My Favorite Books So Far This Year

We’re already halfway through 2012 (can you believe it?), so I thought I’d share some of my favorite 2012 books so far this year:

Ask the Passengers by A.S. King

This one doesn’t come out until October, but keep it on your radar. A.S. King’s latest novel deals with sexual identity, family, and small town life with a blend of wry humor and keen observation. Beautiful, poignant, and realistic, this one’s at the top of my favorites for the year.

 

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Where to begin with Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity? This is a complex novel of young female pilots in World War II packed with torture, treachery, intrigue, and wartime violence with an intense friendship at the core. While a bit slow to start, this one’s worth sticking around for.

 

Liar and Spy by Rebecca Stead

Rebecca Stead has written another fantastic middle grade novel set in New York City. Liar and Spy features a boy narrator dealing with a family crisis that requires a move to a new apartment building with some interesting neighbors. Lots of humor and quirkiness, but not without a moving family story at its heart.

 

Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matson

There was nothing unexpected about this summertime novel, but Morgan Matson proves she’s a contemporary YA star with the perfect mix of tender family moments, believable female friendships, and charming romance all in a dreamy, small-town lake setting.

 

Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone by Kat Rosenfield

A compelling mystery coupled with lyrical, dream-like writing make Kat Rosenfield’s debut YA novel a mesmerizing read. Two stories are interwoven – one of Becca, who just wants to escape her small town, and one of Amelia Anne, who is found dead there and upsets the balance of life for Becca and others.

 

Friends with Boys by Faith Erin Hicks

A charming graphic novel from Faith Erin Hicks about a formerly home-schooled teenaged girl trying to make friends in high school and deal with her mother’s abandonment. I have a longer review at No Flying, No Tights.

 

Runners-Up:

Non-2012 Books I’ve Loved:

Book Review: Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins

Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie PerkinsLola Nolan thinks life in her San Francisco neighborhood is pretty great: she has a hot (older) rocker boyfriend, two caring (if overbearing) dads, and one dedicated best friend. When she’s not hanging out with any of the above, she’s either working at a local movie theater or creating her latest over-the-top outfit-cum-costume. But all of this happiness threatens to fall apart when Calliope and Cricket, her old neighbors and the two responsible for crushing her spirit and breaking her heart three years ago, move back in.

In this companion novel to last year’s overwhelmingly popular Anna and the French Kiss, Stephanie Perkins has crafted another swoon-worthy teen romance full of quirky, likable characters. Lola is a force — yes, she is a bit melodramatic, but she’s also full of life. I loved her endlessly wacky and inspired outfits and costuming prowess. The boy-next-door, Cricket, captured my heart with his lovable nerdiness. Their burgeoning relationship was both delightful and agonizing (just tell him you like him already!), though that’s to be expected in a romance novel. My one real qualm was that Lola’s original boyfriend, Max, was just too obviously wrong for her, making the inevitability of the end just that much more inevitable.

Of course, it’s not all teen angst and romance — Perkins deftly handles the relationship between Lola and her mostly absent, often homeless mother, letting it evolve in a realistic manner, and Lola’s friendship with Lindsey felt very true to life. I was surprised by how big of a role Anna and Etienne played in the story, but this should work as a standalone title for those who haven’t read Anna (but if readers like this one, they definitely should!). This is a great pick for any contemporary YA lit lover!

Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins will be released September 29, 2011 by Dutton Juvenile. Find in a library, on Amazon, or add to GoodReads.

Reviewed from an ARC received through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.

Book Review: The Queen of Water by Laura Resau and Maria Virginia Farinango

Virginia is only seven years old when she is sent to work for Niño Carlitos and Doctorita, a well-off mestizo family. As an indigenous Ecuadorian, Virginia earns no money, endures regular beatings, and never gets to visit her own family. Despite a terrible situation, she finds small ways to rebel, often taking cues from her idol MacGyver, and teaching herself about the world by sneaking books behind the family’s back. As Virginia progresses through her teenage years, she struggles to reconcile her indigenous identity with her new mestizo worldview while she strives for the life of her dreams.

