Books for Younguns, Young Adults and the Young-at-Heart

Monday, December 31, 2012

My Favorite Young Adult Books of 2012

I wanted to do a year-end recap, but in an informal way.  So I'm listing my top ten favorite young adult, middle grade and picture books of 2012.  In order to limit my options, books are only eligible if they are a standalone or the first in a series, and--of course--they must have been originally published during 2012.  Other than that, this is a completely subjective list and is not meant to be *the best*, only my favorites.  They are not ranked, but listed in alphabetical order by author.  I'd love to hear your favorites in the comments.

My Favorite Young Adult Books of 2012

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews
Everyone is tired of hearing me talk about this book.  The story of loner-by-choice Greg and the connections that are foisted on him when his mother decides he should be friends with his classmate who has terminal cancer, this doesn't sound like the most likely candidate for funniest book of the year.  But while Greg and Earl's banter is always crass and profane, it's also definitely funny.  That's the reason you can keep reading while the story shatters you.  I don't usually get too personal here, but since it's a subjective list and it might help people trying to place this book with the right readers, I think it's appropriate.  Over the last few years, I've lost two very important people in my life long before their time, both to illnesses that were completely unexpected, but also long.  Reading Greg's internal struggles with his instinct to distance himself and put up a wall to preserve his emotions and the accompanying guilt no matter what he did gave me a connection and validated some of my feelings in a way I hadn't encountered before or since.  While the basic appeal of this book is broad, it's deeper meaning may be a niche market.  But those who need this book really need this book.

The Diviners by Libba Bray
I cannot stop thinking about this series.  This first book is an introduction to a timeline which has just started to diverge from our own, right in the middle of the Roaring '20s.  A rift has been opened, introducing young people with strange powers who slowly find their way to each other during a serial killer scare in New York City.  What the plot description lacks, however, is any implication that this is one of the most sophisticated YA reads of the year.  The complicated intertwining storylines and huge ensemble cast of distinct and compelling characters make its 592 pages fly by.  Bray also brings the horror with the story taking us straight to every supernatural murder scene and giving us the victim's point of view.  I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that there is at least one element of this book that will appeal to everyone.  Seriously, 600 pages isn't too long, it's too short.  More please.

The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron
I absolutely devoured this book.  To say this is a book about Katharine's internal struggle on whether or not to allow herself some personal freedom by being trusted with her aunt's bookkeeping by betraying her uncle and sending all 900 people he employs to the poorhouse is accurate, but doesn't tell you how much happens in this book.  To say too much would be to give away too many delicious secrets, but I will say this feels very much like a Victorian Gothic novel.  Not just because it's set in the time period, but because the plot's twists and turns and the way they are revealed feel like they could be written by a Bronte.  Cameron's writing peels away layers so subtly that you may find yourself having an aha moment three-quarters of the way through and becoming more and more impressed as you realize all the steps it took to get you there.

Poison Princess by Kresley Cole
Before reading this, I would have bet you any amount of money that this book wouldn't even be enjoyable, much less on my top ten list.  And I still think the cover's awful.  But the story inside will suck you in.  Evie Green goes from spending the summer in a mental institution to realizing her hallucinations were really visions of the coming apocalypse.  With much of the world decimated, she discovers a connection to other survivors, all of whom are reincarnations of Tarot's Major Arcana, prophesied to reenact a battle where only one can survive.  While post-apocalyptic is widely regarded as played-out, everything about this book feels unique, from its started before the cataclysmic event to its emotionally and politically complex interactions between characters.  Even its wrong-side-of-the-tracks love interest is more nuanced than most.  Give it a try.  I'm pretty sure you'll want to pick up the next one.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
What else is left to say about this book?  It's the best from the best.  Narrated by the terminally-ill Hazel about the relationship with totally-in-remission Augustus that completely shatters her defenses and changes the life she never thought she'd be living in the first place, this is a book that will take you apart and put you back together.  Hazel's experiences reach beyond the "cancer kids" to really examine why we live and love when it will all end eventually.

