The 10 books that made me

There’s this thing going around on Facebook right now called the Top 10 Books List. Since I was “nominated” a couple of days ago, instead of writing a status update and risk monologuing about my fav books for the next decade, I decided to not follow directions and blog about it, thereby defeating the purpose of the Facebook status challenge.

So here’s my Top 10 Fictional Books List (which I have weirdly never done before on my blog, besides listing them on Her Shelf and on my Goodreads… which doesn’t count [let’s face it—I really just want to monologue]).

10. Nancy Drew by Carolyn Keene


This was one of the first series I ever read (besides Babysitters’ Club and The Boxcar Children). I was absolutely obsessed with Nancy Drew. All the Nancy Drews. I still have, like, 40 of her books. In hardcover. Thank you, parentals.

I was obsessed with the plot twists I never saw coming. I loved Nancy’s poise and sass and independence. But mostly, I loved the fact that in these books, teenage girls didn’t have to be sidekicks in the adventure. They could date handsome college football players and still kick all kinds of butt. They could be gorgeous and have great hair and become famous FOR THEIR BRAINS. These books are the best things that could have happened to me, growing up, because they told me that girls could also do these things in real life.

9. To Catch a Pirate by Jade Parker

To Catch a Pirate by Jade Parker

I know I’ve talked about this book before. And honestly, I know it’s not the greatest book in the world. But I remain absolutely, 100% in love with it.

This was the book that inspired me to write a certain novel. And then, when I got to the author’s note and realized that the story was based in a real time, written about a real place… there was literally nothing cooler to me than that. Thus began my addiction to historical fiction, and it didn’t hurt that the romance was incredibly swoon-worthy. What is hotter than a pirate? Nothing, I tell you.

8. Princess Academy by Shannon Hale

Fun fact: I am a huge advocate of this book. I have been since I first read it almost 10 years ago. After convincing all my friends in elementary school to read it, I refused to loan out my copy because I also wanted them to own it.

I… was that kid.

Again, with the female characters, using their God-given brains. It’s amazing how few books like that are out there, when you think about it—and if you’re ever wondering, this is one of the reasons why I am so pro-Young Adult literature. This genre more than any other is a goldmine for female protagonists written by female writers who understand the importance of female readers learning that they are worth more than their good looks and how well they can support their male counterparts.

Princess Academy is an incredible book with an incredible protagonist, Miri, and the recently-released sequel is just as astonishing. I blogged about it in this post.

7. Hush by Donna Jo Napoli

I think this may have been the first book I ever read that ****spoiler**** didn’t have a very satisfying ending.****end spoiler****

I actually hated it for a while, but didn’t want to get rid of my copy because I am who I am, so it wasn’t until a few years later that I reread it and realized what a wonderful, brutally honest, heartfelt story it was. For a book about an Irish princess, there are no frills involved. It was gritty. It was painful. It hid nothing. And that’s what I loved about it—for the first time, I think, I was reading a book about a young person that didn’t feel like it was written FOR a young person.

Also historical fiction. My copy is bound with deckle-edge paper. Can’t go wrong.

6. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

I’ve already gotten my roommate to buy this book, and I’m not gonna lie—I still feel a little smug about that. This book broke me. And now it will break her (butinthebestofways). *muahaha*

I only read this book last year, and it still has shaped me and my writing in ways I couldn’t have imagined. I don’t know that I’d read a book simply about the friendship between two girls in a long time—maybe since Princess Academy. And I’d almost forgotten how important those books are. Also, this particular book is just wicked smart. The dialogue… and the plot… and the style… I gave it a mini-review here, because I couldn’t not.

5. Beauty by Robin McKinley

I distinctly remember the night in high school when I read this book. I was on a tour bus for a choir concert, and we were driving through the Colorado mist. I was curled up against the window, with one shoulder pressed to the cold glass and my legs tucked up to my chin. My choir friends were singing, and maybe that’s an odd detail to remember, but now whenever I read this book, I always get the choral piece “Esto Les Digo” stuck in my head.

I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned this, but I was raised on fairytales—even though as a kid, I wasn’t allowed to read a lot of the books that you might think of when you think about magic (Harry Potter being one of them). Beauty was the book that got me into fairytale retellings. Later, I’d read the Once Upon a Time fairytales series (Cameron Dokey, ftw), but this book always had a special place in my heart.

4. Enna Burning by Shannon Hale

This is my favorite book of Shannon Hale’s. She has been my hero for a very, very long time, as you can probably tell from the number of times she’s on this list.

