I read some YA lit as a teen, but it was mostly terrible Christopher Pike (someone’s stalking us and teens are going to have sex and die) and the melodramatic Lurlene McDaniels (I’m/You’re/He’s too young to die). There were very few authors I read then that I’m still a fan of, in terms of YA stuff.
My YA renaissance happened when I got my first teaching contract for a September to June job. I taught not English, but Math and Science. So what? I developed the strange reputation as the Math Teacher with the ridiculous classroom library. At the start of the year, I began talking with my students about what I saw them reading, and then started reading those books myself. I learned that YA has really come into its own, and often I find fresher, more interesting writing happening there than I do in adult fiction. Students then started asking me what to read, causing me to read a wider variety, and it all just evolved from there. One of my final professional jobs in education (which I stopped doing because of E’s illness and internal politics) was to write the English curricula for a Saturday School program for grades 1-7.
Although I haven’t done anything related to teenagers in real life for something like 18 months, I still do read quite a bit of YA. I have favorite authors who I like to keep up with, and like I said, I generally find really great writing happening there and innovation far different from what I’m finding in adult fiction.
Because I am heavily invested in YA, I have several authors by whom I couldn’t just recommend one or two books, and then individual books I want to call out for merit. So today we’ll just focus on four authors I have an ongoing love for.
Maureen Johnson is an author who I truly admire on many levels. Not only has she written some of my all-time favorite (and most recommended) YA lit, I’ve also had cause to read her blog aloud in my classes from time to time (most notably around the release of HP 7 the book when she invented spoilers about what would happen in the series finale). She makes an effort to connect to her fanbase via twitter and facebook and even has appeared in the VLOG Brothers webseries as an honorary websister, as well as recording funny podcasts (check iTunes-they’re free) and her own youtube channel. She’s like that cool girl who wasn’t snotty but was still way too cool for you to be hanging out with (or me, anyways), especially since she hangs out with a bunch of other really cool YA authors in NYC.
Anyways, now that I’ve pumped your expectations super high, my favorite books by Maureen are…
- The Bermudez Triangle–Three girls are best friends. One goes away to a summer program and comes back to find the other two are dating….each other.
- Devilish–Can’t really say I was suprised to see the Devil working over Catholic High Schools in Providence…kind of made sense to me, actually.
- 13 Little Blue Envelopes–Your beloved aunt dies, but you get instructions to carry out her post-death orders contained in 13 Little Blue Envelopes. Do you drop everything and go to Europe and do crazy things? How do you even convince your parents to let you if you want to?
- Suite Scarlett–You’d think your family owning an old art-deco era hotel in New York would be cool, wouldn’t you? Not so much when your family is going broke, your brother wants to be an actor, your sister is dating the king of the prepster and your other little sister gets out of doing everything. And the tenant of the room you’re responsible for? Seems a little cah-ray-zee.
John Green came to my attention because he’s a friend of Maureen Johnson and she was congratulating him on winning the Printz Award for one of his books (Looking for Alaska, which we’ll get to in a minute). I then checked out his book, his hysterical vlog project with his brother Hank (they eschewed print contact for a year, choosing only to talk via vlog on youtube). He and his brother also created the Nerdfighters, who dedicate themselves to adding awesome and removing suck from the world. There are nerdfighter meetups all over the US (I thought about attending several in Boston but was worried about being a creepy old lady) to do community service or just hang out. He also has a twitter and facebook presence. What I like about him is that he writes such amazing characters and plots…and unlike a lot of fiction I read, it’s from a male perspective (male protagonists) and it almost feels like I get to root around in the head of an alien species (men, obvs).
The must reads
- Looking for Alaska-The story is split into two–Before and After. I can’t tell you what, because the event is horrific, shocking and painfully real. The Event was actually an excerpt I had to fight long and vocally to keep in my 7th grade English curricula. It’s a powerful book and deserves all of the accolades it gets.
- An Abundance of Katherines–Why does this guy keep falling for girls named Katherine? 18 of them, in fact. Is there a mathematical equation that can explain it? His best friend Hassan has a better solution–road trip. Where they end up in Gunshot, TN.
- Paper Towns–Q has always loved Margo, the literal girl next door. But when she runs away, her parents wash their hands of her. He wonders if she’s committed suicide or if she wants him to follow her? He decides the latter and learns the painful lesson we all have to learn-the person we “love” isn’t always the person that’s real.
- Let it Snow–Co-written with Maureen Johnson!!! (and Lauren Myracle). John’s contribution is “A Cheertastic Christmas” which pits our heroes in a race to get to the Waffle House in a blizzard before some other dudes get there and snag the cheerleaders trapped there (Maureens is about a girl named Jubilee’s ruined Xmas when her parents are arrested in a fistfight over a piece of Holiday memorbilia–and the stories related and intertwine!). Perfect stocking stuffer
In the course of writing this entry I’ve also learned the John Green has a new book out, which I just downloaded onto my kindle. I’ll let you know what I think.
