Best YA books of 2011: Steph’s picks

This year was truly a banner year for outstanding YA. And while some established authors delivered gems to their fans, the majority of books on my list come from debut authors (which means we can look forward to their sequels in 2012 and beyond!).

Below–in no particular order–are my picks for the best of 2011:

Divergent by Veronica Roth

In a genre overrun with dystopians, this one stands out. Bad-ass heroine? Check. Fight Club feel? Check. Unlikely and possibly dangerous romance? Oh, yeah.

It’s everything you could want to escape the ho-hum of real life. Roth plays on two universal concepts: fear and being different. Watching Tris’s transformation is satisfying, empowering, and escapism at its finest. Definitely looking forward to the sequel.

A Need So Beautiful by Suzanne Young

I can’t do enough to sing this book’s praises. If I told you it was deep, touching, heart-rending, gut-wrenching and required at least one box of tissues, you’d say, “Er, sounds like a downer.” No. No, it’s not. Like it’s title, it’s beautiful. Hopeful.  Soulful. Devastatingly so.

Please do yourself a favor and read this book, then spread the word because this story makes the world a better place, all without being preachy or favoring a certain religion. Hats off to Suzanne Young.

The Goddess Test by Aimee Carter

Henry. Oh, Henry. Is there anything more attractive than a character who wants to love and be loved, but just can’t? Carter does a bang-up job of tugging the old heart-strings, while updating the classic myth of Persephone and Hades.

It also has a darn good twist–a sure way to win my loyalty.

Now, if I could just get my hot little hands on the sequel …

Darkness Becomes Her by Kelly Keaton

When I found out this was set in a post-apocalyptic New Orleans, I was already sold. I was really done-in when Keaton captured NOLA so well, creating a dark gumbo of voodoo, Greek mythology and paranormal creatures and threw in a dash of toe-curling romance. Also, beignets.

I loved it so much I practically stalked (ok, not really) Kelly Keaton to get her to let us feature the sequel as our Book of the Month in February 2012, just in time for Mardi Gras. Get your beads ready, people.

Hourglass by Myra McEntire

Confession: My dad is a Trekkie. He had one of the series or movies on TV at all times while I was growing up. The result was that I hated sci-fi, so when I read the synopsis of Hourglass and it involved time travel? Cue the groans.

Imagine my surprise when I fell in love with Emerson and her seriously messed-up life, including hallucinations, school expulsions, therapy and Southern belles that turned into worm food a loooong time ago. Add an insanely hot male lead (his mouth disturbs me!) and oh, hey, another hottie and ka-pow! Tension you can cut with a letter opener.

Forever by Maggie Stiefvater

It’s always sad to see a favorite series come to and end, but Maggie Stiefvater nailed it with Forever. She took the literary YA world by storm with Shiver, then sunk her canines in deeper with Linger (did ya see what I did thar?) and the introduction of Cole St. Clair.

And then, then she grabs you by the shirt collar and shakes you like a ragdoll. She has you bouncing in your seat in public like an idiot as you read the final action sequence and you cryyyy because OMG-tell-me-she-didn’t-kill-that-character-off!!!

Suspenseful? “Da.”

Blood Magic by Tessa Gratton

Great YA horror stories are few and far between, which is what makes Blood Magic such a rare treat. Though not for the faint of heart, it combines magic, romance, necromancy and mystery to create a truly unique and dizzying page-turner. I loved Silla’s intensity and inexplicable attraction to darkness.

In many YA books, the author cuts away just before something really horrific happens. Not Gratton. True to the horror genre, she rubs the reader’s nose in blood and drama, never shying away from a difficult scene. To this I say, Bravo!

Clockwork Prince by Cassandra Clare

No joke, I shrieked and giggled when this arrived on my doorstep. I loved Clockwork Angel and had been counting the days until the saga continued. I was wary. I’d seen some storyline similarities with Clare’s Mortal Instruments series, but was prepared to overlook them. Didn’t have to. Clockwork Prince is easily Clare’s best book yet.

What I loved most was that Clare was able to completely change my mind about a character, which is no small feat for this stubborn reader. I’m also sure this was a strategic move on her part so she can SMASH my heart to pieces in the next book.

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin

This list is in no particular order, but I may have saved the best for last. I was hooked from page 1. The concept, the characters and supporting characters, the psychology, the humor and the chemistry–good grief, the chemistry! All these elements combined to create the perfect storm of literary nirvana.

Mara is wonderfully flawed and vulnerable, but her tough attitude makes her highly entertaining, especially after she meets Noah Shaw. The romance between them is hot, but the chemistry–the way they play off each other–positively boils, and that’s what really sets Mara Dyer apart from other YA.

Now that you’ve read both my list and Sara’s, what else would you add? What are  you most looking forward to in 2012?

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