemented herself as another amazing protagonist full of quiet strength and elegance. Captain Wentworth was also such an interesting, complicated love interest. I was invested all the way into this social world, full of silly characters and emotions relatable even to readers hundreds of years later.

Featured Image via Adobe Stock

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