A Brief Tale

Today I went to the bookstore to grab a quick gift for my niece’s 20th birthday. As I was inching my way around the YA section, I came upon the pretzeled body of a teen-something. All legs and sideways messy pony, with chipped nail polish the same color as the surface of the sun, and lean tanned shoulders sticking out from a deliberately loose tank, she sat tapping at a list with a hello kitty pen and checking it against the sprawled stacks of books in front of her. Switching and re-stacking and re-prioritizing said hard-backed and slick-jacketed intellectual food, her concentration twisted her brow. I hovered behind her, debating between stepping over her flip-flop adorned, toe-ring accessorized foot, or going around, when her focus faltered. She suddenly turned, clamping her syrupy brown eyes on me and her pen in her teeth.

“Sorry,” she said, drawing a leg out of my path.

I smiled back. “You’re fine,” I glanced at her stack of books. “Summer reading?”

She shifted her gaze back to her stacks. “I have to pick one,” she answered, releasing a choked sigh.

And right then, I was simultaneously thrilled that one book in ten was the mountain she had to climb and ruffled that one book in ten was all she could buy.

“Good luck,” I said, taking another sweeping scan of her choices. I knew what I would pick, if I were her and this was my greatest feat for the day.

Her shoulders fell. “Thanks. I want them all.”

Yeah, I do too. 

“They’re not going anywhere,” I offered and she nodded. “Good to have something to look forward to.”

Later, when I was leaving, she passed me with her mother. Her eyes were bright as they met mine. She flipped the book cover into my view, sideways, but I’d recognize it anywhere. I nodded approval. If you’re going to read just one, The Fault in Our Stars is choosing wisely.

The Top Five YA Books I Read in 2012

I have ambitiously decided to narrow down the thirty books I read this year, consisting of mostly YA, to my Top Five.

Yes. I’m going to try. *Cracks Knuckles*

I read a few non-YA books this year, but as I am a Young Adult writer, I think it’s most appropriate to limit the Top Five list to just YA. No offense meant for the amazing “Adult” books I read.

There is a certain gut reaction I can’t ever seem to escape, but I am really going to try and be conscious of reason. I write fantasy, so I read a heck-of-a lot of it this year. I will make sure to include a smattering of the brilliance happening all over YA, not just in fantasy, because there is a lot of amazing stuff to be seen. Try to keep in mind, I am still playing catch up, so some of my favorite reads may not have been published this year at all. In fact, I am sure at least two will not.

OK, so, enough chatter. Onto the list, starting with number 5.

5) The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green

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I loved this book for so many reasons. It was my first John Green, which is sad, so I added all of his books to my TBR list. I actually picked this book up because Veronica Roth recommended it at the reading for Insurgent I attended earlier this year.

I am so glad she did. From the moment we are introduced to Hazel, and then Gus, they capture the reality of people living (and dying) with a disease and the sentiment of trying to make sense of an otherwise confusing world. They are children becoming adults. The tragedy is tempered skillfully by wit and humor, so it’s never too much. Until it finally is. Then it crushes you.

This book is a good read for a girl or boy. It also has the added bonus of creating a love story for the dying that anyone will root for. Check it out, even if you don’t like Contemporary.

4) The Girl of Fire and Thorns, by Rae Carson (Bonus: Its sequel The Crown of Embers)

goftcoe

I found this book through a YA Highway suggestion, and again, I am so thankful I did. This is true high fantasy with a twist. Rae Carson set her book in a world influenced in dress and environment by an area in northern Africa between Algeria, Morocco, and Spain.

What’s even more compelling about these books than the landscape and food, is Elisa, the protagonist princess and fated bearer of a mystical stone of power. I really fell for Elisa, her transformation from weak, overweight princess to freedom-fighter and Queen is wonderful. Rae Carson draws on the classic Tropes of Fantasy literature and spins them around until their heads pop off. **Bonus** The Crown of Embers has a super steamy romance.

If you aren’t sure about high fantasy, this is a great pick for you. It’s nerve racking, tragic, inspiring, and based in a compelling world.

3.  UnWind, by Neal Shusterman (Unwholly is the sequel)

unwindunwhollyThese books will not be for everyone. UnWind was published in 2009, and it’s sequel, UnWholly was just released in the fall of 2012. UnWind is one of the most difficult books I have ever read in terms of theme.

It takes place after the Second Civil War in America, which was over the issue of Abortion. The solution is that life is inviolable from birth to thirteen, but from the ages of thirteen to eighteen a parent has the option to UnWind their child. UnWinding is a process where each piece of the body is separated and redistributed. The story follows three fated UnWinds and how they battle to stay alive, or in some cases, die.

This is a gut-wrenching subject and Neal Shusterman doesn’t shy away from it in the slightest. If you are a parent, especially of a teen, I think it is an important book to read. It is a brilliant commentary, as well as a non-stop roller coaster of a read. If you can get through it, it just might change you. If you can’t tell, I feel very strongly about these books. I think you will too.

2) Shadow and Bone, by Leigh Bardugo

sbAnother high fantasy flipped on its backside. This is Leigh Bardugo’s debut novel, and it speaks volumes about her potential as an author. She’s been around the Hollywood scene as a make-up artist for a while, and her eye for the dramatic is definitely felt in the pages of Shadow and Bone.

This awesome slice of fantasy takes place in a Czarist Russian inspired world called Ravka. A magical force has created the dangerous fog known as the Shadow Fold, which slowly grows around the country, cutting it off from resources and endangering the lives of the citizens. The First Army of the King is aided by a magical army called Grisha, led by the mysterious Darkling. The story centers around an orphan girl named Alina who possesses a dormant power much needed in this desperate nation. A power she never knew she had. This power changes her world forever.

Alina is a vibrant narrator, with a certain snark and sharpness to her that is refreshing, and the plot vibrates along at a comfortably quick pace. This book isn’t my number one only because I am a little jealous of the Fabulous Leigh for writing it and not me. I think anyone, even those who generally loathe high fantasy, can get into this book. If you haven’t already picked it up, do it…now!

**Bonus** Sexy boy love interests are exponential!

And…my favorite read this year…

1) When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead 

wyrmThis was a hard choice for me. When You Reach Me is actually Middle Grade, which I don’t usually read in, but I had heard non-stop raves for this book, so I had to. I am tickled pink that I did. Every time I think about this book, I smile, which is why it is number one on my list. It touched the child in me while giving me food for thought and stroking the science fiction nerd deep down.

When You Reach Me was the Newbery Winner for 2010, among other prestigious awards, but it’s really a very gentle, simple slice of life tale with a truly golden heart. It takes place in 1979 New York City, and is told by Miranda, a twelve year old girl who’s best friend doesn’t want to be friends anymore. When Miranda begins to receive mysterious notes with eerily accurate information in them, her world turns upside down.

I don’t want to tell you anything else. Just, seriously, read this book. Like, tonight. It’s short and sweet. It will reaffirm the goodness of humanity, the mystery of the universe, and the joy of true friendship. Be warned, you will probably cry, so keep tissues by your side. Anyone, anywhere, can read this and appreciate it. I would even read it aloud to younger children.

Phew, I feel better now. A few Honorable Mentions that I must now mention are:

Hope you enjoy the list, and get a few great reads out of it. Feel free, or largely compelled, to share your own list, especially if it differs greatly from mine. I am ALWAYS looking for more books to pile on my TBR list.