Top Young Adult Picks for 2012

After lots of reading in 2012 here are my my top 10 young adult books of 2012 and my top five sequels.

Cat Girl’s Day Off by Kimberly Pauley – A fine mix of mystery and fantasy with a multicultural cast of characters.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein – One of the most innovative and powerful books I have read in a long time.

Curveball: The Year I Lost My Grip by Jordan Sonneblick – Sonneblick does it again with a heartfelt tale of a boy not only losing is passion but his beloved grandfather as well

The Fault In Our Stars by John Green – Keep a box of tissues handy for this beautiful story of a romance between two teens who have cancer.

Grave Mercy (His Fair Assassin #1) by R.L. LaFevers – A complex fantasy featuring real historical people and assassin nuns! What more could you want?

Guitar Notes by Mary Amato – Two very different teens find their love of music binds them together.

The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine – You know about the Little Rock Nine, but you may not know about what happened after, this story gives you that information contained in a sweet story of interracial friendship.

Scarlet (Scarlet #1) by A.C. Gaughen – Robin Hood with a twist.

Shadow and Bone (The Grisha #1) by Leigh Bardugo – There are some books that just catch you and hold you tight till the end this is one of those books with a great setting and interesting characters who face dark magic.

Welcome, Caller, This Is Chloe by Shelley Coriell – Shunned by her friends Chloe finds new friendships amongst a group of misfits.

Sequels:

The Girl In the Clockwork Collar (Steampunk Chronicles, #2) by Kady Cross — A steampunk standout with powerful women who wield fantastic technology.

Insurgent (Divergent #2) by Veronica Roth – An action packed ride about two teens trying to change their dystopia.

Necromancing the Stone (Necromancer, #2) by Lish McBride – Laugh out loud funny about a boy who is trying to figure out his powers as a necromancer.

Perception (Clarity, #2) by Kim Harrington – Psychic Clare gets embroiled in another mystery.

Princess of the Silver Woods (Princess #3) by Jessia Day George – A reenvisioning of Red Riding Hood where the princesses have to face an old evil.

Review: Rival by Sara Bennett Wealer

Rival by Sara Bennett Wealer.

Publisher: HarperTeen

Publication 2011

Pages: 327

Level: LYA

Personal Connection: 4

Literary Quality: 4

Obtained: Local Library

 

This book is for people like my younger high school self who thought it was cooler to be in choir or orchestra than it was to be a cheerleader.  A simple story about two rivals who find after quite a few trials that friendship and music are much more important than popularity.  They also learn some great things about being yourself. This first time novelist writes an outstanding story that reveals its two main characters subtlety throughout the plot until you come to know them fully in the end.  Fans of the TV show Glee will also find this book appealing.

Review: Here Lies Bridget by Paige Harbison

here liesHere Lies Bridget by Paige Harbison

Publisher: Harlequin Teen

Publication February 2011

Pages: 224

Level: LYA; UYA

Personal Connection: 4

Literary Quality: 3

Obtained: NetGalley

Bridget is the most popular girl at her school and she knows that mean things she does to others has everything to do with their own deficiencies and the awkward places they put her in.  She knows she is entitled and everyone else gets what they deserve, that is until honest open Anna shows up at school and the carefully balanced world Bridget has built starts to crumble.  Wanting to die Bridget crashes her car but that is when Anna takes her on a journey into the minds of those she has taken for granted, and Bridget soon learns what she is really like.

Reminiscent of Dickens A Christmas Carol this debut novel is a distinctive mean girl redemption story.  Harbison clearly shows how ones actions effect others brining a strong moral understanding of humanity to Bridget and the reader.  One of the things a story like this needs is good arch for the emotional development and change of the main character.  Harbison does this very well and even if it is a little rushed in the end many readers will connect with this book.

Review: Timeless by Alexandra Monir

timelessTimeless by Alexandra Monir

Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers

Publication January 2011

Pages: 304

Level: M; LYA

Personal Connection: 4

Literary Quality: 4

Obtained: Local Library

When her mother is killed in a car accident Michele Windsor is sent to live with the grandparents she has never met.  Estranged from her mother many years ago her, Michele does not know where she will fit into their austere wealthy household, until she find an ancestors diary that has the power to take her back in time.   But when she finds that her soul mate was actually born years before her and the only way they can be together is on her time traveling adventures,  Michele must find a way to not only live her live but to help him live his.  This debut novel is full of interesting characters and situations.  As Michele travels to each different age from 1910 to the 1940s, the history around her is vividly realized.   This is a novel I really enjoyed, I could hardly put it down.  Despite the fact that Michele’s method of    time travel is not quite explained, for example sometimes she shows up in the same place across times and at other times she moves locations, Monir stays true to her timeline as history progresses making the revelations at the end of the novel all the more interesting.  However the fact that the novel does leave you with that revelation and a TO BE CONTINUED is infuriating.   Tying up the story and leaving room for a sequel is one thing, but to leave things completely hanging is just not right, showing that I’m interested in the sequel The Timekeeper expected to be published in 2012.

