2014 Nerdy Awards for Young Adult Fiction Announced by Donalyn Miller and Nerdy Nation (Part Two)
This post takes up where yesterday’s post left off–celebrating this year’s Nerdy Award winners for Young Adult Fiction. Thanks to Teri Lesesne, Jillian Heise, Kevin English, Kathy M. Burnette, Katherine Sokolowski, Paul W. Hankins, Sarah Gross, Don Miller, Cindy Minnich, David Macginnis Gill, Jennifer Fountain, and Karin Perry for contributing reading responses and reviews for our 2014 Nerdy Awards for Young Adult Fiction posts. Sometimes, crazy Christmas Eve plans work out.
Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld
“Oh my gosh! My mother is going to kill me for packing more books, but can I please borrow this for first semester?” Kayla, a recent alum, was helping me unpack my classroom library over the summer when she picked up Afterworlds. Of course, I said yes and sent Kayla off to college with my brand-new copy of Afterworlds. I had read an e-ARC of the book and could not put it down. But more importantly, I mentally composed a list of students who absolutely, positively needed a copy of this book in their hands. With chapters that alternate between the main character’s life as a debut teen (both in book genre and age!) author in New York City and her novel-in-revision, it captures the life that my writers want to live. They recognized some of their favorite YA authors in the cameos throughout the book, empathize with 18-year old Darcy’s writing struggles, and upon finishing the book immediately demand that the YA novel-within-a-novel continue as a series. Scott Westerfeld, already a perennial favorite among my teens, hits it out of the park with Afterworlds. Kayla was one of the first students I thought of while reading it. While it certainly is a huge book (Kayla’s mom was probably right- it takes up a lot of room on that small dorm room bookshelf!), it’s an “unputdownable book” in the words of my readers!—Sarah Gross
Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith
It is rare indeed for me to get the opportunity to read a book worth recommending to my wife before she has read it, cataloged it, and recommended/sent it to one of her many nerdy pals. Through luck and circumstance, Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith was one such book. Travelling for the weekend I begged for something new to read and was handed this title as “Something I might enjoy,” it’s introduction should have been grander. I was sucked into Grasshopper Jungle immediately.
It wasn’t just the great story. A joyride mix of Sci-Fi, Humor, and Horror in which 16-year-old Austin, his best friend Robbie, and his girlfriend Shann battle for the future of mankind against mutated giant grasshoppers who want nothing more than to eat and mate. It wasn’t just the masterful crafting of that story in a way that saw us jumping through time to meet Austin’s historical relatives, often repeating jokes and themes that have new meanings with each repetition. It was the characters who spoke to me.
That’s wrong—they didn’t just speak to me. They whispered to my secret 15-year-old self, they sang to the long lost memories of high school Don. It was as if Andrew Smith had opened a window into my younger self. All of the ridiculous angst and insecurities were there. The fears and questions about burgeoning sexuality. The love for friends you don’t even know if you deserve. I found myself in a novel I wished had existed for me in the 80’s. I find comfort that there are many young people who will see themselves and know they’re not alone.
And discover the power of unstoppable corn.— Don Miller
T.H. White’s The Once and Future King, Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Terry Brooks’ The Sword of Shannara—my young adult reading life was a endless quest through the library. Growing up in a house with too much fighting, too many siblings, and too little of everything else—I just wanted to get away. The fantasy books I read took me to places I wished were real—worlds where loyalty and cleverness defeat power, the good guys always win in the end, and the least of us—assistant pig-keepers, hobbits, or bookish girls can become heroes.
Reading about wizards and unicorns didn’t separate me from reality— these books helped me forge who I became. On my best days, I’m a champion for the underdog, a woman who recognized true love when he arrived, a storyteller, a secret keeper. On my worst days, I’m mercurial, a dragon who dreams of turning my transgressors into mice and devouring them.
