On The Same Page: The Best YA Reads This Holiday Season
I have another post coming up specifically for the teenage set, but I wanted to take a moment to highlight my #1 gift idea for young adults – books! The YA market is still bustling with amazingly inventive stories that seek to either capture those painful yet freeing teenage years, or creative tales with broad adult appeal that don’t just don’t bother to comply with the rules of adulthood (sigh, 9-to-5’s don’t make for interesting literature). I’ve highlighted some of the best young adult fiction out there to help you find the perfect title for the tween, teen, student, or adult on your shopping (reading) list!
The Diabolic by S.J. Kincaid – $23.99
If this book sounds like a bit of mashup based on the image above – it kind of is. But I mean that in the best way possible. It marries space and robots and technology with this sort of Greco-Roman Ancient Court, similar to what you might read in Red Queen, The Winner’s Curse, or Red Rising (in fact, it most closely reminded me of the latter). Our heroine is quite unexpected: a teenage humanoid created to protect the daughter of a senator. When that daughter is taken hostage, Nemesis assumes her identity and steps into her place, while hiding her deadly capabilities. The tricky part? Nemesis is still a robot. It’s actually the coolest part of the book, to marry this feeling of coldness and not understanding with Nemesis’ deep ability to love. After wowing audiences with her Insignia series, author S.J. Kincaid dives into a pretty huge arsenal of motifs and genres, crafting a semi-sci fi standalone tale that has to rank as one of the most creative I’ve read on this list.
You in Five Acts by Una La Marche – $23.99
Set in New York City, this book follows five teenagers attending a prestigious arts school, all with dreams of making it big – and obstacles in their way. From a black ballerina determined to be the next Misty Copeland to a Hollywood teenage heartthrob looking ahead to the next chapter in his life to a girl with all the potential – and male attention – in the world that might throw it away for the saddest of reasons, there’s plenty to keep you turning the page. Most interestingly, the story is told in sort of a snowball effect style, as the character’s stories create an inadvertent domino effect that results in an epic tragedy. A gritty tale of hope, love and aspirations set in the big apple – it’s a YA match made in heaven.
Our Chemical Hearts by Krystal Sutherland – $23.99
This book is being touted as a great pick for fans of mega authors like Rainbow Rowell and John Green – and I don’t disagree with that recommendation one bit. It also reminded me a lot of the lovely movie (500) Days of Summer, in that both tales follow the story of a boy, in this case, Henry, falling in head over heels for a quirky girl (Grace), essentially idealizing her without getting to know her. Grace is a surprising choice for Henry to fall for – after all, she showed up at his school out of nowhere in senior year, she may usurp Henry as the school’s newspaper editor, she’s got a limp, wears boys’ clothes, and has questionable personal hygiene. But as Grace and Henry grow close, there’s something he can’t resist about her – even as he can’t figure her out. Naturally, as the pieces fall into place, Henry begins to realize that loving the idea of someone isn’t quite the same as loving them. This is a sweet, believable story that I imagine 99% of its readers will totally relate to – highly recommend!
Kids of Appetite by David Arnold – $24.40
Vic is still grieving the loss of his father from cancer when his mother announces she’s getting married again – even worse, to a pretty average dude with two nasty sons that tease Vic for his birth defect, which has caused none of his facial muscles to work. Horrified, Vic runs away with his father’s ashes in tow, and bumps into a group of kids he’s seen around the neighbourhood. They turn out to be two refugee brothers (Baz, the de facto leader, and Zuz, his mute little brother), a girl named Mad with a troubled home life and a penchant for The Outsiders, and Coco, a redheaded tween with a rather salty personality. The foursome induct Vic into their group as he aims to complete a mission – to scatter his father’s ashes according to a letter tucked into his urn to his mother, one that appears to be written just for them, as it’s written in sort of an intimate shorthand. As Vic uncovers more about his parents life together, the story is intercut with police interviews – turns out this little clan might know something about a murder that takes place during their adventures. This is a heartwarming read with some spectacularly unique characters, and watching Vic decode the clues (particularly with how the story ends) was a highlight.
With Malice by Eileen Cook – $25.99
You don’t hear a ton about Canadian YA authors, so it was extra cool to be able to feature one with a pretty buzzy release in this roundup. Brainy Jill wakes up in a hospital bed in America, to find out that the semester abroad she thought she was about to take has actually already passed – her memory has been wiped after a car accident that claimed the life of her best friend Simone. Worse still, the media is in a frenzy about the two young, beautiful American girls that were supposedly feuding shortly before the accident, and the sexy Italian boy that may have come between them. If threads of this sound familiar, you can bet that cases like Amanda Knox’s infamous story loosely inspired it. The main point here is to drive home how easily a plausible story can be crafted from the sketchiest of details – similar to books like Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places. I’m personally a sucker for any amnesia storylines, and coupled with the sensationalist nature of this book’s origin, it’s a pretty riveting read.
Still Life with Tornado by A.S. King – $23.69
I truly believe A.S. King is one of the most inventive writers out there. She basically writes literary fiction for young adults, and while sometimes it’s a little too out there for my tastes, in other cases, she sticks the landing to great effect. This book is the latter – it’s a stunning story about a girl named Sarah who has unofficially dropped out of high school after a traumatic incident. As she meanders around the city, Sarah runs into other versions of herself – younger, older, you name it. With their influence, Sarah begins to question some of her life circumstances. Why is her brother actually estranged? What happened during her family trip to Mexico? Who is responsible for Sarah’s art class trauma? The answers are surprising – and land with stunning force as they pile up. This is one of those YA books that really moved me – and felt entirely appropriate for an adult audience to take a LOT away from.
