Best YA Books of 2008

Okay, enough messing around. I’m glad to bring you my favorite Young Adult reads of the year! YA is my favorite genre, my genre of writing choice, my favorite section of my library, etc, etc. So here are my five favorite YA reads of 2008, in order:

# 5 Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson

The thing about Maureen Johnson’sĀ  books is that they tend to lack, in my completely meaningless opinion, that kind of HOOK that makes you jump up and down in anticipation of opening that first page. It’s not that her conflicts aren’t interesting… it’s just that they kind of seem limp in theory. However, after every book of hers (and I think I have read them all now), I keep drooling over the talent that MoJo just throws all over the page. The characters (oh, the characters), the settings, the effortless third-person narration that never feels too narrate-y… she’s got skillz.Ā  And I think this was my favorite of the whole Johnson bunch.

Scarlett is now 15, and in the Martin family, that means Happy Birthday! You now have some responsibility in the family business. In particular, Scarlett has a suite to take care of – to maintain, to clean, and maybe even a guest or two to keep happy. However, the Hopewell Hotel has certainly seen better days. And so has the Martin family. Struggling to keep their jewel-box of a hotel open, Scarlett’s parents are overdrawn. Lola Martin is working full time and dating the most perfect guy, who might not be perfect for her. Spencer Martin is skipping college for a year, trying to make it as a stage actor, but it looks like he might have to give up the dream and go to culinary school instead. And little Maureen? She’s busy being an obnoxious poster-child for juvenile cancer remission. In comparison, Scarlett’s problems – a somewhat deranged, and awfully demanding long-term guest lodging in her suite, and how to earn enough spending money for the next school year – are small. But like any family, the problems of her family members become problems of her own – specifically, Spencer’s. The story takes a dramatic turn (HAHA! oh my god I crack myself up) toward the theatrical. Spencer’s last chance at an acting career is an off-off Broadway production of Hamlet that is suddenly going under. And who better than Scarlett to pull it out of the muck?

Obviously, Suite Scarlett isn’t just about a girl and her parents’ falling-down hotel. It’s more about theater. Learning to handle responsibility. And family. Love it.

MJ online | MJ’s amazing blog

#4 Chasing Taillights by Patrick Jones

I know, I read this book forever ago, and I even posted about it then I liked it so much. However, I A) did enjoy it very much B) have spent much more time in the area of Flint, Michigan where this book takes place and therefore have a greater appreciation/understanding for it, and C) have yet to dismiss it from my memory. So here’s my pitch again:

After the death of her father and the imprisonment of her brother Robert, Christy’s world has become dangerously unbalanced. Robert left behind a young daughter, and Christy is the only one who takes the time to raise her, her brother Ryan is ruling the household with an iron fist, bringing in most of the money and demanding that Christy help support the “family business” by selling dime bags to her friends at school. School has always been an escape for Christy, and she sometimes thinks of college, but when trouble at home starts keeping her up nights, she can’t muster the energy or motivation to even try. Everywhere she goes, even to her best friend’s house, she’s seen as an undesirable, and for the first time in her life, she’s lost her desire to right herself and her reputation.

I’ll admit, this book is fourteen shades of grim. But after spending some time with people who grew up in similar circumstances, I’d be willing to bet that many, many children are growing up feeling like Christy, whether or not their utter hopelessness is cast in such a negative light as Christy’s. However, the ultimate message of this book is that anyone can change their situation, and that hope hides in unlikely places. I was rooting for Christy throughout this book, and was hoping she would take the steps necessary to get the hell out of the mess she was born into. It takes a lot of courage to turn your back on everything you’ve grown up with, and I hope that the right teenagers find this book and take it to heart.

Patrick Jones Online

#3 Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen

Oh, Sarah Dessen. You write books, I keep reading them, and I’m rarely left dissatisfied. I’ll admit, I didn’t quite think this one lived up to her most previous book, but I’m in the midst of a re-read, and I’m starting to appreciate it more. Ruby is a tough character to write, and I’ll give Sarah props for doing her justice.

Ruby’s mother has always raised her to be self-sufficient. And after her much older sister, Cora, leaves for college, Ruby’s on her own. Her mother starts skipping work, then goes missing for days at a time. Ruby handles the nosy landlord and the bills, but after a long disappearance, the jig is up – social services visits Ruby at school, and three days later she’s living with the sister she hasn’t spoken to in almost ten years and her new husband. Ruby goes from washing her clothes in the bathroom sink (since the washing machine long since busted) to living in a million dollar mansion, and goes from her public school to the ritzy private one where all the rich kids go. It’s obvious that she’s a fish out of water here, so Ruby starts plotting to leave – run away, maybe find her mom, or do anything to escape this situation until she turns 18, in three months. However, she slowly starts to accumulate a life for herself, even with other people taking care of her every step she takes, and even finds the strength to help a new friend find his way out of his own problems.

