Tag Archives: YA books

YA Romance with all the feels

I just finished reading Sandhya Menon’s When Dimple Met Rishi, and I absolutely loved it. Rishi may be my new favorite book boyfriend. And Dimple is driven, fierce, unapologetic … in a word, fantastic. Seriously, if you’re looking for a great love story, read this book. For those who are curious, here’s the summary from Amazon:

When Dimple Met Rishi.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.

And if you’re looking for another book like When Dimple Met Rishi, I recommend the following:

The Sun is Also a Star.The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

This book takes a similar look at the role of fate and the universe in bringing people together. Like Dimple and Rishi, Natasha and Daniel both have complicated relationships with their family’s culture, and how it fits with their American identity. And this book also has a practical girl who’s interested in STEM and a romantic boy who’s artistic. Here’s the summary from Amazon:

Natasha: I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Falling in love with him won’t be my story.

Daniel: I’ve always been the good son, the good student, living up to my parents’ high expectations. Never the poet. Or the dreamer. But when I see her, I forget about all that. Something about Natasha makes me think that fate has something much more extraordinary in store — for both of us.

The Universe: Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true?

The Selection.The Selection by Kiera Cass

This series also features a kick-butt girl who wants to change the world and a boy who’s a hopeless romantic. Like When Dimple Met Rishi, the chemistry between America and her love interest (I’m being vague to avoid spoilers for those who haven’t read it yet) gave me all the feels. And that’s not a phrase I use often. Here’s the summary from Amazon:

For thirty-five girls, the Selection is the chance of a lifetime. The opportunity to escape a rigid caste system, live in a palace, and compete for the heart of gorgeous Prince Maxon. But for America Singer, being Selected is a nightmare. It means turning her back on her secret love with Aspen, who is a caste below her, and competing for a crown she doesn’t want.

Then America meets Prince Maxon — and realizes that the life she’s always dreamed of may not compare to a future she never imagined.

Anna and the French Kiss.Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

Like Dimple and Rishi, Anna and Etienne have complicated relationships with their families, and they’re navigating life without their parents (though in this case they’re at boarding school, not a summer convention). While this is more of a slow-burn romance, Etienne is just as sweet as Rishi, and the story will keep you turning pages. Here’s the summary from Amazon:

Anna is looking forward to her senior year in Atlanta, where she has a great job, a loyal best friend, and a crush on the verge of becoming more. Which is why she is less than thrilled about being shipped off to boarding school in Paris — until she meets Etienne St. Clair: perfect, Parisian (and English and American, which makes for a swoon-worthy accent), and utterly irresistible. The only problem is that he’s taken, and Anna might be, too, if anything comes of her almost-relationship back home.

As winter melts into spring, will a year of romantic near-misses end with the French kiss Anna — and readers — have long awaited?

Have you read any of these books? What would you add to this list? Please share in the comments!

Favorite relationships in YA

Book heart.

Image adapted from photo by Flickr user Jamoor

Whether it’s romance, friendships, or family ties, Valentine’s Day centers on relationships. In honor of the holiday, here are some of my favorite relationships in YA fiction.

