Author Archives: Liz Osisek

About Liz Osisek

I'm a teen librarian in central Indiana and a writer of young adult novels. I'll be blogging about librarianship, writing, and publishing, sharing my thoughts, tips, and opinions on the latest trends in these fields and how to keep up. Unless otherwise stated, all opinions are my own.

So you want to read a YA: Recommended reads for those new to the YA category

If you’re thinking about picking up a young adult novel, but aren’t sure where to start, here are some recommendations based on the genre you’d like to try. If you want more recommendations, or have a favorite book you’d like to add, please share in the comments!

Contemporary

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

On the Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

And so, so many more. “Contemporary” is such a broad label, I’ll have to do another one of these posts that breaks it down into different types of contemporary stories.

Fantasy

High Fantasy

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi

Caraval by Stephanie Garber

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao*

Urban/Suburban Fantasy

Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older

The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

The Epic Crush of Genie Lo by F.C. Yee

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

Paranormal

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

Historical Fiction

Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzie Lee

A Madness So Discreet by Mindy McGinnis*

Horror

The Savage Song by Victoria Schwab

The Girl from the Well by Rin Chupeco

The Dead House by Dawn Kurtagich

LGBTQIAP+

Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

Openly Straight by Bill Konigsburg

Without Annette by Jane B. Mason

If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera

Tash Hearts Tolstoy by Kathryn Ormsbee*

If You Could Be Mine by Sarah Farizan*

Magical Realism

The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma

Pointe, Claw by Amber J. Keyser

When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore*

Mystery

A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro

One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus*

Romance

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

The Selection by Keira Cass

Science Fiction

Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

Feed by M.T. Anderson

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

Thriller

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Last Seen Leaving by Caleb Roehrig

Vanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver

Western

Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee

Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman*

* = I haven’t read this yet, but have heard enough good things about it that I’m comfortable recommending it

I know I’m missing a lot, so please share in the comments!

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2018 Morris Picks

The Hate U Give.​As a teen librarian and YA lit fan, the Youth Media Awards (YMAs), announced in early January, are kind of like my Oscars/Emmy’s/Grammy’s/[insert fancy awards show here]. I’ve prided myself on picking the winner of the William C. Morris YA Debut Award the last two years (The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner in 2017, and Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli in 2016). I feel like the 2018 winner is a given — if Angie Thomas’s powerful novel The Hate U Give doesn’t win the Morris, I’ll be more shocked than the majority of liberal voters were last November 9. But I’d like to highlight some other 2017 debuts I think could be finalists for this award.

When Dimple Met Rishi.When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon. I’ve gushed about this book here and on Twitter before, but it really is everything I want in a romance. A driven female lead with an interest in STEM, believable characters and conflicts, and insights into a culture that isn’t my own. Here’s the summary from Amazon:

The rom-com that everyone’s talking about! Eleanor & Park meets Bollywood in this hilarious and heartfelt novel about two Indian-American teens whose parents conspire to arrange their marriage.

Dimple Shah has it all figured out. With graduation behind her, she’s more than ready for a break from her family, from Mamma’s inexplicable obsession with her finding the “Ideal Indian Husband.” Ugh. Dimple knows they must respect her principles on some level, though. If they truly believed she needed a husband right now, they wouldn’t have paid for her to attend a summer program for aspiring web developers … right?

Rishi Patel is a hopeless romantic. So when his parents tell him that his future wife will be attending the same summer program as him — wherein he’ll have to woo her — he’s totally on board. Because as silly as it sounds to most people in his life, Rishi wants to be arranged, believes in the power of tradition, stability, and being a part of something much bigger than himself.

The Shahs and Patels didn’t mean to start turning the wheels on this “suggested arrangement” so early in their children’s lives, but when they noticed them both gravitate toward the same summer program, they figured, Why not?

Dimple and Rishi may think they have each other figured out. But when opposites clash, love works hard to prove itself in the most unexpected ways.

Caraval.Caraval by Stephanie Garber. I love the way Garber immerses readers in her settings, and the plot of this one kept me turning pages long after I should have gone to bed. Here’s the summary from Amazon:

Scarlett has never left the tiny island where she and her beloved sister, Tella, live with their powerful, and cruel, father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval, the far-away, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show, are over.

But this year, Scarlett’s long-dreamt of invitation finally arrives. With the help of a mysterious sailor, Tella whisks Scarlett away to the show. Only, as soon as they arrive, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind organizer, Legend. It turns out that this season’s Caraval revolves around Tella, and whoever finds her first is the winner.

Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. But she nevertheless becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic with the other players in the game. And whether Caraval is real or not, she must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over, a dangerous domino effect of consequences is set off, and her sister disappears forever.

Welcome, welcome to Caraval … beware of getting swept too far away.