This true story, co-written by the protagonist, María Virginia Farinango, and YA author Laura Resau, presents an honest look at the inequities between the indigenous population and the non-indigenous mestizos in Ecuador. The snippets of Virginia’s life can be heartbreaking at times, but it’s punctuated with moments of humor and cunning that are a delight to read. I appreciated the straightforward prose and cultural education, but the narrative lacked urgency and a compelling hook besides Virginia’s personal growth. Luckily her vivacious spirit — her vivísima — was engaging enough to make me care about her story and want to keep reading. This book relates a subject matter that’s lacking in the YA landscape and that alone makes this a worthwhile entry. It would be especially appropriate paired with a broader discussion of Ecuador or other world cultures in a classroom or book group.

There are also some great resources on Laura Resau’s website, including pictures of Virginia now and when she was younger. It’s actually her on the cover!

Find in a library, on Amazon, or add to GoodReads.

Have you read it? I would love to know what you think! It’s received four starred reviews — from Kirkus, School Library Journal, Booklist, and Publisher’s Weekly.

Reviewed from a library copy.

May Reads

Reviews of the books I read in May, all in 140 characters or less!

Popular by Alissa Grosso
While slow to start, this look at a high school clique comes with an unexpected twist that makes the second half a more compelling read.

 

 

 

Real Live Boyfriends by E. Lockhart
Loved this fourth and final installment of Ruby Oliver’s story. Plenty of romantic drama and hilarity to please the contemporary YA fan.

 

 

 

My Life, the Theater, and Other Tragedies by Allen Zadoff
Sweet and hilarious story of romance and friendship from a male perspective set against the backdrop of a high school theater production.

 

 

 

Girl Wonder by Alexa Martin
This somewhat harrowing novel about a new girl desperate to fit in ultimately falls flat in its attempt to pack too much into its 300 pages.

 

 

 

Small Town Sinners by Melissa Walker
A story of faith, family, and love in a small, uber-Christian community. A unique perspective on a classic teen story is supremely readable.

 

 

 

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
As the last true human in a genetically engineered world, Snowman’s tale is an astute adult dystopian novel for a sophisticated teen reader.

 

 

 

The False Princess by Eilis O’Neal
Sinda, the false princess, goes on a quest full of magic and adventure to find the true princess. A great fantasy read for middle grade.

 

 

 

Feynman by Jim Ottaviani
This graphic novel bio of physics great Richard Feynman meanders too much and probably won’t appeal to the casual reader.

 

 

 

Book Review: So Much Closer by Susane Colasanti

When Brooke finds out that her long-time crush, Scott Abrams, is moving to New York, she negotiates with her divorced parents to relocate to her dad’s Manhattan apartment for senior year in hopes of finally telling Scott how she feels. Her plans don’t go as smoothly as she imagined. Scott has a girlfriend, her mom and friends from back home feel abandoned, and her new school pushes her out of her comfort zone. But Brooke is determined and won’t let those setbacks get in her way of enjoying New York and maybe finding a little romance.

It’s hard to get past the incredibly dubious premise — really, a mom lets her daughter move to Manhattan with her estranged father for her last year of high school?! — and things don’t necessarily get better for Susane Colasanti’s latest novel. Brooke, our protagonist, is a bit of a Mary Sue. She’s allegedly super-duper-incredibly smart, but we mostly just hear this from others and Brooke herself and don’t actually see it. In fact, she makes some incredibly dumb decisions in her single-minded quest to make Scott like her. Plus, her relationships with her old friends and her parents are thrown in as almost an afterthought and get really weak resolutions. That said, there are a few highlights that make the story worth finishing. Her two new friends, Sadie and John, are fun characters who manage to bring out the best in Brooke, the city of New York shines with lots of great details, and Brooke’s character development is actually very realistic and satisfying. Though it’s not the paragon of contemporary YA romance, readers, especially those on the younger side, will enjoy this quick, breezy novel, that would be perfect for the summer.

