I read Young Adult (YA) and J(uvenile)-Fiction novels for two reasons: (1) I want to know what kids are reading and which books to recommend at the library and (2) I like them. I also find that a lot of other adults read YA for enjoyment. There's lots of good stuff out there. Here are some of the best ones I read this year.
What I Saw and How I Lied (2008) - Judy Blundell (YA)
It's entirely possible that this novel could singlehandedly change teens' minds about reading historical fiction. Winner of the National Book Award, which I didn't discover until after I'd finished the book.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (2007) - Sherman Alexie (YA)
A great novel about friendship, being different, ethnic identity, and so much more. Also laugh-out-loud funny.
The Hunger Games (2008) - Suzanne Collins (YA)
The biggest danger in reading The Hunger Games is in finishing it: You're going to immediately want to read the next book, Catching Fire. Then you're going to want to read the third book. As soon as you find out it won't be published until August 24, 2010, you're going to want to hurt someone.
I absolutely could not put The Hunger Games down. In this futuristic setting, children from the 12 districts are chosen by lottery to participate in a fight to the death, a real "Survivor" scenario. Very compelling, although at times you must suspend disbelief. (If child-on-child violence bothers you, stay away.)
Bog Child (2008) - Siobhan Dowd (YA)
Eighteen-year-old Fergus McCann finds a dead body buried in the mountains of Ireland, a body that may be hundreds of years old. This novel did not go at all where I expected it to, but Dowd's story is hard to put down, touching on friendship, family, responsibility and love. Highly recommended.
Deadville (2008) - Ron Koertge (YA)
For some reason, this quiet little novel really connected with me. Ryan is a high school kid that's basically sleepwalking through life two years after his little sister died of cancer. When a senior girl named Charlotte (who doesn't even know Ryan's alive) has an accident and falls into a coma, Ryan is there by her side everyday. He spends less and less time around his slacker friend Andy (No comparisons, now....) and begins his own awakening. It's much better than I'm making it sound.
Unwind (2007) - Neal Shusterman (YA)
Perhaps my favorite YA read of the year. Previous thoughts on Unwind here.
Graceling (2008) - Kristin Cashore (YA)
Thoughts on Graceling here.
Stormbreaker (2001) - Anthony Horowitz (J-Fiction)
I must admit I wasn't expecting much from this, the first book in the Alex Rider series, but I was pleasantly surprised. Alex Rider is sort of a James Bond-in-training (only without the sex and martinis). Exciting with lots of gadgets and a few surprises. A good book for reluctant readers, especially boys.
The Giant-Slayer (2009) - Iain Lawrence (J-Fiction)
It's 1955 and Laurie Valentine goes to visit her friend Dickie, who is in an iron lung hospital ward suffering from polio. She meets other kids there, also in iron lungs. To take their minds off their awful situation, Laurie begins to make up a story, the story of Jimmy the Giant-Slayer. This book could easily have descended into sappiness, but Lawrence does an admirable job of pulling off the story-within-a-story.
Leviathan (2009) - Scott Westerfeld (YA)
Okay, so I'm not quite finished with this one, but I'm still including it! Leviathan is sort of an alternate history of World War I. In this war we have two factions: Clankers, who fight with (and in) machines, and the Darwinists, who have developed a hybrid of machines/living creatures. Prince Aleksandar (whose parents have been assassinated) flees those who would seek his life via a Cyklop Stormwalker, a two-legged fighting machine. The other half of the story involves Deryn Sharp, a girl trying to pass for a boy as an airman in the British Air Service. Deryn is assigned to the hulking flying/living battleship Leviathan, which is part whale and many other species. Of course, Aleksandar and Deryn will cross paths.
It's rare that books fill you with a jaw-dropping sense of wonder, but Leviathan is one of those books. It's also a very handsome-looking book, beautifully illustrated. (Two more books to follow in the series.)
There's still two categories to cover - Mystery and other Fiction. Both will probably have to wait until after the New Year. Merry Christmas, everyone, and Happy New Year!