Last night I had insomnia. I stayed up for about two hours trying to answer questions I’d been asked, after the fact. Like, for instance, what books to read. I’m not good with rapid-fire questions so I always blank. But I’m asked all the time by parents, by kids, by teachers. I’ve tried to compile some of my favorites here.
Also, I would like to add that if you are a truly passionate reader of YA, you might want to consider the Parnassus Next book club, which will send you a carefully and intelligently curated selection of the newest YA each month. I personally love it. It also makes a great gift. Subscriptions of all kinds are available and you’re supporting the mother of all indie bookstores, located in Nashville.
PLEASE NOTE: I’m not dealing in classics like Paul Zindel and Robert Cormier and Lois Duncan, and I will assume you know all about Harry Potter and the incredible wonders of Neil Gaiman and don’t need any information about Katniss Everdeen or Jenny Han or E. Lockhart or John Green or Morgan Matson. I haven’t read everything by any stretch and sometimes I get the slow blink from colleagues for what I have somehow missed, but FOR GOD’S SAKE I AM NOT A MACHINE! I’m sure I’ll be scrambling to add things, but hopefully this is good for now. Also, this took me all day, so I’m not sorry for all the mistakes or how many times I said weird and kickass, and the non-uniform nature of the post.
MOSQUITOLAND by David Arnold
David Arnold can write. He can write and write and write. His characters freak me out they’re so three-dimensional, and my highlighter was busy the whole time I read this one. Also, I love southern books, and this is a perfect one, as Mim runs away from home and across state lines. The plot is as windy as her path to reach her destination. I cried. A lot. Everyone I’ve recommended this to has loved it. In fact, someone has stolen my copy (Anais). He also has a new one called KIDS OF APPETITE that came out on Tuesday and that is currently sitting next to my bed, waiting.
I WILL SAVE YOU by Matt de la Pena
Maybe I’m biased because I read this one first. I love everything from the title to the cover to every last word in between. This story of Kid, a boy trying to cope while living in a group home as he develops a fierce fascination with the beautiful Olivia, slays me. It has a wicked twist, a sick supporting cast of characters, and this simple cadence that I almost can’t deal with it makes me feel so much. I went into it blind, knowing nothing at all about Matt. Now he’s won the Newbery among many other awards and accolades, and has a great backlist of books, including MEXICAN WHITEBOY and WE WERE HERE. He’s gritty and honest and totally cool.
THE UNFINISHED LIFE OF ADDISON STONE by Adele Griffin
This edgy story from two-time national book award finalist Adele Griffin, about an “it” girl’s mysterious death, is just straight up fun. There’s some sex and drugs so maybe not for really little kids. Adele used models and created a whole world of images to support the story as this poor girl comes undone. Addison can’t survive. You know that from the first page, but on the last you get a totally unexpected chill. Adele has a new one coming out soon called BE TRUE TO ME. I’ve had the pleasure of reading it and it’s a blast.
TYRELL by Coe Booth
First of all, if you ever get lucky enough to hear Coe read from this book, run don’t walk. She’s so funny. Anyway, this story of a boy who has to go into a shelter with his family while trying to maintain his life is a killer. SO. GOOD. A bunch of sex (mostly head), and a lot of swearing. Like, so much swearing, which is what makes it real, and is also what makes it maybe not perfect for younger kids. But so get it.
HECK SUPERHERO by Martine Leavitt
I am almost at a loss for words about how I feel about Martine Leavitt. She’s practically perfect in every way. She’s excruciatingly talented. She is absolutely my most coveted one and I happily worship at her feet. I love all her books (ALL OF THEM), but this one, about a boy trying to find his mother, is my favorite. She’s so close to Heck she’s breathing on his neck.
TRASH by Sharon Darrow
This book, written in verse, is about kids taken out of their home who become taggers. The poetry is genius and just writing this reminds me of how intense it was and how much I wanted to embrace it and crawl out of my skin as I read it. It’s a gem written by a gem. It was another one with a ton of quotables.
