Exactly a year ago, on December 29, 2014, I wrote a blog about my favorite (and not so favorite) books of 2014. It seemed fitting that on my last working day of the year, I would plagiarize my own idea and write about 2015’s best (and not so great) Young Adult books.
YA Book I Fell in Love With from the First Page
Dumplin’ – Julie Murphy
I cannot begin to tell you how much I adore this book. Willowdean “Dumplin” Dickson is the smart, funny, empowered, literary role model I wish I’d had when I was a teen. She has healthy relationships with her friends, her crush, and, most importantly, herself. She knows that her body doesn’t conform to conventional standards of beauty, and she’s okay with that. It isn’t that she doesn’t care what other people think or that she confident all of the time, she’s just pragmatic enough to expending energy on negativity is a waste of her time and talents. Willowdean is the realist YA lit deserves. “There’s something about swimsuits that makes you think you’ve got to earn the right to wear them. And that’s wrong. Really, the criteria is simple. Do you have a body? Put a swimsuit on it.” The plot is sweet and predictable and the happy ending is satisfying, but really, this book shines because of its protagonist. I want to be just like Dumplin’ when I grow up.
YA Book Everyone Else Loved and I Did Too Until I Didn’t
All the Bright Places – Jennifer Niven
All the Bright Places was named GoodReads Best Young Adult Fiction novel 2015 with almost 32,000 people voting for it. GoodReads user Cait Grace’s review starts with the following: “I DON’T EVEN KNOW HOW TO FUNCTION RIGHT NOW. I HAVE JUST READ THE MOST BRILLIANT AND HEART-RIPPING STORY OF THE UNIVERSE.” (The caps and bolded font were from her original review and not added by me.) So I read it. And yes, it was fairly brilliant in the beginning. Niven plays with the trope of a wounded girl going on adventures with the damaged boy in such a way as to make the characters unique. I liked these kids. I appreciated that they had found and were helping each other. But the last third of the book made me angry. I won’t give the twist away, (although it’s obvious from the first chapter) but I will say that I really wish someone would write a YA love story that depicts a healthy romantic relationship. That’s not saying I think every book needs a happy ending, but rather it would be nice to see a more realistic teenage couple.
Highly Anticipated Middle Grade Book that Let Me Down
The Penderwicks in Spring – Jeanne Birdsall
Batty Penderwick is one of my most favorite literary characters. Her dog, Hound, IS my favorite literary dog. I waited anxiously for four years to get my hands on the fourth Penderwick book only to devour the entire thing in one sitting. And when I was finished, I wanted to throw the silly thing across the room. I will defend an author’s right to grow his or her characters into whatever s/he (or the characters themselves) decide to become in sequels. But the characters in this book only share a passing resemblance to the ones from the first three books. Part of the problem was that there was just too many characters – the book introduced so many new ones that no one got any decent development. (This book also suffers from a lack of healthy teen romances, but since it’s based on Little Women, I’m more willing to let that slide.) Will I still read the fifth and final book when it comes out two years from now? Of course. But I’ll be reading it with a critical eye rather than a nostalgic one.
I read more than just YA and Louise Trapeze is one of the most refreshing early chapters books I’ve read in a long time. The main character is a bit of Junie B. Jones (without the smart mouth), a touch of Amber Brown (but with sparkles!), and 100% delightful. I love the illustrations, I love the story pacing, and I love the relationship Louise has with her parents. They’re supportive and loving which can sometimes be difficult to find in a genre that’s rife with evil stepmothers and orphanage headmasters. Louise is a normal kid, with normal kid fears and normal kid solutions to slightly irregular problems. (Many seven year olds are afraid of heights, but very few have to overcome their fears in order the soar on the flying trapeze.) Most of all, I adore the setting. More books should be set in circuses!
Hands Down, the Single Best Last Line of Any Book I Read in 2015
Toys Meet Snow – Written by Emily Jenkins, Illustrations by Paul O. Zelinsky
I won’t spend too much time telling you how much I love Emily Jenkins’ Toys books since I dedicated an entire blog to them last month. But I would be remiss in excluding Toys Meet Snow from my best of list. Yes, it continues the story of Stingray, Lumphy, and Plastic in a very satisfying way. Yes, it is filled with gorgeous illustrations by the remarkable Paul O. Zelinsky. But honestly, I love this book for its final line – “And yes, the world is sweet.” It’s an excellent reminder to all of us that, generally speaking, good wins out over sad.
Favorite Adult Novel that All English Majors Should Read
Finders Keepers – Stephen King
In a former life, I was an English major and although I’ve mostly gotten that out of my system, I still adore books set in the world of literature. I like books about librarians, too, so maybe I just respond well to books where I can find characters with kindred quirks and interests. Finders Keepers is not typical Stephen King novel. There’s almost no supernatural elements and the violence is minimal (although still present). Instead, at it’s core, it’s a book about two characters who love the same author and his books in much different ways. It’s also about how the books we read in our youth influence the rest of our lives. Even though it’s a sequel, it can still function as a stand-alone book which I appreciate because it makes it easier to recommend to people who wouldn’t normally read Stephen King.
So those are my picks. I’ll see you back here in another 366 days (2016 is a Leap Year, after all!) to discuss 2016’s best books. Here’s hoping your New Year is filled with happiness, joy, and many, many wonderful books!