When It Comes to Dystopia’s Simple Is Best

In 1817 Samuel Taylor Coleridge noted that if an author put a “human interest and a semblance of truth”  (Biographia Literaria, published in 1817) into a work of fantasy then people could suspend their disbelief about the outrageous elements of the story and really come to connect with it.  As a reader of fantasy I have come to believe that this “suspension of disbelief” is essential to a good fantasy or science fiction novel.   No matter the genre it is the authors job to create a credible world that has a semblance of truth in it so that readers can suspend disbelief and find themselves lost in the imaginary world.  We have seen a lot of young adult dystopian novels lately and I have found that some of them do a better job of helping the reader suspend disbelief than others   Fundamental to their job, authors must create a truly powerful dystopian world and to do this they must make you believe that the power and control of the world is entirely credible.  They must formulate  their futuristic outcomes in “a semblance of truth”  that is based in current conditions and then takes those conditions to a logical yet scary conclusion.  I have come to see that the best dystopian novels do this very simply.  In the best books the author takes current conditions only from point A to point B in a very logical way.  In these books a simple catastrophe happens, power is centralized and the society reacts as expected.  There is nothing complex here it is logical and simple.  For example in the highly popular and outstanding Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins, there is a major war, power is centralized to the Capitol, people don’t want this to happen again so they control everyone though the Hunger Games.  Simple.  This is the kind of world we can work with.

bumped

Also in the recently published book Bumped by Megan McCafferty (Balzer+Bray, 2011), we have a simple premise.  A virus has made it impossible for anyone but teenagers to get pregnant, in a capitalist society power is centralized to those with money, so the ability to give birth becomes a commodity to be sold.  Simple.  McCafferty does a great job with this scenario, using made up slang effectively to build the world and then adding in unique characters who embody two different perspectives of how the world could be seen that then give the reader a full picture of how scary this kind of world could be.   It is these kinds of simple scenarios that make really powerful dyptopic worlds.

On the other hand when you get complicated things just don’t work.  I’ve already reviewed, Awaken by Katie Kacvinsky (http://wonderreader.edublogs.org/2011/04/30/awaken-by-katie-kacvinsky/)  and outlined the problems this book has with complexity.

water wars

Another debut book The Water Wars by Cameron Stracher (Sourcebooks, 2011) in my mind has similar problems.  The premise is simple, all or almost all the drinking water has been eliminated from the earth.  So then we need a power shift, and this is where it gets complicated.  In the book some of the power lies with the government who ration water and who have some kind of secretive scheme  that is keeping water from the people.  Then we bring in a large corporation who has built technology to make sea water drinkable who has some kind of unnamed control over the world’s water.  Then we have pirates, diviners and scientists who all play some kind of role in this.  It is never clear where the power lies, or why that group has the power.  Is it money? Is it control?  We never know.  Combined with that we also don’t have a concrete scientific explanation as to why the water disappeared in the first place.  There are references to storms and to the ice cap melting but all in all it is very vague as to how this all could happen in the first place.  Stracher’s world is very scary to contemplate, but her complexity and lack of clear explanation make it really hard to see this vision of the future clearly.  Sadly after you add in a complex explanation the characters and themes just get lost and the book falls flat.  So it seems to me that when it comes to dystopia’s simple is best.

Review: Awaken by Katie Kacvinsky

awakenAwaken by Katie Kacvinsky

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Publication May 2011

Pages: 352

Level: Upper Young Adult

Personal Connection: 3

Literary Quality: 2
Obtained: NetGalley

The world has retreated into the digital realm, people seldom meet face to face, and even when they do they are attached to some type of technology.  Maddie feels safe and anonymous with this lifestyle, but when she meets Justin online and he begins drawing her out of her digital world, Maddie begins to not only question the life that she is living but the role her powerful father is playing in keeping people trapped inside computers.  As Maddie struggles with these questions she finds herself drawn not only closer to mysterious Justin but into the efforts of a rebellion that is trying to change the world.

