Best YA Books of 2017

Another year is coming to a close, so it’s once again time to look back on the year’s best books. Now, full disclosure, this list is based on the best books I read – and undoubtedly, I missed a lot of amazing books. (For example, THUG is still on my TBR pile. I know, I know. But you don’t need ME to tell you how good it is. Everyone else already has.)

So from the many books I DID devour this year, here are my picks for the Best YA Books of 2017 (in no particular order, except roughly in the order I read them this year):

The Book of Dust by Philip Pullman

At the outset of 2017, I didn’t know The Book of Dust was a thing that was happening. But from the moment it was announced, it became my single most-anticipated book of the year. And it’s been the single most exciting read of the year for me, too.

It’s hard to put into words just how special Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series is to me, but it’s been an instrumental part of my life since I was 11 years old, and the first book was released. So to have a new book set in this world was unbelievably special. The Book of Dust did not disappoint. I was so delighted to revisit Lyra’s world, and beloved (and loathed) characters, and see new aspects of this incredible story. I can’t wait for the next volume, but knowing me, I’ll probably reread this one at least a few times before the next book comes out.

(My thoughts on His Dark Materials series.)

A List of Cages by Robin Roe

This book was an emotional doozy, and it was the first book I read in 2017 that I knew would be on this list come year’s end. Heartbreaking and hopeful all at once, A List of Cages explores the meaning of friendship and the power of kindness. Due to the subject matter, some parts of this book were extremely difficult to get through – but the ultimate reward made it a worthwhile effort. The ultimate message is how truly genuine friendship can save, and that kindness is the best contagion – and it’s power is extrordinary.

(Full review.)

Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller

Easily the most fun book I read this year, The Daughter of the Pirate King is the kick-ass lady pirate adventure you maybe didn’t know you needed – but you definitely, definitely do. Alosa is a fearsome and bold pirate heroine, and I loved seeing her match wits (and swords) with her arresting rival Riden. Levenseller captures all the fun of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies and mixes in a female lead worth rooting for.

I’m lucky enough to have already read an early copy of the sequel, Daugher of the Siren Queen, due out in February, and can safely say that fans will be delighted by the conclusion to this swashbuckling duology.

(Full review.)

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

This is perhaps my most-recommended book of the year. Strange the Dreamer captured my imagination back in February when I was lucky enough to read an advanced copy – and it has not let go all these months later. Luscious and seductive, Strange the Dreamer is a book about magic and love and betrayal and war; about gods and man; about science and magic. But more than anything, it’s an ode to the power of stories and the readers who love them.

I am still wrecked over the ending of this book, and I feel like I am constantly harassing Laini for any details about the much-anticipated sequel Muse of Nightmares (Hi, Laini.) — but I honestly can’t help myself. I haven’t been this in love with a book in a very long time, and I suspect this is the latest volume that I will treasure forever.

(Full review.)

Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer

This is the book I nearly read in a single sitting — and didn’t, only because I had started reading it so late at night and I absolutely had to get some sleep so I could function at work the following morning.

Letters to the Lost sucked me in — and though I wanted to slow down and savor it, the characters and the story wouldn’t let me go. I raced through it. This book completely sucked me in and refused to let go: the characters, the plot (and sub-plots), and all the different challenges facing them. Every element in this book comes together perfectly, and the result is an impossible-to-put-down saga about love, friendship, forgiveness, grief, and family.

(Full review.)

In a Perfect World by Trish Doller

My vote for the most underrated book of the year goes to In a Perfect World, which was an insanely satisfying read that also left me wanting more. Because it was just that good. I didn’t want to let this story go.

A sweeping coming of age romance set against the backdrop of Cairo, the book is also timely and pertinent to our world today. The setting and forbidden romance combine to create a seductive read. The romance is a slow burn, complete with heartbreak and longing – and I just wanted things to work out for these two beautiful characters. I won’t reveal the ending, but let’s just say that Doller knows how to twist up your insides but still leave you feeling gooey and happy by the book’s end.