This book is full of truly loveable characters – Just like the reserved Cora, I wanted to run out and marry the next free-wheeling Jamie I could find. Ruby’s employer, Harriet, is a caffeine-addled bird brain and her carpool buddy is a twelve-year-old child prodigy who can’t decide if he hates Ruby or wants to marry her. And these characters, I think, are what truly bring Ruby into herself. This story is Ruby’s ascension, and it is the magic of her new found family that keeps her from running away from a good thing.

#2. You Know Where To Find Me by Rachel Cohn

This is one of those books that you pick up and read the back cover copy and open it with a certain set of expectations… and one page in you’re trying to figure out if you’re reading the right book. Rachel Cohn is known for her energetic, bouncy stories (see the Gingerbread series and her co-writes with David Levithan), and this book is, as the cover might imply, is a bit darker and slower paced. However, the prose is not, and her narrator, Miles, is one of the more entertaining and empathetic characters I have yet encountered in the genre.

Miles and Laura grew up inseperable cousins, brought together by a set of confusing circumstances, both for the reader and for Miles. But even though Laura is the bright, popular, successful to Miles’s underacheiving, overweight, and lazy, Miles is content with her role, even if Laura lives in her father’s Big House while Miles lives with her mother in the carriage house. But this arrangement is foiled when Laura commits suicide. Miles’s world is turned upside down, and every last one of her meager dreams starts to dissolve.

I’m not sure that any synopsis that I could give can really give justice to what’s going on in this book – there certainly is a lot going on! Depression is a big one, and drug use vs. drug abuse. Washington D.C. statehood is a hot-button issue (see, I told you I can’t do this book justice) as well as whether or not your family defines you or you define your family. And, as I mentioned, Miles is an affable narrator, despite all of her foibles, and you’ll be wondering how exactly she will come out of this tragedy ahead.

#1. Paper Towns by John Green

You win again, Mr. Green. Perhaps it was the intense anticipation after watching Brotherhood 2.0 for the year while you wrote/revised this book, but it was really everything I hoped for.

Quentin is an average high school senior – on the nerdy side of the social scale but not without a gaggle of amusing friends, and in awe of but not completely removed from his long-time crush, Margo Roth-Speigelman. They haven’t talked much since she became both beautiful and popular, but they share a strange bit of history – as children, they chanced upon a man in the park who had apparently committed suicide. This event, however, did not serve to scar either Q or Margot, but when Margo climbs into Q’s window on a random school night ten years later, that feeling of shared history returns. With Q’s help, Margo sets out to rectify a social wrong that has been perpetrated upon her by pranking nearly every person in town, leaving spray painted messages on walls, dead fish under car seats, and taking inappropriate Polaroids. Q goes to bed feeling exhausted and exhilarated, and certain that his relationship with Margo has reached a new level. But the next day, Margo is gone. And doesn’t seem to be returning. Q is left to either muddle over her disappearance, or try to find her. And what he does end up finding will change the way he looks at the world forever.

This book has the soul of Looking for Alaska but the breezy feel of An Abundance of Katherines, and, in my opinion, takes a step that neither of his previous books have to bring culture and thought into the text. Somehow this book is equal parts fun romp, complete with funny characters and charmingly unrealistic in that Juno kind of way, and thought provoking, allusion bearing, literary powerhouse. Kudos to Mr. Green for another hit. I’m curious to see if his name will appear on yet another one of those important award lists in the 09.

Tomorrow, my new favorite genre, Adult Nonfiction, and then my Top 10 Books of 2008. Just in time for some absolute last minute shopping, right? šŸ™‚

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4 Comments to “Best YA Books of 2008”

  1. Great suggestions! I may be in my 20s but I still find myself gravitating toward the YA section of bookstores. I’ll have to pick up a couple of these next time I’m there… and let’s be honest, that will probably be this afternoon šŸ™‚

    Happy Holidays!

    • i hit the YA section when i was about 12 or 13 and forgot to grow up and move on, for the most part šŸ™‚ this has actually been a slow year in terms of YA reading, for me. maybe i finally read EVERY good YA book that there is? oh, probably not. i’ll keep trying for next year!

  2. Well, now that you’ve read them all, I suppose it’s time for you to write them. šŸ˜‰

    Thanks for all the gift ideas.

  3. oh gosh, I know. 2009 will be the year of my excellent writing career, mark my words!!

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