Mid-Year Must-Reads YA Edition
The Young Adult book world is still hotter than ever, especially after the wildfire success of Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy that recently made its way onto the big screen, and introduced the series to a whole new legion of fans. Everyone’s eyes are peeled for the so-called next big thing – series or standalone book – and these hot titles might just be the ticket. As I’ve said in past posts, Young Adult fiction ain’t just for young adults…something which should be pretty obvious at this point when you consider the massive success of certain series – like Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games, to name but a few. All of these books would make stellar gifts for the bookworm in your life, so without further ado, here are some of the must-read, bestselling YA books of 2012!
Insurgent by Veronica Roth
The throne vacated by Suzanne Collins for the next big hot YA series may just be taken up by twenty-something Veronica Roth, with her debut novel Divergent tearing up the charts last year and its hotly anticipated sequel faring just as well this year. To the uninitiated, our heroine is Tris, who lives in a dystopic Chicago where the society is divided into five factions, each closely aligned with a specific ideology above all others – truth, fearlessness, selflessness, knowledge, and harmony. After defecting from her birthright faction, Tris was plunged into intense initiate training while the society teetered on the brink of civil war. The second book in the series hones in on the question of why the threat of war is looming, and how to resolve it – with an eye on the omnipresent yet mysterious ‘bigger picture’. Although it meanders a bit in the way second books in trilogies tend to, there’s still plenty of action and surprises, and a very big send-up for the final book in the series, due in 2013.
Wonder by R.J. Palacio
This book has technically been dubbed a ‘Children’s Book’, but then, so has Harry Potter. The truth is, this remarkable story of tolerance, school age bullying, and simply trying to be a kid is a wonder for anyone to read – kids and adults alike. Our protagonist is Auggie (or August), a boy with a severe facial deformity that kept him out of school – until now, when he’s about to start the fifth grade. Aware that he’s about to walk into a social minefield, yet also limited by his childhood in terms of how to deal with it, the story make sound like it has a grim premise, but in fact, it’s incredibly uplifting, light, and spirited. In fact, it’s the kind of book that’ll make you want to call up everyone you’ve ever been mean to, doubted, or conversely, loved unconditionally, and give them a great big hug.
Pure by Julianna Baggott
Hollywood bet big on this one – so big in fact, that they signed a movie deal with Baggott over six months before her debut dystopian series hit the shelves in early 2012. This particular story is set in the not-too-distant future, but that’s not to say the future is recognizable: a nuclear holocaust has left warped survivors on the scorched earth – including Pressia, our teenage female protagonist who’s hand is fused to a doll’s head. Just as she reaches the age to join the militia (something she’s dreading given her lone surviving family member, her grandpa’s, ill-fated condition) she ends up on the run, where her path crosses with a ‘Pure’, one of the true survivors that were safely ensconced in a protected dome when the nuclear devastation happened. Neither Pressia or Partridge are happy with their lives, and when Partridge learns his mother might be alive – and hold secrets to the world beyond the one they’ve both dwelled in – they set out on a terrifying journey to find the truth. This is a particularly unique entry on this list because while it has teenage protagonists – a hallmark of YA fiction, naturally – it also has a grown-up feel and style. The story is hugely sweeping and dramatic, and the typical romance angle you find in these books is pretty well downplayed in favour of some crazy, cinematic action sequences and plot developments.
The Selection by Kiera Cass
Combining India’s caste system with every girl’s princess fantasy, this book chronicles The Selection, a chance for 35 girls to compete for a relationship with Prince Maxon, and escape the otherwise mundane lives laid out for them (consider it The Bachelor on steroids, for teenagers). The catch? The one person who doesn’t want her life to change is America, and being selected is basically a nightmare – especially when it threatens her clandestine relationship with Aspen, a boy in a lower caste. America heads to the palace, prepared to self-sabotage her chances…that is, until she meets Prince Maxon, and begins to question everything she’s been planning for herself after all.
Between the Lines by Jodi Picoult & Samantha Van Leer
The perennially popular Jodi Picoult – she of the moral / legal / medical dramas – takes a slight turn with this book, co-written her daughter, by dipping her toe into the YA world. The title of this book is also the title of a book inside the plot, one the protagonist, Delilah, is infatuated with, particularly the dashing Prince Oliver. Then one day, the book starts speaking back to Delilah – specifically, Prince Oliver reveals his unhappiness with his one-dimensional literary portrayal, and longs for life in the ‘real’ world. Soon Delilah and Oliver are plotting ways to get him from the page to personage, and trying to find a happy ending for themselves one way or another. The book combines Picoult’s trademark, must-read style, but it’s also a fun spin for her existing fans to get a taste of a different genre, or for younger readers that maybe aren’t quite mature enough to read Picoult’s adults-only subject matter.
Blood Red Road by Moira Young
In a scorched earth vision of the future, Saba and her family have been clawing out a somewhat futile living – barely scavenging enough basics from the landfills to survive, never mind prosper. The one thing keeping the dark and stormy Saba at bay, however, is her beloved, near-angelic twin brother Lugh – a bright ray of light in an otherwise grim existence. Saba’s fragile world completely collapses however, when a group of soldiers arrives just days after the twins’ eighteenth birthday, with the intent of snatching Lugh away. Upon their departure, Saba knows what she must do: set out on a brutal quest to reclaim her family, and the unspoken things the soldiers have taken from her in their wake.
