As each year ends, every media publication puts out a list of what they consider to be the “Best Books” of the year. December means that my inboxes, print and digital, are filled with journalists and reviewers telling me what I should read and, more importantly, what books I should have purchased for our YA collection. This year, after reading close to two dozen of these, I thought I’d throw out my thoughts on a few of the titles that seem to be on everyone’s lists.
YA Book I Thought I’d Hate, But Actually Adored
Dorothy Must Die – Danielle Page
I’m not a huge fan of books (or movies, for that matter) that re-imagine classic stories, so I wasn’t expecting too much from Danielle Page’s Dorothy Must Die, but it completely surprised me. I loved this book because it reminded me of the original, but twisted all of the familiar characters into a story that was much more fun to read. This is definitely not your childhood’s Oz, what with Dorothy becoming a tyrannical dictator and the Scarecrow preforming medical experiments on munchkins. In this Oz, the characters we grew up thinking were the bad guys are all that’s standing between the Emerald City and unhappily ever after. The only way to destroy evil Dorothy is by recruiting another Earth girl from Kansas, but Amy’s not sure she’s up to the task. This is the first book in what I hope is a very long series and rumor is that a television show based on the book is in the works.
YA Book I Thought I’d Love, But Actually Couldn’t Stand
We Were Liars – E. Lockhart
John Green heaped praise on this book which meant that everyone else felt compelled to fall over themselves talking about how good it is. I waited patiently on the holds list for it and avoided all reviews that would have spoiled the much hyped twist ending. The first few chapters were well written and truly unique. Lockhart’s prose style is engaging and her characters are likable. As a former high school English teacher, I loved the the allusions to King Lear and how the novel felt like a contemporary version of The Catcher in the Rye or The Great Gatsby. But I figured out the surprise ending before getting to the third chapter and spent the rest of the book wondering why I should care. Amnesia is a classic literary cliche, but it only works really works when the reader is in the dark about the past too.
YA Book I Waited For All Year That Didn’t Disappoint
Blue Lily, Lily Blue – Maggie Stiefvater
The third book in Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Boys Cycle came out in October. I know this because I had the date in my agenda circled in red pen. UDHS principal, Bob Shultz, and I are both huge fans of Steivfater’s take on ancient Welsh myths, although we agree that the second book in the series wasn’t nearly as good as the first. I haven’t gotten a chance to talk to Bob about this one yet, but for my part, I definitely think that the third time was charming. It’s a great combination of magical realism, romance, and humor. It’s also a rare book in the middle of a series that stands on its own as a complete story and doesn’t completely feel like a stop on the way to the final ending. I highly recommend the audiobook version of Blue Lily, Lily Blue because the narrator has a stately Virginia drawl that enhances the mystery and intrigue of the story.
The Most Satisfying Ending To A YA Series
The Blood of Olympus – Rick Riordan
Rick Riordan published the first Percy Jackson book the summer before I started my first teaching job so by September, all of my 8th graders were enthralled with Percy and Greek mythology. As a new teacher, it was great to be able to bond with my students over a book. Those students are now college graduates so I’m not sure how many of them will have read the last installment in the series, but I like to think that at least a couple of them were as excited to read about Percy’s final battle as I was! This was the quintessential last book of a series – all of the loose ends were tied up and all enemies were vanquished. The battle scenes were exciting without being gory and the romance was sweet without being mushy. The end of any series causes a certain amount of letdown to any reader, but luckily Riordan has announced the beginning of a new series about Norse myths whose first book, The Sword of Summer will be published in October of 2015!