Debut author Kacvinsky offers an intriguing dystopian world whose vision has a real possibility of happening and it some ways it already has.  Despite the possibility of Kacvinsky’s vision, the execution of it falls flat.  To create a truly powerful dystopian world an author must make you believe that the power and control of the world is entirely credible.  Sadly this novel fails to do this.  At one point one of the characters states that they know why they are rebelling, however the reader is never able to fully understand this very basic thing.  At various points the implication is that people retreated to the digital world out of fear, but if that is the case then the context and rebellion would be to bring people out of their shell, but it is not.  The rebellion is focused on taking down the powerful digital school system which by implication is controlling people, but exactly how this is done is never outlined.  There is always an implication that the government or some power is preventing people from interacting, but how this control happens, which is the thing the reader needs to know, is never addressed.   In addition there is a lot of contradiction here, for example, at one point it implies that digital school is mandatory but then there is a demonstration at a rally designed to make it required.  Another example is with Justin who is said to never touch a computer but several times he does and he also drives a high tech car that converts into a submarine.    So with all of this the reader never knows why there characters are doing what they do, or why the government and police are so involved that people would be imprisoned and put to death over their actions.  There is just not enough context here for the reader to really see this world as credibly menacing.  Because of this the characters also lose credibility, since in order to understand the tension in the romance between Justin and Maddie you have to really understand why Justin is so passionate about his work to take down the digital school.  Without this context it is hard to see why Maddie would fall for Justin with so little contact between them and his constant emotional distance.  While teens may be attracted to the vision of an all digital world and the romantic tension here, overall this novel fails to deliver a credible world that depicts a fully formed dystopian future.

An Old and New Favorite

and bothBack in the day when I was a teen myself, one of my favorite books that I read over and over was And Both Were Young By Madeline L’Engle.  In fact my copy is was so tattered and falling apart from loving reading that I was ecstatic when they republished it in hardcover in April 2010.  While I promptly bought several copies, I still have my old well loved one as well.  This book appealed to me with just the right strongly realized and exotic setting in addition to the character who feels out of place but then comes to find her sense of being.  I also love the sweet romance with two people who would never have met finding each other.

anna

Recently I read the first novel of Stephanie Perkins called Anna and the French Kiss.  As I read I could only be reminded of my old favorite And Both Were Young.   With its European setting and strong characters rolled up in just the right romance, I know that this book would have held the same fascination for me as a teen as did L’Engle.  Perkins work is just delightful and has all the right elements for modern readers.  Because of the setting with a different legal standard and contemporary time period it is a little more edgy than And Both Were Young, but overall it is very mild and accessible for an upper young adult audience. Anna and the French Kiss is certainly one of those novels that made me feel like a teen again.  I’m positive that teens will fall for Anna and Étienne, just as I did.  I’m eagerly waiting for Perkins next offering coming in September, but if you need something else before then try my old favorite And Both Were Young.

Review: Unearthly by Cynthia Hand

Unearthly by Cynthia Hand

unearthly

Publisher: HarperTeen

Publication Jan. 2011

Pages: 435

Level: LYA / UYA

Genre: Fantasy / Debut

Personal Connection: 4

Literary Quality: 4

Obtained: NetGalley / Library

Clara Gardner learns that her mother was born of angels making her an angel-blood with special powers and a mysterious purpose she must fulfill.   When her purpose forces the family to move to Jackson Hole Wyoming, and Clara is confronted with the handsome boy she has been seeing in her dreams, she must not only navigate a new school and new friends to find out what she is supposed to do, but she must also guard her heart from falling for the wrong guy.  Fallen angels and their offspring are the hot thing right now in young adult paranormal romance.  In fact this is the second debut I’ve read for the debut challenge with fallen angels (see also: http://wonderreader.edublogs.org/2011/03/15/review-angelfire-by-courtney-allison-moulton/)  Even though she is riding on a trend, Hand does a superior job by giving her story just the right twist on the theme.  Just like in Angelfire, it is the girl who is the angel, not the boys as we have seen in Hush Hush by Fitzpatrick and Fallen by Kate.  This book also has sympathetic and interesting characters, and especially the romantic leads are solid and interesting, not creepy and scary like some we will not mention.  Hand also gives us just enough angle lore to help us understand the context but not so much that it is overwhelming or disconcerting.  Overall this is a fine story with great characters and setting and a plot that moves very well.  The only problem with it is that it has no ending!  While this can be endearing and sets us up for a sequel, here we are left with too many plot elements hanging and no real satisfactory tie up because it just patters off to nothingness.  With the second book Hallowed coming in 2012 we hope to see more of a wrap up (including letting us know what happens to the horse), but even with a sequel we can still wish that the first novel  was edited to a much better conclusion.

