It’s that time of year again, when we look back on the last year’s YA releases and shine the spotlight on which books we thought were the best of the best. By no means did I read every new YA release this year … but of the ones I did read, I felt like these fourteen were the best. In no particular order (well, roughly in chronological order of release date), here are my picks for the best YA books of 2013:
The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth LaBan
A beautiful portrait of first love and tragic loss comes to life in Elizabeth Laban’s stunning debut novel The Tragedy Paper.
Laban brilliantly explores the definition of a tragedy — both in the context of the story itself, and through her characters … The Tragedy Paper has the earmarks of what will one day be a true literary classic, something that would find itself at home both in personal reading lists and in the classroom.
Uses for Boys be Erica Lorraine Scheidt
A coming of age undone is the earmark of Erica Lorraine Scheidt’s stunning and explosive debut novel, Uses For Boys.
Scheidt has written a raw, emotionally-packed saga of one young woman’s journey from childhood to adulthood. She employs a beautifully stark writing style that oozes with raw emotion. Every word sucks you into Anna’s broken world and keep you reading well past your bedtime. I’ll confess, I powered through this book without even realizing it because it was so compelling and engaging.
The Hero’s Guide to Storming the Castle by Christopher Healy
Once again, the princes are back and their adventures are even more outrageous and hilarious than the first go around. Healy masterfully continues the saga of Duncan, Frederic, Liam, and Gustav as they once again band together to save their kingdom. Unlikely foes, unexpected twists, and plenty of laughs abound as the story unfolds.
The archetype of the fairy tale is once again lovingly paid tribute to and shattered all at once, in a manner only Healy can present. His series offers up an entirely new way of looking at fairy tales, princes, and princesses — a refreshing twist that satisfies modern readers and fairy tale traditionalists alike.
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
If John Hughes and John Green had a baby, it would be Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, a beautifully written story about two misfit teens finding love in the 1980s.
Rowell elegantly captures everything awkward and uncomfortable about being a teenager, especially a teenager in love. But she also captures all the magic and wonder of that love. Eleanor & Park will remind you about everything you loved (and loathed) about your own teen romance.
Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets by Evan Roskos
A heartbreaking coming of age story about one teen’s struggle with depression, anxiety, and the mysteries surrounding his sister’s expulsion. Balancing humor with angst, Roskos has crafted a truly brilliant novel about one teen’s extraordinary struggles.
Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets is the kind of novel that will change young lives. Readers will cling to this book, its characters, and the underlying message that you can be okay — if you’re strong enough to fight for it. (Even if fighting for it means asking for help.) Beautifully written, this aching and charming story will stick with you long after finishing the last page.
Far Far Away by Tom McNeal
As timeless as the fairy tales that inspired it, Far Far Away will worm its way into the hearts of readers young and old. Far Far Away captures the wit of Doctor Who, the magical appeal of Narnia and Hogwarts, the no-nonsense approach to writing about nonsensical things previously mastered by Jasper Fforde, the enchantment of timeless fairy tales, and the harsh realities of the real world … all in one pretty, delightful, 384-page package.
Far Far Away captures everything that a fairy tale is meant to be, and wraps it all up in a contemporary package filled with a whimsical yet practical setting, with beautiful, flawed, charming characters, and a narrator who … well, you’ll just love him to bits.
The Program by Suzanne Young
Offering a frightening look at our possible future, The Program by Suzanne Young is as thrilling as it is emotionally poignant.
Young’s writing is, as usual, breezy and natural. The teen voice shines through, while engaging readers in the raw emotion behind each choice the narrator makes. The Program would not be nearly so compelling, I think, without Sloane’s narrative as written by Young. She draws you in and refuses to let loose.
The Program is a gripping tale that will have readers hanging onto every word, and eagerly anticipating the sequel.
Clockwork Princess by Cassandra Clare
Cassandra Clare’s readers know to brace themselves for the worst when they open one of her books, especially the last book in a series. They know anything can happen; any character could be killed off — or worse. (It is fiction, after all. There are fates worse than death.) And while Clockwork Princess, the final book in Clare’s Infernal Devices trilogy, bears plenty of heartbreak, it is also one of the most glorious and satisfying conclusions to a series the YA world has seen to date.
