Earlier we brought you Sara’s list of the year’s best YA, and while we overlapped a bit, there are many books on her list that I haven’t even read, and vice versa. Therefore, here’s another perspective on 2010’s top reads!
Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
Really, does it get any better than this? When it comes down to sheer anticipation and excitement, no other book this year (in any genre) created as much buzz and frenzy than the final book in Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy. Whether you loved or hated the ending, the thrill of pawing through those pages into the wee hours of the night (or morning, in many cases!) is what reading and writing is all about. And I’ll be honest, only one or two books I’ve read since Mockingjay has even come close to replicating that emotional blender. At Novel Novice, we called it Post-Panem Depression, for fear that no other book will ever reproduce the high of reading Mockingjay.
Revolution may not have the **WOW** factor of Mockingjay, but it was neck-and-neck with it for my top pick of 2010. I’m partial to contemporary YA so this really spoke to me (near the end there’s a supernatural sequence). It has all the elements I love: history, realistic drama, music, a flawed but kick-ass female lead, a touch of romance, and a satisfying ending. Add to that the absolutely perfect writing and foreign setting, and you’ve got yourself a winner. Really, I can’t say enough about Revolution.
Actions have consequences. Looks can be deceiving. Carpe diem. These principles combine in Skinny Dipping to create a modern coming-of -age story that haunts, illuminates and inspires. Set in modern-day Southampton, The Summer of Skinny Dipping loosely follows the pattern of The Great Gatsby, but Howells makes it her own, exploring issues that affect everyone, regardless of social strata. The scenery is lush and ethereal, the characters vivid enough to evoke strong reactions from readers. To me, these strong reactions are the mark of great writing. I want to feel something, and Skinny Dipping does not disappoint.
Beautiful, from beginning to heartbreaking end, Sea is one of the unsung treasures of YA. Another piece of contemporary fiction, it incorporates the events surrounding the real-life massive tsunami that struck Indonesia in 2004, imagining the lives of the children orphaned by the tragedy. It’s a completely eye-opening and devastating read, but well worth the emotional investment because it teaches us about tough choices, the cruel reality of life, but also the redemption and healing that is always possible.
Nevermore by Kelly Creagh
I included this book for a very selfish, almost immature reason: I’m Team Varen. There’s just something about a hard-to-get, dark and mysterious loner who you just know has a sensitive side. Kelly Creagh manages to write some of the most crackling sensual, sexual tension I’ve read, but does so in an extremely subtle, deft manner. As if that wasn’t enough, she also makes Varen an expert on Edgar Allan Poe, whose gothic writing has become the go-to classic literature for angsty teens everywhere. The last third of the book gets a little sketchy, but I loved the characters enough to hang in there and I can’t wait for the next book in the series. Plus, Creagh’s website is just freaking fantastic. Check it out and be sure to take a listen to her deliciously dark playlist for Nevermore, located under “Extras.”
I loved Paranormalcy because it injected new life into paranormal romance, which it so ubiquitous in YA right now, it’s a bit overwhelming. The story is just what the title indicates: a normal girl wanting to lead a normal life. There just happen to be some paranormal elements, like a mermaid best friend, predatory vampires in need of ankle trackers, and an invisible water boy held captive in the basement. But Evie enjoys normal things: trendy clothes, cheezy teen TV dramas and acceptance by others. She’s just so normal, with no major hang-ups. No woe-is-me drama, just fun and flirtation. Even when things go down the crapper, Evie maintains her strong backbone and for that, I dearly love her. [Sidenote: The cover makes no sense to me. It does not reflect the tone of the book, so don't let it put you off.]
Ah, Clockwork Angel, how I love thee. I love your creepiness, your historical setting, your humorous repartee, and egad, how I love Will Herondale. I’ll never look at a glove the same. This was also my first foray into steampunk, or gaslight romance — historical mechanical elements combined with kick-ass Victorian sci-fi. The result is an unnerving psychological and physical thriller with a strong female lead, a cast of eccentric supporting characters and a pained, pain-in-the-ass hottie with a dark secret. “Whirr-click,” indeed.
Similar to Paranormalcy above, L.K. Madigan’s latest is contemporary YA fiction … with mermaids. A contradiction? Perhaps, but Madigan creates characters that are just like you and me and our friends and families. The situations are realistic, the dialogue is realistic, and in the end, the decisions the characters make are ones that you and I would make, too. Then add mermaids. I guess what I’m trying to say is that this isn’t some far-out, off-the-wall fantasy world — readers will be totally able to connect with Lena and her situation, despite its paranormal twist. I think this is why Madigan is such a stand-out author for me, and really, if her other book, Flash Burnout, had come out this year, it would totally be on this list, too.
Matched by Ally Condie
I’d like to thank the publishing industry for making my holiday season just a little brighter, but A LOT MORE HECTIC because they released a number of great end-of-the-year books. Makes for great reading if you can find the time (don’t they know we’re putting together these lists?!). ANYWAY, Matched is a late entrant and I’m glad I was able to fit it in under the deadline because it’s not to be missed. It’s a little bit 1984, and a little bit The Hunger Games, and a lot to love. Condie’s take on the dystopian novel follows the awakening of an average girl in an extremely controlled “Society,” and it isn’t until Cassia realizes that she’s tired of being told what’s best for her that the proverbial stuff hits the fan. You can’t create love in a test tube, nor can the human spirit be repressed forever. I very much enjoyed the characters in Matched and can’t wait to see what the next two books in the series bring. (Also, Team Ky! and poor, poor Xander.)
Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
But wait, there’s more! And I’ve quite possibly saved the best for last, and I could not live with myself if I didn’t add this at the last second. I can probably count on one hand the number of books I’ve read more than once: Pride and Prejudice, The Bell Jar, The Twilight Saga, Hamlet, (and, erm, select scenes from the Sookie Stackhouse novels *blush*) and Anna will soon be added to that list. Very rarely is there a book that is an absolute delight to read, from the very first word to the last. I giggled, I squealed, I snorted, I teared up, and I definitely smiled at the end. The chemistry between the two main characters is like nothing I’ve read before — I seriously don’t know how Perkins managed to capture sexual tension and chemistry so perfectly. It’s rare enough to find that relationship in real life, let alone recapture it on paper. It’s hard for me to believe that the characters don’t really exist! I just can’t gush about this enough. Anna and the French Kiss totally earns all the hype and good reviews you’re reading about it.
If my little blurb isn’t enough to convince you, consider this: Stephanie Perkins created what is quite possibly the most pee-your-pants-laughing-worthy curse I’ve ever heard. It goes like this: ” … Toph is an insensitive douchebag motherhumping assclown … “