Scott Westerfeld is a contemporary of Maureen Johnson’s (they are part of the same YA writing group along with others, including Westerfeld’s wife, Justine Larbaleister) but he writes very different work. He’s another one of those “I like too much of your stuff not to feature you” authors. He has a blog, twitter, and facebook presence as well. I find his wit far more dry than Green or Johnson’s, but I really like his voice.
- The Uglies Books-Set in a future dystopia, the world of the Uglies books is one where you are “fixed” at 16 via any and all operations needed to make you “Pretty,” at which point you get to move to Prettytown. Tally’s friends all have birthdays before her, leaving her lonely and longing for her 16 birthday when she meets Shay, who has the exact same birthday as her-a friend she won’t have to leave behind! But things go to hell when Shay decides she doesn’t want the operations, and runs away. Special Circumstances (the elite police) say that Tally has to get her back or she’ll be Ugly forever. The four books go from there, chronicling the fall of the Pretty and Ugly world, and the freedom fighters. Technology is shown as the gift and curse it is, and you’ll end it all wondering where you really do stand on that new iPhone. The four books are Uglies, Pretties, Specials, and Extras. There’s also a companion book called From Bogus to Bubbly.
- His Peeps books present Vampirism as an STD. You get it and then you can’t stop thinking about sex. Except if you have sex-hell if you even french kiss, you’ll spread the disease. Cal is a college freshman infected with the disease, but immune from its negative effects-a Peep-and his new “job” with the Nightwatch (they’ve been secretly running NYC since the 1600’s) is to round up every girl he’s kissed and find the girl who infected him. Oh, and something very bad is stirring under NYC. The two books are Peeps and The Last Days.
- I like the Midnighters series less, but it’s also worth reading. Four teens have special powers, but only in the “blue hour” between midnight and 12:01. But there are bad guys, and scary things that happen in that blue hour. The powers are pretty intriguing-my favorite is Dess, the polymath whose magic lays in 13 letter words and who has math skills far beyond average. There’s also a pyschic, someone who can fly, and other powers. There’s fantasy and horror in the series, making it a good read almost regardless of your preferences. But it does lack that extra special something that drew me to Uglies–maybe the lack of actual dystopia rather than threatened. The three books are The Secret Hour, Touching Darkness, and Blue Noon,
Tamora Pierce is the only one of these four authors who I actually read when I still qualified as a young adult. When I first picked up one of her books, I believe I was about 11 or 12…almost 8 years after it had been originally published (I was suprised to find out her first book was published in 1983–and is still be reprinted and is hugely popular with tweenage girls today-not that it’s still popular, that it was published in ’83). I liked her strong female protagonists (who still struggled with love, rather than eschewing it), her clever writing, and her inclusion of (mostly off the page) sex, which I’d never seen before in a book that wasn’t expressly for grownups. She has a facebook page, but it’s not maintained, and does not have a twitter account. I think what is most amazing about her writing is that I loved it in the late 80’s early 90’s when I read it, still find the books to be engaging and well written as an adult and my modern day students in the 5th grade also fell hard for Pierce (my 6th graders by and large already knew and loved her).
Pierce writes in two different worlds, but I really ever got into her Tortall books.
- The Lioness Quartet is the story of Alanna, the first girl Knight in hundreds of years. She disguises herself as a boy during her training (although Prince Jonathan and several friends find out and help her maintain the disguise), and befriends the King of Thieves. The quartet covers her training and her first few years as a Knight. Although she’s a fighter, she’s also a magician and she constantly fights against what people expect of her. The series is Alanna: The First Adventure, In the Hand of the Goddess, The Woman Who Rides Like a Man, and Lioness Rampant.
- The Immortals Quartet is about Daine, who has unusual magic powers. She can speak the languages of animals, and even shape shift. But this magic is dangerous and strange, so she’s been alienated. She finds her place in King Jonathan’s (from the Lioness Quartet) court. A bit preachy about saving the environment and living in harmony with animals, but not the point where it isn’t still something I would pick up any day and enjoy. The series is Wild Magic, Wolf-Speaker, The Emperor Mage, and The Realm of the Gods.
- Protector of the Small Series. This quartet tells the story of Kell, the first girl since Alanna to step forward to try for her Knight’s shield. Alanna is forbidden any contact with Kell, and Kell is then alone with almost no support in a group of men who would like to see her fail, proving Alanna some freak of nature. The quartet is First Test, Page, Squire, and Lady Knight.