You say, “I don’t think 2013 is really a particularly good year in YA,” and I have to say I’m inclined to agree with you. In fairness, I haven’t read anywhere near as much YA as I did last year, but there also haven’t been as many YA books that I’ve been excited to read.
The most obvious place to look for difference is in nonfiction. There are hardly any good contenders this year. Titles with three or more starred reviews (all starred stats from the wonderful Jen J’s spreadsheet) include:
- Emancipation Proclamation: Lincoln and the Dawn of Liberty by Tonya Bolden
- Courage Has No Color by Tanya Lee Stone
- Tapir Scientist by Sy Montgomery
- Becoming Ben Franklin by Russell Freedman
And, um . . . that’s it. I lost count but there were something close to 20 NF titles with three or more stars last year. Meanwhile of the four we have, I’ve read two–Emancipation Proclamation and Courage Has No Color–and was thoroughly unimpressed by both.
The fiction side doesn’t yield to statistics as easily as the nonfiction, but it certainly feels pretty weak in comparison to last year. Many of the bigger titles of the year–Midwinterblood, Maggot Moon, Eleanor & Park, Teeth, Black Helicopters–have left one or both of us feeling pretty underwhelmed. I mean, I spent an inordinate amount of time last year arguing against Code Name Verity, a novel which I actually thought was brilliant, simply because there were too many books that surpassed it. This year, I’m trying to convince myself that A Corner of White is better than it actually is to round up more Printz-worthy titles.
And doing my What Should’ve Won series (2003 coming soon!) has certainly shown me that certain chronological years yield a stronger crop of books than others. On the other hand, it is possible that we’re paying too much attention to the big buzzy titles and that there are great books beneath the surface. After all, my favorite books of the year have gotten 2 stars (Yellowcake and Pieces) or one star (17 & Gone!). And of course one of last year’s best books (Monstrous Beauty) didn’t garner a single star. So, maybe the key is to start looking at all those single- and non-starred books for wheat among the chaff. The trouble, of course, is that that’s a lot harder than just reading the 20 or so books with the biggest buzz.
So, what should you read? If you haven’t already, you should definitely look at Gene Luen Yang’s graphic dyptych Boxers and Saints–unfortunately, they work best as a paired piece, so I don’t know if they can get any awards love, but they are definitely worth the read. I also quite enjoyed a silly little book called Thrice Told Tales: Three Mice Full of Writing Advice by Catherine Lewis, which actually managed to get a couple of starred reviews. And I just turned in a 5Q review to VOYA for a very strange Scandinavian import called Samurai Summer by Ake Edwardson. Not to everyone’s tastes at all, but I found it quite rewarding.
Oh, and there’s a new Jonathan Stroud. Not Bartimaeus-level good, but very good nonetheless.
In any case, even if 2013 doesn’t live up to 2012, there’s still more than enough great stuff to read, and plenty we’ll both miss, so nothing to complain about.