THE SERPENT KING by Jeff Zentner
Another great southern read. And I know. I’ve been babbling about this one a lot so you probably don’t want to hear it anymore. But seriously. There’s a guy with a freaking staff, and a fashion blogger, and some snake charming, too. There’s discovering our own power, and discovering what we are powerless against, and there’s all the love, too. God, I loved it. Please read it.
THE CRESSWELL PLOT by Eliza Wass
My UK editor shoved this one in my hands when I complained I’d run out of books this summer. Creep out. It didn’t change my life or anything, but I do love books about sketchy giant families with freaky relationships that live in the backwoods of upstate New York, with possibly homicidal parents. It kind of made me think Manson family. I’m saying, if you want a book that’s hard to put down and gives you really odd dreams, give this one a try.
SIMON VS. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA by Becky Albertellli
Adore. Love. Freakout love! This book, about the fallout of a forced outing, is downright rad. It’s an epistolary book (which I love) and is all about what we show on the outside vs the inside, and why, and it’s also about falling in love and how two people allow each other in. It’s gorgeous. I’m not doing it justice because I’m delirious from trying to get this done. I don’t know anyone who didn’t go crazy over this book.
TILT by Alan Cumyn.
Boy YA books seem scarce, and really good ones that deal with sexuality and love and identity and dads, seem even more scarce. This book has perhaps the most awkward sex scene in any book ever, and it stole my heart completely. Alan’s new book, HOT PTERODACTYL BOYFRIEND is making some noise right now, and I can’t wait to read it. I trust him completely, so I’m sure it’s going to be good.
DAMAGE by A.M. Jenkins.
A.M. Jenkins isn’t famous for this book. She won the Printz honor for another book called REPOSSESSED about a demon who possesses a teenage boy and discovers he’s the most decent guy around. That one is great too, but this one killed me. I cried and cried and cried. It’s about a suicidal star football player who appears perfectly fine but totally isn’t, written in second person. It’s a feat in terms of the writing itself, but more than that it’s the most honest portrayal of depression I’ve found in YA lit. I feel like it’s underrated. It shouldn’t be. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever read. Because it goes pretty deep into suicidal psychology I would both recommend it and suggest caution in terms of the reader’s age. Either way, it’s heavy, so know that.
FEED by M.T. Anderson
This book is becoming a modern classic. Written in 2001, it predates Facebook significantly, which makes it kind of prophetic given what life looks like now. It’s the sort of sci-fi I love, more 1984 than Star Trek, but singular and brilliant. This is one of those I think all kids and adults should read, because we’re humans and this is happening, but also because it’s beautiful. Also, it’s been banned a lot. Doesn’t that make you want to devour it?
ALL AMERICAN BOYS by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kelly
Last year I was at NCTE and had the opportunity to see Jason Reynolds speak in person. He totally blew me away. Basically told a story that could easily have ended with a mic drop. Badass. Now he’s nominated for the National Book Award for a completely different book which I’m sure will be just as powerful, but this is the only one I’ve read. Told from dual perspectives, it’s about a kid who’s beaten for being a person of color, and the ensuing consequences. With everything going on right now in terms of racism and diversity and the police, it couldn’t be more relevant. This is a great one for kids. It’s got a compelling voice and story, and also I cried.
INEXCUSABLE by Chris Lynch.
This was one of the first YA books I ever read (knowingly). It’s about date rape, told from the “good guy” rapist’s perspective. It’s also passionate and beautiful and sad as hell. Remarkable on a craft level and also just in terms of the way the story unfolds, it’s poetic and strange and so hard to read, harder to put down. Just read it. But don’t give it to a little kid. Also, Chris Lynch has a ton of other books, lots of award winners, including FREEWILL which I also loved.
