This week’s a freebie so I made up my own prompt: Favourite hopepunk books of 2018.
And I kind of chose it to showcase books that I didn’t include in my Best of 2018 list (which is coming, I swear!) So think of it as a Special Mentions list.
Now, the term “hopepunk” was coined by SFF author Alexandra Rowland via Tumblr. You can read the entirety of her glorious post here, but the gist of it is that hopepunk is the antithesis of grimdark. A celebration of human resilience and empathy and love in the face of darkness. Giving apathy the middle finger as you ride off in your beat-up car bedecked with rainbows and protest stickers.
Because life is fhard and scary and lonely. And we need more reminders that, yes, it’s worth it.
(You can click on the titles for the full reviews. The ones that have them, anyway.)
Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers
I’d never been more engaged with a book that has so little plot and external conflict as I did with Chambers’ third Wayfarers book. I call it This is Us crossed with Mass Effect. It’s got the alien interactions and the cultural exchanges, but it’s also got the cozy, small-scale family stories and conflicts. Really, the story is just about a group of people who are trying to live their lives as best as they can through uncertainties and horrific tragedies. Human connections are at the heart of this book and Chambers shows so beautifully how they can bring a community together.
Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe by Preston Norton
This contemporary, maybe-speculative-maybe-not YA follows Cliff Hubbard, resident loner of Happy Valley High, as he tries to deal with the aftermath of his brother’s suicide. He’s joined by Aaron, resident cool kid, who went into a brief coma and got a personal mission from God (allegedly): make Happy Valley High more kind and, well, happy. And he can’t do it without Cliff’s help.
It’s ridiculous, it’s hilarious, and most of all, it’s such a heartfelt love letter to all the good we’re capable of doing–the changes we can make, the lives we can touch.
The last 40 pages is basically just a long rib-crushing hug (a Krogan hug, for you Mass Effect fans), and there’s this one particular passage that I want to bottle up and string around my heart like Christmas lights. Here’s a snippet:
“I’m not going to sugarcoat the situation. High school is messed up. Life is messed up. But that doesn’t mean you can’t do something about it. And even WHEN you can’t, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. Always try. Because the alternative is a world where people don’t. A world where people see no good, and they have no hope. They exist because that is the default state of life, and then they die because that’s what happens next. All the while, they let the world rot and fall apart around them.
But life is more than just existing. And its more than just a door with death and nothingness on the other side. Life is a series of doors. Every moment, every decision, is a door. And by opening them and stepping into the unknown, we are expanding and illuminating a world that we never knew existed. But if we don’t open those doors? If we stay put? We’ll be living in a world of walls.
Don’t you want to know what’s on the other side?”
How to Stop Time by Matt Haig
How to Stop Time is a lovely, introspective story about a man with a medical condition that allows him to live for a very long time (we’re talking many centuries here). And there are many like him in the world–collectively they’re called the Albatross Society. And the First rule of Albatross Society? Don’t fall in love.
Through a time-hopping narrative Haig reminds you that yes, the world can be foreign and frightening, but at the same time he dares you–very gently–to take a chance and rise above that fear and see what wonders you can accomplish.
And, just as it only takes a moment to die, it only takes a moment to live. You just close your eyes and let every futile fear slip away. And then, in this new state, free from fear, you ask yourself: who am I? If I could live without doubt what would I do? If I could be kind without the fear of being fucked over? If I could love without fear of being hurt? If I could taste the sweetness of today without thinking of how I will miss that taste tomorrow? If I could not fear the passing of time and the people it will steal? Yes. What would I do? Who would I care for? What battles would I fight? Which paths would I step down? What joys would I allow myself? What internal mysteries would I solve?
How, in short, would you live?
In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan
The only non-2018 book on the list, In Other Lands is part subversive portal fantasy and part coming-of-age tale starring a teenage boy named Elliot. And Elliot happens to be one of the most brilliant YA protagonists I’ve come across in the last handful of years–awkward, lonely and decidedly unhappy, but trying to hide all of that under a prickly exterior. And for most of the book, nothing’s really easy for him. On one side of this magical border is a world he never felt he belonged to, and on the other is one that seems hell-bent on perpetuating war and animosity. And on top of that, he’s having dealing with all the messy complications of relationships, romantic or otherwise.
But things do get better, if not easier. And I found his journey, of finding peace and belonging in a world that’s so often confusing and hostile, to be such a rewarding one.
A Conspiracy of Truths by Alexandra Rowland
Oh heeeeey, Alexandra. Fancy seeing you here!
A Conspiracy of Truths is a brilliant fantasy about a grumpy old storyteller who finds himself accused of various crimes (witchcraft and treason to name a few) and has to rely on his storytelling abilities to free himself. There’s politics, sweet lovestruck apprentices, and female characters who mean business. Ultimately, though, it’s about the power of stories to change worlds–like dismantling governments and getting to know another person better (and both are equally important)–and I can’t think of anything more hopepunk-y than that.
“People are not the same everywhere. They are astoundingly, elaborately, gloriously different.”