As the new year dawns, it seemed like the perfect time to share my favorite books of 2014. Though I read roughly the same number of books in 2014 as 2013 , 94 to last year’s 90, I read the largest number of pages yet!
Over the month of January I will share my favorite books across four categories: short stories, fiction, memoirs & real history and young adult fiction. Today is the final day: YA Fiction!
Looking for a light-hearted read with a little supernatural flare? Look no further than Carolyn MacCullough. Her characters are lovable and her plot is quick and easy. I read both in the course of an afternoon, and was completely absorbed in the story.
Tamsin Greene is the odd one out in her family of Talented people –she’s dreadfully normal. When a stranger asks for help believing she is her Talented sister Rowena, Tamsin starts off on an adventure that takes her to the past and back. Along the way she experiences power, love, and friendship greater than she thought possible.
When I was in middle school, I loved all of the Lurlene McDaniels books. You’d think reading about teenagers battling cancer would be depressing but somehow she managed to make her stories about love and life. I mention this because John Green’s book is nothing like Lurlene’s, and thus is overwhelmingly depressing. Cancer becomes as much of a character as Hazel and Augustus as you get an intimate glimpse at the life of teenage patients.
Hazel and Augustus meet at a cancer support group. They fall in love while Hazel undergoes treatment. Their whole relationship revolves around their illness, but somehow that’s okay too. Green’s story is so realistic you almost forget that he’s writing a YA novel, which is kind of the point. He doesn’t minimize the teens’ emotions, nor does he make them into an overblown soap opera. He just lets them be.
Just like Hazel and Augustus would want.
And here you thought I was through with my book recommendations for the year! I couldn’t do another Christmas guide without mentioning my favorite YA books for the year. Most of them I’ve read within the past 10 months or so but a few old-school favorites made it onto the list.
1. Secret Letters by Leah Scheier : Victorian setting + strong female character + Sherlock Holmes-ian mystery? Count me in! This is the book that I thought The Name of the Star would be — and this time I wasn’t disappointed. Scheier is a genius with words: the story is fast-paced and enticing. My biggest disappointment with this book was realizing the sequel won’t be out for far too long. As a side-note, this is a YA version of Dust and Shadow by Lyndsey Faye that I reviewed earlier this year and mentioned in my books I recommend post.
2. Pure by Julianna Baggott: I’ve already reviewed this one on my blog but it was so stellar it warranted mentioning again. Baggott writes in the vein of Collins, Roth and Condie, making the book an excellent addition to any fan’s collection.
3. Looking for Alaska by John Green: As a Kenyon alumna I’m practically required to be a John Green fan; luckily for me, his novels are spectacular! I had to read Looking for Alaska as part of my YA Literature class (INLS 530) and I’m so glad it was a requirement. The story is so heartbreaking, “coming of age” done correctly. Drop everything and go pick it up, now!
4. Divergent by Veronica Roth: Another book for those Hunger Games fans, Roth writes about a post-apocalyptic US where families have been replaced with groups called factions. Teens are tested and placed into a faction based on their abilities, but once they get there the teens are forced to prove themselves. Terrifying in the way the Hunger Games are, the series is a way to keep Collins fans reading.
5. The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak: I came late to the party on this one! It came out ages ago but it bears mentioning here. The story follows a young girl in WWII Germany who learns about the power of words through stolen books.
The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson
Published September 2011
Summary: Rory Deveraux moves to England to attent a boarding school in London’s poshest neighborhood. As soon as she arrives killings like the 1888 Jack the Ripper murders begin. When Rory is the only witness to see the murderer she is forced into a world she doesn’t understand and suddenly she has trouble knowing what is real.
Bechdel Test?: Not even close to passing. Rory lives with two female roommates but most of their conversations revolve around boys or gossip. Also Rory’s mother doesn’t appear in the book.
Series Potential?: Eh. I’m sure that Johnson could write a sequel but I don’t like any of the characters enough to follow them forward.
This book had everything going for it in my mind: British goodness, a connection to Victorian London, a central female character, boarding school, cool supernatural elements. Unfortunately it just didn’t all come together. Honestly, the only reason I kept reading was the England/Jack the Ripper connection. Jack the Ripper has been a bit of a hobby of mine for many years now; I even wrote a paper on how his crimes changed British journalism!
The characters in The Name of the Star were flat and SPOILER ALERT I really don’t love the way the ghost concept was used. I’m an equal opportunity supernatural YA reader (and I loved the Mediator series) but the whole concept didn’t work for me.
Pure by Julianna Baggott
Published February 2012
Summary: It’s post-apocalyptic! (Note: this may seem novel at this point but once I post a few reviews you’ll start to notice a trend. I have a real think for post-apocalyptic YA and lucky for me there’s a lot of it. ) The world as we know it ended with a nuclear explosion. Some were able to escape the nasty fall-out by going into the Dome, a sort of biosphere with genetically engineered everything. Those who were left on the outside were disfigured and became part of whatever was around them at the time of the explosion. Enter Pressia and Partridge (ignore their names, yes they’re weird). Pressia grew up in the desolate landscape outside of the dome. She has a doll fused to her hand and lives in fear of the dangers lurking outside her door. Partridge grew up in the Dome and had the privileged life of a leading politician’s son. Both think the grass is greener on the other side.
Bechdel Test?: Surprisingly it passes with flying colors! Pressia befriends the wife of another politician and they have several interactions about how to overthrow the current system. Even better? Pressia’s mother isn’t entirely absent.
Series Potential?: Sure! There’s a lot more to be unpacked about the politics of the Dome and I would love to see more about what made Patridge’s father become as he is.
For a post-apocalyptis YA it’s original and so interesting. It’s hard not to compare Pressia to Katniss Everdeen with all of the Hunger Games hype right now. This doesn’t necessarily bother me–I like to think the YA world is big enough for more than one kick-ass female hero!