I've started the year with SWEEP: THE STORY OF A GIRL AND HER MONSTER by Jonathan Auxier.
It's been five years since the Sweep disappeared. Orphaned and alone, Nan Sparrow had no other choice but to work for a ruthless chimney sweep named Wilkie Crudd. She spends her days sweeping out chimneys. The job is dangerous and thankless, but with her wits and will, Nan has managed to beat the deadly odds time and time again.
When Nan gets stuck in a chimney fire, she fears the end has come. Instead, she wakes to find herself unharmed in an abandoned attic. And she is not alone. Huddled in the corner is a mysterious creature—a golem—made from soot and ash.
I'd heard wonderful things about this book long before I picked it up. So needless to say my expectations were high. And friends, this story was even BETTER than I expected. While the situation of the main character, Nan, is bleak and gritty, the book somehow always feels hopeful. Full of themes about loss, love, and finding purpose, it also manages to weave in lessons about Antisemitism and the evil that comes from turning a blind eye to issues, something we all need to read and be reminded of in today's world.
While the subject matter is difficult, it is woven through with goodness, and light, and joy. First snow, pillow fights, an inventing room. A creature who is filled with childlike wonder. Friendship. A magical bag and promises fulfilled. Love. This book is "unputdownable" -- once you start you don't want to stop. Some of the more difficult, painful moments you keep reading because you have to see what happens. But woven between the harder moments are the joyous, magical bits that drag you along when you might otherwise take a reading break.
SWEEP is a book for everybody. I've just started reading it aloud to my 7 and 9 year-olds because there are things I want to discuss with them as we read. This book is important for a lot of reasons, and I hope you choose to meet Nan and her monster soon.