TWO BOYS KISSING by David Levithan
It doesn’t take a genius to know what this book is about. It’s right on the cover. I think it’s important because it’s narrated by the ghostly presence of gay men who contracted AIDS early on and are now watching how much has happened and bearing witness to the struggles and triumphs of the newer generation. That part of it left me aching. I cried. But it’s also irreverently joyful, and I loved that too. I am a huge fan of David Levithan’s and would read pretty much anything he has to offer (and have). It’s only that this one is especially relevant and should be a part of everyone’s reading list.
EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING by Nicola Yoon
Why am I including her? Woman needs no help from me. You would have to be living under a rock in Siberia not to know who she is since she’s spent the last 100 years on the NYT bestseller list, but just in case, she’s totally fabulous, and I inhaled this one, about a girl with an immune disorder living in a bubble who falls in love with the boy next door. Her next book, THE SUN IS ALSO A STAR has been nominated for The National Book Award. I have a special affection for her since I sat beside her at my first ever panel (disaster), and have had the pleasure since. She has a humble, soothing sort of presence that comes through in her heartfelt, love book. This will soon be a movie, so you should read it quick if you haven’t yet.
BONE GAP by Laura Ruby
Laura is another magical person who has a really kickass backlist, but she won the Printz and was a National book Award finalist for this one. A retelling of the Persephone myth, everything about this book is perfect, including Laura’s extremely steady storytelling hand. She’s a weaver, and a great one. I did a lot of talking to this book as I read it, as well as a lot of humiliating fist pumping. It’s excellent, feminist, achy, gorgeous.(I knew it was going to win.)
JUMPED by Rita Williams-Garcia
This short but very satisfying book told in three perspectives, is about violence and how we get there, how every minute and action invariably lead to this one explosive outcome. I HIGHLY recommend this for every child, because it illustrates so well what happens when we lose ourselves in rage, and how a perfectly innocent storm can lead us there. If you don’t trust me, trust the fact that Rita Williams-Garcia is an award machine.
THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE by Jandy Nelson
You’ve probably heard of I’LL GIVE YOU THE SUN which won the Printz two years ago. That book is so confoundingly spectacular I can’t even. But I chose this one, Jandy’s first, because it’s one you shouldn’t miss, either. Bailey is grieving the loss of her sister, trying to find her way, along with a gorgeous cast of amazing secondary characters. The language is expansive and free, the love is deeply romantic and magical, and I did not just cry. I wept.
WINTERGIRLS by Laurie Halse Anderson
Laurie Halse Anderson is probably best known for her book SPEAK about rape. It’s one of my favorites because it’s so artistically done. I love a book that can present an issue without shoving it down your throat in some gross lesson-y way. This one is about a girl with an eating disorder whose best friend has died of the same disorder. I cannot overstate the singularity of the voice, how raw and visceral it is. I felt my guts in a twist the entire time I was reading, and didn’t exhale until it was over. It’s pretty brutal in dealing with the reality of anorexia, so I would say no tweens on this one.
THE COLDEST GIRL IN COLDTOWN by Holly Black
If you have it in you to read another vampire book, this is a good choice. It’s slick and kind of sexy and very now in terms of technology and communication. Tana wakes up one morning and pretty much everyone she knows is massacred around her. Except her annoying boyfriend and another not annoying mysterious guy. They make there way to Coldtown where monsters are quarantined. It’s like Hotel California. Once you go in you can never leave. Adventure ensues. Holly Black is one of those writers you can pick up anywhere anytime and know you’re going to have some fun, but this one is surprisingly poignant as well.
THE SCORPIO RACES by Maggie Stiefvater
She’s another writer I will always pick up with complete faith that whatever it is, it’s going to be great. This one, though, for which she won the Printz, is especially so. About a cliffside community contending with and attempting to race monster horses that emerge from the sea. Her two main characters, Sean and Puck, are so memorably delicious I wish I were reading them again and again. I’m in the middle of her Raven Cycle now, about psychics and Arthurian legends. It’s rad. Also rad is her werewolf series, beginning with SHIVER. She’s one of those people I’m grateful has written so many books. Also, (sigh), she writes really good music, drives fast cars, makes art and wears combat boots. She’s my dream girl.
