Archive for December 19th, 2009

December 19, 2009

Best Books of 2009 – Young Adult Fiction

(These are my favorites,

and I really wish I had time

this year

to read more!

I’m trying to catch up…)

1. Keesha’s House by Helen Frost

This was the first Required Reading book of the semester that made me want to curl up inside the book and live there forever.

Keesha’s House is a novel in verse… a novel in sonnets and sestinas to be specific. Novels written in strict verse of turn me on a little, in that English major kind of way. And the form had a lot to do with why I liked the book so much. The form is comforting, even though the characters are struggling with some heavy stuff. The ensemble class of high school students are dealing with teen pregnancy, being kicked out of their homes, substance problems, getting locked up in juvenile detention, etc but they all come together to find common ground in Keesha’s house. Not that Keesha’s House is even a legitimate place for Keesha to live – she rents a room, having left her own home for her own reasons, but she kind of stands as a symbol for all the other kids, a sign that even though their lives might suck right now, there are ways to come out ahead, like Keesha. And when Keesha has problems of her own, they will be there to support her, too.

Oh gosh, I liked this book a lot.

2. Liar by Justine Larbalestier

I don’t want to say too much about this book, because I don’t want to accidentally ruin it. So instead, a list.

1. This book falls under the category of a genre I don’t typically enjoy, BUT THIS BOOK WAS AWESOME, so that’s saying something.

2. This book falls under the category of a genre everyone else on the planet seems to love, so don’t let that scare you away.

3. Twists. Turns. What the heck is going on? GAH! Can I read one more chapter?

4. First person narrator is a compulsive liar.

5. Urban setting was so seamless and real, I kept forgetting it wasn’t written by Jacqueline Woodson. More than once, I got them confused. Probably in class.

6. Fast paced, action-filled with a female protagonist who DOES things and is COMPLEX.

I think most readers will find something to like in this book. Even readers who, like myself, are biased against certain genres.

3. Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen

There are very few authors as consistent as Sarah Dessen. Yes, consistent can mean plots that feel familiar, characters that seem like they’ve met in other books. But when those plots are so engaging and characters so real on the page, then its hard to think of the word “consistent” as a bad thing. Actually, it’s impossible.  I mark the release dates for the new Dessen book on my calendar, and go out that day to buy it. The hardback.

Along for the Ride has Auden, an intellectual high school grad who lives with her mother, the dramatic English professor. But when her mom gets a little too much to handle, Auden takes her father up on his offer – a summer at his house, on the beach, catching up and getting to know his new wife and their baby, Auden’s new half-sister, Thisbe. But her dad is busy, trying to write a novel, and doesn’t even notice that his wife is melting down under the pressure of a newborn. Auden steps in as babysitter, and working at her stepmom’s clothing store. Through this job, she meets a gaggle of friends and Eli, the only person around who, like Auden, can’t sleep. They forge an after-midnight friendship, and Auden realizes that growing up surrounded by academia, she missed out on some things. Like that gaggle of friends, those crazy midnight adventures, and learning how to ride a bike.

For those of you have read Dessen, you know where this is going. For those of you who can’t, you can expect what Dessen is so known for – a tasty summer romance with characters you will root for.

4. Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

Like Sarah Dessen, Laurie Halse Anderson can really only hit it out of the park. One mode: excellence.

However, I didn’t really want to read this book. I put it off. I finally did, and I didn’t want to talk about it, much less recommend it.

I am including it on this list because the writing is gorgeous, the story legitimately haunting. Lia is a character caught in the crux of things she can’t control, and things she can.

But this is an eating disorder story. And since Laurie Halse Anderson can’t do anything but write so painfully close to her characters, this is a hard book to read, especially if you are a person who has ever shared her life with an eating disorder, even for the slightest span of time, or have ever watched a loved one suffer. Lia’s story is not one you would want to read, want to acknowledge exists, for so many people.

So LHA has again, elevated the “problem novel” to an artform. Lia’s voice is so well done, so provocative, the way a broken, starved mind might see the world.

Just read at your own risk.

5. Jumping Off Swings by Jo Knowles

Speaking of somewhat transcendent “problem novels”…

I bumped this book up to the top of the queue because even though I just turned in my final paper at 3:30, yesterday afternoon, I whipped through this book from start to finish before I went to bed.

That’s a fairly high compliment. I think Ms. Knowles would take it that way, since she is a graduate from my program, and probably can recall what a life-draining experience CHL 401 was.

So there are four characters, who all get their say in this book. Ellie is misguided, looking for love but finding sex. One night, that sex is with Josh, who was a virgin and was expecting fireworks and manliness and validation but finds he can’t get rid his mind of Ellie’s face when he left her in the back of his dad’s van, alone. But he brags to his friends anyway, including Caleb, who finds his friend’s masculine posturing appalling, especially since he’s had a crush on Ellie since grade school. But Ellie is in no state to deserve Caleb, really – she’s wounded, she’s stuck in this pattern that’s killing her spirit, and then she’s pregnant. Her best friend, Corinne, is her only confidante.

And I give this book high marks primarily because it is a book about Teen Pregnancy that is more about HOW teen girls get pregnant than “What Happens Next?” The choice Ellie makes isn’t the focus of the book, nor are the after effects of that choice. Knowles is writing about the community of friends, their perspectives, how they handle the news, support or reject their friends, survive their parents, et cetera. Ellie’s pregnancy is simply the story element that ties these four characters together. And double props for Josh – I haven’t read a book that gave a teen father such delicate treatment.

Runners Up


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