January 02



We end the 2016 Nerdy Book Club Awards with two collaborative posts celebrating the best young adult fiction. This year, we honor twenty outstanding young adult fiction titles that capture and respect the challenges of adolescence. Each book on the list offers young adults validation and support for their experiences and struggles, and expands understanding of perspectives that differ from their own.


Thank you to everyone who answered our call to contribute to this post. As educators dedicated to the literacy lives and identities of young adults, your reviews and responses illustrate your commitment to young adult literature and its value to adolescents.


Look for the second half of our Nerdy Book Club Awards for Young Adult Fiction in tomorrow’s post.




All We Have Left


by Wendy Mills


Bloomsbury USA Children’s


Wendy Mill’s website: http://www.wendymillsbooks.com/


The fifteenth anniversary of 9/11 brought forth a crop of middle grade and young adult literature. Some of the new titles took readers back to the day. Some brought us by way of a diverse setting and narrator, or a new perspective from other sides of the globe. Some brought the event forward by way of vignette, others by verse. Each title concerning itself with the events of 9/11 brought opportunities to remember and to reflect.


One might suspect a book might get lost in this mix if it is presenting similar subject matter, but this is not the case in Wendy Mills’s All We Have Left, a book that sets itself apart for its satisfying narrative braid introducing readers to Jesse, a teen in 2015 mixed up in the wrong crowd that leads her to a hate-inspired decision in the form of hate speech against Muslims. Helping to bring the braid together is the experiences of Alia who is proud to be a Muslim in 2001. Set to confront her father about what she perceives to be a wrongful punishment, she heads to the World Trade Center on a seemingly ordinary Tuesday morning. Mills leads readers to see the finished intertextuality of the two stories bridging fourteen years of processing sorrow, grieving, and the growth that can come of shifting perspectives. All We Have Left is a book we won’t want to assign to a time period, but recognize for its timeless presentation of bringing hope and healing via quality young adult literature.—Paul W. Hankins





Burn Baby Burn


by Meg Medina




Meg Medina’s website: https://megmedina.com/


Seventeen-year-old Nora navigates friendship, dating, and family secrets in 1977 New York City in Meg Medina’s novel Burn, Baby, Burn. Medina doesn’t shy away from the harsh realities of the summer of the Son of Sam and captures the anxieties of the city. Teens love Medina’s realistic writing. The attention to historic detail brings this story to life, muting some of the current cultural nostalgia for the 70s. Most poignant, though, is the first person view of a teen keeping secrets about family violence and poverty and the repercussions it has for the rest of her relationships. I couldn’t put it down.—Jennifer Ansbach




Crooked Kingdom


by Leigh Bardugo


Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)


Leigh Bardugo’s website: http://www.leighbardugo.com/index1.html


Fans of the highly anticipated sequel to Six of Crows agree that Leigh Bardugo created a masterpiece. If you are wondering if you can start the duology with Crooked Kingdom, the answer is an enthusiastic yes! From the very first sentence, you will be immersed in a world of deceptions, destructions, and a dangerous drug. You will cheer, scream, gasp, and weep as you follow a crew consisting of a thief, a spy, a convict, a heartrender, a sharpshooter, and a runaway in this high fantasy. This intricate, complex story of rescue and revenge that respects young adult readers is absolutely and amazingly awesome!—Shanetia Clark




Exit, Pursued by a Bear


by E. K. Johnston


Dutton Books for Young Readers


E.K. Johnston’s website: http://ekjohnston.ca/


No way to avoid it: this book is about rape. It’s also a book about that sentence you just read. So often, rape is something to avoid talking about, to hush up, or (in some cases), to assume didn’t really happen or is somehow the victim’s fault. This book is a subversion of those things. Hermione Winters, by all accounts a normal teenage girl, is drugged and raped. In what is – sadly – nearly fantasy, she has a strong network of support around her. This is a book teenagers need in order to help them discuss a difficult but not-to-be-avoided topic. –Brian Wyzlic




Falling over Sideways


by Jordan Sonnenblick


Scholastic Press


Jordan Sonnenblick’s website: https://www.jordansonnenblick.com/


Funny, emotional, heart-warming. This is a Jordan Sonnenblick book not to be missed. It’s real about the struggles and perils of middle school, and honest about the emotional turmoil of adolescence, and left me cheering for the main character, Claire, who finds her strength through despair over her father’s stroke, which happens right in front of her. At turns humorous and full of heart in the same moments, it’s Sonnenblick’s engaging style of writing that really makes Falling Over Sideways a great book for middle schoolers. Without a doubt, it’s one of my favorite books I read in 2016.—Jillian Heise




The Female of the Species


by Mindy McGinnis


Katherine Tegen Books


Mindy McGinnis’s website: http://mindymcginnis.com/


As three teens struggle through their harsh truths to find out who they are to each other and their small town, and what to believe in, they reflect contradictions in our humanity and our culture. The Female of the Species is a punch to the gut softened by lyrical turns of phrase that I could not turn away from. This is a book that begs to be read, shared, and talked about with older teens.—Jillian Heise