Review: Angelfire by Courtney Allison Moulton

Angelfire by Courtney Allison Moulton

angelfire

Publisher: Harper Collins

Publication Feb. 2011

Pages: 464

Level: UYA

Genre: Paranormal Fantasy/Romance; Debut

Personal Connection: 2

Literary Quality: 3

Obtained: NetGalley

Who needs to slay vampires when you can take out reapers who are monsters who devour human souls, and even better to do it as a reincarnated spirit who has been in the fight for centuries with a handsome guardian by her side.  When mysterious Will appears, seventeen-year-old Ellie finds that she is just that a mythical being who has been charged by the angels to wield the swords that are the only thing that can defeat the Fallen who are trying to wage a second heavenly war and Will is her protector.  Building on the current trend to bring fallen angels to the fore of paranormal romance, debut author Moulton, offers a fast paced adventure reminiscent of many of the vampire slayer movies and television shows that are highly recognizable.  This alone will give this novel fans.   The focus here in on action, and because of that the relationships suffer, making the connections between Ellie and Will not quite believable.  Also the back story and their long history is parceled out in such small bursts that it is hard to really see the whole picture of who they are and why they are doing what they do.  Even with these struggles this novel will find fans who love paranormal with lots of descriptions of a powerful woman doing her best to save the world.

To Go Boldly Where No Teen Has Gone Before

The travails of traveling in space, while not a new theme, seems to be a popular one right now in young adult literature.  I recently read three novels with this setting and here they are:

across the

Across the Universe by Beth Revis

Published by RazorBill, Jan. 2011.  398 p. Level: UYA; Personal Connection: 3; Literary Quality: 3-4; Obtained: Library

On a space ship traveling to colonize new worlds Elder is training to be the ships new leader and Amy, who has been cryogenically frozen, barley knows time is passing.  Soon things start going wrong as Amy is accidentally unfrozen, someone starts murdering  the others who have been frozen and Elder begins to question his training. Immersed in the chaos Elder and Amy must find not only where they fit in but how they can unmask the killer and save their society.  This society whose full power and control over everything from reproduction to talents is well constructed making it fully believable.  The vivid style is engaging making the descriptions of many events overtly unambiguous thus making several descriptive passages and plot elements not suitable for all readers.  The two different points of view from which the story is told add depth and interest, and while the cover limits its audience this book would have appeal for boys with its strong male character.  This is a fine first novel that while at times predictable is full of adventure that will attract many readers.

living hell

Living Hell by Catherine Jinks

Published by Harcourt, April 2010.  272 p. Level: Middle; Personal Connection: 3; Literary Quality: 3; Obtained: NetGalley

When their space ship passes through a space anomaly and starts changing into a biological entity the entire crew must find a way to survive.  I’ve long been a fan of Jinks her ability to cross genres and to do so successfully is amazing.  This  title is clearly science fiction, and while Jinks has successfully conquered historical fiction and fantasy, there is a continuity lacking in this effort.  While the situation is innovative and gives a brilliant twist to space travel, the ultimate conflict, while exciting, lacks resolution.  The characters are impacted by their strange circumstances with a constant level of tension, which just ends without any real resolution leaving the reader unfulfilled.  Certain boys will really like this book because of the gross factor involved in living in growing being and because the adventure never lets up.  Those looking for a complete conclusion will not be satisfied by this book, but the innovative idea and action will find fans for this innovate writer.

inside out

Inside Out by Maria V. Snyder

Published by Harlequin, April 2010.  320 p. Level: LYA; Personal Connection: 3; Literary Quality: 3; Obtained: Galley

I reviewed the sequel Outside In here: http://wonderreader.edublogs.org/2011/02/11/outside-in-by-maria-v-snyder/

Inside Out provides the start to this story and is just as fun as the second one.  Readers will love both novels for their adventure and romance.

If this is not enough some older titles for middle grade readers are Dom Testa’s Galahad Series: Book 1 The Comet’s Curse, Book 2 The Web of Titan, Book 3 The Cassini Code