Heartless by Marissa Meyer – $27.99
In the acknowledgements of this book, Marissa Meyer kicks things off by noting that she was in a meeting with her agents, lamenting how she wished Gregory Maguire would write a tale similar to Wicked, but on Alice in Wonderland‘s Queen of Hearts. Her agents suggested she take a crack at it. The result is this fairy tale-esque story brimming with whimsy and anguish. Cath is the daughter of a nobleman, with dreams of opening a bakery with her best friend / maid. But society being what it is, Cath’s sweet treats have caught the eye of the King. The night she’s to be proposed to, however, Cath meets the King’s new Court Joker, a magical fellow named Jest. Cath and Jest form a quick, but forbidden bond – and as Cath is marched closer and closer to a destiny she doesn’t want, the danger in Hearts only escalates. Given that we more or less know how it ends – spoiler alert, Cath becomes the Queen of Hearts – it’s a pretty heartbreaking story. But on the plus side, fans of Alice in Wonderland will love all the little prequel details that help illustrate how signature characters got their, well, character. With a mixture of nursery rhymes, Alice, fairy tales, and magic, it’s a spellbinding tale from one of the most popular names in YA fiction.
Trouble Makes a Comeback by Stephanie Tromley – $23.72
If you haven’t had the pleasure of reading about Zoe Webster and Philip Digby, then you’re in for a treat. The unlikely pairing first co-starred in the whip smart Trouble is a Friend of Mine, when new girl / undeserving outcast Zoe crosses paths with Digby, a sort of amateur sleuth that wears a formal suit to class…when he shows up. Digby’s on a mission, and Zoe, Digby’s dreamy childhood friend, a nerdy underclassman, and the most popular girl in school all get wrapped up in trying to uncover the mystery of a missing girl at school (although in Digby’s case, there’s more than meets the eye as to why he’s involved). In the sequel, Digby drops into Zoe’s life once again, this time when she’s far more settled. While the plot is just as zany and over the top as the first novel, it is once again grounded in the gritty realities of being a teenager. With the sort of old school whizzbang chemistry you’d expect to see in a black and white film, the characters leap off the page, while the plot is a fun, over the top backdrop. A fun read from start to finish.
Fate of Flames by Sarah Raughley – $23.99
Coolness, another Canadian author in the mix! This book is a whole lot of girl power in one package – although it’s not easy being an all powerful Effigy. There’s the matter of big scary phantoms attacking major cities, although thankfully some technologies have helped prevent them and the four Effigies have instead gone on to become celebs with a life of relative leisure. That is, until an attack on the unsuspecting Effigies lands one of them dead (which some people are suggesting was by suicide), and that girl’s powers are passed onto outcast Maia. Soon the four girls are called on to actually use their powers again – and work together, which is easier said than done. Channeling a whole host of pop culture faves – the ‘calling’ of powers reminded me of Buffy, while the action-y bits channeled the Avengers and Pacific Rim, and of course, the girl group with celestial powers easily brought to mind Sailor Moon – this is riveting first entry into a promising new series.
Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo – $26.99
This book was pretty much my most anticipated read of the season – and it completely lived up to the hype. Leigh Bardugo dazzled me last year with Six of Crows, her caper of a band of outcasts and thieves on an impossible mission – think: Harry Potter meets Ocean’s 11 meets Suicide Squad. The series is simply a duology (regrettably, but also not) – this is the only other book. This second, much longer installment, is sort of a snowball effect. It picks up not far after the previous book ends (with one of the group captured), and ‘The Six’ take on increasingly complex and dangerous jobs to try and get their glorious payday, seek revenge, and perhaps most important – stay alive. I can’t emphasize enough how delightful these books are. The plot, the pacing, the characters, the humour, everything is on point. Read them. Now!
So…who would like to win all 10 books I featured in this post? If you’re in, here’s how to enter for your shot at taking home an amazing stack of books to get you through the winter months!
1) First & foremost: you must be a subscriber to the Canadian Gift Guide to enter this giveaway. It’s as simple as finding ‘The Gift of Gab’ box in the righthand column and dropping in your email or clicking follow. Then leave me a comment below by December 4, 2016 telling me your top three reads from this list!
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 December 5, 2016 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! Just be sure to leave separate comments with links back to earn your bonus entries.
Raincoast Books – Is the distributor of Crooked Kingdom, Heartless, and With Malice. Follow them on Twitter and Tweet about this giveaway tagging me, them, and linking back to this post.
Penguin Random House of Canada – Is the publisher of Trouble Makes a Comeback, Still Life With Tornado, Kids of Appetite, and Our Chemical Hearts, and You in Five Acts. Follow both Penguin and Random House on Twitter and Tweet about this giveaway tagging me, them, and linking back to this post. And yes, this counts for two entries!
Simon & Schuster – Is the publisher of the Fate of Flames and The Diabolic. Follow them on Twitter and Tweet about this giveaway tagging me, them, and linking back to this post.