Today's the first blustery, rainy, fall-like day here in beautiful Portland, Oregon. It makes me want to curl up with a good book. Yet...
I have a problem with literature right now. I've always loved reading. As an eight-year-old, I wanted nothing more than to be Harriet the Spy. In middle and high school, the world of The Golden Compass made me believe so much that my soul really could live outside my body in the form of an animal that it hurt (read. that. series). And as a twenty-five-year old, Katniss Everdeen encouraged me to...exercise...(you know I would die so fast in the Hunger Games, though.) Here's the problem. I'm not sixteen. I haven't been in a decade and change. So where's my FUN story? Where's the twenty-something who can save the world?
I tried. I forced myself to read the adult fiction bestsellers. I HATED Gone Girl. I hated the characters. I hated how it glorified a woman behaving how she did and called it strong and smart. I didn't finish IQ84. I liked the part with the greenhouse and the butterflies but I kept waiting for STORY. But nothing compares to my hatred for Swamplandia. Critically acclaimed, I thought it was a slam dunk based on the premise: a teenage girl lives and works in a Florida amusement park in which the main attraction is wresting alligators. I read the book. Finished it quickly. And I THREW THE BOOK ACROSS THE ROOM! Go ahead. READ IT. Everyone else liked it. But the ending was so unfinished...leaving the teenage protagonist in such a state of crisis. I don't need happy endings. I just need ENDINGS.
Side note: one I did love that is marketed to adults is Where'd Ya Go Bernadette? Written by a past Arrested Development writer and set in Seattle, it is haunting and hilarious, like really smart Desperate Housewives. It's almost chick lit except that it's SO GOOD. Go for it.
So I'm back on YA. Here's my list of books I'd recommend. Fast reads, easy reading level, and quality writing, these are books for kids that adults also love.
In no particular order:
1. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
In no particular order except this one. This book was given to me by a coworker with the daunting endorsement, "This Book Will Change Your Life." Smash cut to me WEEPING in the teachers' lounge. It wasn't only because the WWII Germany set book is sad, which it is, but I cried also because the book was OVER. I missed the characters. It's really not your typical sweeping Holocaust epic. It's about Nazi Germany and most of the characters aren't Jewish. Also it's in first person narration from the perspective of DEATH. Also, half-way through, Death spoils the ending and, somehow, that makes the eventual ending all the better, all the more bittersweet and inevitable. It's beautiful.
2. The Fault in our Stars by John Green
Check out John Green's Vlog It's hilarious, insightful, and FAST TALKING. I love it. John Green wrote several books in the YA genre and they're all smart and not at all condescending to kids. That makes them more fun to read as an adult. This one, though, is GOING TO MAKE YOU UPSET. Because it's about kids with cancer. But somehow it is sometimes funny. And beautiful. I wouldn't recommend reading this one on a plane. BECAUSE YOU WILL CRY. Otherwise you are inhuman. A note on the title: taken from Julius Caesar, the original quote says that it's not the stars' fault that "we are underlings," it's our own fault. This quote of course feels like bull when you think about children with cancer. Clever twist.
3. Graceling by Kristen Cashore
The pitch. X-men set in a fantasy/medieval world. The main character is "graced" meaning she has two different colored eyes and has special abilities. Everyone who is graced has different abilities. Some are kinda cool but not too super hero-like such as being a really good cook. The main gal, though, she is really good at fighting and not getting hurt or sick. Fantastic action hero. Boys and girls love this book. It also has the best bad guy ever. He is graced, and his power is that you will believe anything he tells you. Best ever.
4. Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
Maggie (I wish we were on a first name basis) is, in my opinion, the very best YA writer EVER. She writes beautifully and has a way of making me care about teenagers and their romances. If you're a female and/or secretly love Twilight, you will love her Shiver series. It's lovely. This one, though, it really good for everyone. The concept is hard to explain. You see, it's set on this imaginary, Irish (or Scottish) island where, in November, they have a horse race. Except they don't race regular horses. They race carnivorous, amphibian...sea horses.
I wanna read it again. Why does this crazy book work? Because Maggie makes it seem SO REAL that I googled it to make sure a) the island wasn't real and b) the horses weren't real. They seemed so real I became stupid. Something about that book really got to me and I also cried when it was over. I just get upset sometimes when my books end.
5. Feed by MT Anderson.
This book is amazing because the concept is something that will probably happen but the book was written even before smart phones. Basically, the internet is in your HEAD. And your feed connects you to everyone else who has internet. There's also a class, I'll call it, of people who are kinda hippies and don't believe in putting in the feed. Also, like smart phones, there's the highest quality, most expensive version, and the cheaper knockoff. One character has one of those cheaper models...and it starts to glitch her. Also your feed can be hacked. There's a lot of good social commentary in this and the story is just plain exciting.
6. Unwind by Neal Shusterman. Another concept. In the future, the conservatives and the liberals go to war over abortion. The compromise: no abortions. You may abandon your baby on a doorstep if you don't want it ("storking") and the person who finds the baby must keep and raise it. Lots of kids are wards of the state. And, if you have a child, you can choose to "unwind" him or her when they are between the ages of 13-18. Unwinding is full of propaganda, and people believe that it is a good deed. What they do is take a kid, kill him, and surgically remove every part of him. Every part of him will be reused. Instead of wearing a cast for six weeks when you break an arm, you get a brand new unwound arm. If you need glasses, you get unwound, perfect 20/20 eyes. People seriously think this is a good idea. In fact, some religious fanatics tithe one of their kids, letting him get unwound because it's the Christian thing to do. The three main characters are kids who try to run away from their unwinding fates: a kid whose parents choose to unwind him, a ward of the state who doesn't have enough talent to be kept alive, and a tithe. Very action packed.
7. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
I read this whole book in one sitting and, subsequently, stayed up way too late. The premise is a bit dark. This boy gets some cassette tapes in the mail...from a girl...who killed herself. The tapes say that if you receive the tapes, you're one of the reasons she killed herself. The mystery unfolds quickly and somehow this book is not horribly depressing. Just a little depressing.
8. Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker/Life as we Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer. Two books. Kinda similar. In Age, the rotation of the earth slows, causing catastrophic environmental changes. In Life, the moon is hit by a meteor and gets closer to earth, causing catastrophic environmental changes. Both have teenage girl protagonists who spend most of the book stuck in their houses with their ailing families. Age is more literary, with the narration slowing beautifully with the earth itself. Life is more stressful, and maybe exciting. Also it has sequels I haven't read because I stopped reading books about the end of the world...but they're good stuff.
9. Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
The pitch: Mean Girls meets Groundhog Day. The mean girl in question goes through a normal day, making bad choices in high school, dating the wrong guy, going to a party, getting in a car with drunk friends, and then dying in a crash. That's the first chapter. She then wakes up, and like Bill Murray, has to live the day again, but do it right this time. Except, unlike Bill, she only has seven tries. And what happens if she gets it right? Lauren Oliver also writes the Delirium series which is...a lot like other YA girl books. This one sat with me, haunted me even.
10. Divergent by Veronica Roth
Did I call it? Is it the next Hunger Games? The movie will tell, I suppose. Also the third book in the series which comes out next month. If you are hankering for a female teenage protagonist in a dystopian America, this is the series for you. The concept is cool (different personality types determine where you live in society), and the "dream sequences" (drug induced tests) are fun...like those internet tests you know you still take. The protagonist doesn't feel as real as Katniss to me, but the twist at the end of the second book is worth it.
Now, someone please write me a book that's just as FUN as these...but with an adult protagonist. Books aren't Trix. They aren't just for kids.