I read so many amazing books last year! In this penultimate post of my 2014 favorites, I'll tell you about the young adult and graphic novel standouts:
I read 36 young adult novels. Nine blew me away:
YA coming of age books from a boy's perspective are not nearly as common as middle grade coming of age books for girls. Coming of age books from an African-American male teen's perspective? Even rarer. Which is why The Crossover was one of my 2014 highlights. Josh and Jordan are pretty tight, as you would imagine fourteen year old twin boys to be, but the balance of their relationship changes when Jordan gets a girlfriend. Dad was once a basketball star, and they appear to be following in his footsteps; when their father becomes seriously ill, their closeknit family ties threaten to be shattered. Written in verse, this is a powerful novel about family, grief, maturity, and basketball.
Down Syndrome is a rare topic in YA literature, so Girls Like Us is a welcome addition. Quincy and Biddy have both graduated from their school's special education program, so it's now time to learn independent skills through shared apartment living and working at their first jobs. Quincy and Biddy face the world in different ways; Quincy is antagonistic, while Biddy retreats. Learning how to navigate their new reality brings its ups and downs; the vulnerabilities that girls with cognitive impairments face are heartbreakingly and realistically portrayed.
How it Went Down tells the story of a community rocked by the fatal shooting of an African-American teen. Multiple points of view are represented, from loved ones and acquaintances of both the victim and the perpetrator, but the details add up to create a confusing and complex situation. Readers that want gritty, mature, and realistic stories should definitely check this out.
The Living (published in 2013) is one of the very, very few books that I have read in one sitting. I could not put it down until I knew how the story ended (at least for this novel; the sequel will be out in May, and I can hardly wait!). Shy (his nickname) thinks his summer job on a cruise ship should be a fun way to pass the summer; it's hard work keeping the passenger happy (older ladies tend to tip better if you flirt with them), but there's enough time to goof off with the other teen employees. Unimaginable disaster occurs when an earthquake hits California, followed by a tsunami. Shy must do everything to stay alive and to find his missing girlfriend. My patience for disaster/dystopian YA is pretty much played out, but this is an incredible and whirlwind read. Shy is also Latino, which adds a great multicultural aspect to the story.
Lost Girl Found is an eye-opening look at the plight of young women in Sudan. Poni and her family must flee her village after it is bombed. Finding shelter at a refugee camp only provides marginal help for Poni. Desperate to continue her education, Poni must seek out an ingenious way to survive and thrive. Contemporary or recent events in countries other than the United States are rarely portrayed in YA fiction; this is a superbly realized and written novel.
A Mad, Wicked Folly is a must read for anyone (not just teens) who can't get enough of Downton Abbey. Set during the Edwardian period, this is a highly entertaining and sensitive tale of an upper-class teen who rebels against the mores of her society. (It's QUITE scandalous.) Victoria yearns to be a serious artist instead of a typical young woman of the nobility; there's lots of details about balls and such, but the emerging suffragette movement in Britain also plays a key role.
Noggin in 2015, I can't count it here). Threatened is Eliot Schrefer's outstanding followup to Endangered. Orphan Luc is a debt slave in Gabon, until he meets a scientist studying chimpanzees in the jungle; after the scientist disappears, Luc must survive on his own. Not only is this a great adventure/survival novel, but it's also a brilliantly researched and told tale of chimpanzee society.
A Time to Dance is one of my picks for the Schneider Family Book Award. (February 2, people!) Veda's struggle to adapt after an accident leaves her an amputee is not just a fine inspirational story told in verse, but it's also a terrific insight into Indian society, especially the importance of Bharatanatyam dance. It's a standout for readers who like stories about dancers or stories set in countries other than the United States.
The Hunger Games is the most famous example, but Surviving Antarctica is even older). While most are harrowing reads (the aforementioned titles, along with Reality Boy), The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy is an emotionally lighter (and more authentic) novel of teens involved in a reality show at their arts-oriented high school. Naturally, the divide between the teens featured on the show and the teens who are not is quite sharp (especially since these teens are all aspiring artists). A group of friends embark on a protest against the show; when one of their own changes sides and becomes featured on the show, loyalties and friendships are stretched even further. Although parts are quite funny (and no one has to fight to the death), this is a literary and sophisticated novel that asks a lot of questions about the price of fame and how far would you go to achieve your dreams.
I made a commitment to read more graphic novels this year! I read 14 graphic novels, which I think is a record for me. Four were outstanding:
I'm a newbie to Lucy Knisley's work, but I'm already a devoted fan. Regular readers know that Knisley's graphic memoirs are often family and food-oriented. An Age of License follows Lucy through Europe as she attends a Norwegian comics convention. Food inevitably plays a big part in the story, but so does romance and career issues common to twenty-somethings (although Knisley's are rather unique). Her 2015 memoir, Displacement, will be out shortly (in which she accompanies her grandparents on a cruise).
Max Brooks is best known for World War Z, so The Harlem Hellfighters is quite a departure. The Harlem Hellfighters was the first African-American regiment in World War I; they never lost a man to capture or a foot of ground to the German forces. This is written for adults, so Brooks does not shy away from the violence of the war or the injustices that the men faced at home (I would definitely recommend it for teens interested in World War I history or African-American history). Movie rights have already been sold (to Will Smith), so we'll (hopefully) see this at movie theater in the near future.
Although Hidden: A Child's Story of the Holocaust is a graphic novel for children, it conveys the nightmare of the Nazi regime and Holocaust in a sorrowful yet age-appropriate manner. A grandmother tells her granddaughter about her childhood in Occupied France; after her parents are exiled to concentration camps, Dounia is hidden by a number of relatives and friends for the duration of the war. This is definitely a book to read together, as some aspects are deeply sad. It's one of the few Holocaust era books that are appropriate for young readers.
March: Book One was released in 2013, but I read it in early 2014. As Congressman John Lewis prepares for the first inauguration of Barack Obama, he reflects on his youth in segregated Alabama and the early days of the civil rights movement. This volume ends with the start of the student movement in Nashville. It's a fascinating read by one of the surviving leaders of the civil rights movement. Although this is written for an adult audience, teens interested in civil rights history should definitely read it. This is the first book in a trilogy.
My countdown to the ALA Youth Media Awards ends next Friday with a look at my 2014 favorite picture books and my picks for the Youth Media Awards. Keep in mind that I've been closely following the Newbery/Caldecott/etc awards for nine years, and only once has my pick won a Medal (The Only and Only Ivan in 2013). So don't be surprised if I'm wildly off (my favorites are occasionally Honor books, but only once has one won the big enchilada). The Youth Media Awards will be announced on February 2 at 9 AM ET/8 AM CT. . While the best place to watch the announcements is in person (I've had the chance to do that once, and it's super fun), you can watch the broadcast here. If you'd rather follow the Twitterati, look for #ALAyma. If you just want results (and not an avalanche of tweets), follow I Love Libraries on Facebook or @ILoveLibraries on Twitter.
Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library