New and Noteworthy YA Titles

I’ve been keeping track of the best of the best YA fiction of 2010 – noting stars, nominations from the BFYA and Quick Picks lists, and more.  The following books all garnered at least three stars and/or nominations. Herewith, some quick summaries of my favorites.

A Conspiracy of KingsMegan Whalen Turner

The world of  the thief, now the King of Attolia (from the books of the same names), is vaguely classical and very political.  If you like fantasy rich with intriguing young, intelligent characters who, sometimes blindly, sometimes slyly, try to manipulate the fate of their homelands, you’ll eat the fourth book in this series up.  Oh – and the action is nonstop as Sophos, a character from the first book,  is kidnapped, taken into slavery, makes his escape, and then journeys to confront his royal friend, Gen.  (Stars from Booklist, Hornbook, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and School Library Journal; nomination from BFYA)

As Easy As Falling Off the Face of the Earth – Lynne Rae Perkins

I’m a huge fan of Perkins’ Criss Cross. This novel is just as quirky and endearing. Ry, off to camp, leaves a stalled train to use his cell phone and gets left behind in the middle of the Great Plains.  The point of the book is the coincidences leaving him and his family unable to contact each other, even in our interconnected world.   Kind strangers operate to bring people back together.  How refreshing!  A truly nice book that pulls you into the adventure.  Will Ry reunite with his mom and dad, or will he end up stranded in the middle of the Caribbean? Yup, that’s right. He winds up overboard in the Caribbean. (Stars from Booklist, Hornbook, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly; nominations from BFYA and Children’s Notables)

The Last Summer of the Death Warriors – by Francisco X. Stork

Set in New Mexico, Stork’s latest book features his usual complex characters dealing with complex problems.  DQ, a relentlessly upbeat boy considering he has cancer, lives in an orphanage where he befriends new resident Pancho, and tries to recruit him to join a philosophy group who fight for life.  Pancho is reluctant to get involved.  He has his own agenda, which includes killing the man he believes is responsible for his mentally handicapped sister’s death. A trip to  Albuquerque for DQ’s cancer treatment doesn’t totally pan out as either boy plans.   Stork has a way of surprising his readers as he lets his characters mature.   If you like novels with stunning depth, this one’s for you. (Stars from Booklist, Hornbook, and Publishers Weekly; nomination from BFYA)

Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine

A book to appeal to the Middle School set.  This follows Caitlin, an autistic girl whose brother was killed in a school shooting incident.  I was skeptical of yet another book featuring an autistic protagonist, but Erskine pulls it off, and makes her heroine unique.  Caitlin (whom her brother called Scout, in reference to the character in To Kill a Mockingbird) is searching for “closure,” an idea she heard a TV news person mention.  Can completing her brother’s Eagle Scout project help her father, and perhaps her home town as well? Caitlin is endearing because of her earnest effort to get past the literalness that often makes her unendearing.  Her persistence truly makes her live up to her fictional namesake.  (Stars from Kirkus and Publishers Weekly; nominations from BFYA and Children’s Notables)

Nothing by Janne Teller

This won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but I was blown away.  It’s a book ripe for discussions, even arguments.  A class of Jr. High-age kids is disturbed when their classmate Pierre takes the position that nothing is worth anything  – therefore nothing is worth doing, believing, or taking part in.  The teens decide to prove Pierre wrong by gathering a pile of meaning.  But the pile will only be worthy if they put vital things on it – a favorite pair of shoes, a prayer rug, a pet, a flag…a dead baby brother.  The fall out isn’t pretty. You’ll be dying to talk about it with someone. (Stars from The Bulletin for the Center for Children’s Books, Booklist, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and Voya; nominations from BFYA and Quick Picks)

Revolver by Marcus Sedgwick

Longing for an icy mystery during the steamy dog days of summer?  This should cool you off.  As Sig sits alone with his father’s frozen corpse in a Swedish cabin, a menacing stranger shows up at his door demanding treasure. Seems he knew Sig’s family during the Nome, Alaska gold rush.  Trouble is, Sig has no idea what the man is talking about.  There’s a revolver in the pantry though.  One with a long, troubled history.  Can, and should, Sig use it? The back story reveals itself as the novel flips back and forth between Sweden and Nome.  The tension stretches further when Sig’s sister, back from town to report their father’s death, interrupts the stand-off, and causes disturbing memories to rise to the surface. (Stars from Hornbook, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and School Library Journal; nominations from BFYA and Quick Picks)

Ship Breaker – by Paolo Bacigalupi

The latest in a spurt of dystopian fiction.  This first novel, though, stands out because of its incredible atmospheric descriptions of a world where the leftovers of our current civilization are cannibalized by the working poor.  Nailer is a ship breaker on the Gulf Coast, pulling apart old tankers and ocean vessels for salvage.  When the latest hurricane deposits a sleek sailboat on an off-shore island, he feels he’s been handed a lucky break.  But there’s a girl – a rich girl – still alive on the boat, and he needs to decide if he should help her or not.  His decisions lead him on a long journey, chased by people good and bad, across the remains of bayous and submerged cityscapes. (Stars from Booklist, Hornbook, and Publishers Weekly; nomination from BFYA)

The Sky is Everywhere – by Jandy Nelson

Death and sex – it’s a classic pair. And I don’t believe I’ve ever read a better YA book about the way tragedy revs up hormones. Lennie’s sister dies unexpectedly, leaving the teen’s unconventional Northern California family devastated.  Lennie, once bookish and quiet, scatters poems about her loss around town, and finds herself overwhelmingly drawn to two boys – one, a new musician in her high school class; the other, her dead  sister’s boyfriend.  Her steamy confusion and passion are heartbreakingly portrayed.  Follow her as she slowly, painfully, figures out what she needs to do. I found this believable and tender – like a deep muscle bruise. (Stars from The Bulletin for the Center for Children’s Books and Publishers Weekly; nomination from BFYA)

Wicked Girls – by Stephanie Hemphill

Mean and manipulative girl cliques are nothing new.  At least according to Hemphill.   The clique she writes about here is the ultimate.  They’re the girls from Salem who started the witch scare of the 1690’s.  Hemphill gets into the dynamics of how some simple foolishness led to hangings.  She’s wickedly good at sifting through the multiple motives driving the girls and how they played each other.  While I enjoyed this book, written in blank verse, it raised questions for me.  I’m not sure Hemphill is handing her historicial characters sensibilities that are too modern. Let me know what you think.  (Stars from Booklist, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and School Library Journal)

Will Grayson, Will Grayson – by John Green and David Leviathan

Two boys, same name.  Both are ironic outsiders, yet different.  One’s a North Shore resident dreaming of a cool girl.  The other’s from the western burbs and is hiding that he’s gay.  They meet one night at a porn shop in Chicago… Um, yeah.  Suffice to say it’s a hilarious scene.  The other point of connection between the teens is the straight Will’s best friend, Tiny, a gay football player of enormous proportions and ego, who gay Will falls for.  But complications arise – most of them having to do with an outrageous musical Tiny’s writing and producing.  Give this one to Glee geeks – they’ll eat it up.  (Stars from Booklist, Kirkus, and School Library Journal; nomination from BFYA)