This blog has a funny focus in a way since it's both for other writers of YA and also for all the folks I know who know little or nothing about it—i.e. my entire family and nearly all of my friends. Given this I try to make each post a little for each group. This post is no different. Following up on my Why YA? post, I thought I'd do a little thing on my favorite YA books. If you don't know YA, these should hopefully give you a good way in, whether for yourself or teens you know. Other writers, maybe you'll find something here you haven't read, maybe you can suggest something I haven't read. You know, in the comments!
Read on for literary awesomeness!
Hunger Games – I wanted to lead with this mainly because it's the book on the list that I can pretty much guarantee you will like, whoever you are. Young, old, avid reader, reluctant reader. Whatever. This book follows Katniss Everdeen and her experiences in The Hunger Games, an unbelievably brutal televised competition where a large group of teens and preteens are put in a stadium and forced to fight each other to the death. Think since it's a book for kids it shies away from that premise? Maybe it finds a way for the kids to not kill each other? Think again. This book is incredibly violent, but not in a exploitative way, there are no cheap thrills here. It's scary and ultimately heartbreaking. Amazing characters, a perfectly drawn future world, an unputdownable story, beautiful writing. Go. Get it now and read it. You won't be sorry.
The White Darkness – Held over the opening of an active volcano and forced to name my favorite YA book of all time to be rescued, I'd probably have to go with this one. Basically it's the story of a painfully shy and hearing impaired girl named Sym who goes off on a very ill-advised trip to the South Pole with her possibly insane "Uncle" Viktor who's searching for the mythical Symme's Hole, a portal to another world hidden in the hollow earth. The writing is extraordinary and Sym and Viktor are fascinating characters. The story itself is one of constantly escalating tension as Sym learns that she's completely on her own against what can be a cruel and uncaring world. It's thrilling to see her rise to the occasion.
How I Live Now – Aw man, remember when I was suspended over that volcano? Now that I think about it I'd probably be in a bit of trouble since I don't know if I could choose between this and The White Darkness. I read How I Live Now in one sitting. Laid down on the couch, opened the book and didn't move until I was done. It's really extraordinary. Beautifully written and incredibly tense throughout with a sort of magical realist flavor. Basically, 15-year-old Daisy leaves New York to go and visit relatives on a farm in rural England. Everything is quite idyllic until an unnamed force suddenly invades and occupies the country. Things get really bad really quick as Daisy is forced to do whatever it takes to keep herself and her youngest cousin alive. Really harrowing stuff.
Feed – This is the book that first made me see how good YA lit can be. Basically, MT Anderson can do no wrong. I would put the quality of his writing up against anyone writing today. Lyrically rich, funny, agile, wildly original. Read anything of his. This is maybe his most iconic, a story set in the near future where everyone has a high-speed internet connection wired directly into their brains from birth. What is this incredible powerful tool used for? More or less to sell people a whole bunch of crap they don't need. This is a savage and funny satire on teen and consumer culture.
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate – This one couldn't be more unlike the above. This is a slower paced and quiet book about a young frontier girl who discovers the joys of science under the tutelage of her grandfather. It's a sweet and touching and incredibly compelling story with a great feminist spine. I just loved all these characters and their world. Calpurnia is smart and determined and her struggle to be more than girls were supposed to be around the turn of the century is inspiring, frustrating, heartbreaking, all of those things. If you have a daughter, please make sure she reads this book!
Wow, as is often the case I went on and on. I could add so many more books—Repossessed, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, Clay, Girl, The Knife of Never Letting Go. St Iggy—but I'll control myself.
Hope you guys give some of these a try. I'd love to hear your thoughts and your ideas for things I've missed.