So Much Closer by Susane Colasanti was released May 3, 2011 by Viking, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA). Find on Amazon, in a library, or add to Goodreads.

Want another opinion? Check out reviews at Spine Label, YA Librarian Tales, and Forever Young Adult.

Reviewed from an ARC received through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.

Book Review: Clarity by Kim Harrington

Clarity by Kim HarringtonClarity Fern, better known as Clare, wishes she were a normal girl, but instead she’s labeled a freak. Endowed with the ability to see people’s thoughts by touching objects, Clare, along with her supernaturally gifted mother and brother, conduct psychic readings out of their Victorian home in a sleepy, seaside town on Cape Cod. But things get even further from normal when a tourist is murdered and Clare’s brother becomes a likely suspect. When the mayor asks for her help in the investigation, Clare finds herself working with her ex-boyfriend Justin, the mayor’s son, and the intriguing Gabriel, the new hotshot detective’s son, to unravel the mystery and prove her brother innocent.

Kim Harrington’s debut novel is a refreshingly unique story where the supernatural aspects are secondary to the gripping mystery that drives the plot. Clare is a likable enough heroine, struggling with the double-edged sword that her psychic abilities bring, though I could have used a bit more character development to feel a stronger connection to her. The others in Clare’s life round out the story with plenty of family and romantic drama. Both of the love interests, the good guy Justin and the potentially bad boy Gabriel, are alluring, so it’s no wonder Clare finds herself in a love triangle. The mystery itself provides lots of twists and turns, casting suspicion on various characters and throwing in red herrings before culminating in the big reveal at the end. While this is now slated to be a series, the conclusion to the mystery is satisfying, yet still leaves some loose ends to entice the reader for more. This is perfect for readers looking for a plot-based, fast-paced story with a supernatural twist.

Clarity by Kim Harrington was released March 1, 2011 by Point, an imprint of Scholastic. Find on Amazon, in a library, or add to Goodreads.

Want another opinion? Check out reviews at YA Librarian Tales, YA Book Nerd, and GreenBeanTeenQueen.

Reviewed from an ARC received from the publisher at ALA Midwinter.

Book Review: What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen

what happened to goodbye by Sarah DessenMclean and her dad are starting fresh in a new town for the fourth time in as many years. Usually this process is easy, but Lakeview presents a challenge for them both. While her dad focuses on overhauling a failing restaurant, Mclean finds herself confronting both her true identity and her strained relationship with her mother, mostly with the help of a bunch of new friends, including the unconventional boy next door.

Sarah Dessen has perfected the contemporary realistic YA novel and her latest entry yet again hits all of the right marks. She fluidly integrates narratives about family, friendship, and romance into a coherent story that never feels bloated. While I did think there were slightly too many characters to truly connect to, it didn’t detract from the characterizations of those who mattered. Dessen also incorporates many familiar names and places, so even though we have a completely new story, the world feels like an old friend. It’s not my favorite Dessen book (that spot’s reserved for Just Listen), but this one is enjoyable from start to finish and won’t disappoint longtime fans or new readers.

What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen will be released May 10, 2011 by Viking, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA). Find on Amazon, in a library, or add to Goodreads.

Reviewed from an ARC received from the publisher at ALA Midwinter.

Book Review: Other Words for Love by Lorraine Zago Rosenthal

Other Words for Love by Lorraine Zago RosenthalBrooklyn high school student Ari Mitchell has always lived in the shadows of both her sister and her best friend. But when she gets a chance to attend an elite private school, she makes friends with Leigh, who’s artsy, rich, and sees Ari for who she really is. Leigh introduces Ari to a world of privilege and to her gorgeous college-aged cousin, Blake. As Ari spends more and more time with Blake, she begins to distance herself from her friends and the high expectations of her family.

