For the first time ever, I’m separating my YA post into two–realistic fiction and speculative fiction. This is mostly due to the fact that I read more realistic fiction than I normally do in a given year. The fact that I was a Round 1 judge for the YA Fiction category in the Cybils is definitely a factor, since it pushed me outside my comfortable SFF zone and challenged me to read books that I probably would have gotten to in, oh, a few years. Maybe.
Of course, some books I would have read anyway, and Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein definitely one of them. I’ve talked about this book quite a bit already, so I’ll just say that I’m still thinking about it. Every time I see a Hershey bar, or red nail polish. It’s stayed with me in a way that few other books have.
Really, this is also true for Charm & Strange by Stephanie Kuehn, which I was seriously impressed by. I didn’t know much about it when I read it, and I think that was a huge help, because this book is so much more than the sum of its parts. Win’s story is both open and vulnerable, and yet constantly camoflaging and eliding the truth. He’s my favorite kind of unreliable narrator–the kind who is hiding even from himself. I loved this book, and Win’s journey.
Like Charm & Strange, Carrie Mesrobian’s Sex & Violence is a debut, and an impressive one at that. Its subject matter is dark, as is made abundantly obvious by the title, but I was ultimately left with a feeling of hope–for Evan and for his family and friends. This won’t be a book for everyone, but it’s one that takes a hard subject and deals with in a way that never seemed superficial or sensationalist.
I discovered Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong by Faith Erin Hicks and Prudence Shen about halfway through the online publication and had to go back to the beginning to read the whole thing. It’s an utterly charming story and Hicks’ art and Shen’s writing are a wonderful match. A graphic novel with humor, heartbreak, and romance, plus fighting robots–what more could you want? Answer: NOTHING.
Not all books have to be edgy or hard to be good, and
The Reece Malcolm List by Amy Spalding is a perfect example of a good book that takes on some big things but is also accessible and a lot of fun to read. While the plot sounds a bit melodramatic, Spalding takes care with her characters, and it shows.
To be honest, I’m still not 100% sure whether A Spark Unseen by Sharon Cameron is historical fiction or alternate history. But it doesn’t really matter, because Cameron takes the characters she created in The Dark Unwinding and shades them in a little more. Lots of adventurous fun here.
I could easily see a book similar to Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets by Evan Roskos being really annoying and overwrought, but Roskos manages to take interesting stylistic choices, a pigeon therapist, and Walt Whitman and turn them into a honest, tender book. I was impressed by the way the story takes on big things like families and mental illness; it’s definitely one that will stay with me for a long time to come.
Uses for Boys, by Erica Lorraine Scheidt, was a surprise for me. I was so sure when I started it that I wasn’t going to love it, and then Anna slowly talked her way into my heart. I think this is a difficult book to put into the handy boxes that we like to use, but it’s all the more valuable for that.
I read The Caged Graves by Dianne Salerni early in my Cybils time, but I still remember it as one of my favorites. First, it’s Gothic-y historical mystery with a great sense of setting and time. Second, I loved the main character, Verity Boone, and her determination to find out the truth of what happened to her mother and her aunt. All in all, it just worked wonderfully for me, and Salerni’s writing was the perfect mix of accessible and historically believable.
I found Relish by Lucy Knisley completely charming. The art was lovely and the chatty folksy-ness of the drawn recipes reminded me a lot of the original Moosewood Cookbook (always a good comparison). It’s also a nice story about one girl’s growing up. Very enjoyable, especially if you’re someone who likes to think and talk about food.
In some ways, I’m not sure why I resonated so strongly with Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. But I really did. I started reading it while eating dinner out and then came home and finished in one big gulp. There are other books that will probably stick with me more, but this was one of the most immersive, purely pleasurable reading experiences I’ve had all year.