Allegedly.Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson. The voice is great, and this story blew my mind. Months later, I was still thinking about it and discussing the ending with colleagues. I’m less certain an official awards committee will pick it up, but I think it deserves recognition. Here’s the summary from Amazon:

Orange Is the New Black meets Walter Dean Myer’s Monster in this gritty, twisty, and haunting debut by Tiffany D. Jackson about a girl convicted of murder seeking the truth while surviving life in a group home.

Mary B. Addison killed a baby.

Allegedly. She didn’t say much in that first interview with detectives, and the media filled in the only blanks that mattered: a white baby had died while under the care of a churchgoing black woman and her nine-year-old daughter. The public convicted Mary and the jury made it official. But did she do it?

There wasn’t a point to setting the record straight before, but now she’s got Ted — and their unborn child — to think about. When the state threatens to take her baby, Mary’s fate now lies in the hands of the one person she distrusts the most: her Momma. No one knows the real Momma. But does anyone know the real Mary?

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican DaughterI Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez. Though I haven’t read this book yet (it doesn’t come out until October 17), it was long listed for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, and based on reviews and excerpts I’ve read, I have high hopes for it. Here’s the summary from Amazon:

Perfect Mexican daughters do not go away to college. And they do not move out of their parents’ house after high school graduation. Perfect Mexican daughters never abandon their family.

But Julia is not your perfect Mexican daughter. That was Olga’s role.

Then a tragic accident on the busiest street in Chicago leaves Olga dead and Julia left behind to reassemble the shattered pieces of her family. And no one seems to acknowledge that Julia is broken, too. Instead, her mother seems to channel her grief into pointing out every possible way Julia has failed.

But it’s not long before Julia discovers that Olga might not have been as perfect as everyone thought. With the help of her best friend Lorena, and her first kiss, first love, first everything boyfriend Connor, Julia is determined to find out. Was Olga really what she seemed? Or was there more to her sister’s story? And either way, how can Julia even attempt to live up to a seemingly impossible ideal?

There are many other excellent YA debuts from this year, but if I had to choose just five that I think would be Morris finalists, I’d go with these. Honorable mentions to Dear Martin by Nic Stone (I have high hopes for this book, but it doesn’t come out until October 17, and I’m not sure the committee will choose two books that come out that late in the year) and American Street by Ibi Zoboi.

What are some of your favorite debuts from this year?

Do you write to music?

Headphones.Some writers crave the soundtrack of a busy coffee shop while they write. Others make playlists for each project, or will listen to the same song on repeat while writing a specific scene.

Personally, I prefer silence when I write, though I’ve started making playlists for each project with songs that remind me of certain characters or scenes. But since I’ll be hosting write-ins at the library in November (which is by no means silent, though the room we’ll be using is pretty quiet), I thought it might be good to come up with some light background music to play. I’ll let attendees vote on whether they want the music or not, and of course they’re welcome to bring headphones if they have their own music they want to listen to, but I want to offer something beyond silence. Most public meet-up spaces have at least some background noise, and some people need that to settle into a rhythm.

Two of my favorite groups for instrumental music right now are 2Cellos and The Piano Guys. Both groups perform instrumental covers of popular songs. My favorites right now are 2Cellos’ cover of U2’s “With or Without You“, and The Piano Guys’  cover of Christina Perri’s “A Thousand Years“.

Do you listen to music while writing?

Celebrate the freedom to read

Banned Books Week 2017.Happy Banned Books Week, everyone! This time of year, I like to take a moment to reflect and celebrate the freedom to read. Throughout history, the first thing tyrants sought to control was information and literacy. In the 1800s, it was illegal for enslaved people to learn how to read. The Nazi party banned and burned books in Germany. And throughout the world, history books are edited to alter perceptions and erase events and practices that the government either is ashamed of or seeks to deny (books in Southern states asserting the Civil War was about “states’ rights” and economics; China re-writing history books to extend the Sino-Japanese War).

So this week, and every week, I encourage you to read widely. Read whatever you want. Read stories about people whose experiences are wildly different from yours, and about people whose experiences you’ve shared. Read about the parts of history we should be ashamed of. Listen to the voices of the formerly- and currently-oppressed. Read about the things that those who use fear to maintain power would have us deny or forget.

As the Doctor once said, books are “the best weapons in the world.” Arm yourselves.

If you want to learn more about Banned Books Week, check out the American Library Association’s list of the Top Ten Challenged Books of 2016. Have you read any of the books on the list?

Books I’m excited for this fall

My professional life is a blur of school visits and reading for critique partners right now, so I’m reading less published fiction (I only have one book going, instead of my usual three!). Still, I wanted to share some books I’m looking forward to in the coming months. All summaries are from Amazon.com.

Dear Martin. Dear Martin by Nic Stone

Justyce McAllister is top of his class and set for the Ivy League—but none of that matters to the police officer who just put him in handcuffs. And despite leaving his rough neighborhood behind, he can’t escape the scorn of his former peers or the ridicule of his new classmates.