Sometimes, life has too much grey in it. We need stark lines between the white robes and the black ones. We need reminders that honor and love can triumph. We need a little magic.
Three of our YA Nerdy Award winners offer readers a touch of magic and a double-dose of empowerment. Put these titles in the hands of teens still waiting for their Hogwarts letters. They don’t need one to become heroes.
Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater
Maggie Stiefvater sits on my short list of authors whose every book I purchase, consume in days, and evangelize to other readers. I want to live in Maggie’s books. I want to ride wild horses across a Thisby beach, run through Mercy Falls’ forests, and find ancient kings in Cabeswater. Most of all, I like Maggie’s girls—smart, unwillingly brave, fiercely loyal, and a little reckless.
In the third installment of the Raven Cycle series, Blue Lily, Lily Blue, Blue Sargent and her Raven Boys continue their quest to uncover the tomb of a long-forgotten Welsh king and discover more secrets about Cabeswater’s magic, their families’ pasts and their own powers. Overshadowed by her psychic family for too long, Blue’s abilities move to the forefront in this book—proving her talents are as vital to Gansey’s company as predicting the future or creating animals from air. As the friends barrel toward the conclusion of their quest, readers wonder what the future of this company will be when their journey ends.--Donalyn Miller
The Story of Owen by E.K. Johnston
If you’ve ever wished dragons were real, The Story of Owen by debut author, E.K. Johnston reimagines human history—from World War II to Gordon Lightfoot lyrics—in a world ravaged by dragons. After a battle that almost took her life, Owen’s aunt can’t work as a dragon-slayer anymore, so she becomes his teacher—showing him how to study dragon behavior and wield a sword. Siobhan becomes Owen’s bard—the keeper of his stories and his best friend. When the inevitable final showdown between Owen and the dragons arrives, the cost of adventure and friendship may be too high for Siobhan to pay. Part fantasy, part alternative history, part high school friendship tale, The Story of Owen will surprise readers who think they learned everything they needed to know about dragons from Saint George and Eragon.-Donalyn Miller
Mortal Heart by Robin LaFevers
In the third book of the His Fair Assassin trilogy, Mortal Heart, Robin LaFevers brings readers back to 15th Century Brittany one more time. The followers of St. Mortain are trained assassins for Death, groomed from a young age to seek out transgressors and deliver justice. Annith follows the adventures of her fellow acolytes, Ismae and Sybella (protagonists of the previous two books), and waits for the day when she can leave the convent and have her own adventures. When the Abbess appoints Annith as Seeress, a powerful role that takes her freedom and dooms her to a life spent in seclusion, Annith escapes to the Breton court and preparations for a war with the French. Filled with court intrigue, battles, ancient religions, and star-crossed romance, this series invites readers into a world where women find their power and wield it.-Donalyn Miller
How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon
This book could not have been more timely. While the nation has been talking about how black lives matter and headline after headline has been following stories about racism and violence, How It Went Down takes a look at what happens when Tariq, a black teenager, is shot by Jack Franklin, a white man, on the sidewalk of his neighborhood on a random afternoon. In a chronological telling of the events and what happens in the days that follow, we hear from eyewitnesses and family, gang members and best friends, politicians and shopkeepers — everyone except for Tariq and Jack who only speak through the retellings of the others.
What we realize as we navigate this complicated narrative is that no one has the full story of what happened that day or even a complete understanding of who Tariq is. Every one of the characters – including the press who is covering the story – is struggling to construct a narrative based on the limited information any of them have available. When we as readers get to piece together clues from each narrator and his or her incomplete interpretations and versions of the truth, we get to see the Big Picture – something far too complex to turn into a sound bite.
I’m not sure if the intent was for me to look at the news in a far more critical way, but it happened. If these characters are struggling to get it right, what about the press? I can’t help but wonder as I read or watch the news: Who did they talk to? Who did they miss? How did they describe the people involved – why did they describe them that way? How did they fill in the gaps in the narrative with their own views?
