As part of our continued efforts to turn book recommendations into an alternate energy source that could power a small city, the B&N Teen Blog presents our blogger picks for best of 2016. Sorry and you’re welcome for exploding your to-be-read lists.
I’ve already talked at length about some of my favorite books of the year, but here are five more you can’t miss: Lena Coakley’s Worlds of Ink and Shadow is a weird, dark, passionate portal fantasy that’s a love letter to both the Brontës and the authorial act of creation. Erin Bow’s The Swan Riders is a worthy follow-up to last year’s magnificent The Scorpion Rules, and an eerie and fascinating exploration of what it is to be human. Brittany Cavallaro’s A Study in Charlotte is a clever Sherlock retelling that asks the immortal question, “What if Sherlock and Watson’s descendants went to modern-day boarding school together, and paired up to solve crimes?” and is a total blast to read. Sarah Porter’s Vassa in the Night is glitteringly original Russian-inspired fantasy set in a magical alt Brooklyn of long nights and dark mysteries. Caleb Roehrig’s Last Seen Leaving is a page-turning thriller that features deeply nuanced characters; real, actually funny dialogue; and a wonderful coming-out story.
Man, this was such a good year for YA. Our Best of 2016 post had so many of my top top faves, so I’m just gonna give love to the rest that didn’t make it there: This Adventure Ends, by Emma Mills, which had fantastic friendships and one of my favorite main characters ever; Last Seen Leaving, by Caleb Roehrig, which was a well-paced thriller twined around a great coming-out story; A Darkly Beating Heart, by Lindsay Smith, which captured so much visceral anger and was absolutely transportive; The Abyss Surrounds Us, by Emily Skrutskie, with its killer plot, cast, and slow-burn romance; On the Edge of Gone, by Corinne Duyvis, which brilliantly took a good, hard look at how we force marginalized people to prove their worth in society; Iron Cast, by Destiny Soria, a cool and unusual historical revolving around a great teen-girl friendship; Thicker Than Water, by Kelly Fiore, which is so unique in the way it explores prescription drug addiction and sibling relationships; Up to this Pointe, by Jennifer Longo, about a girl who escapes to Antarctica to reexamine her future; and, of course, When the Moon Was Ours, by Anna-Marie McLemore, which is one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read, with some of the most beautiful representation in YA to go along with it.
Two of my favorite YA reads this year are unabashedly romantic: Walk the Edge (Thunder Road #2), by Katie McGarry, and The Geek’s Guide to Unrequited Love, by Sarvenaz Tash. Edge depicts the steamy relationship between good-girl Breanna and passionate, loyal Razor, who runs with the local motorcycle gang. I fully bought their attraction and rooted for them from page one. Unrequited, as its title suggests, may not have a fairy tale ending, but gives its readers (and lovable protagonist, Graham) something every pop culture fan dreams of–an unforgettable adventure at New York City Comic-Con. I also adored Meg Medina’s Burn, Baby, Burn, set in 1977 New York City, and Alison Umminger’s American Girls, set in modern-day L.A. on the outskirts of the entertainment industry.
Cat Winters’ The Steep and Thorny Way is a Shakespeare retelling that’s not in your face about its source material, nor is it a hackneyed high school setting. The V-Word is sex positive, progressive, feminist, and informative. I love school stories, and Stacey Lee’s Outrun the Moon had all the familiar bits—cliques, hazing, and feeling out of place—while feeling entirely fresh, diverse, and authentic. Lindsay Ribar’s Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies was a compelling kind of magic I hadn’t seen before, in a truly believable voice and setting.