Justyce looks to the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for answers. But do they hold up anymore? He starts a journal to Dr. King to find out.

Then comes the day Justyce goes driving with his best friend, Manny, windows rolled down, music turned up—way up, sparking the fury of a white off-duty cop beside them. Words fly. Shots are fired. Justyce and Manny are caught in the crosshairs. In the media fallout, it’s Justyce who is under attack.

Long Way Down.Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

An ode to Put the Damn Guns Down, this is National Book Award finalist and New York Times bestseller Jason Reynolds’s fiercely stunning novel that takes place in sixty potent seconds—the time it takes a kid to decide whether or not he’s going to murder the guy who killed his brother.

A cannon. A strap.
A piece. A biscuit.
A burner. A heater.
A chopper. A gat.
A hammer
A tool
for RULE

Or, you can call it a gun. That’s what fifteen-year-old Will has shoved in the back waistband of his jeans. See, his brother Shawn was just murdered. And Will knows the rules. No crying. No snitching. Revenge. That’s where Will’s now heading, with that gun shoved in the back waistband of his jeans, the gun that was his brother’s gun. He gets on the elevator, seventh floor, stoked. He knows who he’s after. Or does he? As the elevator stops on the sixth floor, on comes Buck. Buck, Will finds out, is who gave Shawn the gun before Will took the gun. Buck tells Will to check that the gun is even loaded. And that’s when Will sees that one bullet is missing. And the only one who could have fired Shawn’s gun was Shawn. Huh. Will didn’t know that Shawn had ever actually USED his gun. Bigger huh. BUCK IS DEAD. But Buck’s in the elevator? Just as Will’s trying to think this through, the door to the next floor opens. A teenage girl gets on, waves away the smoke from Dead Buck’s cigarette. Will doesn’t know her, but she knew him. Knew. When they were eight. And stray bullets had cut through the playground, and Will had tried to cover her, but she was hit anyway, and so what she wants to know, on that fifth floor elevator stop, is, what if Will, Will with the gun shoved in the back waistband of his jeans, MISSES.

And so it goes, the whole long way down, as the elevator stops on each floor, and at each stop someone connected to his brother gets on to give Will a piece to a bigger story than the one he thinks he knows. A story that might never know an END…if WILL gets off that elevator.

Moxie by Jennifer MathieuMoxie.

Vivian Carter is fed up. Fed up with an administration at her high school that thinks the football team can do no wrong. Fed up with sexist dress codes, hallway harassment, and gross comments from guys during class. But most of all, Viv Carter is fed up with always following the rules.

Viv’s mom was a tough-as-nails, punk rock Riot Grrrl in the ’90s, and now Viv takes a page from her mother’s past and creates a feminist zine that she distributes anonymously to her classmates. She’s just blowing off steam, but other girls respond. As Viv forges friendships with other young women across the divides of cliques and popularity rankings, she realizes that what she has started is nothing short of a girl revolution.

Moxie is a book about high school life that will make you wanna riot!

The First Rule of Punk.The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Pérez

There are no shortcuts to surviving your first day at a new school—you can’t fix it with duct tape like you would your Chuck Taylors. On Day One, twelve-year-old Malú (María Luisa, if you want to annoy her) inadvertently upsets Posada Middle School’s queen bee, violates the school’s dress code with her punk rock look, and disappoints her college-professor mom in the process. Her dad, who now lives a thousand miles away, says things will get better as long as she remembers the first rule of punk: be yourself.

The real Malú loves rock music, skateboarding, zines, and Soyrizo (hold the cilantro, please). And when she assembles a group of like-minded misfits at school and starts a band, Malú finally begins to feel at home. She’ll do anything to preserve this, which includes standing up to an anti-punk school administration to fight for her right to express herself!

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter. I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez

Perfect Mexican daughters do not go away to college. And they do not move out of their parents’ house after high school graduation. Perfect Mexican daughters never abandon their family.

But Julia is not your perfect Mexican daughter. That was Olga’s role.

Then a tragic accident on the busiest street in Chicago leaves Olga dead and Julia left behind to reassemble the shattered pieces of her family. And no one seems to acknowledge that Julia is broken, too. Instead, her mother seems to channel her grief into pointing out every possible way Julia has failed.

But it’s not long before Julia discovers that Olga might not have been as perfect as everyone thought. With the help of her best friend Lorena, and her first kiss, first love, first everything boyfriend Connor, Julia is determined to find out. Was Olga really what she seemed? Or was there more to her sister’s story? And either way, how can Julia even attempt to live up to a seemingly impossible ideal?