  1. Natasha and Daniel (The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon) — I was swept away by these characters and their story. I rarely use the word swoon, but I have never shipped a couple as hard as I shipped these two, even though I knew going into it they were going to fall in love. But even if romance isn’t your thing (it’s not usually mine), I highly recommend this book. The omniscient viewpoint lets us see just how many ways people are connected to one another, and how our lives and our decisions affect each other. All of the characters in this book have complicated, well-developed relationships with their friends and family members, so you’re getting more than just a boy-meets-girl romance.
  2. Simon and Blue (Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli) — A sweet, hilarious online courtship. It was hard to choose just one relationship from this book to be my favorite, because I love them all. Simon’s parents and siblings are amazing. He has awesome friends in Nick, Leah, and Abby. If you want real, rich characters, read Becky Albertalli’s books.
  3. Tate, Webb, Narnie, Fitz, and Jude (On the Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta) — This group’s friendship is the kind everyone wants to have growing up. Their love for each other fills every page, even though much of the book is narrated by another character years after the group split up.
  4. Kaz Brekker’s gang (Six of Crows series by Leigh Bardugo) — I was going to pick one relationship from this series, but I could decide which was my favorite. Wylan and Jesper? Nina and Inej? Kaz and Inej? Nina and Matthias? The whole group has such a great dynamic, and I love them all.
  5. Mikey and Jared (The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness) — Two best friends who have each other’s backs. Even when weird things start happening with the indie kids (the town super heroes), immortal princes, and chosen ones around them.
  6. Lydia and her parents (The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner) — A lot of YA novels have either bad or absent parents. Lydia’s parents are awesome. They’re supportive and kind, and also willing to call her out when she’s being unfairly judgmental.
  7. Maura, Calla, and Persephone and Ronan, Gansey, Adam, Noah, and Blue (The Raven Cycle series by Maggie Stiefvater) — I’m cheating here, because I couldn’t decide which of these two friend groups I like better. They’re both amazing. These characters look out for each other, and are incredibly supportive while also standing up to each other and calling each other out when it’s warranted.
  8. June and Day (Legend series by Marie Lu) — These two complement each other so well. Their loyalty to friends and family and their conviction to do what they believe is right make their story even stronger — especially when their ideas of what’s right pit them against one another.
  9. Naomi, Beto, and Cari (Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez) — These siblings are there for each other through highs and lows, and their love for one another lends this dark book a glimmer of brightness.
  10. Kell and Rhy (Shades of Magic series by V.E. Schwab) — I know this series isn’t YA, but it has strong crossover appeal, and I couldn’t leave it out! This is another case where I had trouble choosing just one relationship to feature, because they’re all great. Kell and Rhy are brothers who care deeply for each other, even though they have little in common. Honorable mention relationships from this series are Kell and Lila, Alucard and Lila, and Alucard and Rhy.

What are your favorite relationships in YA fiction?

On promoting “mature” YA

T rating.As I prepare for my first round of book talks at local schools, I’m finding one of the hardest parts is choosing which books to promote. I want to choose diverse books, books where a character’s race/background isn’t central to the plot and books where it is, books from a variety of genres. I want to throw in a few graphic novels, both to highlight awesome stories and to affirm that, yes, reading comics counts as reading. I also, of course, want to choose age-appropriate titles.

But as I try to choose books that the conservative parents in my community will approve, I also want to pick books teens will want to read and think about and discuss. Because here’s the thing: parents may not want their kids to read about sex or drugs or abuse, but these things exists. For some teens, drugs and/or abuse are their reality — either they personally struggle with these issues, or they have a relative or friend who does. Some are having sex, others are wishing they were having sex, and still others are choosing not to have sex. But nearly every teen will come into contact with “mature” issues in some way. And they will have questions.

Books that tackle mature topics are a safe place for teens to find answers to their questions. Readers can vicariously explore what it’s like to take certain risks, to drink or do drugs or have sex. They can walk in the shoes of someone who’s being bullied or victimized, and learn how to make sure sex — when they decide to have it — is safe and consensual. They can develop empathy for the addict they’ve always looked down upon. They can experiment with characters on the page and learn from the characters’ mistakes, instead of making their own.

Teens will have questions. Books provide answers. I respect that some parents may not find “mature” books appropriate for their teens, but I want the teens who need these books to know about them. I want those teens to know that it’s okay to have questions, and that having those questions does not make them any lesser than their peers who aren’t asking the same questions. (I could dedicate several posts to why I find the label “clean” read problematic.)

I haven’t made any final decisions, but I’m leaning toward presenting a book with a short, positive sex scene in the high schools and another one that explores rape culture to juniors and seniors. Because these things exist, and teens are going to talk about them. I’d rather provide a safe space for them to do so than pretend these issues don’t exist, or don’t affect teens.

