I wasn’t a fan of the way I did the little summaries under each poll option in Round One, Part Two, so I’m changing my method here and just offering a sentence or two on why I chose each title. Have fun voting! Polls close Wednesday night, so get your votes in while you can and tell everyone you know!
If you missed Part One, find it here.
Round One, Part Two: Fantasy
Something Wicked This Way Comes is one of the best examples of horror fiction written for young people, and provides an intelligent discussion on the nature of good vs. evil without talking down to its audience. The carnival setting plays into stereotypical childhood fears, but uses that to tell a story of the destruction of innocence that doesn’t feel pessimistic or overly cynical. Read more about Something Wicked This Way Comes here.
The Hobbit shares the themes of good vs. evil, and while obviously it’s an iconic story it has never felt dated – it’s an example of the hero’s journey made fresh through Tolkein’s stellar world building. As a child it made me believe that I could kill dragons. Read more about The Hobbit here.
Abarat has the silliness of Alice and Wonderland and a similar dreamlike quality, but with more cohesion and a clearer end goal. Candy, our main character, is one of the few YA heroines without a romantic subplot to worry about – she has more than enough to focus on while adventuring in Abarat and helping the strange creatures she meets there. Read more about Abarat here.
Ella Enchanted features a kickass female character who figures out how to solve her own problems. From pretty much the moment she’s born until the end of the book, she has to outsmart and outmaneuver the many, many people who try and take advantage of her. Watching her break her own curse and take charge of her life is incredibly empowering. Read more about Ella Enchanted here.
Locke & Key is a fabulous graphic novel series written by Stephen King’s son, Joe Hill – it is one of those great examples of the graphic novel format, with creepy text and eerie illustrations that complement each other to perfection. The story, about three siblings who discover the weird things going on in their house and in their own heads, is spooky and fascinating. Read more about Locke & Key here.
The Book of Lost Things was doing twisted fairytales before it was cool. It’s heartbreaking, and exhilarating, and haunting and dark and the main character, David, grows so much through the course of the book. The Book of Lost Things addresses loss, family troubles, and identity issues with some of the most darkly beautiful prose. Read more about The Book of Lost Things here.
If I had to describe Weetzie Bat in one word, it would be transcendent – Francesca Lia Block spins magical descriptions , and lifts the ordinary into the wondrous. The themes about making your own family and learning to rely on others are beautiful and lasting. Read more about Weetzie Bat here.
I struggled over which of Holly Black’s many novels to include, since she has taken the urban fantasy genre to a whole new level with her gritty take on fairytale-type stories. Tithe introduces Black’s darker, stranger, more transformative fairytale world. Read more about Tithe here.
Round One, Part Two: Science Fiction
This steampunk retelling of World War I has everything – steam-powered robots, giant genetically engineered airships, runaway royals, snappy dialogue, and lovely illustrations. Scott Westerfeldt mixes fact and fiction liberally, and the end result is a thrilling adventure with a bit of romance mixed in. Read more about Leviathan here.
Shades of steampunk, dystopia, science fiction and urban fantasy mix in The City of Ember, a story so vivid it has been retold as both a film and a graphic novel. Jeanne DuPrau’s prose is claustrophobic, and reading about this underground city that starts to fail will make your heart race. Read more about The City of Ember here.
This is one of those sci-fi books that will make your skin crawl with how very, very accurate it feels. This is a future where everyone has a feed implanted in their brains, which provides them with a constant stream of information and communication…which has led to the complete consumerization of society. The most popular show on TV is a soap opera called “Oh? Wow! Thing!” Read more about Feed here.
All the romance of Twilight with the stakes of The Hunger Games, Matched owns its teen romance in a way that feels more weighty than other love triangles. The liberal dose of dystopia, so popular in YA lit these days, doesn’t feel derivative – instead, it makes Cassia’s struggles more urgent. Read more about Matched here.
Winner of the 2011 Printz Award (think the Newberry for young adult literature), Ship Breaker feels oily, gritty and dangerous. While the dysoptian setting feels familiar (a world destroyed by environmental issues and clogged with pollution), Bacigalupi’s characters are like firecrackers in the smog: colorful, energetic, and memorable. Read more about Ship Breaker here.
It’s not a secret that I love Eoin Colfer’s juvenile fantasy series, Artemis Fowl, very, very much – Airman is his prose taken up a level. It’s a bit historical fiction, a bit science fiction, all adventure. It’s even got a subplot about escaped convicts to add some spice. Read more about Airman here.
A Marvel book that takes a closer look at the villain side of things – the stars of Runaways are kids find out their parents are super villains, and decide to run away and do something about it. They take charge of their own destinies, and the writing is good enough to elevate the characters above the cut-out stereotypes they initially embody. Read more about Runaways here.
This smart, loopy take on a spirit quest won the Printz award in 2010 – probably because the awards committee found Cameron, the lead (who happens to be sick with mad cow disease) and Dulcie (the possibly hallucinated angel with a sugar addiction) as charming and compelling as I did. Read more about Going Bovine here.