Oddity.Oddity by Sarah Cannon (Full disclosure: the author is a friend of mine)

Join a tough eleven-year-old as she faces down zombie rabbits, alien mobs, and Puppet Cartels while trying to find her missing twin in Sarah Cannon’s imaginative middle-grade debut, Oddity.

Welcome to Oddity, New Mexico, where normal is odd and odd is normal.

Ada Roundtree is no stranger to dodging carnivorous dumpsters, distracting zombie rabbits with marshmallows, and instigating games of alien punkball. But things haven’t been the same since her twin sister, Pearl, won the town’s yearly Sweepstakes and disappeared…

Along with her best friend, Raymond, and new-kid-from-Chicago Cayden (whose inability to accept being locked in the gym with live leopards is honestly quite laughable), Ada leads a self-given quest to discover Oddity’s secrets, even evading the invisible Blurmonster terrorizing the outskirts of town.

But one of their missions goes sideways, revealing something hinky with the Sweepstakes … and Ada can’t let it go. Because, if the Sweepstakes is bad, then what happened to Pearl?

And some bonus books that I won’t include full descriptions of:

I’m currently reading and loving an advanced copy of The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton. Waiting in my to-read pile are They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera, Girl Out of Water by Laura Silverman, and The Girl with the Red Balloon by Katherine Locke. So many books, so little time…

What books are you looking forward to reading?

Fun accounts to follow

Follow all the fun people!Sometimes the bombardment of bad/upsetting news stories can be overwhelming. When I need to step away, I have a few humorous Twitter accounts I like to turn to.

Brooding YA Hero (@broodingYAhero) — Created by the amazing Carrie Ann (@Writer_Carrie), Broody is both a stereotype and a challenge to overused stereotypes and problematic tropes. He’s hilarious. And has gemstone eyes/a ripped body/perfect hygiene even when he’s in a historical novel set in the seventeenth century. He (er, Carrie) also has a book coming out that is sure to be amazing, called Becoming a Main Character (Almost) as Awesome as Me. Broody is one of my go-to places for a good laugh.

Wholesome Memes (@WholesomeMeme) — This is exactly what it says it is. This account is full of wholesome, inspirational, and sometimes hilarious memes, pictures, quotes, and comics. When the news feels like too much, this account will restore your faith in humanity.

Librarian Problems — This one may only be funny for librarians, but if you work in a public library, you’ll get a good laugh out of this account.

What are some of your favorite places on the Internet when you need to step away from the news for a bit?

Outlining for pantsers

Writing. I’ve always considered myself a pantser, or a discovery writer, someone who doesn’t outline a book before she starts writing. That’s probably why my early drafts always have weak plotting, slow pacing, and endings that need to be re-written multiple times. With every book I’ve written in the last few years, I’ve crept closer to outlining, planning major plot points and character arcs in advance, but I will never fill out a beat sheet for one of my books.

But NaNoWriMo is coming, and I plan to fast-draft a YA mystery/thriller this November. Not only do I want to write alongside the teens I encourage to do the Young Writers Program at the library, I also volunteered to be a Municipal Liaison for my region (USA :: Indiana :: Elsewhere), so I’ll be organizing write-ins and other NaNo gatherings all month long. In an attempt to prepare for NaNoWriMo, I’m loosely brainstorming plot points, character arcs, and setting details. So, I thought I’d share some tips for pantsers looking to dip their toes into outlining. Remember, every writer is different, so do whatever works for you. These are some things that work for me.

  1. Do character sketches. If you write character-driven stories, getting to know your characters better before you start writing will make the process go a lot more smoothly. I’ll write interviews or journal entries where my main characters tell me about their lives and how they feel about other characters in the story. Sometimes those sketches will reveal a surprising trait that leads to a major development in the plot.
  2. Figure out the main plot points. You don’t need to fill out a beat sheet or have every scene planned out, but it helps to go into a story knowing a few basics. I like to have at least a vague idea of the following beats: how the story starts, the midpoint reversal, the climax/final confrontation, and how the story ends. These don’t have to be exact. Sometimes my notes on a climax are protagonist confronts antagonist and uses some skill they learned earlier in the book to emerge victorious where they would have failed in the beginning. (Very vague, I know. Have I mentioned I once wrote twelve endings for a book before I found one I like? Maybe this is why… However, I don’t think I could’ve come up with that right ending before trying out all the ones that didn’t work.)
  3. List the scenes you know you want to write. Again, this can be really vague — first clue found (for a mystery), Character A dies, Characters B and C finally admit their feelings for each other, etc. If you’re like me, some of the major scenes have already played out in your head. Jotting them down may help you figure out where those scenes should fit into the larger narrative.

Again, these are things that have worked for me, but they may not be right for every pantser. There’s no right or wrong way to write, so figure out what works for you.

Do you have tips you would add to this list? Please share in the comments! Also, if you want to do NaNoWriMo with me, you can add me as a writing buddy: lizthelibrarian.