Have you book talked any “mature” books to older teens? What was the reaction?

Who are we writing YA for?

Last week, an article in The Guardian, “Most YA Fiction is Grown-Up Fiction in Disguise,” argued that YA writers are missing their target audience. Now, publishing in the UK looks very different from publishing in the US, but the article got me thinking. What makes a YA book YA, and are teens still connecting with new YA books? Who are we writing YA for?

First, what makes a book YA? The simplest answer is the age of the main characters — typically fourteen to eighteen is considered YA, though there’s some flexibility there. But making a character sixteen doesn’t automatically make a book YA. The characters have to sound like teens, and they have to be dealing with problems teens face. If a book is high fantasy, the characters’ struggles can still mirror those of contemporary teens — figuring out who they are, navigating changing friendships, assuming more responsibilities, dealing with parental/family/community expectations, first loves and first heartbreaks … I could keep going, but I think you get the idea. For a YA book to resonate with teen readers, the characters must be authentic teens — they must worry about things teens worry about, and they must talk and act like teens. Voice is huge in kid lit. Whether you’re writing a chapter book, middle grade, or YA, your characters have to sound like kids their age. (If you want an excellent example of this, check out All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. While I’m sure many adults will enjoy this book, it’s hard to argue, as the Guardian article suggests, that this is adult fiction in disguise.)

So, are teens still connecting with new YA books? The teens in my community are. And teens are lining up to meet YA authors at book festivals all across the country — at the Texas Teen Book Festival, at YALLFest, at Book Con, and at hundreds of other smaller gatherings at libraries and bookstores. I’ve heard teens in heated debates about their favorite characters and series. And if you look at all the fan art and fan fiction created by teens about teen books, I think you’ll find teen interest in YA is alive and well.

Still, the question remains, who are we writing YA for? Most YA writers I know say they write for teens. Diverse authors often say they write the books they wish they’d had as teens. And I’m thrilled to have those books now to share with the teens in my community.

As a YA writer, I’ll be thrilled if adults connect with my books. I hope some adults will. But I don’t write my books for those readers. I write them for the teens who may see themselves in my characters, who may be facing the same challenges as those characters, who may read my books and realize that they’re not alone. Because that’s what I wanted from YA books as a teen.

If you’re a writer, who do you write for? Do you feel YA has become more adult lately?

Guide to YA Horror

I belong to a librarian book club that reads a different genre every month to improve our reader’s advisory skills. For October, it seemed only fitting that we read horror. I don’t read a lot of horror, so I took the opportunity to read a lot of blurbs and reviews, and I’ve come up with a guide to YA horror to recommend books for readers who normally choose other genres. Some of these books I’ve read, others I’m reading right now, and still others are on my to-read list.

The Dead House. For fans of Psychological Thrillers:

The Dead House by Dawn Kurtagich

Welcome to the Dead House.

Three students: dead.

Carly Johnson: vanished without a trace.

Two decades have passed since an inferno swept through Elmbridge High, claiming the lives of three teenagers and causing one student, Carly Johnson, to disappear. The main suspect: Kaitlyn, “the girl of nowhere.”

Kaitlyn’s diary, discovered in the ruins of Elmbridge High, reveals the thoughts of a disturbed mind. Its charred pages tell a sinister version of events that took place that tragic night, and the girl of nowhere is caught in the center of it all. But many claim Kaitlyn doesn’t exist, and in a way, she doesn’t — because she is the alter ego of Carly Johnson.

Carly gets the day. Kaitlyn has the night. It’s during the night that a mystery surrounding the Dead House unravels and a dark, twisted magic ruins the lives of each student that dares touch it.

Debut author Dawn Kurtagich masterfully weaves together a thrilling and terrifying story using psychiatric reports, witness testimonials, video footage, and the discovered diary — and as the mystery grows, the horrifying truth about what happened that night unfolds.

