Happy New Year! To kick things off for 2014, we thought we’d each share 3 of our favorite books from 2013.
J. Anderson Coats
THE CHILDREN AND THE WOLVES by Adam Rapp. Three teens kidnap a little girl for the hell of it, just because they can. Each of them sees the whole thing ending differently. And then things get bad. The prose is spare and mesmerizing and brilliant. I read this all in one sitting because I couldn’t *not* know how it ended.
ME, HIM, THEM, AND IT by Caela Carter. This one hit me where I live. It’s a book about making choices when there are no good choices, when all you want is to turn back the clock. But the best thing about this book is how Evelyn feels like a real teenager–infuriating, indecisive, brave, conflicted, immature, determined–sometimes all at once and sometimes out of sequence, but definitely not idealized.
BOXERS AND SAINTS by Gene Luen Yang. A graphic novel told in two parts and from two perspectives about the 1899-1901 Boxer Rebellion in China, with just a hint of the supernatural. The art is gorgeous and the story is captivating (and often heartbreaking and sometimes funny) in that it shines a light on the complexity of history and its actors without being heavy-handed or prescriptive.
An inspirational book: THE INVISIBLE CHILD: On Reading and Writing Books for Children by Katherine Paterson. I know the fact that this is Katherine Paterson should be endorsement enough, but I’ll elaborate. This book is a collection of essays and speeches by Paterson, including her Newbery and National Book Award acceptance speeches. When I’m feeling uninspired, out of touch with my creative side, exhausted, burned out, etc., I reach for this book, flip to a random entry and read. Suddenly all is better within my writing world. Truly better.
A middle grade novel: THE FLAME IN THE MIST by Kit Grindstaff. Set in the medieval world of Anglavia, this book surpassed all my expectations. Admittedly, I’m not a huge reader of dark fantasy, but Jemma and her quest to conquer the evil Agromonds and discover her true place in the kingdom won me fully over. The story and dark foreboding called to mind Lloyd Alexander’s CHRONICLES OF PRYDAIN series. This is one that I feel hasn’t gotten as much admiration as it deserves. It’s an ambitious novel, and one you won’t regret reading.
And an adult novel: MUDBOUND by Hillary Jordan. I read it in two or three sittings. Wish I could’ve managed it in one, but kids and life didn’t allow. This is a beautiful and powerful book told in multiple points-of-view. I loved the vividly drawn setting. I loved the expertly drawn characters. I loved the themes, the prose, and I loved that the ending made me cry. Brilliant book.
Susan Hill Long
HOW TO STEAL A DOG by Barbara O’Connor. Pitch perfect middle grade voice balanced between humor and stark reality, a book full of hope.
THE WEE FREE MEN by Terry Pratchett. Little blue men, heroic girl, witches…Terry Pratchett…
ONCE UPON A RIVER by Bonnie Jo Campbell. For adults, a stunning book about teenage Margo Crane, living alone on the river; about decisions, consequences, and freedom.
WINGER by Andrew Smith. This book made me laugh myself breathless and then ugly cry, too. It’s smart, sensitive, bright and utterly brilliant and the vibrancy of some of the scenes will stick with me for years.
HOW TO BE A WOMAN by Caitlin Moran. This book reminded me why I’m a feminist, compelled me to read bits aloud to anyone who might be sitting close by and made ponder my own place in the world. It’s one I’ve given to friends as gifts, and one I’ll be reading again.
DARK TRIUMPH by Robin LaFevers. Unlike my kids, I don’t read very many series, but this one is set in one of my favorite historical time periods. The first book (Grave Mercy) made me fall in love with the characters, and this one fed the fire by bringing back my favorite and giving him a starring role. Swoon.
DEATHLESS by Catherynne Valente. Aside from her beautiful prose, which is like nothing else I’ve ever read before, DEATHLESS is a complicated, yet graceful weaving of characters from Russian folklore set in a Stalin-era backdrop. It’s magnificent.
FIRELIGHT by Kristen Callihan. I’d actually recommend the entire DARKEST LONDON series; FIRELIGHT is the first novel. It’s set in an alternate Victorian Era London where magical creatures exist. Underneath genteel, aristocratic facades are people with clockwork hearts, ladies with powerful abilities, and gentlemen struggling with their own demons. The books are romantic and adventurous and can be read in one sweeping go!
A non-historical here! USES FOR BOYS by Erica Lorraine Scheidt. My heart was breaking while reading this brave book, about a girl with an distant, neglectful mother, and who ultimately turns to boys for emotional comfort. Ultimately, though, it’s a book about a girl searching for a family. Scheidt’s writing is gorgeous, as well.