DUMPLIN’ by Julie Murphy
Julie Murphy is a major ass-kicker. From what I’ve seen of her, she’s funny, feisty, and totally herself. So is Dumplin’. This story, about a girl who defies stereotypes by joining a very Texan beauty pageant, has done really, really well. There’s something infectious and irreverent about the writing. Julie has a new book coming out soon and is also the author of SIDE EFFECTS MAY VARY. Total fan.
ELEANOR & PARK by Rainbow Rowell
If you were alive in the 80s, you must read this book. If you felt alone in high school, you must read this book. If you like music, read it read it read it. It’s so good. THEY FALL IN LOVE ON THE BUS. Sobbing, hysterical, ugly crying, and one of the best endings I’ve ever encountered. This made a lifetime Rowell fan of me. I fucking LOVE her.
SUFFER LOVE by Ashley Herring Blake
Oh, the tangled webs, man. In this one, Sam and Hadley fall in love, except they can’t because their parents had an affair and the reason both their lives suck is because of that exact thing! Ashley is masterful with the dialogue and really good at making you say ouch out loud. It’s pret-ty sexy and also the affair stuff, but it’s also accessible and handles the subject with respect. Maybe don’t buy it for your ten-year-old niece, especially if your brother is a player. Ashley has another book coming out soon, HOW TO MAKE A WISH, with bi characters, so yay! More of that, please! I’m a fan and will definitely read anything Ashley has to offer.
WEETZIE BAT by Francesca Lia Block
WHAT? YOU HAVEN’T READ WEETZIE BAT? Even after Lena Dunham yelled at her writer friend on Girls for being a wanna-be Weetzie? What the hell? Please do this right away. It’s super short, completely un-homophobic, totally punk rock, and, like, a modern California classic for sure. Also, I don’t know about tweens. I can’t totally remember, but I feel like there might have been a threesome (or maybe they just all live together). It’s totally perfect for grown-ups though.
PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ by A.S. King
Well, this was the first time I ever actually wanted to make out with a book (that I can remember). I fell in love with Charlie, Vera’s dead best friend, only to have A.S. King herself basically pat me on the head and tell me she felt sorry for me for having those feelings. “No, no,” she said, “we don’t love Charlie.” She looked at me like she could see my soul. It really freaked me out. But anyway, it’s magical realism, but somehow more real than most books I’ve read. There’s also a talking pagoda, which never hurt anyone. You’ll never forget Vera. You’ll never forget Charlie. I want to read it again and again. A.S. King doesn’t really have boundaries in her writing, so as a writer it’s a little like standing at the edge of a cliff and teetering slowly. Also, for my favorite bully book, check out EVERYBODY SEES THE ANTS.
THE WALLS AROUND US by Nova Ren Suma
I love a good ghost story, and Nova Ren Suma is sublime at it. Plus her writing in incredible. I’m going to say savage. I’m not only a fan of her fiction but of her blog. This story, about a ballerina and a girl in a correctional facility, will satisfy all your suspense and murder needs. She’s all around magnificent, and really good at keeping me at the edge of myself and supporting the part of me that likes to understand the human underbelly.
BECAUSE YOU’LL NEVER MEET ME by Leah Thomas
This lady is super into cosplay, so she’s fun to be friends with on Facebook. She’s also written this book, an epistolary story between two friends each dealing with almost superhuman limitations that cause intense isolation. They develop such a deep love for each other that they basically save each other. It’s kind of a mind-bending sci-fi twist type thing. I loved it. Read it in one sitting. There’s a sequel I haven’t read yet, and after that, I think she said there will be aliens!