If you like psychological stories, you may also like Lauren Oliver’s Vanishing Girls or Patrick Ness’s More Than This.

Far Far Away. For fans of Fantasy and Fairy Tales:

Far Far Away by Tom McNeal

Jeremy Johnson Johnson hears voices. Or, specifically, one voice: the ghost of Jacob Grimm, one half of The Brothers Grimm. Jacob watches over Jeremy, protecting him from an unknown dark evil whispered about in the space between this world and the next.

But Jacob can’t protect Jeremy from everything. When coltish, copper-haired Ginger Boultinghouse takes a bite of a cake so delicious it’s rumored to be bewitched, she falls in love with the first person she sees: Jeremy. In any other place, this would be a turn for the better for Jeremy, but not in Never Better, where the Finder of Occasions — whose identity and evil intentions nobody knows — is watching and waiting, waiting and watching … And as anyone familiar with the Brothers Grimm know, not all fairy tales have happy endings.

Veteran writer Tom McNeal has crafted a young adult novel at once grim(m) and hopeful, full of twists, and perfect for fans of contemporary fairy tales like Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book and Holly Black’s Doll Bones.

Anna Dressed in Blood. For fans of Historical Fiction:

Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

Cas Lowood has inherited an unusual vocation: He kills the dead.

So did his father before him, until he was gruesomely murdered by a ghost he sought to kill. Now, armed with his father’s mysterious and deadly athame, Cas travels the country with his kitchen-witch mother and their spirit-sniffing cat. Together they follow legends and local lore, trying to keep up with the murderous dead — keeping pesky things like the future and friends at bay.

When they arrive in a new town in search of a ghost the locals call Anna Dressed in Blood, Cas doesn’t expect anything outside of the ordinary: track, hunt, kill. What he finds instead is a girl entangled in curses and rage, a ghost like he’s never faced before. She still wears the dress she wore on the day of her brutal murder in 1958: once white, now stained red and dripping with blood. Since her death, Anna has killed any and every person who has dared to step into the deserted Victorian she used to call home.

But she, for whatever reason, spares Cas’s life.

If you like spooky historical fiction, you may also like Maureen Johnson’s The Name of the Star.

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown. For fans of Paranormal (and vampires that don’t sparkle):

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

Tana lives in a world where walled cities called Coldtowns exist. In them, quarantined monsters and humans mingle in a decadently bloody mix of predator and prey. The only problem is, once you pass through Coldtown’s gates, you can never leave.

One morning, after a perfectly ordinary party, Tana wakes up surrounded by corpses. The only other survivors of this massacre are her exasperatingly endearing ex-boyfriend, infected and on the edge, and a mysterious boy burdened with a terrible secret. Shaken and determined, Tana enters a race against the clock to save the three of them the only way she knows how: by going straight to the wicked, opulent heart of Coldtown itself.

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is a wholly original story of rage and revenge, of guilt and horror, and of love and loathing from bestselling and acclaimed author Holly Black.

If you like books with creepy creatures, you may also like Ilsa J. Bick’s Ashes or Max Brooks’s World War Z.

Through the Woods. For fans of Comics and Graphic Novels:

Through the Woods by Emily Carroll

Discover a terrifying world in the woods in this collection of five hauntingly beautiful graphic stories that includes the online webcomic sensation “His Face All Red,” in print for the first time.

Journey through the woods in this sinister, compellingly spooky collection that features four brand-new stories and one phenomenally popular tale in print for the first time. These are fairy tales gone seriously wrong, where you can travel to “Our Neighbor’s House” — though coming back might be a problem. Or find yourself a young bride in a house that holds a terrible secret in “A Lady’s Hands Are Cold.” You might try to figure out what is haunting “My Friend Janna,” or discover that your brother’s fiancée may not be what she seems in “The Nesting Place.” And of course you must revisit the horror of “His Face All Red,” the breakout webcomic hit that has been gorgeously translated to the printed page.

