Another year is gone, and so many books have been read and celebrated… And what a year for books it’s been! We saw the very first Literature Convention for Young Adult books, and I was lucky enough to get myself along to YALC, and for all the warmth, and the swamping crowds, it was an absolute success. And now the Bookseller has launched a YA Book Prize to celebrate fantastic Young Adult books, with a phenomenal shortlist announced a little while ago, so it looks like 2015 is going to be big too. Twitter has been a fantastic place to celebrate all things YA too, especially the UKYA chats and events organised by Lucy from Queen of Contemporary and Jim over at YAYeahYeah, and I strongly recommend you join us using the hashtag #UKYAChat if you get the chance!
SO, I suppose it’s about time that I do a run through of my top ten books of the year! This will be one of many; I’m sure, so if you’re reading it then THANK YOU. Obviously, not every great book I’ve read this year can make it to the list, but I review the ones I’ve enjoyed on the blog so you can check them out! Some of the books on the list have been published in 2013, or are set to come out next year, but if I’ve read them this year, they’re going on the list AND THERE AIN’T NOTHIN’ YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT. In no particular order:
10. THE MESSENGER OF FEAR by Michael Grant
Michael Grant’s GONE series holds a special place in my heart as one of the first teen fiction series that I got into as a (supposed) adult, and while I couldn’t get into BZRK in the same way, the concept of The Messenger of Fear grabbed me from the go – Filled with dark mystery and an oppressive sense of dread, this is Grant on top form with a narrative force that drives the story through twists and turns at breakneck speed. It also deals with mental health in a heartbreakingly bleak, but honest method that I was glad to see making its way into YA literature. It’s got the makings of a great, gripping and blood-chilling series.
9. IN BLOOM by Matthew Crow
A fantastically witty, touching and heartbreaking novel, In Bloom is from an incredibly talented author from my neck of the woods (well, Newcastle – close enough) which faces tragedy and terminal illness head on with a sense of humour and genuine honesty that can make you cry with laughter and from emotion in the same page. Unlike some other YA Novels about, I found that Matthew’s use of dialogue was unpretentious, down to Earth and real, and all of his characters felt familiar and fully formed on the page. I loved each and every one of them, and that made it so much harder to read in a way. It also contains a set of sentences with broke my heart and will never leave me.
8. PAPER AEROPLANES by Dawn O’Porter
A triumph of hilarity and a resounding celebration of friendship, the first book in the saga of Renée and Flo is an absolute joy to read. So painfully touching, Dawn manages to capture the ups & downs and ins & outs of a teenage friendship perfectly, leaving me laughing out loud on more than one 7:30am train to work. She perfectly moulds her characters throughout the book, creating two flawed, funny girls who I became friends with too, and she never pulls her punches with the difficulties of life as a teenage girl. I was lucky enough to get to meet Dawn in Newcastle as part of her tour for Goose, the sequel to Paper Aeroplanes, and she was a warm and delightfully happy and welcoming person who was brilliant to work with.
7. WE WERE LIARS by E. Lockhart
One of the biggest successes of YA in 2014, We Were Liars is a swirling mysterious story of decadence, love, betrayal and tragedy. Told in a beautiful mix of metaphors and hyperbole, We Were Liars constantly teases the reader with potential endings and red herrings and keeps you on edge throughout, as well as wrapping you up in a dream-like sense that mirrors the main character’s memory loss perfectly. It’s a fantastic read that completely absorbed me and had an ending that totally blew me away – Well worth the hype that surrounded it.
6. SAY HER NAME by James Dawson
MORE HORROR PLEASE. Okay, I admit it; I’m a horror novel nut – But James’ suspense filled modern retelling of the legend of Bloody Mary absolutely stands head and shoulders above the rest. It was one of the bestsellers in my shop, and it went down a storm with the Durham YA Book Club, because of how perfectly it weaves together a subtle spooky atmosphere with a modern, contemporary setting that everyone is familiar with. He pulls together his loves for good old fashioned Point Horror books and the twisted darkness of J-Horror masterfully (two of my own obsessions as a teenager) and creates an atmosphere that glues you to the page with tension, superb characters and a haunting sadness.
