I have a policy about not listing books by people I know as Top Ten books at the end of the year. That policy becomes harder to maintain the more authors I get to know. On the one hand, I don’t want to hurt people’s feelings by listing some, but not all the books by people I know. On the other hand, if I did not know a particular author whose book I loved, I would go ahead and enthuse about it, so why should I punish readers by staying silent?
I will continue to omit books by people I know from my year-end Top Ten lists, but I am forging ahead (with some trepidation) to recommend a few today. Good luck to us all! The only thing I can hope is that authors who know me and get offended will in turn refuse to mention MY book on their blog, when it comes out. Heh.
1) THE DEMON’S LEXICON, by Sarah Rees Brennan, is about two demon-fighting brothers in England who are forced to move from town to town with their half-crazed mother, who stole a powerful charm from an evil magician many years before.
I really don’t want to say too much about this book, because it’s best savored without knowing a lot of details beforehand. I will say that it blew my mind. In fact, it won’t leave my mind, which is why I had to break my books-by-authors-I-know rule! It’s dark, yet it has comedic moments. It’s Harry Potter-esque fantasy, but with a more grown-up feel to it. I’m so glad I have a first edition of this book … someday I’m going to get Sarah’s autograph on it.
2) THE SECRETS OF TRUTH AND BEAUTY, by Megan Frazer, just came out this week! It’s about a girl who was a beauty pageant winner as a child, but who has not been little or adorable in a long time. Megan actually got the spark of inspiration for this book from the movie “Little Miss Sunshine.” As anyone who has seen the movie knows, families are complicated; this book explores what family really means – sometimes it’s people you’re related to, sometimes it’s people who love you for who you really are.
3) TORCHED, by April Henry, is a fast-paced thriller about a teen girl forced to go undercover in an Earth First-type environmental group. Not only is there (are there?) love and lies and bombs, but it's set in Portland!
Let’s call this next section A Tale of Two Books:
4) I finally found time to read the 2009 Printz Award winner – JELLICOE ROAD, by Melina Marchetta.
Librarians are professional readers. So if a bunch of them get together and declare a book to be the BEST Young Adult novel they’ve read, you can be sure that book will be worth your time. Here’s what the Printz Committee had to say about JELLICOE ROAD:
“This roller coaster ride of a novel grabs you from the first sentence and doesn’t let go. You may not be sure where the ride will take you, but every detail—from the complexities of the dual narrative to the pangs of first love—is pitch perfect.”
As an author, I consider myself kind of a professional reader, too. In my efforts to craft compelling prose, I spend a lot of time pondering things like plot, pacing, dialogue, and emotion.
But most readers are not professional readers. They want to be grabbed from the first sentence - yes, JELLICOE ROAD does that – and taken on some kind of journey, whether it’s bumpy and dark, twisty and tree-filled, or full of surprises popping up around every corner. They do not want to be blindfolded and stuffed in the trunk, able to hear only bits and pieces of conversation from your characters … and yes, JELLICOE ROAD does that, too.
When I reached page 100 and still didn’t know where I was going, let alone who was in the car, I almost put the book down. But I’m a professional reader, and the book is a Printz Award winner … it’s almost my duty to read it. So I kept going, and yes, the details are “pitch perfect.”
But I wonder how many people put the book down when they couldn’t figure out who all those MANY characters were (The Brigadier? The boy in the tree?) … and why “hostages” were being taken … and what the story in italics had to do with the rest of the narrative. I can’t help thinking a few simple edits would have clarified some of those details, and kept readers from giving up on the book.
Please don’t take this as an admonition not to read the book – it’s really wonderful, but you must be committed to it in order to achieve your reward. In an attempt to provide the kind of synopsis that would have helped me when I was just starting the book, here’s part of what School Library Journal had to say:
“Grade 8 Up—For years, three factions—Townies, Cadets (city kids doing a six-week outdoor education program), and Jellicoe School students—have engaged in teen war games in the Australian countryside, defending territorial borders, negotiating for assets, and even taking hostages. Taylor Markham, a 17-year-old who was abandoned years ago by her mother, takes on leadership of the boarding school's six Houses. Plagued with doubts about being boss, she's not sure she can handle her Cadet counterpart, Jonah Griggs, whom she met several years before while running away to find her mother. When Hannah, a sort of house mother who has taken Taylor under her wing, disappears, Taylor puzzles over the book manuscript the woman left behind.”
5) I was lucky enough to read an ARC of CATCHING FIRE, the second book in Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games series.
This book is almost the polar opposite of the previous one. When you buckle up for this ride, the car accelerates steadily, until you’re starting to feel a little nervous, and you want to ask the driver to slow down … but it’s too late, the car has taken a sharp turn off the paved road and is screaming downhill, careening around corners, making you want to shut your eyes and whimper.
I loved it, even though I couldn’t sleep after I finished it … and then when I did, I had nightmares.
That was fun!
But I still want to do a meme, write some flash fiction, and host Tim Gunn at my blog again someday soon.
Stay tuned ...