If you like creepy comics, you may also like Black Magick by Greg Rucka with art by Nicole Scott or Madame Frankenstein by Megan Levens and Jamie S. Rich.

Those are my recommendations. What would you add to this list? Are you reading a spine-tingling story right now?

Fall Releases

Fall is my favorite season for a number of reasons — football, fall colors, everything pumpkin, and that sense of new beginnings. (I know, that last one’s supposed to be spring, but even though I’m no longer a student the start of a school year always makes me feel like something new is coming.) But with the new colors and cooler weather comes another of my favorite things about fall — fall publishing season! Here are a few new and upcoming titles that I’m excited to dive into. All descriptions are from Amazon and Goodreads.

Violent Ends. Violent Ends, edited by Shaun David Hutchinson, out September 1, 2015

It took only twenty-two minutes for Kirby Matheson to exit his car, march onto school grounds, enter the gymnasium, and open fire, killing six and injuring five others.

But this isn’t a story about the shooting itself. This isn’t about recounting that one unforgettable day.

This is about Kirby and how one boy — who had friends, enjoyed reading, played saxophone in the band, and had never been in trouble before — became a monster capable of entering his school with a loaded gun and firing on his classmates.

Each chapter is told from a different victim’s viewpoint, giving insight into who Kirby was and who he’d become. Some are sweet, some are dark; some are seemingly unrelated, about fights or first kisses or late-night parties.

This is a book of perspectives — with one character and one event drawing them all together — from the minds of some of YA’s most recognizable names.

Orbiting Jupiter. Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt, out October 6, 2015

The two-time Newbery Honor winner Gary D. Schmidt delivers the shattering story of Joseph, a father at thirteen, who has never seen his daughter, Jupiter. After spending time in a juvenile facility, he’s placed with a foster family on a farm in rural Maine. Here Joseph, damaged and withdrawn, meets twelve-year-old Jack, who narrates the account of the troubled, passionate teen who wants to find his baby at any cost. In this riveting novel, two boys discover the true meaning of family and the sacrifices it requires.

Zeroes. Zeroes by Scott Westerfeld, out September 29, 2015

Ethan, aka “Scam,” has a way with words. When he opens his mouth, whatever he wants you to hear comes out. But Ethan isn’t just a smooth talker. He has a unique ability to say things he doesn’t consciously even know. Sometimes the voice helps, but sometimes it hurts – like now, when the voice has lied and has landed Ethan in a massive mess. So now Ethan needs help. And he needs to go to the last people who would ever want to help him – his former group of friends, the self-named “zeros” who also all possess similarly double-edged abilities, and who are all angry at Ethan for their own respective reasons. Brought back together by Scam’s latest mischief, they find themselves entangled in an epic, whirlwind adventure packed with as much interpersonal drama as mind-bending action.

What We Left Behind. What We Left Behind by Robin Talley, out October 27, 2015

From the critically acclaimed author of Lies We Tell Ourselves comes an emotional, empowering story of what happens when love isn’t enough to conquer all.

Toni and Gretchen are the couple everyone envied in high school. They’ve been together forever. They never fight. They’re deeply, hopelessly in love. When they separate for their first year at college — Toni to Harvard and Gretchen to NYU — they’re sure they’ll be fine. Where other long-distance relationships have fallen apart, their relationship will surely thrive.

The reality of being apart, however, is a lot different than they expected. As Toni, who identifies as genderqueer, falls in with a group of transgender upperclassmen and immediately finds a sense of belonging that has always been missing, Gretchen struggles to remember who she is outside their relationship.

While Toni worries that Gretchen, who is not trans, just won’t understand what is going on, Gretchen begins to wonder where she fits in Toni’s life. As distance and Toni’s shifting gender identity begins to wear on their relationship, the couple must decide — have they grown apart for good, or is love enough to keep them together?

