Santa’s Reading List: YA Edition
A final peek in Santa’s sack reveals a bounty of amazing reads for young adults (and those not-so-young actual adults that simply love to indulge in one of the hottest genres around). These aren’t your pastel-coated, blonde twin-starring books my friends. Today’s YA is responsible for spurring on some of the world’s largest movie franchises, creating hotly contested love triangles, and special preorder editions and launch parties with each book. Whether you’ve picked up a Twilight or Hunger Games in the past or you’re completely uninitiated, rest assured, there’s plenty of diversity to hook you. Note that for the purposes of this post, all prices are suggested list prices.
All the Truth That’s In Me by Julie Berry – $19
I’m going to start this little review off by saying that I had a lot of physical discomfort while reading this book…but it was still flippin’ fantastic. Set in what seems to be a Puritan settlement, this poetically written tale follows a girl named Judith that disappeared (along with another girl) when she was a young teenager, only to reappear two years later with half of her tongue cut out. Forced by her mother’s shame to play a mute, Judith pines for her childhood friend and longtime crush Lucas, even when it appears their time apart has pointed him in the direction of the town belle. Everything in Judith’s complacent yet tortured world is turned upside down however, when an attack on the colony unspools a thread of secrets and lies buried in the heart and mind of our supposedly silent protagonist. That physical discomfort I talked about? Imagine having half of your tongue cut out. While this book is never gory, it’s certainly powerful enough to make you feel Judith’s physical and emotional anguish from the earliest pages. This book wasn’t what I expected at all, but it’s a damn good read.
Reality Boy by A.S. King – $20
Whenever I see the word ‘Printz’, I know I’m about to pick up a good book. The Printz awards honour the best in YA writing each year, including the likes of John Green (a past winner) and Rick Yancey (an honoree, more on him in a bit). A.S. King’s story surrounds an angry teenage boy named Gerald, best known for his stint on a reality show called Network Nanny where he earned the nickname ‘the crapper’ for well…getting down to business wherever and whenever he damn well felt like it. Of course, that particular act wasn’t misplaced then, nor is it now that he’s seventeen years old – as revealed in ‘flashbacks’ to various traumatizing moments with his insanely dysfunctional family during filming his reality stint coupled with his life today, trapped in some kind of suburban hell. It’s a rather sharp critique on what we call ‘entertainment’ – when you think about shows like Toddlers & Tiaras and Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, it’s rare that we really think about what happens when the cameras aren’t (or stop altogether) rolling. Definitely not a sunshine and rainbows kind of read, but one that will draw you in nonetheless.
The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey – $20
Remember when I mentioned Rick Yancey up above? This is why. The 5th Wave was probably one of the buzziest books of the year – and for good reason. For me, it was the first book I’ve read since The Hunger Games that I genuinely felt like had the mass appeal to be the next Hunger Games. The story is set in the not-too-distant future, where the arrival of aliens prompts four horrific calamities that wipe out 7 billion humans. While told from multiple perspectives, our heroine is a girl named Cassie, who documents how she came to be on her own (and to that end, stay alive) while struggling to not only survive, but fulfill a promise she made to her little brother. The bulk of the other perspectives comes from a character who earns the nickname Zombie when he awakens on his deathbed at a government zone called Camp Haven to give us a picture of where Cassie may or may not find what she’s looking for. The story is truly gripping from start-to-finish, and I personally loved Cassie as a flawed, teenaged protagonist (no superhuman Katniss Everdeen qualities exist here). This honestly reminded me of a YA version of one of my favourite reads in recent years, Justin Cronin’s The Passage.
The Enchantress Returns by Chris Colfer – $20
Readers were surprisingly charmed by Glee star Chris Colfer’s first turn as an author last year, with the sweet children’s / YA story The Land of Stories. That book followed a brother and sister as they worked to concoct a spell so they could return home from the titular Land, where all of your favourite fairy tale characters live in close quarters (similar to TV’s Once Upon A Time). This tome sees Alex and Conner returning to the mythical land, although all is not as gleaming and magical as it once was. The reason? The Enchantress that was responsible for putting Sleeping Beauty in something of a coma has returned, wreaking havoc over all corners of the kingdom – and beyond. When Alex and Conner’s mom is kidnapped, they must return to the much darker and stranger land to rescue their mom and the friends they made in the past. New friends are introduced in this one, showing just how rich of a source material Colfer has to draw from. The result is equally enchanting for parents to share with younger readers (or to indulge in on their own).
Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein – $19.95
After the success of last year’s Code Name Verity, Printz honoree Elizabeth Wein has created a niche for herself in the YA market, specializing in wartime, female-centric tales (and this is what I’m talking about when I speak to the diversity of the genre). This time around, her story takes place within the chilling walls of the women’s Ravensbrück concentration camp, after pilot (and poet) Rose Justice is captured by the Nazis. While this may immediately spell gloom and doom, Wein weaves Rose’s story in with a remarkable band of women – from a girl who has undergone horrible experiments by the Nazis to a Russian fighter pilot. Like with Verity, it’s the tight relationships between these unlikely friends that really propels the story along; that, and the harrowing realities that are carefully researched and integrated into this wartime tale. It’s something of a rare thing to find such raw, powerful, historical fiction in the YA category, but not unwelcome. A good pick for any age that has an interest in the war – this is a distinct angle to take with it.
Tumble & Fall by Alexandra Coutts – $19.95
It’s the end of the world – quick, what do you do? The answer for adults is probably pretty different than what it is for teenagers, as demonstrated through this pre-apocalyptic YA book that interweaves the stories of three teens living in the Cape Cod area. Persephone, a big scary meteor, is just days away from crashing into earth, with plans to eviscerate the human population in one sense or another. In this context, we’re introduced to our teenaged protagonists, each coming to terms with the tragedies behind them in light of the pending catastrophe; Sienna, who’s mom went ‘crazy’ and died when she was younger, propelling herself to attempt to take her own life. Zan, who’s boyfriend died in a tragic car accident that may not be quite what it seemed. And Caden, the son of an alcoholic and a father who abandoned him, who has his life turned upside down after attending a party on the beach and waking up in an unfamiliar home. It’s a big, sprawling, beautiful tale – despite the rather short timeframe – that’ll keep you guessing. Least of all you’ll be asking: is there any way for these characters to survive?
Hijacked: How Your Brain Is Fooled by Food by David A. Kessler, MD – $21.95
This book instantly caught my attention for two reasons. For one, it’s YA nonfiction – which is pretty much a nonexistent category. For another, it’s about the food industry, and I sincerely believe one of the best ways to turn around what’s happening with our food (i.e. not good stuff) is to educate young people to make better choices and demand more of the industry going forward. This is actually a slightly simplified (but not dumbed down) version of a book with the same title for adults – but it manages to relate things in a way that your teen won’t sneer or roll their eyes at you when they crack it open. It teaches youth about how the food industry targets them through a series of case studies, and also demonstrates how what goes into fast foods and processed fats is designed to play with our brain chemistry in a rather terrifying way. The book isn’t overly preachy, rather, it’s quite fact-based, speaking to the realities of sugar, salt and fat: why we love them, and how the food industry preys on that. It’s a great step in the right direction, especially when you consider 1 in 4 Canadians is now considered obese.
The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black – $21
Whenever I pop into a bookstore, I’m greeted by this chilling book cover – so naturally I had to give it a read for myself to see what the fuss is about. The book is another entry into the YA vampire fiction canon, but it’s a pretty unique setting nonetheless. Tana Bach lives in a world where ‘Coldtowns’ exist; places where vampires (who are very much real) are secured in a community filled with willing meals: humans that will insert stents into their arms in hopes that one day a vamp may drink them directly instead (the vamps are hesitant to do so, given they want to control both their population and food supply). From the outside, through the live streaming videos of the various parties and clubs in Coldtown, it looks like a glamorous non-stop party that drives hopeless souls and goth kids through the Coldtown gates in hopes of being given the gift of eternal life. Tana never had plans to set foot inside a Coldtown, that is, until she wakes up at a party only to find all of her friends have been murdered – except for her ex-boyfriend Aidan, freshly bitten and eager to pounce, and a mysterious boy named Gavriel, who she finds locked up in chains. Tana decided to cart the two off to Coldtown, on a journey that almost constantly threaten her life. The back story is a little on the complex side, but once you get the hang of it, this is a smartly written book with interesting characters and a dynamic plot that whips through over the course of just a few days. An interesting new take for the vampire genre, just when you thought there was nothing left to say.