How It Went Down is a powerful and thought-provoking book that just begs to be discussed.— Cindy Minnich
Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira
In Love Letters to the Dead, Laurel gets a beginning-of-the-school-year English assignment that I probably would have loved: write a letter to a dead person. She does – to Kurt Cobain, one of her late sister May’s favorite rock stars. But assignments are expected to be turned in – and Laurel just…doesn’t.
Instead she keeps writing letter after letter to a long list of famous dead people, explaining about her life adjusting to life without May, to her new school, to her new friends, to her first love. She’s angry and confused and her heart spills onto each page as she shares her grief and day-to-day reality – and eventually the truth of what happened to May.
I am drawn to books about lost siblings. I love epistolary novels. But neither of those things are why I love this book. I love it because of Laurel’s lyrical way to describing her world, of confessing her feelings on the page to people she never has to meet. I fell in love with her voice and felt connected to her struggle to find a way through her grief.—Cindy Minnich
Plus One by Elizabeth Fama
In a world where a virulent epidemic has decimated Earth’s population, humankind has become separated into two groups—the Rays, who enjoy the pleasures of working during the day and sleeping at night, and the Smudges, whose diurnal clocks are flipped so that they work at night and sleep in the day. This separation immediately creates a caste system where the Rays are favored and the Smudges get the leftovers. Sol Le Coeur is a Smudge, and her only goal is to make sure her dying grandfather has the chance to see Sol’s niece (whose father is a Ray) before he dies. Her plan leads to havoc, though, and lands her the care of D’Arcy Benoit, a handsome Ray medic. Together, they find out secrets about the government’s plan for the Smudges and try to stop it.
What makes Plus One a compelling read is the terrific world building and the excellent character development among the cast. Add to that a page-turning plot, great details and descriptions, and a well-written romance between Sol and D’Arcy, and Plus One becomes one of the best dystopian novels of the year.—David Macginnis Gill
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han
I’ve been a fan Jenny Han’s work since her debut novel, Shug. With To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, Han again displays her clean narrative style, page-popping dialogue, and gift at finding the heart of a good story and drawing it out. Lara Jean, the main character, is too shy to tell boys how she feels about them, so she writes each one a heartfelt letter, then hides the letters where no one else can see them. Then one day, the letters get mailed, and the cats get out of the bag, and Lara Jean finds herself facing the boys she has loved—including her sister’s all too recent ex, Josh. Add to the mix, a boy named Peter, who pretends to be Lara Jean’s boyfriend to make his own girl jealous. Then there’s the problem Lara Jean has with her sisters, both of whom she’s close to until the box’s contents are revealed. On the surface, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is a light-hearted romance, but as with Han’s other books, there is an immeasurable depth of conflict and characterization, making this novel one the reader can enjoy on many levels. –David Macginnis Gill
Pointe by Brandy Colbert
The year is not complete if you haven’t read a young adult book that is raw and gritty and just punches you right in the gut. A book that makes you want to shake the main character and yell for them to GET. IT. TOGETHER. one second…then gather them in your arms and stroke their hair the next. Pointe was that book for me this year. This is a book that must find a place in every high school classroom; however, it is definitely a “tough stuff” book — it deals with anorexia, a boy returning from being abducted, rape, secret relationships, identity, and the duality of friendship. Yet, it is able to balance all of these issues into a coherent and heart-wrenching novel. Theo’s story will stick with you long after you have turned the last page.—Jennifer Fountain
Silver by Chris Wooding
As a fan of Stephen King and other creepy books, Silver by Chris Wooding was the perfect book for me. It is one of the best science fiction horror stories I’ve read in a long time. In addition to the horror, this book also gives me the dose of apocalyptic drama that I love. So, if you are prepared to be freaked out, by all means, keep reading.