George. George by Alex Gino, out August 25, 2015

BE WHO YOU ARE.

When people look at George, they think they see a boy. But she knows she’s not a boy. She knows she’s a girl.

George thinks she’ll have to keep this a secret forever. Then her teacher announces that their class play is going to be Charlotte’s Web. George really, really, REALLY wants to play Charlotte. But the teacher says she can’t even try out for the part … because she’s a boy.

With the help of her best friend, Kelly, George comes up with a plan. Not just so she can be Charlotte — but so everyone can know who she is, once and for all.

This just scratches the surface of my to-read list. What books are you looking forward to this season? Any new (or older) titles you’re excited about?

Youth Media Awards 2015

Some people get excited about the Oscars, or the Grammys, or the Tonys. Sports fans may look forward to the Super Bowl, the World Cup, or March Madness. For me, it’s all about the book awards, and my favorites are the YMAs.

For me, a few of the highlights from this year’s Youth Media Awards include: a graphic novel winning a Printz Honor, one of my favorite books winning the Printz Award, and a book on my to-read list that won both a Printz Honor and a Morris Honor. (Can you tell I’m a little obsessed with the Printz Award?) For those unfamiliar with these prizes, the Michael L. Printz Award “honors the best book written for teens, based entirely on its literary merit,” and the William C. Morris YA Debut Award “honors a debut book published by a first-time author writing for teens and celebrating impressive new voices in young adult literature.” As a YA reader and writer, I pay close attention to these winners for great prose and authors to look out for in the future. If I’m ever unsure what to read next (Ha!), I look to the YMA winners.

This One Summer. I’ll admit, I haven’t read Printz Honor winner This One Summer yet, but I’m thrilled that the honor went to a graphic novel. While I’m not a big reader of graphic novels, I think they too often get a bad rap as being considered “lesser” works. I find this incredibly frustrating, because there are so many stories that can be told so much better with pictures, and I’ve read graphic novels that I think have incredible literary and artistic merit. A recent (and admittedly not the best) example from my own reading is Shawn David Hutchinson’s The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley. Yes, this is a novel, but there are pages of the Patient F comic Andrew draws throughout the book, and those comics do a lot to enhance the story of both Patient F and Andrew Brawley. The images are powerful, and do so much more for the story than a prose description of them would. When people — especially parents of reluctant readers who enjoy graphic novels — look down on the format, they’re doing a disservice to the artists, authors, and readers of these works. So when a graphic novel wins a Printz Honor, even though it’s not my format of choice, I celebrate.

I'll Give You the Sun. The second happy moment for me was seeing Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You the Sun win the Printz Award. For me, this was one of those books that I picked up almost on a whim. I’d heard good things about it, but it wasn’t at the top of my to-read list. But the audiobook was checked in when I needed a new one, so I picked it up. And I was completely blown away. The prose is absolutely gorgeous, and the characters have some of the most authentic, well-developed voices I’ve ever read. And the plotting, wow. Seriously, I couldn’t wait to get in my car and listed to more of this book just to spend a few more minutes in Noah’s head. The way he views the world is fascinating. When one of my favorite books wins my favorite award, it makes my whole week.

The Carnival at Bray. Finally, the yesterday’s YMAs ensured that an author who was already on my radar jumped up my to-read list. I’ve been planning to read Jessie Ann Foley’s The Carnival at Bray because it was nominated for a Morris Award, and because our new teen librarian mentioned possibly inviting her to speak here next year. Now that The Carnival at Bray won a Printz Honor, this book is going from the “maybe I’ll read this someday” section of my to-read list to “definitely check this out.” Plus, it’s set in Ireland, and I don’t read nearly enough books set in Ireland.

So, those are my highlights from the YMAs. What are your thoughts on the winners? Any that surprised you? Any books you wish had won that didn’t? Please share in the comments!

For a full list of the Youth Media Award winners, check out YALSA’s book blog, The Hub.