The Fault In Our Stars by John Green
One of the very best books of the year – YA or otherwise – may be one of the very first published in 2012. With a release date of January 10th, John Green’s latest novel has won over devotees (like myself) and newcomers to his signature snappy, introspective style, alike. The book once again features an intelligent, insightful, and altogether delightful and wholly realized protagonist – with two key twists. First, the book marks Green’s first stab at a female perspective, with through the eyes of a teenage girl named Hazel. Second, the book isn’t simply about teenage navel-gazing, but life and death – Hazel is a terminal cancer patient that shows little sign of recovery, but plenty of spirit nonetheless, particularly when she meets a charismatic, one-legged cancer survivor named Augustus Waters at a cancer support group. Again, it might sound like a sad or potentially sappy plot, and while there are plenty of heartstrings to be tugged, you’d be surprised at how few of them are cancer-related – most of the book’s emotional points come from the simple pleasures of falling into young love, and even they are offset by vibrant dialogue and laugh out loud scenes. This book has soared to the top of the ‘best-rated’ books on the likes of GoodReads, so count yourself in and pick up a copy today.
Starters by Lissa Price
Did you ever watch or hear of the show Dollhouse by Avengers Director Joss Whedon? If yes, you’ll be somewhat familiar with this story of ‘renting’ one’s body out to fulfill the fantasy of others. We’re pitched forward into a grim future, where everyone between the ages of 20 and 60 has been wiped out during a biological war. Desperate for money to support what’s left of her family, Callie visits a mysterious place known as Prime Destinations, where the elderly rent out the bodies of the young to experience what it’s like to be young again…only, when Callie undergoes the treatment, she becomes conscious in her body yet lives the life of her renter – one of luxurious cars, mansions, and parties. Of course, the good life isn’t exactly good to Callie, when she realizes her renter has a sinister plan, coupled with the devious intentions of Prime Destinations that far exceed anything her mind could have imagined when she innocently signed up for the program. As fair warning, like many other dystopian books on this list, this is meant to be a series – so don’t be surprised if you close the book with more questions than answers. But also? Be prepared for some game-changing twists that’ll have you clamouring for Price’s sequel next year.
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
Historical fiction in the YA realm? You bet. And a darn good, absolutely riveting tale of friendship and bravery via two friends that would otherwise never be friends, were it not for the great war they find themselves embroiled in – Queenie is Scottish royalty with a flare for spying and transformation, while Maddie is an expert pilot, and the granddaughter of a bike shop owner. What’s particularly intriguing about the novel is that it begins at the so-called end – Queenie has been captured by the villainous Hauptsturmfürer von Linden, who breaks her down to the point where she’s willing to confess everything about her and Maddie that led her to the point she’s at now. That transcript of events is the basis for the story…but to tell you much more than that would = me risking spoiling this wonderful, shocking, tightly wound story.
Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver
May as well end things the way we started – with another ‘second entry’ into a hot YA series. Lauren Oliver is also vying for the crown of next big thing in YA fiction, and her series about a society that considers love – and infatuation – an illness to be cured definitely heated things up this past winter. When we last saw our lovesick teenage protagonist, Lena, she was on the cusp of escaping the stifling clutches of her society – but at a huge personal price. This book picks up literally moments after the previous one…and yet it also picks up months down the road, with alternating chapters that reveal the ‘then’ that led to the shockingly different ‘now’. What makes Oliver’s second book particularly fascinating is she doesn’t actually focus all that much on the literal heart of the first one – the ‘disease’ – but instead broadens the scope of the story, and manages to let Lena breathe and branch out as a character…a refreshing change of pace from books that tend to be all about the all-important romantic triangle, and particularly notable in a book that was so heavily about relationships in its first installment. If you haven’t read ‘em yet, Oliver’s writing is clear and polished, and so far (in my humble opinion) shows the most promise of the series that started in 2011.
Phew! I really could go on – there have been so many great entries into the YA field, and such an embrace of them all thanks to the success of novels like The Hunger Games, Twilight, or Harry Potter – but start here, and stay tuned for more ideas come the holidays. Beyond that, I should also let you know that Random House has generously offered not one, but TWO prize packages of four titles featured in this post, including Code Name Verity, Starters, Blood Red Road, and Wonder. To enter:
1) Tell me which of these ten titles are at the top of your ‘must-read’ pile by leaving a comment on this post by August 30th.
2) Entries are limited to one per person / per email address / per household (or more if you score bonus entries). A random draw will be conducted on or around August 31st to select the winner, who will have 48 hours to respond before another winner is chosen in their place.
3) Entries are limited to Canadians that have reached the age of majority in their province. Quebec is not eligible to participate in this promotion.
4) Bonus Entry: Are you on the very awesome site Goodreads? It’s free, and is an amazing tool if you’re an avid or average reader. If yes, add any of these titles to your ‘to-read’ list, and pop me a link to your to-read page in the comments. I’ll credit you for up to 10 bonus entries if you add all ten titles. To make my life easier, I ask that you have all ten titles on the very last page of your to-read list, so I don’t have to go hunting for them. Please & thanks.