The story takes place at Mortingham Boarding academy – a prison-like school in the remote English countryside. The students are controlled in every aspect of their day and severely punished if they fail to comply. When students start to see mice-size silver beetles scurrying around campus right before the weekend they get excited. Something unusual is happening for once. But, excitement quickly turns to terror when two students are attacked. Soon the two students become sick and are covered with a spreading rash of silver tendrils. Soon these tendrils spread even more and the students become more machine than man and begin attacking students and teachers. The virus starts to spread all across campus.
Five students make their way to the Science Building hoping to find safety. There is Paul, the new kid, Ericka, the perfect girl, Caitlyn, the jealous girl, Adam, the bully, and Mark, the invisible boy. These five students must make a stand, figure out what caused the virus, and find a way to save their school (and beyond). Tension, teen angst, and NON. STOP. ACTION. This is the book to read when you want to be scared.—Karin Perry
I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
Let me just start by saying that I listened to the majority of this book on audio and was in tears for most of that time. Be prepared with a box full of tissues when you start this book. It packs a punch right away. It grips you heart and doesn’t let go until you reach the final page.
Jude and Noah are twins and as close as two people can be. They are each other’s support in all things – until they aren’t. Told in alternating voices, Jude telling narrating the present and Noah narrating the past, the reader gets to see all the working pieces of the tragic events that tear the brother and sister apart.
Jandy Nelson is a master of language. I’m not the only one who things that either. On Goodreads, there are 129 quotes listed that people have pulled from the book. Here is the link to go read some for yourself, but I’m going to pull a few of my favorites for you anyway.
“I gave up practically the whole world for you,” I tell him, walking through the front door of my own love story. “The sun, stars, ocean, trees, everything, I gave it all up for you.”
“This is what I want: I want to grab my brother’s hand and run back through time, losing years like coats falling from our shoulders.”
“And even as I’m kissing him and kissing him and kissing him, I wish I were kissing him, wanting more, more, more, more, like I can’t get enough, never will be able to get enough.”
“In a flash, we’re through the door, across the street and into the woods, running for no reason and laughing for no reason and totally out of breath and out of our minds when Brian catches me by my shirt, whips me around, and with one strong hand flat against my chest, he pushes me against a tree and kisses me so hard I go blind.”
“I understand the quicksand of shame.”
See? I can’t stop! Reading these quotes again put tear in my eyes. There is so much feeling in this book it really and truly hurts my heart. I’ll Give You the Sun is about love, family, forgiveness, and courage. Absolutely amazing book. —Karin Perry
The Infinite Sea by Rick Yancey
Most everyone knows that I’m a fan of Science Fiction. I love post-apocalyptic stories. There is just something about reading about people struggling for survival that I love. So, it’s no surprise that I love Rick Yancey’s The 5th Wave series.
The Infinite Sea is the second book in the series and I dove right in not really knowing what to expect. The synopsis basically gives you a little recap of book one and only mentions Cassie by name so I was a little surprised when she wasn’t the only point of view in the sequel.
The book starts out with Cassie and her small band of survivors hiding out in the hotel she and Evan agreed on at the end of The 5th Wave. Things are rough. It’s winter and they are freezing and supplies are running low and very hard to come by. The plan is to get to some underground caves they know about, but are unsure if they are safe. Plus, Ben, A.K.A. Zombie, is badly injured. So, Ringer decides to go on a scouting mission to check things out and then come back for everyone else. Things really go downhill from here.
Without giving too much away let me say, O.M.G. There were several times during the book that I felt like Rick Yancey was ripping out my heart. Poor, poor Ringer. Much of the story is from her point of view – including the introduction of a new character that really adds some tension and drama. The Infinite Sea gives the reader some major insight into the aliens’ plans for human destruction and let me tell you, I don’t see how this is going to end well for the humans.
One major thing to note, this is NOT a standalone. You definitely need to read The 5th Wave in order to know what is going on in The Infinite Sea. —Karin Perry