Round One, Part Two: Realistic Fiction
Chris Crutcher is a superstar in the world of YA literature, and I think Whale Talk represents the best of what he does. His characters are multifaceted and go through real growth, and he deals with extremely rough issues (Whale Talk addresses broken homes, domestic abuse, bullying, and racism, among others) in a way that allows him to build to explosive climaxes that never feel gimmicky. Read more about Whale Talk here.
The pessimistic Junior is the point of view in this story that tackles Native American identity and community. This semi-autobiographical book handles utterly serious issues with a dose of self-deprecating humor, making Junior a relateable and real voice. Read more about The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian here.
“In that moment we were infinite.” This line is iconic and completely encapsulates The Perks of Being a Wallflower – Charlie spends the book searching for infinite moments, moments that will have meaning in his life beyond the instant they happen. While Charlie is an extreme, this book speaks to anyone that felt isolated and lost during high school – before finding where they belonged. Read more about The Perks of Being a Wallflower here.
Don’t read this on the train if you’re prone to crying over prose. I can’t really tell you how amazing it was to read about Hazel, the incredible protagonist here who struggles with young love and terminal cancer, after the problems I’ve had with John Green’s female characters in the past – unlike others, Hazel is no one’s plot device and her story is her own. Read more about The Fault in Our Stars here.
Darkly funny, awkwardly depressing and ultimately uplifting, Holes tells the story of a character who literally pulls himself out of the ground to overcome a family curse and escape the juvenile delinquent center he finds himself in after an unfortunate series of accidents. A book about crime, punishment, and redemption through hard effort. Read more about Holes here.
Even small moments can end up changing your life completely. That’s what Troy learns when he’s pulled back from the brink of almost-suicide by homeless, drug addict Curt MacCrae – who turns Troy’s world upside down with the power of punk rock and learning how to drum. Read more about Fat Kid Rules the World here.
I read Speak in one sitting over the course of two hours. It is a harrowing, captivating novel. Laurie Halse Anderson shoves the truth of victim blaming, clique culture, and the consequences of not speaking up in your face, and it’s not comfortable, but it is one of the most necessary novels I have ever read. Read more about Speak here.
As a librarian, this book (and the undercurrent theme of book banning) speaks to me on a fundamental level – but Harper’s fight for her individuality and personal freedom should speak to everyone. Read more about Memoirs of a Bookbat here.
Round One, Part Two: Historical/Non Fiction
A mainstay for many girls growing up, Little Women has a lot to say to everyone about gender roles and adolescence while the story follows four sisters growing up. If you tell me you didn’t cry when you read about Jo, you’re lying and I don’t believe you. Read more about Little Women here.
It is appropriate that Marjane Satrapi’s illustrations are all stark black and white – they ensure that there’s nothing to distract you from the growing dread of her Iranian surroundings. One reviews states that Satrapi never lapses into “sensationalism or sentimentalism” – the short answer is, she doesn’t have to. Her story speaks for itself. Read more about Persepolis here.
The first time I read this book, the twist blew me away – suddenly, I was reading a very, very different novel than I expected to be, and Haddix handles the genre shift in a way that isn’t clunky or heavy handed. The culture shock Jessie experiences when she suddenly finds herself in a different time is almost as fascinating as the medical experimentation going on in the background. Read more about Running Out of Time here.
I’m putting this in historical fiction rather than sci-fi (even though it relies on a time travel element) because the horrors Hannah is forced to suffer when she is transported back in time to Nazi-occupied Poland. A story about remembering, courage, and preservation. Read more about The Devil’s Arithmetic here.
A fish out of water story where the stakes are life and death – this fictional account set during the witch trials (not in Salem, but adjacent to) was the first historical fiction novel to convince me that wasn’t synonymous with “boring.” It helps that Kit Tyler is such a colorful, interesting character to read about. Read more about The Witch of Blackbird Pond here.
This collection of poetry tells the story of a girl growing up in the dustbowl of Oklahoma during the 1930’s, when nothing would grow and the rains never came. The poems are alternately emotional, dry like the dust of the title, plainly stated and violent – the things Billie lives through would devastate others. Read more about Out of the Dust here.
I’m cheating slightly by including this here – It’s Kind of a Funny Story was inspired by author Ned Vizzini’s stay in a mental institution, and thus doesn’t quite count as non-fiction. But my realistic fiction bracket was full, and Craig’s story is full of so many people whose wounds feel real. It is a book that teaches the reader that it’s ok to ask for help and that mental illness isn’t something to be ashamed of. Read more about It’s Kind of a Funny Story here.
Dodger was a finalist this year for the Printz award (the young adult equivalent of the Newberry), and for good reason – loosely based off the Dodger character from Dickens (or rather, this book provides a character that could have been that Dodger’s inspiration), Pratchett’s account of the underbelly of post-Victorian London is horrifying, disgusting, and exhilarating. It is also fearless in how is portrays human nature and resilience. Read more about Dodger here.
Round Two of voting will match the winners of Part One with the winners of Part Two – and will go up Friday after Thanksgiving. I hope everyone has a happy holiday, and remember to pass this on to all your literary friends!