Elemental by Antony John
Another post-apocalyptic book with a different take.  The setting is a small colony on the Carolina coast where the inhabitants each have the ability to control at least one element.  Except for 16-year-old Thomas.  When an unpredicted hurricane sends the children to shelter on a neighboring island, after the storm they find the settlement on fire, the adults missing and pirate ship receding on the horizon.  When it turns back for them, Thomas and the others must fight pirates (along with their own hormones) and in the process discover things that turn their entire worldview upside-down.  What distinguishes this book is the totally relatable narrator and the relationship with his brother, who happens to be deaf.  The extra layer of decision-making and communication this adds to the plot complicate matters in the best way possible.  Also of note is the world that is informed much more by the past then the future, with a plague basically resetting society and eliminating technology, giving this world a different feel from the rest of the barren future wastelands.  Full disclosure:  Antony John is a local author and frequents our store, which has everything to do with why I read this book and nothing to do with why I like it so much.

Insignia by S.J. Kincaid
Amid the dystopias and apocalypses, there hasn't been much room in YA for straight science fiction lately.  This book has it in spades.  Tom is recruited to fight in a war for territory in outer space.  The war is fought by unmanned drones, all piloted by teenagers, the most fitting candidates due to their experience behind the controls of video games.  What the public doesn't know is that a new technology is aiding this war:  Neural implants that allow greater control of machines, but also allow the government to control you.  The most effective way I've billed it is as a cross between Ender's Game and Ready Player One, and it's a no-brainer for fans of either.  While it drags a bit in the middle, on the whole, this is a fantastic action-packed book for those who like a little more tech in their future.

Every Day by David Levithan
This is a book that defies categorization.  While the basic premise (A--while aging normally and staying in the same general area--wakes up every day having occupied a new person's body for just one day) is fantasy, the read feels more contemporary realistic.  While the two over-arching storylines (A's budding romance with Rhiannon and the threats from a boy who remembers being "possessed") are engaging on their own, the format allows for some really fascinating divergences and a general survey of growing up in America.  While it doesn't allow for much of an in-depth look at any one life, it is a really unique way of illustrating how very different and how very the same we all are.

Cinder by Marissa Meyer
Another science fiction read (although this one has a touch of the dystopian), this book hits on a major upcoming trend:  The fairy tale retelling.  This modernized Cinderella is a cyborg in a society that frowns on that sort of thing.  When she is sold by her stepmother into medical testing, her life goes in a direction she never would have imagined, including a strange connection with the prince of New Beijing.  Throw into that the duplicitous moon people, a race that has evolved separately on the lunar colonies, and there's a lot going on in this future society.  Because of the fairy tale angle, this would be a great introduction to science fiction for those who are reluctant to dive in, but it offers plenty for the avid fan as well.  The future books in the series promise to introduce other fairy tale characters, making this a sort of Into the Woods meets Blade Runner.  I can't wait.

Venom by Fiona Paul
This book had me from "historical Venice," seeing as that's one of my favorite things ever.  Readers who don't share my enthusiasm for the setting should still find a lot to like about Cassandra Caravello, the disenfranchised noble who discovers a murder victim in her friend's tomb and sets off to find out who she is and why she's there.  Along the way, she gains the help of the handsome and mysterious Falco, and the attraction is mutual, which might not be a problem if they weren't from different classes.  And if Cass's fiance weren't on his way back to Venice.  Cass is a smart, likable and realistic protagonist.  Her internal debates make sense both to who she is and her place in that society.  This is one of my favorite love triangles ever, since it's not so much "two guys she loves" but "one guy she loves but can't have and one guy she should love because he's very nice and she has to marry him anyway."  The mystery provides plenty of intrigue and creepiness and will keep you guessing even after the book is over.  (I just finished the second book, Belladonna, and it's worth it.)  And that disclaimer about Antony John?  That goes for Fiona Paul too.

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