Let’s talk about books!
I just looked back over my record of what I have read so far this year, so here are my thoughts about the best ones so far:
To start with YA books, here are my favorites of the year so far:
I read Chopsticks, by Jessica Anthony and Rodrigo Corral, back in February, and it still sticks with me as one of the most interesting and original books I’ve read in a long time. Like last year’s Alex winner The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt, by Caroline Preston, it’s a book presented not in traditional text format, but rather in scrapbook format. Chopsticks, though is part mystery, part love story, part psychological thriller. It wasn’t until my second time through it that I realized that the picture of Francisco’s school was the same as the picture of Glory’s hospital, and that the logos on the stationery were similar. That sent me back looking for more clues as to what was really going on. At one point, I was convinced that the words on the boxing robe (Sergio “the Marvel” Martinez) was an anagram that was going to tell me something about Glory’s mother in Argentina. (I couldn’t unscramble it to mean anything important, though!) The book left lots of questions–which isn’t a bad thing, necessarily–but still succeeds, I think as a thought-provoking and visually beautiful piece of literature.
Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein is another one that has stuck with me over several months. It is getting a lot of positive buzz, and rightly so, I think. I’m kind of a sucker for spy stories set in World War II, especially when they involve women, so this was pretty much aimed at me. I’m thinking I need to re-read it, for two reasons. One is that I read it as an ARC, and I’ve heard that there were changes in the final version. The other is that I think it would be interesting to read it from the beginning now that I know the ending. I figured out pretty early on that we were dealing with an unreliable narrator, but I would still be interested to see what I pick up the second time through.
Ask the Passengers, by A.S. King. We’ve discussed A.S. King many times, and I know you agree with me that she is one of the top YA writers working today. As much as I liked Vera Dietz and Everybody See the Ants, I think this one is better than either. King does a brilliant job of getting inside the head of Astrid, who is feeling out of place in her small-town world, and who is trying to figure out her sexuality. I loved the way Astrid resisted self-identifying as gay, not because she didn’t know that she was attracted to another girl, but because she wanted to be herself, not someone slotted into a role or category.
Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone, Kat Rosenfield, is another book that does a great job of dealing with the stultifying small-town theme. There were a lot of things I loved about this book. The way Becca longed to leave town at the same time she was clinging to James struck me as a dead-on accurate depiction of what happens to a lot of teenagers when they are about to leave for college–that painful desire to get as far away as possible combined with the fear of losing something important. The parallels between Becca and Amelia Anne were obvious, but not, I thought, didactic. I don’t have the book in front of me, so I don’t remember the names, but I also liked the way she dealt with the friend–the rich kid that Becca suspected of having something to do with Amelia Anne’s death. Sometimes we mean well, but we still do stuff that hurts other people. The writing in this one was great, too.
I just finished Monstrous Beauty, by Elizabeth Fama. I would never have read it if you hadn’t recommended it to me, because I didn’t think I wanted to read a “mermaid book.” (I know, I know, I’ve also got Margo Lanagan’s Brides of Rollrock Island on the TBR pile!) But, oh my gosh, I liked this book. I liked the paired stories, past and present and the unraveling of the mystery. I liked Hester (what a great New England name!) and her passion for history. I think this is a hard book to categorize, but I’m really glad I read it!
And, for the record, books that lots of people are talking about, but that don’t rise to the top, in my opinion (but please, offer your own comments on them, if you like):
The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green (an engaging story, as always, but . . . meh)
Wonder, by R.A. Palacio (on the young side, among other things)
Grave Mercy, by Robin La Fevers (I would booktalk this in a heartbeat–I mean, assassin nuns! how could you go wrong?–and I think it probably belongs on BFYA, but not Printz-worthy)
Book of Blood and Shadow, by Robin Wasserman (I thought it kind of fizzled toward the end)
I’m way behind on reading nonfiction, but I’m looking forward to reading Bomb, by Steve Sheinkin, Their Skeletons Speak, by Sally Walker, and The Giant, by Jim Murphy, in particular.
Okay, over to you–what are your top reads so far this year?