Homeland - Cory Doctorow Rapture Practice - Aaron Hartzler Proxy - Alex London This Song Will Save Your Life - Leila Sales Eleanor & Park - Rainbow Rowell Darius & Twig - Walter Dean Myers More Than This - Patrick Ness Stealing Second: Sam's Story - Barbara L. Clanton Another 365 Days - K.E. Payne The Testing - Joelle Charbonneau

Best of 2013 and 1913, Part Two: 2013 YA

Have I mentioned how handsome my cat is?

Top Ten:


Homeland by Cory Doctorow

Sequel to Little Brother. Whistleblowing, kidnapping by government agents, peaceful protests aided by technology, nerdy activism, the “War on Terror,” and Burning Man. This book is perfect. Very brief review here.


Rapture Practice by Aaron Hartzler

You don’t see a lot of YA memoir. This one is really terrific. About a boy growing up in a strict fundamentalist Christian family. Turns out, he’s gay. That sounds a bit ho-hum, but Hartzler tells his story in a really nuanced, compassionate, and funny way.


Proxy by Alex London

In my review, I said, “Think M.T. Anderson's Feed meets Lloyd Alexander's The Black Cauldron, with some queer content thrown in.” In a world just like ours (only more so), a few are super-rich and everyone else is in debt they can never pay off. When the rich break the rules, their proxies are punished for them. What happens when a Patron and Proxy meet? I realize that this summary makes it seem kind of porn-y, but it’s not.


This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales (Author’s original title: “Last of the Famous International Party Girls,” then “My Suicide Playlist.”)

Elise has been bullied at school forever and is getting quietly desperate. Then she stumbles upon a secret nighttime warehouse dance party and meets dreamy Char (short for “DJ This Charming Man”), who teaches her to be a DJ. Elise’s life is completely transformed by music and meeting people who. . . it’s not that they don’t care about being cool, they just have a wildly different sense of what being cool means.   


Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

I kept reading reviews of this book, and the synopsis always made me say, “Feh.” But after encountering so many rave reviews, I decided to try it, and I loved it. Let’s see if this synopsis makes you say “Feh.”

It’s 1986, in Omaha, and the story is told in alternating viewpoints. Eleanor’s life is awful because her abusive stepfather won’t allow her to have things like toiletries and new clothes. Because of the above and the fact that she’s fat and has a kooky sense of style, everyone at school thinks she’s a freak. Park, who sits next to her on the bus, thinks so too, but over time he lets her read his comics over his shoulder. Then he notices she has Smiths song titles written on her notebook, but it turns out that she’s never actually heard the Smiths because of course she has no cassettes. This is the most depressing thing Park has ever heard, so he makes her a tape. True love blossoms.

This book kind of has everything because it’s nerdy, it’s sexy, it’s sad and it’s uplifting. Also mostly it seems like stark realism but there’s one pivotal thing that the abusive stepfather does that in the context of the novel is creepy, but when you compare it to real life, it’s like, wow, if only real abusive adults would leave it at that and not do the actual stuff they do. So it’s kind of a mix of realism and wish fulfillment. The writing is so strong that it actually made me question one of the core elements of my being: the fact that I hate the Joy Division song “Love Will Tear Us Apart.” Eleanor and Park describe this song so lovingly and make it sound so awesome that I thought, “Hmm, I must be wrong.” But no, I still don’t like it.

Also, there’s a the lack of diversity in YA and it’s very rare to have an Asian/biracial protagonist (Park is Korean and white) especially in a love story, so that was cool.


Darius & Twig by Walter Dean Myers

Two friends, a writer and a runner, have big ambitions, but it’s hard to get by in Harlem where they live. Walter Dean Myers is a national treasure—no, he’s a treasure for the whole planet.


More Than This by Patrick Ness

This is no ordinary book. The really cool cover that has a tiny door in it led me to hope that might be the case, and then my dreams came true. As the book opens, the main character Seth drowns. Then he wakes up, in what seems to be his childhood home in England, but the whole neighborhood is deserted. Or is it? You can’t take anything at face value in this book. If you look back at my review (in Best of 2013: Fiction) of The Arrivals by Melissa Marr that has a somewhat similar plot, you’ll see that I questioned whether whether true conceptual originality is even possible. Well, this novel shows that it is, perversely because it plays with the tropes that we’re all so accustomed to. Is any of the stuff that happens to Seth even really happening? If that sounds annoying, well, it is. When I finished the book, I felt frustrated, because even though the story was delivering the true nature of reality (as follows: you have no idea what’s real), I expect a book to have a certain novelistic sense of closure and explanation because it’s not real life, it’s a book. But then I kept on thinking about this book for a long time so I decided that it was a very profound reading experience where a little bit of frustration was okay. Similar to the experience I had with The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann except that this book is quick and fun and easy to read and has a lot of action and also queer content.