THE UNDERTOW TRILOGY by Michael Buckley
Life on Coney Island is not what it once was. It’s been invaded by ocean people of all sorts, and Beck finds herself caught right in the center of it. Was that a good synopsis? I don’t think so. This is a big, epic, dystopian political statement, with awesome characters with really good names, and it’s so much fun. I’ve recommended it to a bunch of kids who all report back that they love it. The third one isn’t out yet, but will be soon. Perfect for younger readers who want adventure.
FAT & BONES by Larissa Theule
I think this might technically be middle grade, but it’s so twisted I’m putting it in here. It’s about a completely insane fairy who gets into all sorts of trouble on a farm. Calling it dark would be putting it mildly, which is weird, because its author is totally luminous. I ate it whole. Larissa writes mostly picture books, so you ought to look her up if you need some of those. After reading it, I happened to be at a writing retreat with Larissa, and couldn’t help but stare at her in fascination. I don’t know whether or not she appreciated this. I’m guessing not.
THIS IS THE PART WHERE YOU LAUGH by Peter Brown Hoffmeister
If I laughed, it was that all the way down hysterical cover your eyes kind of laughter, because this book is hardcore. About a kid living with his grandparents, whose entire life and hopes ride on basketball and his best friend, Creature, who writes romances about dead Russian princesses. It’s one of those gritty, urban realistic novels that mirrors reality so acutely you can’t breathe. I got to blurb this book, so if you want to know what else I think about it, you can check it out.
JELLICOE ROAD by Melina Marchetta
Well, she’s an Australian goddess. This book is a godsend. I would eat her leftovers in hopes of having something of hers seep into me. Again, I fell in love with Jonah, the main guy. But it’s about so many things: trust and magic and war and love and things you can’t really understand when you’re a kid and that are so painful and beautiful when you finally do put all the pieces together. This book broke my heart so hard I couldn’t read anything for a while after. I needed a period of mourning. Several cries.
FELL OF DARK by Patrick Downes
This book, about two boys drawn into confrontation by miraculous forces, is surreal, dream-like, and kind of insane. I read it in one sitting. This one is absolutely not for someone looking for a regular narrative, but if you want something uncomfortable and spectacular and deeply skilled, it’s completely worth your time. DEFINITELY not for younger kids.
SKELLIG by David Almond
There’s an angel living in your garage. Either that, or possibly a vagrant who really likes Chinese food. Oh, how I love this book. Magical realism, but dark and beautiful. I don’t remember the plot as well as I remember the feeling as the kids whisper, “Skellig, Skellig, Skellig.” Everything I’ve read by David Almond has made me feel seen in a way I can’t explain. He’s so good.
STOLEN by Lucy Christopher
Told in second person, this is the story of a girl who is kidnapped from an airport in Thailand and taken to Australia, where her relationship to her kidnapper gets very complicated. Brilliantly well done, this is my daughter’s favorite book, even though she’s too young to have read it, but what can you do when she has access to my Kindle and she read it without asking? Also, Lucy Christopher is a fairy person.
Now that that’s done, here’s what’s on my TBR shelf (in addition to what I mentioned above). This means I own it, I can’t wait to read it, and I’m more than likely mortified that I haven’t because I can be pretty sure it’s all amazing. I’ve put an asterisk by the ones for which I especially suck. They’re all supposed to be excellent.
LOST STARS by Lisa Selin Davis
THE ART OF NOT BREATHING by Sarah Alexander
THE READER by Traci Chee
*ALL WE LEFT BEHIND by Ingrid Sundberg
*HOW IT WENT DOWN by Kekla Magoon
*THE GIRL WHO FELL by S.M. Parker
*UNDERWATER by Marisa Reichart
EVERY EXQUISITE THING by Matthew Quick
ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES by Jennifer Niven
*THE EMPEROR OF ANY PLACE by Tim Wynne-Jones
*GIRL IN PIECES by Kathleen Glasgow
* THE STATISTICAL PROBABILITY OF LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT by Jennifer E. Smith
*MY BEST EVERYTHING by Sarah Tomp
*MY INVENTED LIFE by Lauren Bjorkman
ALL THE RAGE by Courtney Summers