This task never gets any easier. YA was a bright spot in an otherwise chaotic year, which is maybe why I gravitated toward characters and stories that made me feel lighter inside, like the quippy, zany antics of the second book in Stephanie Tromly’s Trouble series, Trouble Makes a Comeback. That series’ star, the erratic and plucky Digby, is one of the genre’s freshest, most exciting characters. Similarly, the “bossy” and whip-smart Mercy Wong in Stacey Lee’s Outrun the Moon had a commanding presence and made an otherwise tragic story—the historic San Francisco earthquake—one full of joy and heart and smart mouths. And the thoroughly modern, too-mature-by-half Nix from Heidi Heilig’s The Girl From Everywhere stole what was left of my heart as she hop-scotched through time but couldn’t quite grasp her father’s full devotion. I should stop now before I mention the fantastic follow-ups to some of my favorite fantasies of last year, like The Rose & the Dagger, by Renée Ahdieh, and A Torch Against the Night, by Sabaa Tahir. Oops.
There were two Australian YA novels that really stood out this year. Justine Larbalestier’s just-published My Sister Rosa is the brilliant, tense, and chilling tale of teenage Che and his psychopathic younger sister, Rosa. Full of humanity in all its glory, it escalated from a slight sense of dread to full NOOOOO status, walking the tightrope between compassion and horror perfectly and unputdownably. (Shh. It’s a word.) But as great as that was, there was another epic experience that ruled the YA world this year, and its name was Gemina, Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff’s extraordinary, mind-altering, universe-shatteringly great follow up to last year’s Illuminae. Gemina takes place during and after the events of Illuminae, giving us the nail-bitingly, nay, finger-nibblingly tense story of what happened onboard Jump Station Heimdall. Not only does it have fascinating and entertaining characters, terrifying monsters, all kinds of feels, and a Beitech dreadnought’s worth of mind-bending geeky science stuff, it also has illustrations by Marie Lu. Gemina is YA sci-fi perfection in book form.
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A Study in Charlotte is the contemporary, genderbent take on Sherlock Holmes I never knew I needed. The Smaller Evil is a twisty and twisted thriller set in a (possible) cult compound. Ask Me How I Got Here is a novel-in-verse full of intense emotion written with utter delicacy. The Rose & the Dagger and The Star-Touched Queen are two of the most achingly romantic novels I’ve ever read. The Abyss Surrounds Us is equal parts swashbuckling, sea monsters, and swoons. This Song is (Not) for You is powerfully sparse with the most satisfying resolution to a love triangle I’ve seen yet. The Head of the Saint is a gorgeous Brazilian magical realism in translation. The New Guy (and Other Senior Year Distractions) had me literally laughing out loud, while When the Moon Was Ours had me gasping at its overwhelming beauty. On the Edge of Gone is a stunning, thematically complex look at humanity via the apocalypse. And The V-Word is a pitch-perfect collection of essays about first-time sex that needs to be in every single school library.
Narrowing down a list of 2016 YA favorites is practically impossible! From The Sun is Also a Star to The Odds of Lightning to Burning, it has been another amazing year for YA. (And don’t even get me started on all the books on my TBR list.) One book I was particularly excited to dig into this year was Kara Thomas’s thriller The Darkest Corners, and it did not disappoint! Tessa has lost just about everything—her mother and sister are long gone, and she’s living with her grandmother in Florida. But now her father is dying, so she heads back home to Fayette, PA. Well, it’s not home—not anymore. Years ago, Tessa and her best friend were key witnesses in a case against a local serial killer. But Tessa has never been quite certain about what really happened, any more than she’s certain why her big sister ran away or why her mother went missing. Now, Tessa is determined to put the pieces together—even if it uncovers secrets deeper and darker than she ever imagined.
The books that stuck out to me the most were American Girls, by Alison Umminger, and The Smell of Other People’s Houses, by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock. American Girls follows 15-year-old Anna as she heads off to LA to visit her sister, a D-list actress struggling to make it big. Anna gets roped into researching Charles Manson’s 1960s murder cult for a screenplay, and as she does so, she begins to draw uncomfortable parallels between the Manson girls and the dark underworld of rising Hollywood stardom. The Smell of Other People’s Houses features four narrators, each with their own distinct voice, in 1970s Alaska as they struggle to find their place in the world. I’m a sucker for alternating narrators with intersecting plot lines, especially when it’s done as well as this (and with gorgeous, lyrical writing to boot!).