Girl in Pieces


by Kathleen Glasgow


Delacorte Press


Kathleen Glasgow’s website: http://www.kathleenglasgowbooks.com/


Charlie Davis is a girl in pieces. After her father’s suicide, estrangement from her grieving, abusive mother, and permanent loss of her best friend, Charlie finds the only way to forget is to write her pain across her body: one cut at a time. With nothing left to lose, she sets out in search of relief, companionship and a place to belong; only to find that, all too often, the road to redemption gets much, much darker before the light starts to seep back in. Scarred and homeless, Charlie fights to put herself back together, first in rehab and then through art. Together, she and readers of Glasgow’s debut novel endure and then slowly emerge from this unflinching and deeply affecting portrait of kids on the fringe.—Jennifer LaGarde




The Girl from Everywhere


by Heidi Heilig


Greenwillow Books


Heidi Heilig’s website: http://www.heidiheilig.com/


Using original, hand-drawn copies of maps, Nix and her father Slate can travel to the moment in time that map depicts. The catch? Once a map is used, it cannot be used again. Slate is desperate to travel to Honolulu in 1866 when Nix was born…and her mother died. Even as her father pines to find the map leading him back to his true love, Nix fears traveling back to this time will somehow render her extinct. The first in a series, The Girl From Everywhere provides an intriguing look at time-travel and how far we go for family.—Jennifer Fountain




Highly Illogical Behavior


by John Corey Whaley


Dial Books


John Corey Whaley’s website: http://johncoreywhaley.com/


Imagine being so intensely driven to succeed that you’ll do whatever you can to make yourself competitive on your college application. Imagine being so afraid to leave your home that you haven’t left in three years.


That’s Lisa’s plan though – to “cure” an unsuspecting Solomon of his agoraphobia – something she thinks will be more than enough to get her into the psychology program of her choosing. This book is a page-turner because you know that this is going to go wrong somehow and you just wonder if their friendship will be enough to get past her lies of omission.—Cindy Minnich




Holding Up the Universe


by Jennifer Niven


Knopf Books for Young Readers


Jennifer Niven’s website: http://www.jenniferniven.com/



“Atticus, he was real nice…”

“Most people are, Scout, when you finally see them.”

To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee



As someone who teaches in a school similar to the one depicted in Niven’s latest novel, I often felt like she’d been eavesdropping on conversations in my town. The different issues that the various characters deal with such as obesity, bullying, substance abuse, and relationships, are REAL, and I’ve found over the years that my students WANT to read about these issues and talk about them.


What makes Holding Up the Universe stand out from other YA novels is two-fold: 1) the main characters, Libby and Jack, are likeable, authentic teenagers who I found myself laughing and crying alongside throughout the novel; and 2) although their families are far from perfect (but what families are?), Libby and Jack’s parents do their best to foster relationships with their children.


Holding Up the Universe is filled with loss, love, courage, kindness, and most of all, HOPE.—Kelly Vorhis


**Chapter of Nerds was contributed as a collective noun in response to Donalyn’s Facebook query last week. More on this fun and enlightening thread in tomorrow’s post.


Today’s Contributors

Jennifer Ansbach (@JenAnsbach), a high school English teacher in New Jersey and proud member of NCTE & ALAN, loves books and can usually be found reading books or talking about reading books.

Shanetia P. Clark, Ph.D., is an associate professor of literacy at Salisbury University. She teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in children’s and young adult literature.

Jennifer Fountain is a high school teacher and lives with her family just outside of Houston, home of her poor, poor Houston Astros. She tweets at @jennann516 and blogs at http://fountainreflections.wordpress.com.

Paul W. Hankins teaches English 11 and AP English Language and Composition in southern Indiana. Paul is a Wonder Lead with the National Center for Family Literacy and the non-fiction site, Wonderopolis and the creator of RAW INK Online, a site which brings young adult readers and young adult authors together.

Jillian Heise, NBCT, is the National Literacy Consultant for Custom Education Solutions and can often be found recommending books on twitter at @CustomeduLit. A former 7th & 8th grade language arts teacher of eleven years in the Milwaukee area, she is a passionate advocate for students of all ages to have choice in what they read. 

Jennifer LaGarde is a teacher, learner and rabble-rouser who lives, plays, reads and drinks lots of coffee in Wilmington, NC. Read more about Jennifer’s adventures at http://www.librarygirl.net or help fan the flames of her YA Lit obsession by joining #2jennsbookclub on twitter or by visiting bit.ly/2jennsbookclub.

Donalyn Miller has taught fourth, fifth, and sixth grade English and Social Studies in Northeast Texas. She is the author of two books about encouraging students to read, The Book Whisperer (Jossey-Bass, 2009) and Reading in the Wild (Jossey-Bass, 2013). Donalyn co-hosts the monthly Twitter chat, #titletalk (with Nerdy Book Club co-founder, Colby Sharp), and she launched the annual Twitter summer and holiday reading initiative, #bookaday. You can find her on Twitter at @donalynbooks or under a pile of books somewhere, happily reading.

Cindy Minnich is a high school English teacher, co-facilitator of the Nerdy Book Club, proud ALAN board member, and hopeless lover of YA literature.

Kelly D. Vorhis teaches English in Nappanee, Indiana, and loves learning alongside her students every day. She can be found on twitter and Instagram @kelvorhis. Most days she is never far from a cup of coffee and a book.

Brian Wyzlic teaches high school English and math in Marine City, Michigan. He can be found on Twitter at @brianwyzlic and in person if you yell his name loudly enough in his vicinity.