By Casey Wilson
I had already been planning on putting together something of a year-end top-ten list of the YA novels I read this year when super awesome blog contributor Rebekah requested recommendations for books worth reading over winter break. Consider this me killing two birds with one stone.
Admittedly, I tend to find making best-of lists something of a fool’s errand. It’s impossible to compare books (or films or TV shows or songs) across genres, and as such always ends with me leaving out a number of equally worthy items. This list is no exception. I read a lot of YA lit, both for school and for fun, and I have a pretty good track record of picking good stuff. So while I’ve put together a list, I won’t go so far as to definitively name them the best. Instead, these are books that have made me happy across the year so far.
It’s an incomplete list, both because I cannot, despite my best efforts, read all of the YA books released in a year and because I still have a stack waiting for me to get to in December. But it’s a list that I stand behind, and I’d love to have more people to talk about these books with.
The first ten have a brief summary and/or explanation of what I enjoyed about them; you’ll find the second ten in a bullet-pointed list at the end. They all have links to Amazon to encourage impulse purchases.
The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater: Told in dual first-person narration, The Scorpio Races is an alternate history of sorts set on an island where, once a year, riders compete in the titular Scorpio Races, riding the dangerous sea horses native to the island. Puck and Sean, our two narrators, both have compelling reasons for riding in a race that might get them killed, and the atmosphere of their home island is nearly tangible.
Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake: Think Supernatural but with more girls and (marginally) less angst. Cas is a ghost hunter who decides to go after the titular Anna on his next hunt, but isn’t prepared for what he finds. Blake layers in horror, humor, and romance throughout the novel, and even if you guess where the novel is going, there will be a few surprises along the way.
The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson: In this paranormal mystery, Jack the Ripper is back – or so it seems. Johnson’s trademark humor and some impeccable pacing bring this book to life. This book will sneak up on you, I think. I know it did me.
The Demon’s Surrender by Sarah Rees Brennan: In the third and final book in the Demon’s Lexicon trilogy, Rees Brennan gives us the most compelling narrator across the trilogy. Sin is a complex and nuanced character, and the story allows her to be. Rees Brennan is also one of the funniest writers in YA today, which shines through in this novel. I recommend the entire trilogy, especially since it ends on a high note.
How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr: Zarr’s most recent novel is a story of three broken people finding solace in one another as they form an unexpected family. As with her previous books, Zarr’s biggest strength is in the small details that give life to the story at large. (Her earlier book, Once Was Lost, is one of my favorite novels, full stop. It nails church life and youth groups in a way no one else has.)
Spoiled by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan: You may know these authors better as The Fug Girls, and their debut novel – in which a girl goes to live with her movie-star father and his spoiled daughter after her mother dies – takes the best of their snark and balances it with a real generosity of spirit. Don’t let its gloss fool you, because there’s some real depth here.
Witch Eyes by Scott Tracey: This was a rare instance where I wished the novel was longer so it would have more time to develop the world, but that’s a very minor quibble because Tracey’s debut novel gives us Braden, one of the most compelling and engaging main characters that I’ve encountered in recent years. Braden’s relationship with Trey is pitched with just the right level of passion and drama, and I am anxiously awaiting the next installment.
Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins: I wrote about this novel here on the blog once before, but making a list of happy-making things without including this one would be disingenuous. Easily my most awaited novel of the year; if you haven’t read this or Anna and the French Kiss, move them to the top of your list.
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness: Another one I’ve written about before, this novel exists on the borderline between young adult and middle grades, I’d say – but the category doesn’t matter. It’s a beautifully emotional look at impending loss and grief. (And if you haven’t read Ness’s Chaos Walking trilogy, do so. Intense and bleak sci-fi that never loses sight of the characters at its heart.)
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs: This novel has gotten a lot of attention for its incorporation of strange vintage photographs into its story – one of my seminar projects this fall tackles that very subject, in fact. But there’s more to Riggs’s novel than the photographs – the story is tight and tense, and promises a follow-up that will take us to some dangerous places.
The rest of the best:
- Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
- Red Glove by Holly Black
- Huntress by Malinda Lo
- Mastiff by Tamora Pierce
- Trial by Fire by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
- Beauty Queens by Libba Bray
- What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen
- Sweetly by Jackson Pearce
- Divergent by Veronica Roth
- Bloodlines by Richelle Mead
Casey Wilson is a PhD student who is well aware that she just put her reading habits up for display. Judge away, people. Judge away.