The B&N Teen bloggers weigh in on the YA books that knocked us flat in 2015.
Six of Crows is the most breathlessly plotted heist I’ve ever read. Carry On is a glorious mashup of brilliant fantasy, total word nerdery, and swoony romance. All-American Boys should be made required high school reading yesterday, The Accident Season is stuffed full of every magical thing I want in a book, More Happy Than Not made me gasp and weep, and Fans of the Impossible Life is so enchantingly written you’ll swear there’s something supernatural in there. And The Winner’s Crime made me ship so hard I actually turned into a FedEx location.
So many YAs this year completely killed it, it’s hard to condense to a few favorites. All the Rage by Courtney Summers is a no-brainer—fierce, raw, and necessary—as is The Winner’s Crime by Marie Rutkoski—an excellent argument against second-book syndrome. Making Pretty by Corey Haydu, with its multi-layered relationships; the voice-y bi pride in Hannah Moskowitz’s Not Otherwise Specified; the emotional mindscrew of Made You Up by Francesca Zappia; the moral complexity of Kelly Loy Gilbert’s Conviction; the thoughtful gut punch of More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera; the gorgeous, sexy illustration of toxic friendship in Underneath Everything by Marcy Beller Paul; the high-stakes tension of Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed; the mesmerizing, soul-deep romance of Renée Ahdieh’s The Wrath and the Dawn; the luminosity of The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore…all utterly amazing. Sooo, yeah. Good YA year!
The summer of 1969 and its musical backdrop come alive in vibrant, “feels like you lived it” detail in Three Day Summer, by Sarvenaz Tash, a fabulous coming-of-age romance set during Woodstock. Kissing Ted Callahan (and Other Guys), by Amy Spalding, is a hilarious, realistic story about two bandmates, Riley and Reid, who are determined to find romance. They record their painfully funny, awkward, and swoony experiences in a shared journal, while providing each other with somewhat dubious advice about the opposite sex. Bone Gap, by Laura Ruby, is a stunning literary achievement (and National Book Award finalist) that broke my heart with its beautifully rendered characters and insight, proving magical realism tells the truth about the world in ways straightforward fiction can’t.
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Pick a favorite book, they said. It’ll be easy, they said. They lied. The YA fantasy cup overflowed with winners in 2015, including Leigh Bardugo’s expanded return to her Grishaverse in Six of Crows, held together by one of the greatest schemers to ever be an antihero in Kaz; Carry On, in which Rainbow Rowell put us all out of the job of writing fanfic about Rainbow Rowell; and my favorite debut of the year, Sabaa Tahir’s smoldering, Roman-inspired An Ember in the Ashes. Throw in The Wrath and The Dawn, by Renee Ahdieh, with its willful and clever take on A Thousand and One Nights, and I might—might—be able to call it a day.
Picking a favorite read of the year is no easy task. I’ve got a lot of them. But one book I keep returning to again and again is Mosquitoland, by David Arnold. There’s so much to love in this beautifully written coming-of-age story, about a girl on a mission to travel across half the country to be with her sick mother. Along the way she meets an interesting cast of characters, but it’s about way more than seeing the world. It’s about being part of that world, and figuring out what your place is in it. Mim’s mission and how she gets there isn’t as important as how she grows along the way, learning about herself. It’s a book that discusses mental illness and troubled families, and is a story I’ll be talking about long after 2015.
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Ahdieh’s debut, The Wrath and the Dawn, is a lush, layered reimagining of A Thousand And One Nights that follows brave, determined and maybe foolish Shahrzad on what’s basically a suicide mission: she plans vengeance on powerful Khalid, the Caliph of Khorasan, who takes a new bride each night, only to have them executed at sunrise. With surefooted, deft prose, Ahdieh’s Shazi unravels a cliffhanger of a story that keeps Khalid hooked — and will have you quickly flipping pages, too. There’s magic, mystery, mayhem, and a slow-burning, simmering romance, all of which make this a standout fantasy for 2015. Read it now, then pre-order the sequel, The Rose And the Dagger, though you are forewarned: waiting until May will be excruciating
I definitely have a type. I’ve liked a lot of books this year, but the two I fell the hardest for are both the strong, dark, and magical sort. (Literary swoon.) There’s Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows, in which a gang of talented (and troubled) criminals take on a sketchy job in hopes it’ll drag them out of the slums. Half heist novel, half fantasy, all intense feels and suspense, this book has me gnawing off my fingernails waiting for its sequel. But the real light of my shelf this year is Holly Black’s The Darkest Part of the Forest, a haunting fairy tale that’s creepy in all the right ways, but still somehow funny and lovely, too. With boys in glass caskets, a mysterious woods monster, changelings, and badass, butt-kicking girl knights, it’s exactly the book you didn’t know you needed until you couldn’t put it down.
With his two releases in 2015, Jason Reynolds has taken the YA contemporary world by storm. In The Boy in the Black Suit, he weaves together an achingly honest story of grief. Seventeen-year-old Matt has just lost his mother, and his alcoholic father is hardly present. Struggling with a deep sense of isolation, Matt lands a job at a funeral home, where he meets Lovey—seemingly the only person who understands his pain. A quiet, often funny novel, it hits hard precisely because it isn’t trying to manipulate the reader’s emotions—depictions of Matt’s loneliness feel genuine and raw. All-American Boys, coauthored with Brendan Kiely, is perhaps one of the most topical YA novels out there. Centered on the beating of an innocent black teen by a white police officer, it explores racism, white privilege, and the chaotic aftermath of police brutality through the lens of two teens—Rashad, the boy who was beaten, and Quinn, partially raised by the officer that did it. The novel cements Reynolds’ status as a powerful voice in YA.
It’s nearly impossible for me to narrow down my list of favorites YA novels of 2015—Carry On, Everything, Everything, All the Bright Places, Bone Gap, Edgewater…the list goes on and on. (And that’s not counting all the books on my TBR list I haven’t had a chance to read yet!) I was particularly excited to read Carry On because I’d loved Fangirl so much. Inspired by the characters that Cath and Wren spend Fangirl fangirling, Carry On is the story of Simon Snow—quite possibly the worst chosen one who’s ever been chosen. And then there’s Simon’s arch nemesis, Baz. Baz is everything that Simon isn’t—including the fact that Baz is a vampire. Full of magic and adventure, Carry On is also a heartwarming love story. 2015 was such a wonderful year for YA—I can’t wait to see what 2016 will bring!
Since the election year is nigh and we’re all up to our elbows in televised debates, political bumper stickers, and polarizing Facebook posts, Jenn Marie Thorne’s The Wrong Side of Right hits especially close to home. It’s about 16-year-old Kate Quinn, who loses her mother in a car accident and discovers her real father is (wait for it) the front-running Republican candidate for president. Kate suddenly has to face the limelight of the campaign trail, while juggling a brand-new family, a possible romance with the son of the standing president, and the fact that she disagrees with her father politically on just about every issue. The best part is that, for such a wild concept, Kate’s feelings and reactions are so real and believable I could scarcely put the book down.