Monday, January 12, 2015

BEST OF 2014: Favorite Teen/YA Books

From dark, twisty fairy tales to stunning realistic fiction with an otherwordly quality, 2014 was a great year for YA literature. Andrew Smith had not one but two top-notch books (although I must admit that I've only read one so far) and Cassandra Clare's Mortal Instruments series came to a worthy end (though the final book hints at further Shadowhunter adventures to come). There were excellent titles that just missed making this year's list including the Smith book I have read (100 Sideways Miles), the latest installment of Maggie Stiefvater's mind-blowing Raven Cycle (Blue Lily, Lily Blue), and the 2015 Morris Award finalist The Story of Owen. And then there are the promising titles I haven't read just yet such as Timothée de Fombelle's Vango, Meg Wolitzer's Belzhar, and that other Andrew Smith book (Grasshopper Jungle).

My absolute favorite so far? It's a really, really tough contest between I'll Give You the Sun and We Were Liars. The writing in each simply stunned me. I also found the artwork and text combination of Through the Woods to be both magically creepy and breathtaking. Anyway, of those titles I have read, these are my picks for the best YA books of 2014:
City of Heavenly Fire by Cassandra Clare
This final installment of the Mortal Instruments series includes plenty of twists and turns and doesn't overdo the happy ending. When a group of rebellious teens take on evil, consequences are to be expected. Here, though, Clare manages an excellent compromise: a fantastic journey with plenty of action and romance, heartbreaking moments of despair, a satisfactory wrap up for favorite characters, and hints of what is to come in her upcoming series, The Last Hours and The Dark Artifices.

Glory O'Brien's History of the Future by A.S. King 
So Glory and her sort-of best friend got drunk and ingested the remains of a petrified bat. As weird as that sounds, things get even more bizarre when they begin to see glimpses of the pasts and futures of strangers, family members, and acquaintances. While Glory has lived in a sort of limbo ever since her mother's suicide, now she is forced to face both the past and the idea of a future, even if the apocalypse may be coming. Trippy, powerful, and full of insights into society and coping with grief, Glory O'Brien's History of the Future is yet another gloriously unique novel from the fantabulous A.S. King.

I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
Stunning and full of passages readers will want to revisit again and again, I'll Give You the Sun is the story of fraternal twins Noah and Jude. Three years ago, Noah and Jude were so connected that they communicated without words. Now sixteen, they are practically strangers—to each other and even to themselves. Their closeness has been shattered by secrets and lies and tragedy, but perhaps there is a chance to regain what was lost if first each can face what went wrong before. The novel is narrated jointly between the two siblings, weaving in an out of time seamlessly, Noah in the past and Jude in the present. This is an unforgettable novel, kooky and heartbreaking, full of art and love and even a ghost or two. 

Noggin by John Corey Whaley
Sixteen-year-old Travis Coates was dying of cancer when he did something drastic. Although his entire body was riddled with cancer cells and beyond saving, a doctor suggested an experimental procedure. So his (cancer-free) head was cryogenically frozen until the day medical science would be able to bring him back. Travis didn't think it would work, but suddenly he finds himself awakening—no longer sick—to discover that it is five years later and the world has moved on without him. For Travis, it has only been moments, but his friends are college-aged now, and his girlfriend has moved on. Wryly honest, pitch-perfect narration, likable characters, and a surprisingly realistic oddball plot make this a surefire winner.

This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki & Mariko Tamaki
Bittersweet and brilliantly paced, this coming-of-age graphic novel centers on a young teen's summer vacation, during which she finds herself drawn to an older boy and depressed by the strain in her parents'marriage. Mariko Tamaki's illustrations wonderfully convey Rose's frustrations, anxiety, and heartbreaks, and the images are full of life and movement.

Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
Vivid, glossy illustrations and text along with creepily evocative prose tell psychological horror stories with a decided fairy-tale inspiration. This is a uniquely beautiful and terrifying graphic novel, where the text and images truly become inseparable.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
A story of love, lies, secrets, and deep family dysfunction, We Were Liars is a gorgeously written psychological thriller full of drama and mystery. The tale centers on Cady, a young woman with no memory of the summer that changed her life forever but determined to uncover the secrets her wealthy, Kennedy-like family try to keep hidden. 

The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski
Rich yet seemingly effortless world-building and compelling characters make for a dynamic introduction to a promising new trilogy. Kestrel is the daughter of a celebrated, powerful general in a society based on slavery. Soon, according to custom and the expectation of her father, she will have to choose between joining the army and marrying. Although she is an expert strategist, Kestral has no desire to do either. Arin is a slave, far brighter and more cunning and that he appears. Despite their many differences, Kestrel and Arin form a tenuous friendship that promises to become more, but betrayal, conflicting loyalties, and potential war may make peace between them impossible.

Nonfiction & Poetry

Beyond Magenta by Susan Kuklin
Through candid interviews and before, during, and after photos, Kuklin presents the stories of six very different young adults who are transgender, intersex, or gender neutral. The stories are eye-opening and honest, portraying each teen as a complex, real person rather than an idealized "example." Extensive back matter provide further information,

Eyes Wide Open by Paul Fleischman
Sidebars, graphs, images, and lively prose combine perfectly to provide teens a comprehensive yet appealing overview of modern environmental issues. Best of all, the text does not tell readers what to think or believe; instead, Fleischman focus on the underlying principles and provides the tools teens need to evaluate information and come to their own conclusions. For example, although Fleischman's views on certain topics are pretty clear, he provides references for locating divergent opinions.

The Family Romanov by Candace Fleming
This accessible, well-researched history explores the lives, personalities, and relationships of the family Romanov in contrast with the lives of the ordinary workers and peasants of early 20th century Imperial Russia. Fleming does a fantastic job of putting the Romanov story in global context in a way that will not overwhelm teen readers. Glossy photo interests of the family and other personalities enhance the text.

The Freedom Summer Murders by Don Mitchell
History readers and true crime aficionados will both find much to appreciate in this extensively researched yet accessible work about the murders of three men in 1964 Mississippi. James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner—two of them white, the other black—were civil rights workers encouraging African Americans to vote before they mysteriously disappeared and later found murdered. In his depiction of the events during "Freedom Summer" and the lengthy search for justice for the murdered workers, Mitchell provides a clear-eyed, thought-provoking look at social justice, then and now,  It will also make an excellent pairing for the older fans of Deborah Wiles's Revolution.

How I Discovered Poetry by Marilyn Nelson
Through short, free-verse sonnets, the author paints a portrait of coming of age in the Civil Rights era, from the age of five until about 14. The poems reflect the Speaker's increasing understanding and awareness of the world around her. Though Nelson is reluctant to claim the work as autobiographical, she also describes the work as "personal memoir, a 'portrait of the artist as a young American Negro Girl'". Regardless, it is an intimate, nuanced portrait or growing up in 1950s America.

Poisoned Apples by Christine Heppermann 
Beautiful, haunting poems turn fairy tale tropes inside out to explore the expectation of society and self-doubts of young women.


Bethany said...

I'm the librarian at Zoneton, and I just purchased I'll Give You the Sun for my YA collection. I have yet to read it, but looks so good!

Tracy said...

Bethany, I'll Give You the Sun was definitely one of my absolute favorite YA reads of 2014. I'm so glad to hear you have added it to your collection. It may be a bit mature for most of your younger students, but some of the older ones might love it. It's one of those books that is both compulsively readable and high in literary quality. I was very please to see a slightly more accessible book win the Printz this year.

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