Clare masterfully navigates the murky world of love triangles in a completely new light, showing readers a very different approach to loving more than one person. But in the midst of the tangled romantic lives of her main characters, Clare deftly concludes the mythology of Tessa’s existence, and the ongoing battle that began in the first book, Clockwork Angel.
Brother Brother by Clay Carmichael
Brother, Brother is a lovely little quiet, slow-paced book that is just a treasure and a treat to read. This is a book that’s not so much about action and adventure as it is about the characters that inhabit its pages. Brother, his friends, and the strangers he encounters throughout his journey. Carmichael has put together a cast of characters that are unique and engaging — whether they’re the ones you love or hate.
Carmichael writes with an easy grace that entices the reader. Despite the story’s slow pace, this book sucks you in and refuses to let you go. Sure, it’s a quiet story — but it is gripping and engaging. Every little moment builds and builds until a truly incredible climax. And truly, by the end of this beautiful journey, I just wanted to linger in Brother’s world and see where he went next.
Wise Young Fool by Sean Beaudoin
Beaudoin writes with his usual signature style, putting his stamp on every page of this story. Through Ritchie’s narrative, and Beaudoin’s quick-wit writing, the reader experiences a teen who is big on dreams and even bigger on inner turmoil.
As the story of Ritchie’s tumultuous journey to juvie unfolds, Beaudoin shows us a teen in pain — struggling to overcome, move on, and have just a few things go his way. It’s a raw, honest journey — but mixed in with Beaudoin’s rock ‘n’ roll sensibility and sharp-tongued humor, Wise Young Fool is an utter delight to read. Every single page. Just delightful.
The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider
One of this year’s wittiest, most engaging coming-of-age stories is the newly-released The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider.
Schneider perfectly captures the angst and anxieties of high school, especially when faced with uncertainties about social status and figuring out where you fit in after you thought you’d already figured it out.
The Beginning of Everything captures all the beautiful moments of a perfectly tuned coming-of-age story in the same vein as John Green, J.D. Salinger, or Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower. It’s a new classic for today’s readers — one that teens will adore, and older readers will cherish.
The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black
Vampires may not be the “hot” thing in paranormal YA literature right now, but they sizzle within the pages of Holly Black’s The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, one of the most original, stunningly written vampire sagas of all time. And it’s only one book!
The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is gripping from page one, and continually keeps readers on their toes as Black steers the plot in surprising new directions. Throw in some steamy, toe-curling romance, a bit of familial sacrifice and love, and a centuries-long feud between vampires, and you’ll find that The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is near impossible to put down — and even harder to let go of once you’ve finished the last page.
It’s explosive, poetic, sexy, and simply brilliant from start to finish. It is, if I dare say, easily the best vampire book I have read in ages, and possibly ever.
Cherry Money Baby by John M. Cusick
Cultures clash and stereotypes are laid out and torn down in John M. Cusick’s Cherry Money Baby, a poignant study of life in middle America and what happens when it collides with Hollywood glitz.
On writing Cherry Money Baby, Cusick has said he wanted “to explore how our assumptions about money, sophistication, and self-worth can cloud our vision.” With this book, he accomplishes his goal with aplomb — and also delivers a charming and quirky coming-of-age story that is unlike any other I’ve encountered.
Cusick has crafted a believable, realistic setting — and populated it with characters that are engaging and vibrant, each in their own unique way. Don’t miss this contemporary YA charmer.
Conjured by Sarah Beth Durst
It is rare these days to find a book so utterly unique and different from everything else out there, that when one does come along, it is near impossible to describe. That’s the case with Conjured by Sarah Beth Durst — a YA novel that defies genre definitions while capturing the imagination with a brilliant blend of magic, mystery, and crime drama.
Durst is a master at creating some of the most unique novels to hit store shelves in recent years (not just in YA, either – I truly think her work stands out across the board) — and Conjured may be one of her most outstanding books yet. It is as original as fiction can get — all brilliantly and beautifully written.
For the comments: What are your picks for the best YA books of 2013?