5. ONCE UPON AN ALPHABET by Oliver Jeffers
That’s right. It’s a picture book in my list. WHAT YOU GONNA DO ABOUT IT?! Once Upon an Alphabet is probably the finest picture book published this year, and may be one of the best Jeffers has ever done. The 26 short stories range from absolutely hilarious and silly, to almost tragic and dark, all combined with the iconic illustrations that made me fall in love with his picture books in the first place. It’s definitely one that works on adult’s levels as well as on children’s, which is exactly the kind of sophistication and versatility you want from a picture book.
4. GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE by Andrew Smith
Oh. My. God. The most insane book you will ever read, but also in a strange way, really important. Andrew’s coming-of-age story with added giant murderous praying mantises (Mantii? Nah.) is wonderfully left field, with a phenomenally funny and confused narrator who’s rambling historical tangents build the book’s world superbly. As well as a classic, B-Movie feel to it, Grasshopper Jungle also approaches sexual confusion in its teen characters with a hilarious honesty that is so very lacking in other YA titles. It’s violent and gore-filled, rude and stupid in places, just like being a teenager, and his dialogue has a Tarantino quality to it – sometimes it’s not about the plot, sometimes it’s about nothing at all, but it always feels natural and flows perfectly.
3. SOLITAIRE by Alice Oseman
Solitaire holds such a special place in my heart for so many reasons, but primarily it’s because of Tori Spring, the passive, miserable and morose teen protagonist of the book, who I gelled with immediately, having been quite a melodramatic teenager myself. Alice’s characters are perfectly realised, right down to names that roll of the tongue, and slick dialogue that snaps and crackles on the page. The story is a brilliantly dark thriller playing on familiar school elements and using a very current hacktavist theme, with Alice’s obvious disdain for the school system radiating across every page. It’s intelligent and funny, with nods to the worlds of blogging and fandoms in just the right places without trying too hard. Alice also came to the most successful YA Book Club I’ve had at Durham to date, so I have that to thank her for too!
2. THE ART OF BEING NORMAL by Lisa Williamson
Official publication date for this one is in January, but you can find it in shops already, and I seriously urge you to! Beautiful, evocative and absolutely enchanting, The Art of Being Normal is already making waves in the Twitterverse, and rightly so – A YA novel that deals with transgender issues and discovery with dignity and a serious emotional heart behind it, which is something seriously important. Outside of that, it’s a great story too, with a melancholy kitchen-sink drama aspect to it that keeps the story grounded and makes the characters familiar and relatable. And what characters! Both of the lead characters are fantastic, and they oppose each other and support each other perfectly. It’s a real feel good story too, and it made me laugh, cry and gasp out loud and I already feel very passionate about getting into the hands of fans of modern, beautiful contemporary stories to warm your heart and echo around your brain forever.
1. TROUBLE by Non Pratt
Oh Trouble. What a fantastic book. I’ve never come across fictional teenagers like the characters in Non’s book, so vulgar and genuine and emotionally complex, just perfect. The story is down to earth and charged with so many feelings and emotions that ripple through the wonderful characters that populate Trouble’s world. The heartfelt blooming friendship between Hannah and Aaron is fantastic, and Aaron has to be the character I’ve had the most empathy towards all year. I honestly never expected to be so completely swept away by this book, but Non’s writing style is sharp and intelligent, and she makes you care about characters straight off the bat, and by the end of the book I found myself absolutely unable to put it down. The way Aaron’s back story is slowly, darkly teased out is breathtaking, and Hannah’s development from the opening to the close is absolutely fantastic, and the whole book buzzes with the energy and uncertainty of youth, with a passion that radiates out from the book. Basically, Non is a superb author with such a special talent for drawing readers in. Also, she signed my book with a hilarious thing at YALC.
So that’s that! A special mention to continuing series in 2014 – Lockwood & Co (Jonathan Stroud) and Department 19 (Will Hill) for being outstanding and exciting and keeping me up until 2am.
I hope everyone has had a great year, and as always, thank you so much for toddling over and reading the words I squeeze out of my brain. It means a lot to me to know people care about what I try to say, even if I tend to get a bit overboard with it all. I wouldn’t be doing it if people didn’t keep showing up.
Until next time,