Ten YA Books You Don’t Want to Miss by Elizabeth Zdrodowski
As part of the Florida Teens Read committee, I have reviewed and discussed over 100 YA books in the last year. I thought I would highlight some of my favorite reads for a Top Ten Nerdy Post. This list contains fantasy, magical realism, contemporary fiction, mental illness, disabilities, mystery, SuperWhoLock (Supernatural, Doctor Who, Sherlock), religion, humor, and at least one whopping surprise ending!
An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you have probably heard the buzz on this title. Even YA bestselling author, Marie Lu, couldn’t get enough of this fantasy book (and was so engrossed in it, she missed a flight). An Ember in the Ashes was definitely my favorite fantasy read over the last year.* The world painted by Tahir in this book feels more unique than many others I have previously read about. As Laura M. Bell notes in her review, there is almost a Middle-Eastern feel to the setting of this novel (2015). The main characters, Laia and Elias, face challenges as they strive to accomplish their goals. Both have to decide what it means to be loyal and how far they are willing to go get what they want. This plot is complex, but not complicated, so it is accessible. Also, the author does a great job of keeping you on your toes. Let’s just say I understand why Marie Lu missed her flight!
Bone Gap by Laura Ruby
Unlike many of the books on this list, which had already been widely critically acclaimed before I read them, I went into Bone Gap with no clue what to expect. There are books you like, books you love, books that shock you, books that stick with you, but this book ENRAPTURED me. I don’t even know why. The writing is beautiful, the characters are interesting, and there’s something magical about it! It’s less like a book and more like an experience. A journey. An enchantment. A mystery. I hadn’t read a book this interesting and beautiful in a long time and haven’t since. I will be interested to see what others think of it but, for me, it is the book I’m currently pushing on anyone who will listen. Oh, and one more thing, I listened to this on Audible. I don’t know if that could’ve played a role in why I loved the book so much, but it was certainly well-performed.
Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman
Neal Shusterman’s experiences with his own son, Brendan, helped to fuel the writing of Challenger Deep, and I think that makes it an even more personal and touching story to read. Mental illness is looked at with such a stigma and the subject is so often swept under the rug. This causes those who suffer to feel shame and makes them less likely to seek help. Chances are most young people are going to know someone in their family with a mental illness or suffer from one themselves at some point in their lives; this book can bring this topic to life for them. The book, of course, is extremely well-written and engaging. The symbolism in it is chilling, at times. There were so many moments that broke my heart for Caden and for all who suffer from a schizoaffective disorder.
Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu
Since Jennifer Mathieu is on this year’s Florida Teens Read list, I was excited to read her new title, Devoted. Honestly, I loved Devoted even more than The Truth About Alice. There are people from every religion that abuse the true precepts of that religion, and Christianity is no different. Rachel Walker’s family suffocated her with legalism and tried to control her. I love that even though Rachel learns to question what she’s been taught and make her own decisions, she still continues to pray and even tries to honor her family by going back to speak to them. She is not an embittered, negative, God-hating person; she just decided that her relationship with God did not have to meet man-made rules. All adolescents have to make decisions about what parts of what they’ve been taught about religion, morality, and life they will continue to practice as adults. That’s why I think all young people can relate to Rachel and the struggle she endured finding her own way.
Girls Like Us by Gail Giles
This was a surprisingly powerful book about two young ladies who were “special” but unique in their own ways, disabilities, and circumstances. The book is told from both girls’ points of view in alternating chapters. I was taken in by the honesty and goodness of the characters. Their story was also heartbreaking in many ways but, ultimately, there is hope in their story.
Jackaby by William Ritter
Jackaby was a wonderful book!!! It was advertised as SuperWhoLock…so I HAD to read it and I was not disappointed! I loved Abigail and her wit and her sense of independence. I also loved Jackaby’s character! I have recommended this book to many of my students, especially those who are Dr. Who and Sherlock fans. The second book of the Jackaby series, Beastly Bones, will be released in September.
Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen
Saint Anything was such a lovely read. The main character, Sydney, struggles with life after her brother is incarcerated for a drunk driving accident. She meets the Chatham family and finds a friend, a love interest, and some killer pizza,There are so many likable characters in this book and every teenager can relate to family issues, like the ones Sydney has to face.
The Alex Crow by Andrew Smith
Oh, Andrew Smith! There is nobody who writes like he does! This book made me laugh out loud, cry actual tears, get sick to my stomach, and blush. Andrew Smith may not be for everyone, but after I read his books, I know exactly which students will love them! He is a freakishly talented and courageous writer. In The Alex Crow, three stories intersect to reveal an interesting and unique plot. A refugee named Ariel, a crazed bomber who hears voices, journals from an arctic expedition…this book has it all.
The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson
Laurie Halse Anderson did it again! This time, themes of grief, family, and romance hook the reader. The main character is witty and likable, but very real. She’s a bit cynical, but that’s exactly what you’d expect of someone who has been through losing a mother and dealing with a mentally ill father. Although this book deals with very serious issues, there is an overarching message of hope, which can send the message to young adults that no matter their childhood circumstances, their future is up to them.
Thin Space by Jody Casella
A thin space, a mythical place that can connect our world to the afterlife, is the Celtic myth on which this book is based. Two brothers, a horrible accident, and a mysterious myth mix together in a perfect storm of suspense and secrecy. This was, by far, the most talked about book in my library this year. Students loved it and couldn’t believe the final twist! You won’t either!
Have some feedback for me on this list? Let me know what other YA books should be on my library shelves!
Elizabeth Zdrodowski is the Library Media Specialist at Glades Central High School in Palm Beach County, FL, a passionate educator, educational technology nerd, dog lover, musician, bookworm, Whovian, EMA Past-President (@emapbc), FAME Board Member, Future FAME President (2016-2017), and Florida Teens Read Committee Member (@FLTeensRead). She tweets @ezdrodowski and blogs at www.thebookbearer.com.
*Bell, Laura. “Review: Sabaa Tahir’s ‘An Ember in the Ashes’ Is an Imaginative YA Page-turner.” The Huffington Post. April 22, 2015. Accessed June 15, 2015.