You know those end-of-the-year lists you see on every site? The ones that list Top Ten Best Teen Books? Top Ten Best Travel Spots? Top Ten New Restaurants to Try? I hate those. Especially the book lists. Because almost never have I read anything on those lists. Which makes me anxious, because it just creates this need in me to read every book on every list, an impossible task for me. However, I decided to ignore those lists at the end of 2012 and just make my own list of the book I HAVE read. So here is my list for the past year.
Grave Mercy, by Robin LeFevers
I LOVED this book. It’s set in an historical era of conflict and political intrigue in 14th century Brittany, but it includes some fictional elements, like nuns who train assassins. There’s a little romance, too. I really liked the adventure and intrigue of trying to determine who could be trusted.
Every day, by David Levithan
As an author, I appreciate books that take risk. The risk here is the premise, which is that the main character, known simply as A, wakes up in someone else’s body every day. A different someone every day. A has learned to cope with this reality, but then one day, A inhabits the body of a boy and falls in love with his girlfriend. A knows that the next day, he/she will inhabit another body, but attempts to try to see the girl in other people’s bodies. Fascinating.
Breaking Stalin’s Nose, by Eugene Velchin
I met Eugene at the SCBWI international conference in LA in 2012. He is a really interesting, passionate person. In this story, a young boy lives in Stalinist Russia, in fear of everyone at every moment. He breaks the nose off a statue of Stalin at his school and fears the repercussions. This middle grade book grabbed my attention and held it throughout, which is not easy for MG and me. It had just the right amount of history and MG issues.
Period 8, by Chris Crutcher (not officially out yet)
Chris Crutcher is one of my favorite authors, because he tells it like it is. His style is sparse and direct, which has a raw power to it. This book has multiple characters, none of whom seem to be the main character, so I had a bit of trouble figuring out just whose story this is. There were also a few plot points that smacked of deus ex machina. But it’s still Chris Crutcher, and I still liked it.
Between Shades of Gray, by Ruta Sepetys
Ruta spoke at SCBWI in LA last summer upon winning a Golden Kite award for this book. Her talk was emotional and brought tears to the many an eye in the audience. Her book tells the tale of a young girl in Stalinist Russia whose family is sent to a work camp. They struggle for every bite they eat, every day they live. They are cold and crowded and hopeless. But one glimpse of humanity by a Russian soldier gives her hope.
The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green
I’m not the only one loving this book. John Green just posted a video on Publishers Weekly thanking the librarians and readers out there for loving the book, since he didn’t think anyone would ever want to read it. It won’t spoil anything for me to say that the main character is a girl with cancer. But the book is not about cancer. The book is about friendship, love, self determination. It’s his best book yet, which is saying something, because all of his books are fabulous.
13 Reasons Why, by Jay Asher
I’m late to the party reading this one. Actually, I listened to it in audio form, and the audio was really well done. Again, this book takes a bit of a risk as its premise. A girl has committed suicide and sends out cassette tapes to people in her life, explaining the events that led to her death. There are 13. The main character is one of those people who received the tapes, and the book follows his journey as he listens to them, so a lot of the book is her voice talking on the tapes. I liked this premise and the writing, but I confess I found the girl to be excessively whiny and sensitive to every little thing. I thought the ending particularly touching, though.
The Soul of Yosemite, by Barbara J. Moritsch
The author and I have something in common: we’ve both lived in Yosemite National Park. I was born there. She was a ranger there in the 1990s. Barbara now lives in Idaho. Her book is a personal and environmental look at the impact large numbers of park visitors have on the delicate balance of Yosemite’s ecosystem. She clearly cares a lot about this incredibly special place, but there were times when I found the book really depressing, especially because I was planning a big trip there and I felt that I was going to do more damage. Still, it’s well worth reading and makes for great discussions.
A Passion for Nature: the Life of John Muir, by Donald Worster
John Muir and I are kindred spirits. He loved nature, found the divine there, and worked hard to protect it for the future—for people like me. But apart from an occasional quote, I really knew very little about him. When a friend recommended this biography of him, I took her lead. To me one of the most fascinating things about books like this is that it fills in pieces of a historical time table in my head. This isn’t just about John Muir, it’s also about the late 19th/early 20th centuries.
Part of Drift, by Rachel Maddow
Listened to this on audio, and I haven’t finished it yet, but I will. Rachel Maddow is an MSNBC commentator, whom I respect and find incredibly brilliant and analytical. This book is about the modern practice of war, which kind of sounds like a boring topic, especially for someone like me who hates reading about war. But Rachel’s usual analysis and viewpoint bring it into perspective with the time in history and the political climate. Another piece in another puzzle in my head.
Freakling, by Lana Krumweide
Lana is a friend of mine, and I read the beginning of this book when she started writing it. I loved it then, and I couldn’t wait for it to come out. It finally did last fall. In this MG fantasy, everyone has a power called psi which allows them to move things with their thoughts. But our main character loses his. He tries to hide this fact, and after he is discovered and sent to exile, he begins to figure out what’s really going on.