Stealing Second: Sam’s Story by Barbara Clanton

Full disclosure: Barbara Clanton is a writer friend. I have read almost all of her books and enjoyed them all. This book is in a series about lesbian high school baseball players, and this is my new favorite in the series. Each book in the series is told from a different POV. This one is about Sam, a poor little rich girl who doesn’t have much of a relationship with her parents, but luckily she has a close friendship with her childhood nanny, who has stayed on as a sort of family retainer. Sam has a girlfriend Lisa who she’s very happy with but Sam doesn’t feel ready to come out yet. There is a big plot twist that took me by surprise. Brief review here.


Another 365 Days by KE Payne

Sequel to 365 Days. Basically a lesbian Diary of Adrian Mole. Fluffy and fun. I love the main character Clemmie’s daft ways and the fun British slang like “fit as the butcher’s dog.”


The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau

It’s not the plot that makes this book great. This is standard dystopian fare—teens living under evil regime must compete in a contest where only some will come out alive, &c. It’s just really tight and well-written and fun. A total page turner.


What else?


Fan Girl by Rainbow Rowell

A girl’s first year in college seems doomed because all she wants to do is write slash fanfiction and her identical twin sister wants to individuate herself from her, but then there’s a dreamy boy.


Unthinkable by Nancy Werlin

Companion novel/sequel to Impossible. A girl who has been trapped in a fairy realm is told she can leave, if she destroys her family.


The Reluctant Assassin by Eoin Colfer

Victorian orphan and child FBI agent must foil evil time travel plot.


Thorn Abbey by Nancy Ohlin

A retelling of Daphne DuMaurier’s Rebecca, set in a boarding school (just like in New Girl, one of the 2012 retellings.) Has a cool supernatural element and twisty ending. 


The Culling by Steven Dos Santos

It’s that rarest of creatures, a gay dystopian YA novel! Teens living under evil regime must compete in a contest where only some will come out alive, plus queer content.


Shadows by Robin McKinley

Maggie lives in a world where magic is possible but forbidden. She doesn’t like her new stepfather because he has strange shadows that follow him around.


Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

I admire this book because it is the first YA novel that has two boys kissing on the cover. I think it was clever of Levithan to base the book on the true story of two guys breaking the world record for longest kiss. I esteem Levithan for promoting diversity in YA even further by having one of his seven gay male teen main characters in the book be Korean-American and another be transgender. And in theory I appreciate the idea of having the book narrated by a Greek chorus of gay men who have died of AIDS. Everything about this book gave me the warm fuzzies, except for the reading it part. To be completely candid, I was incredibly bored every single second I was reading this book and I couldn’t wait for it to be over. It’s fair to say that I encountered this book at the absolute lowest point in my life (so far), and that may have something to do with my inability to jump on the love train for Two Boys Kissing.


In The After by Demitria Lunetta

Zombielike creatures have taken over the world but Amy has managed to survive for several years with a toddler in her fortress-like apartment. A chain of events leads her to a compound that’s safe from the creatures, but will this protected colony turn out to be a dystopia?


The Loop by Shandy Lawson

Ben and Maggie are forced to repeat the same two days that end in their deaths, over and over.


Moxie and the Art of Rule-Breaking by Erin Dionne

A girl gets involved in an art heist and treasure hunt in Boston. This book is actually Middle Grade (for pre-adolescents), not YA.


You Look Different in Real Life by Jennifer Castle

Along with four other kids, Justine is the subject of a series of documentaries (like the 7 Up series.) That was all very well and good when she was little, but now it’s ruining her life.


All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill

A girl must travel back in time to kill someone. You won’t be surprised by anything that happens, but hey, time travel is always fun.


Tides by Betsy Cornwell

It’s about selkies! Also featuring eating disorders, transracial adoption, and queer content. Why do paranormal stories always involve a romance with a really creepy age gap?


The Shade of the Moon by Susan Beth Pfeffer

The final (?) book in this series about what happens when the moon is knocked out of orbit, unleashing cosmic destruction on the earth.


The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die by April Henry

Thriller about a girl who wakes up with amnesia and someone is trying to kill her.


Dance of Shadows by Yelena Black

Girl discovers sinister happenings at prestigious New York City ballet school. Full review here.


Next up: 2013 Non-fiction/Memoir

This is taking longer than I thought, so it might be a few days.