(Full review.)

Wildman by J.C. Geiger

Exquisitely written and deeply thought-provoking, Wildman captures the essence of everything I love in a coming of age story. Geiger expertly crafts a story about a teen boy on the cusp of adulthood, detailing that tumultuous period between the end of high school and the beginning of everything else that comes after (ie, adulthood). It’s a big, scary, uncertain time – and it’s at the heart of what Wildman is all about. All the mixed emotions that come with that transition are wrapped up in Geiger’s gorgeous writing, making for a truly spectacular book about getting lost and finding yourself.

(Full review.)

What Girls Are Made Of by Elana K. Arnold

I must admit, this was a book I picked up somewhat reluctantly. I’d been asked to be in conversation with Elana and another author, so I felt a responsibility to read this in order to properly prepare. To be clear: my hesitation to read this book was how grounded in reality it was, and my strong desire (especially so at the time) to read for pleasure an escapism. But I’m so glad I took the plunge. What Girls Are Made Of is a book about girls and women, and women’s bodies and women’s sexuality, and the way women can sometimes tear down other women – and sometimes lift them up. And what it means to be lifted up by other women, and it take ownership of your own body and sex and self. It’s also about love: what it means to give love, and to be loved.

This is a book that I strongly encourage everyone to read; for girls and women to better understand themselves. And for boys and men to better understand the women in their lives.

The Dire King by William Ritter

I can’t say enough good things about the Jackaby series, so it should be no surprise that I adored the fourth and final installment so very much. (Full disclaimer: I’m still holding out hope for more Jackaby books someday, but for now, the author says it is complete.)

Reading The Dire King felt bittersweet, as I bid farewell to these beloved characters and this beloved world – but Ritter pulled everything together so elegantly, that I couldn’t help but be wholly satisfied by the book’s conclusion. He somehow managed to balance real consequences with a joyous outcome. There was heartache and hope and magic and mayhem and change, and really delicious turns in each characters’ narrative.

(Full review.)

Release by Patrick Ness

A surreal story about the small moments that can be life-changing, Release is filled with wisdom, whismy, and magic. A largely contemporary story, the book also juxtaposes one tumultuous day in a teen boy’s life with a little big of fantasy and mysticism. The two seem wholly unrelated for most of the book, until the very very end when — all of a sudden — there it is. The connection. And it’s so simple and beautiful and magnificent. It shows how little moments matter, and the power of letting go.

(Full review.)

Echo After Echo by Amy Rose Capetta

I expected a quiet book about young love set amidst a series of mysterious deaths at an NYC theater. And that love story is definitely there — but it’s also just a small part of a bigger book that dives deep into the topics of femininity and love and loss and power, and the deeply unsettling pattern of ignoring misogyny and abuse when it’s couched under “artistic genius.”

The topic of the book is eerily timed, given so many headlines that came out shortly after the book was published in early October.

The things that happen in Echo After Echo are both unsettling and unsettlingly familiar. There’s a pulse of unease that follows both the reader and the main character throughout the narrative, and it’s exhilarating to see what happens when the characters finally push back against all the things that make them uncomfortable. It makes me want to push back. The sweet, slow burn romance is just a bonus.

 

(Full review.)

The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed

I initially started to write that this is the book that made me so mad this year, but that’s not true. This is the book that helped me understand the anger that I constantly carry with me. Anger about how girls and women are treated in this world. Anger about the injustices we face on a daily basis. Anger at how we are so often doubted and not believed. Anger about every dude bro’s defensive reaction to the near constant stream lately of powerful men being taken down by accusations of sexual misconduct. Anger that it’s taken this long for those men to be held accountable for their heinous actions.

The Nowhere Girls made all that simpering anger rise to the surface; but it also gave me hope – that as women, we can band together and finally stand up for ourselves. Because it’s about goddamn time. (Full review.)

FOR THE COMMENTS: What were your favorite books of 2017?

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