Five Days in Philadelphia, by Charles Peters
Charles Peters is a well-known Washington journalist. This non-fiction account of the 1940 democratic convention is an insightful view into the political ramifications of the political game. I read this during the 2012 presidential campaign, and I found it eerie how many things are still true today. The subtitle of this book sums it up well: 1940, Wendell Willkie, FDR, and the Political Convention that Freed FDR to Win World War II.
Harbinger, by Sara Wilson Etienne
I bought this book at the SCBWI LA conference because I saw the author and she looked really eccentric and intriguing, so I thought I’d get the book. I think it is her debut. At first glance, the book is set in a boarding school for troubled youth, but we soon find out there’s a lot more to it than that. There are otherworldly things afoot, and they are not benign.
Alchemy and Meggy Swann, by Karen Cushman
I love Karen Cushman. I love historical fiction, and that is what she does. She’s proof that the genre is not dead. In this story, Meggy is sent to London by her mother to live with her father, a very odd man who barely acknowledges her and lives only to do his experiments. Meggy has a physical disability, which in those Elizabethan times was seen as the mark of the devil, so very few people want anything to do with her. She manages to make a few friends and uncovers a murderous plot as well.
Icefall, by Matthew Kirby
Matthew Kirby is a rising star in the kid lit world. His debut novel, Clockwork Three, was a combination of fantasy and historical fiction. Icefall is total fantasy, and totally unlike Matt’s first book. (I can call him Matt, because I know him.) Set in an icy winter world, it’s the story of a young princess sent away to protect her from her father’s enemies. She learns of her own powers and skills, and figures out who to trust or not.
Shine, by Lauren Myracle
Sometimes I read books so fast because they are SO good, but then I can’t remember them six months later. That’s how Shine was for me. I think I read it in less than 24 hours, it was just that good and I couldn’t put it down. (Fortunately, I have a lifestyle that allows me to do things like that.) I had to go back and remind myself what it was about. This comment should not be construed to mean that it’s a forgettable book. Not by any means. It haunted me for days. I couldn’t even think of picking up another book. Basically the book deals with a hate crime against a gay boy in the south. That’s where the book starts. Suffice it to say, it gets more intense from there.
The Fourth Stall, by Chris Rylander
There are several of this series out now. I’ve only read the first one, but it bodes well for the others. Chris won the Sid Fleischman award for humor at the SCBWI LA conference last summer for this book. A young boy basically runs a mob business in his elementary school out of an abandoned bathroom, from the fourth stall. A mole almost leads to his downfall, but he figures out who it was and returns to his former glory. It’s way funnier than I make it sound.
The Gemma Doyle trilogy, books 2 and 3, Rebel Angels and A Sweet and Far Thing, by Libba Bray
I am a huge Libba Bray fan. I read A Great and Terrible Beauty when it first came out and never read the other two in this trilogy. I liked the first book, but the second and third, not as much. Maybe that’s because I like everything else by Libba so much more that these paled in comparison. Or maybe I just got supremely tired of the girls going to the underworld just for fun and frolic. Yawn.
Kathleen Duey’s fabulous first two books of a trilogy: Sacred Scars and Skin Hunger
I met Kathleen about 15 years ago or so, when she came to Boise and spoke. At the time, my oldest daughter, Melissa, was really into those historical diaries series, and Kathleen wrote several.I loved her stories. So when I was selected to be in the Nevada SCBWI mentor program with Kathleen as my mentor, I figured I should read some of her more current stuff. These books are fabulous. They are historical fantasy and so intense. She just finished writing the third and I can’t wait for it to come out.
Crossed, by Ally Condie
I waited for this book with great anticipation, because I so loved Matched, the first of this trilogy. This book picks up with the main character leaving her home for a desert wilderness. It was an interesting book, and I appreciated that it wasn’t just more of the same from book one. But it wasn’t as stunning to me, either. The third book, Reached, is out, and I have no desire to read it based on this one. Just no interest.
Paper Towns, by John Green
As mentioned before, I love John Green, and I’ve now read everything of his. This was another audio book I listened to, which by the way is a great way to enjoy a book if you have to drive on a long car trip. In this book Margo is the object of Quentin’s fantasies, so when she decides to go on a prank spree with him, he cannot resist. When she disappears, Q tries to figure out why, goes on a road trip to find her, and figures out a lot more than that before the end. I love road trip books and mysteries, so this had both for a double like.
Divergent and Insurgent, by Veronica Roth
I love dystopia. I loved dystopia before it was cool. I love ALL the dystopia. And I loved these two books as much as any other dystopia. In this world, people belong to one of five factions that each live by a core value, such as always speaking the honest truth or being fearless or thinking of others. Tris, the main character, goes through a ceremony to choose which faction she will belong to now that she is 16. She chooses one different from the one in which she grew up. She eventually discovers she is one of a special group of people who are not just one faction, but several, known as Divergent. There is a lot of dark, brooding violence and pain in the first book. In the second book, the faction system begins to breakdown as certain people try to gain control over society. Tris struggles to sort out the information coming at her and tries to decide where to place her allegiance.
So there you have it. Even though my first choice of reading material is usually contemporary YA, because that’s what I write, you’ll see I also loved several middle grade, several fantasy, and some non-fiction adult. I’d love to hear what you’ve been reading.