I love the whole Books of Bayern series, but this one, #2, is just astounding. Enna is another one of those characters that I wish I’d written. She is snark queen and fiery (no pun intended) and strong in ways I always wanted to be. This book is also probably the darkest of all of the book in the series, and as much as I love The Goose Girl (#1), Enna just trumps all. I also accidentally read it before Goose Girl, and still loved it. That’s saying something.

3. Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

Lord, I don’t even know what to tell you about this book.

I read it once a year.

You should, too.

I would stop there. But I also have to add that the movie with Anne Hathaway is literally nothing like the book. Please don’t judge the book based on that. I love the movie in an entirely different way than I love the book. Okay. Great. Break.

2. Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly

This is the book I recommend to everyone, no matter if they’re huge YA fans or have never read YA before in their lives. I recommend this book because it changed my life. I don’t say that lightly.

There are very few books I’ve read in my life that confront topics like depression and aftermath of tragedy without flinching, and yet, do it with all the compassion and empathy that comes along with living inside a fictional character’s head for a few hours. This book does.

Revolution is about a shared, daily struggle to feel whole and to make sense of tragedy. And the two main characters Andi and Alex find strength in making art—which is something I believe in completely. Best of all, Donnelly combines magic and history with a contemporary setting and voice to create a story that is profoundly moving and deeply relevant.

1. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis

What can I say about these books? These are the books that I used to read on a beanbag chair in our basement in Maryland, before we moved across the country. These are the books my dad used to read to me before I went to bed, doing all the voices and agreeing to “just one more” chapter because I never wanted it to end. These are the books that made me cry during my last year in high school, and then my last year in college, because they speak so softly and profoundly about the courage it takes to face change.

These are the books that taught me what it is to have grace, and give grace, and know grace through Christ.

The fact that they’re so popular and have now been made into films multiple times over, only reaffirms what I got to discover when I was 6. Lewis tapped into something extraordinary.

Have you done the tag? If not, I totally nominate you. To do it. Right now. You. Go.

Samantha Chaffin


10 thoughts on “The 10 books that made me

  1. Melissa says:

    I love this list! So many high school memories. Although The Goose Girl definitely tops any of the other Shannon Hale books in my mind, I remember loving Princess Academy too. I definitely want to check out Revolution!

    • samchaffin says:

      Thanks so much, Melissa! Yes, I do love The Goose Girl, but there’s something about Enna. Maybe it’s because she had dark hair and a brother, and I was just like, “YES I RELATE.” Haha I hope you do check out Revolution! It’s… well, I’ve said all I can about it. 🙂 You should, definitely.

  2. Brie says:

    Ella Enchanted is amazing. I never got into Nancy Drew but my sister enjoys it. I have read EE twice and read it to my younger siblings and recommend it whenever I can. The little sister has to read it…and I need to re-read it.

    I like how you decided to post this tag on your blog.It was such a delight to read.

    My favorite concept here is how one of the books was not the best but inspired you to write.

    My mom read The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe to me when I was four in one sitting. I wish I hadn’t been allowed to read Harry Potter…it consumed so much of my life 😀

    I just finished reading the Narnia series this year after reading one book a year or so…and now I am feeling fantasy deprived and have to start reading The Glass Sentence and some other fantasy series.

    Your blog is such a major blessing. Thanks for recommending Code Name Verity…I enjoyed listening to the audio book this January. I did read Princess Academy last year but didn’t like it…the message yes but the story no. It sounded like a mix between Heidi and something else to me.


    • samchaffin says:

      Aw, Bri, I’m so glad! 🙂 I love reading your reactions to my posts (especially the ones where I list books I love) – they really make my day.

      Ahh, yes, Code Name Verity. Gorgeous book. I loved Rose Under Fire (the companion novel), too, though not *quite* as much… And thanks for giving Princess Academy a shot, at least! I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I appreciate the fact that you read it anyway!

      I’ve never read The Glass Sentence, though I’ve heard good things about it! I’ll put it on my list – thanks for putting it back on my radar! 🙂

  3. deshipley says:

    You excellent non-follower of directions, you. X)

    And this Facebook-lists-on-blogs thing must be turning into some kind of revolution; another dear pal of mine just did the same for the “15 Memorable Movies” list. …Or, y’know, maybe I’m just friends with the cool kids.

    • samchaffin says:

      Haha I know, ever since that ALS challenge, everyone is so excited about these Facebook challenges. But I’ve never seen more statuses about books pop up on my feed at any once given time, so I was pretty happy for the hot second that this one was popular. 😉

  4. Courtney says:

    Ahh you love the book Beauty too? I have never met anyone else who has A) heard of it and B) loved it!! I got it in middle school I think and it is still one of my all-time favorites too. I have read it about 50 times. Maybe more. Not exaggerating. Ha haa that is just so awesome that it cracked your Top Ten! That is high praise for the book in my opinion 🙂

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