I was drawn to this debut novel by the beautiful cover and the promise of a 1980s setting, but ended up disappointed. There was just too much going on in the plot, but at the same time it felt like not much happened at all. Plus, the summary gives away a plot point that doesn’t happen until about three quarters of the way into the book! Though it is ostensibly set in the 80s, it felt like an afterthought that had no bearing on what happened to the characters. Certainly some readers will enjoy the romance, the friendships, and the family drama depicted in this story, but they have to be patient and willing to look past its shortcomings.

Other Words for Love was released on January 11, 2011 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers. Find on Amazon, in a library, or add to Goodreads.

Want another opinion? Check out other reviews at Frenetic Reader, Steph Su Reads, and Spine Label.

Reviewed from an ARC received from the publisher at ALA Midwinter.

Book Review: The Piper’s Son by Melina Marchetta

Thomas Mackee wakes up in the hospital, realizing that he’s wasted away the past few years after his favorite uncle died and that he may be headed down the same path as his alcoholic father. With no other options, he moves in with his pregnant aunt, Georgie, gets a grunt job at a pub with old friends, and tries to make sense of his failed, not-quite-relationship with Tara Finke. In this companion novel to Saving Francesca, readers get to reconnect with some of their favorite characters and meet some engaging new ones, all of whom come together to help Thomas deal with the tragedies, both big and small, in his life.

Melina Marchetta’s fluid, natural writing style brings her characters to life in a way that feels like you’ve known them forever. Though Thomas feels alone, he’s surrounded by a rich cast of characters, all with their own quirks, that gives the book a sense of intimacy. The interactions between the younger characters were particularly entertaining and will definitely appeal most to teen readers. Thomas is certainly the focus of the book, but his 40-something aunt Georgie gets nearly equal prominence. Her pregnancy and more complex relationship problems were compelling for me, but may put off younger readers looking for a true YA book. And while this does stand alone from Saving Francesca, it may be a harder sell for those who haven’t read it. Some elements of the story, especially the Thomas-Francesca-Will relationship, are richer knowing their history. Overall, this is a story about family, community, grief, healing, and reconciliation that will resonate with many readers, though it may have some difficulty finding them.

The Piper’s Son will be released on March 8, 2011 from Candlewick. Find on Amazon or add to Goodreads.

Reviewed from an ARC received from the publisher at ALA Midwinter.

Book Review: Jenna and Jonah’s Fauxmance by Brendan Halpin and Emily Franklin

Jenna and Jonah’s Fauxmance offers a behind-the-scenes look at the lives of two insanely popular teen TV stars — Charlie and Fielding — who have been acting out a romance both on and off screen for the last four years. When their off-screen relationship is revealed as a front, the news throws both their careers and futures into a tailspin and forces the pair to figure out if there’s any truth in their relationship at all.

This sweet, fun novel that will be sure to delight fans of shows like iCarly and Hannah Montana and their respective stars. It offers a bit of voyeurism into the star-studded lifestyle, while also showing that they’re just like real teens. It’s told through the alternating viewpoints of the main characters, so the reader gets some insight into both, and while the final conclusion is pretty inevitable, there’s still enough of that will they or won’t they tension to keep the reader interested. The story also takes an interesting turn about halfway through as the two perform in a summer Shakespeare festival and introduces some heavy Much Ado About Nothing references that might scare away more reluctant readers. Ultimately, though, it serves as an effective environment for them to explore themselves and their relationship with each other. This is a great option for tween and younger teen readers or anyone looking for an easy-to-read romance with a bit of Hollywood flair.

Jenna and Jonah’s Fauxmance was released on February 1, 2011 from Walker Books for Young Readers. Find on Amazon, in a library, or add to Goodreads.

Reviewed from an ARC received from the publisher at ALA Midwinter.