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell – $21.95
Rainbow Rowell has had quite a fantastic year. Both of her releases (the other being Eleanor & Park) have been gobbled up by readers and praised by critics, so much so that she’s recently been bestowed the honour of writing the ‘Best Young Adult Fiction’ by GoodReads members. What’s neat about this book compared to most YA is that it doesn’t take place within the halls of a high school. Instead, it follows Cath as she starts out her college career, separated from her twin Wren and left to fend for herself. The ‘fangirl’ component of Cath’s persona is she’s been a lifelong Simon Snow fan (i.e. a very thinly veiled Harry Potter proxy): writing fan fiction, creating her own wild stories (including making the two main male characters gay and in love), and dressing up in costumes for the films. But what happens when you take an introverted fanfic writer and plop her into the social world of college? That’s what this simply written book is all about. It doesn’t build to any particular climax. Instead, it bobs along, introducing you to a cast of wildly familiar characters (including friendly love interest Levi) that feel like friends you’ve known forever. That’s not to say it’s boring. Not in the least. Instead, it’s the type of story that speaks directly to your heart and mind, as a teen or as an adult reflecting on that particular time. A fantastic pick for high school seniors in particular, on the precipice of true young adulthood.
Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick – $20
After his debut novel for adults, Silver Linings Playbook, was released, a resurgence in author Matthew Quick’s work quickly followed. However, the author has been dabbling in YA fiction as of late, including last year’s well-regarded Boy 21 and this year’s equally sharp Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock. The book is vaguely reminiscent of another much-lauded YA book, 13 Reasons Why, in that both stories deal with suicide, only in this instance, the main character is still alive. Our protagonist is the titular Leonard Peacock, a boy who is planning to kill his best friend and then himself on his birthday. Before he does so however, he wants to say goodbye to four prominent people in his life (whether they know it or not). The story tackles the rather sensitive subject of suicide in a very frank but heart-rending way. You can feel the loneliness practically drip off the page, as Leonard reveals himself to be a perfectly likable, relatable person that just wants to be loved and understood by someone else – but finding that person proves to be quite difficult as his interactions throughout the day prove. Again, another great story for young people in particular as it will hopefully not only help lessen some of the teenage heartache they’re feeling, but also open their eyes to someone around them that might be suffering too.
Jessica Darling’s It List: The (Totally Not) Guaranteed Guide to Popularity, Prettiness & Perfection by Megan McCafferty – $19
I grew up alongside Jessica Darling, the sarcastic anti-heroine of Megan McCafferty’s Sloppy Firsts YA and ‘new adult’ series. So when she announced her next move after a few years away from the Jessica Darling saga was to write a series of prequels documenting how ‘Notso’ Darling became the neurotic, intelligent, Marcus Flutie-loving girl we’ll meet five years later, I was intrigued. On the eve of her first day of junior high, Jessica’s older and practically perfect sister Bethany hands over a cheat sheet for how to survive and actually thrive in the school’s complex social schema. The only challenge is, the ‘how-to guide’ is not nearly as clear as it could be. The book is definitely aimed at a middle school (or younger) audience – which isn’t a terrible thing, as it means a whole new generation of girls may be introduced to what is truly a wonderful series. And there’s still plenty of fun stuff for long-time fans of the series by getting insight into Jessica’s past, including her strained relationship with her sister, her first ever interactions with Marcus, Hope and her frenemies, and even a misguided foray into cheerleading. A cute gift idea for your tween niece.
The 100 by Kass Morgan – $20
The world as we know it is no more. Instead, it exists in a sort of desolate, Wall-E-esque state of radioactive waste. Those lucky enough to have survived are now hovering over the planet, only now, the government has sent 100 delinquent, expendable teens down to Earth to see if it’s worth salvaging. As you can imagine, the story devolves into a kind of Lord of the Flies-esque chaos, as the planet is infused with fresh, troubled, teenage blood, each grappling with heartache and wild-running emotions. The book hopscotches between four different points-of-view (with brief flashbacks that help deepen the romantic ties between the characters) – Clarke, Bellamy, Wells and Glass. It makes for a slightly herky jerky reading experience, but the world and story is riveting enough to draw you in, particularly if you enjoy the whole sci fi / dystopian romance trend. As an extra selling point, the book has already been picked up for development by the CW into a new TV show that’s set to launch this winter. The story provides the right kind of framework for a really compelling show that can stand on its own, so if you want to get ahead of the buzz, pick up a copy now.