GOLDEN BOY by Tara Sullivan. A haunting tale about life in Africa for a young boy who is an albino–a condition which makes him feared, misunderstood, and the target of those who believe his skin, limbs and bones will bring them good fortune. Beautifully written and unforgettable.
PROJECT CAIN by Geoffrey Girard. A twisting horror novel told with literary flare. This book is the companion novel to the adult thriller CAIN’S BLOOD, and traces the tale of a seemingly ordinary 16 year old boy who discovers he is the clone of a notorious serial killer. Surprisingly poignant (and very dark) discussion on nature vs. nurture.
NOT A DROP TO DRINK by Mindy McGinnis. Another dark story (okay, I’m sensing a theme here) but with very near-term ramifications, about a young woman growing up in a world where having fresh water (in this case, a pond on your property) means life… and the reality of defending your right to that water to the death. Vivid and gritty writing, with a powerful message.
OUT OF THE EASY by Ruta Sepetys. Josie’s the daughter of a prostitute in 1950s New Orleans. She dreams of going to college back East – but the murder of a tourist threatens to keep her in the tawdry world of mobsters and madams she’s grown up in. The French Quarter setting is incredibly vivid, and Josie’s yearning for a better life will resonate with anyone who’s ever had a big, seemingly impossible dream.
THE LUCY VARIATIONS by Sara Zarr. About a 16 year old pianist, Lucy, who gave up her brilliant career and hasn’t played since walking offstage in the midst of a competition 18 months ago – and what happens when her brother’s new piano teacher, Will, sparks her realization that she misses music. The relationship between Lucy and Will is…complex, and the characters all feel so deeply true, never reduced to caricature. The book explores the nature of creative gifts, the notion of what we owe ourselves and others, the business vs love aspects of it, in a way that really spoke to me.
BETWEEN THE DEVIL & THE DEEP BLUE SEA by April Genevieve Tucholke. A lonely girl in a falling-down house meets a charming liar, and horrible things ensue. I love how the house – the Citizen Kane – is practically another character, and the atmosphere is vivid and creepy and gorgeous. There’s a scene in a graveyard involving children carrying crosses that creeped me out more than anything I’ve read this year. I’m dying for the sequel, BETWEEN THE SPARK AND THE BURN.
Sharon Biggs Waller
THIS SONG WILL SAVE YOUR LIFE by Leila Sales. Full disclosure: my editor at Viking is the author of this book, but I can’t help but chose it as one of my top three because it is a fabulous story. It’s one of those books that you want to hug when you’re finished reading it. It’s about an outcast teen who tries to change herself to fit in, but nothing she does works. When she discovers her calling as a DJ she begins to blossom. It’s really a story about finding your passion and ultimately understanding yourself.
FAULT LINE by Christa Desir. This story makes you think about how rape changes people, and how blame can swing from the perpetrator to the victim. Fault Line is told from a boy’s point of view after his girlfriend, Ani, is raped at a party. Ben doesn’t understand why Ani is pushing him away. Worse, she seems to be changing into the girl everyone thinks she is. The story is beautiful and sensitively told.
THE WHITE PRINCESS (The Cousins’ War #5) by Philippa Gregory. This is story of Henry Tudor’s bride, Elizabeth of York, mother of Henry VIII. King Henry was a paranoid king, who “picked his crown of England from the mud of Bosworth field,” and was forced to fight off pretenders, namely the brother of his wife. This novel is Philippa Gregory at her best. She’s truly the queen of historical fiction.
ELEANOR & PARK, by Rainbow Rowell. I read this one during the second-to-last day of 2013, but it ended up being one of my top-favorite books of the year. I had heard so much hype and praise about the novel before I finally sat down to read it, but it completely lived up to all of my expectations. The title characters and their slow yet poignant path to a beautiful relationship built upon a growing refusal to be bullied made me feel as though I had gotten to know two actual people.
BRUISED by Sarah Skilton. Another contemporary YA novel that had me scrambling to turn the pages to see if the knocked-down main character could pick herself back up and rise above her harrowing situation. I’m not always one to seek out contemporaries, but Skilton and Rowell managed to make me a fan of the genre (in fact, my first read in 2014 was Carrie Mesrobian’s SEX & VIOLENCE–which I highly recommend reading alongside BRUISED).
BELLE EPOQUE by Elizabeth Ross. The plot is a clever one: a French agency in late-nineteenth-century Paris hires out plain girls and women to make wealthy females appear more attractive to suitors. Ross’s characters are three-dimensional and manage to be both heartbreaking and inspiring, plus the main relationship in the book involves two friends, not lovers, which is always a refreshing change in YA fiction.
What about you, Dear Readers? What were your favorite reads of 2013?