Picture Me Gone by Meg Rosoff – $18.95
Apart from the Printz Award, another notable stamp of approval for YA writers comes in the form of being a National Book Award winner or finalist – like Meg Rosoff is for this interesting book. Mila, our tween-aged protagonist, has a gift. Not of the supernatural variety per se, but just an uncanny ability to spot details and clues about people and situations, almost like a proto-Sherlock Holmes but without the stodgy and murder mystery-esque overtones. Instead, her primo mystery within these pages is determining the whereabouts of her father’s best friend, Matthew. Despite having a surprisingly mature voice (at times, perhaps a little unrealistically so), Mila is eventually brought down to earth after a shocking reveal about a loved one she is particularly close with (I don’t want to spoil it – but it’ll blow your mind as much as it does young Mila’s). It’s interesting to see what are essentially adult stories and adult mistakes through a young person’s eyes, making this read equally enjoyable for complex and complicated and kinda messy adults as much as it is for teens.
Apparition by Gail Gallant – $14.95
Canadians are still woefully underrepresented in YA fiction, so I was psyched to see this fantasy entry that’s not only written by a Canadian, but set in rural Ontario. The gist of the book follows a girl named Amelia, who is absolutely devastated after the death of her closest friend (and crush) Matthew, in an apparent suicide. However Amelia also happens to be in possession of a special gift to see ghosts – including Matthew – one that puts in her the sights of Morris, a local columnist (and semi-conspiracy theorist) that believes the barn is haunted. Things get complicated when Amelia meets Morris’ intriguing nephew Kip, who isn’t quite as quick to jump on the ghostly bandwagon. On paper, it’s bizarre to have a love triangle between Amelia, the ghostly incarnation of Matthew, and Kip, but in actuality it’s executed quite well. Beyond that, Gallant delivers lots of story to keep you intrigued, so if you feel like paranormal romances are so 2008, rest assured – this one’s got much more going for it. An especially entertaining read if you’ve actually been to or live in the Grey County area.
Allegiant by Veronica Roth – $21.99
After The Hunger Games, the next most buzziest series would likely be Veronica Roth’s Divergent. Although admittedly not my favourite series amongst the slew of YA fiction that exists out there, there’s no denying the level of buzz around the conclusion to this trilogy and the upcoming movie adaptation of the first film, starring Kate Winslet and Shailene Woodley. To bring you up to speed, the gist of the story surrounds a girl named Tris that’s grown up in a dystopian evolution of Chicago, which is now a barred-in city divided into five ‘factions’ based on what each individual deems most important (selflessness, knowledge, truth, fearlessness, and peace, respectively). Tris’ cross to bear has been the fact she doesn’t just fit into one of these groups, which is considered a dangerous thing. Over the first two novels, the faction system was essentially questioned from within and dismantled – but all is not peaceful as the Amity faction members might have hoped. After the bombshell ending of the second book, Tris and her friends look for answers – answers that can only be found outside of the Chicago compound’s walls. Narrated in equal parts by Tris and her boyfriend Tobias, the novel explores whether any leadership can ever be trusted, and what sacrifice really means. And despite being a 500-pound page, readers will find they quickly breeze through the fast-paced action, right through to the breathless conclusion.
Disclaimer alert: this list is far from a definitive selection of the great YA reads out there. As with all of my holiday reads suggestions, there are just ways to give you some guidance when browsing the bricks & mortar or virtual bookstore. Anyway, I’ve also got two five-book prize packages featuring the titles you see above to give away, if you’re interested, read on to find out how you could win one of them:
1) Tell me in the comments below by January 6th: Which of these YA titles would you be interested in paging through and why?
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 January 7th to select the winners, 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 for this promotion.
4) Bonus Entries: If you’re interested in staying in the loop on the publishers that worked with me on this post, all you have to do is sign up for their social media, and while you’re at it, earn bonus entries into this fun giveaway!
Raincoast Books – Is the publisher of Tumble & Fall and Fangirl. Like them on Facebook, leave a comment on their wall about which of their YA titles you’re most excited about (feel free to view their website to see more), and link back to your comment below (it can be done, Google it).
Random House of Canada – Is the publisher of Picture Me Gone, Hijacked, Apparition, and Rose Under Fire. Like them on Facebook, leave a comment on their wall about which of their titles you’re most excited about (feel free to view their website to learn more), and link back to your comment below.
Hachette Book Group – Is the publisher of Jessica Darling’s It List, The 100, Reality Boy, The Enchantress Returns, Forgive Me Leonard Peacock and The Coldest Girl In Coldtown. Like them on Facebook, leave a comment on their wall about which of their titles you’re most excited about (feel free to view their website to learn more), and link back to your comment below.
5) Bonus Entries Part Deux: Add as many of these titles as you’re genuinely interested in reading to GoodReads. Leave a link back to your GoodReads to-read list and earn one extra entry per addition.