6 Favorite Indie YA Novels

Last week I shared What’s So Special About YA? and My Favorite 10 YA Novels. Today I want to share my favorite indie YA novels by some absolutely incredible authors. I have had the privilege to work with these ladies when I reviewed their works. The indie community is extremely supportive of one another, and it’s an honor to be friends with these incredible individuals. Here are my faves in no particular order.

Swimming Sideways by CL Walters. As I discuss in my review, this novel dives into the true realities that teenagers deal with today. This is book one of the Cantos Chronicles, a YA trilogy, told from three different perspectives, which makes it relatable to all readers. The plot does not sugar coat the struggles that Abby endures with social media, friendships, and family, making readers wish they could hug this character.

Twisted Games by Brenda Felber. Not only did I review this book, but I had the privilege of doing a virtual author visit with Brenda. Not only is this novel a mystery that takes place in Michigan, where most of my virtual students live, it’s also historical fiction, with a little bit of fantasy. In my opinion, this text is in a category all of its own because it is so unique and will captivate middle school readers. The plot is not super obvious, which I enjoyed, and it will leave readers wanting to read more.

Blood by Kirsten Krueger. I get so excited to talk about this author because we grew up in the same town. She was amazing and came to one of my teen writing club meetings last year and talk about her first novel, which I was excited to review. Kirsten does an incredible job of diving into her characters and making them come alive for readers. Since this novel is Harry Potter fan fiction, you get all of those incredible elements of Hogwarts and friendship.

I Am This Girl: Tales of Youth by Samantha Benjamin. When I read this book to write my review, I was immediately amazed at how raw the plot was. This text jumps into the world of teenage girls, bullying, family issues, and teenage sexuality. It is without a doubt a scary world, but it enlightens readers about the complexities of being a teenage girl in today’s world.

Bound in Silver by Marie Grace. As I stated in my review, this book is the total YA fantasy fangirl novel. I really can’t think of a better way to describe this text. As a total fangirl, this book got me super excited as I made connections to so many of my fave YA novels. The feel of this book is more mature, so I would recommend this one for students in eighth grade and up. This is book one in The Clock Keeper Chronicles, so I’m looking forward to what is to come for the characters.

Project Dandelion by Heather Carson. In my review, I mention that this YA dystopian book is about the potential end of life in the US. This quick read has a fast moving plot that focuses on survival with a hint of mystery as the characters question their changes in life more and more. Recently, I reviewed the second book, Project Dandelion Reentryand still can’t wait to hear what happens next.

My 10 Favorite YA Novels

The other day I shared a post about what makes YA so special (click here to read it), and it made me start thinking about all of the YA books that I love. So, I decided to share my personal list of favorite YA novels, in no particular order.

Divergent by Veronica Roth. I literally can’t even type that title without smiling. I have loved this novel since it first came out, and have used it as a read aloud with my students every year. It’s honestly a book that has turned many of my non-readers into readers. I love it because the plot is fast paced with lots of twists, the characters are incredibly relatable, and there is just a hint of mystery that keeps readers on their toes. It’s not the typical mushy gushy teen love story, but shows the importance of teamwork in a relationship.

Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling. These books just make my heart so happy. I have read this series more times than I can count, and I am now addicted to the audio books. This to me will always be a staple in YA literature culture because it sparked a movement in our society that showed the power of a book. I love it because it’s beyond imaginative and creative in terms of plot, the characterization is incredible as we see them grow up, and the timeless theme of good vs. evil is captivating.

The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline B. Cooney. When I was in middle school I saw the TV movie of this novel and instantly fell in love with the story. For the next 15 years ish I read the series and followed Janie’s story. When the final story was released a few years ago, I knew I wanted to somehow introduce my students to this incredible mystery. I dedicated an entire school year read aloud to my honors sixth grade students every day for 10 minutes. We literally cried on the last day we finished the series because we were all so emotionally invested in the characters. I absolutely LOVE how intricate and complex the plot is, especially as readers discover more about certain characters. This is a fabulous option for students who love realistic mysteries.

The City of Bones by Cassandra Clare. I feel like I’m home whenever I re-read this series. The characters are some of my best friends, especially because they can always make me laugh with their wit and sarcasm. As a reader, I love that I can be a total English nerd and analyze this text for religious symbolism and a whole slew of inferences. This is definitely a series I would read with a pen and highlighter in hand. I tried to watch Shadowhunters when it was a TV series, and I couldn’t make it through the first episode because I didn’t want to destroy my personal version in my head. The use of fantasy in this series sucks readers into a world they will never want to leave. I’m also a fan of the maturity of this series, which gives it a really great YA feel.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle. I truly don’t have enough words to describe my love for this novel. I remember reading it in 6th grade, and I still have my original copy. While the plot and characters are fabulous, I LOVE the underlying messages in this text. The battle of good vs. evil, light vs. dark, government control, and so, so much more. I love the feeling of empowerment this book gives readers to fight for what’s right. The symbolism is so decadent and rich, which makes it an amazing novel to use with middle school readers. Truthfully, I get excited whenever I do my Wrinkle unit.

Pop Princess by Rachel Cohn. I remember seeing this book at my local library as a teen and devouring it. Teens are always fascinated about being a celebrity and living that kind of lifestyle. Since I grew up in the 2000s, hello bubble gum pop era, this book got my attention. I love how the plot took readers on a realistic journey as Wonder went from working at Dairy Queen to being a pop sensation. It felt very 2000s, and was a fun, quick read.

Dreamland by Sarah Dessen. I mentioned this text in my previous post, What’s So Special About YA?, so it obviously had to make my list. One of my favorite aspects about YA novels is there really are no boundaries when it comes to plot. This one touches on a very sensitive subject of abuse, but I think that’s why I like it so much. While it doesn’t sugar coat anything, the writing isn’t too in your face and instead shows readers Caitlin’s experience. I love the use of POV in this one, because we gain an insight into what victims of abuse go through.

The Selection by Kiera Cass. Full disclosure, I’m addicted to reality TV, specifically the Real Housewives franchise. When I first started reading this series I could taste the reality TV feel right away. It’s very Bachelor in a sense. However, the reality feel doesn’t stay for very long before it morphs into a love story with some major problems. I loved the fun tone of this series and of course the idea of a prince and princess. I honestly made my classes have a reading day the day the final book came out just so I could read it (which they totally didn’t mind).

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. I know, I know. Similar to Harry Potter, Twilight sparked something in our society which turned it into an incredible phenomenon. Werewolves, vampires and a love story don’t sound that exciting until you read the series. During the peak of its popularity, it wasn’t uncommon for readers to pick a team, which readers still take extremely seriously. I will forever be Team Jacob, and I apologize if I offend anyone. (Never go back to a man that left you). It’s an incredibly easy read that speaks to the heart of teenage girls because they all want that deep love.

Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick. This is probably the most underrated YA book I’ve ever come across. For the life of me I don’t understand how it was never more popular. This was my very first unit plan during my practicum experience and it will always hold a special place in my heart. I love the realness of this novel. Steven’s little brother is diagnosed with cancer. We follow Steven as he deals with an incredibly challenging home life and dealing with middle school all at the same time. The dialogue and characterization are spot on for an 8th grade boy, which makes the story that much better.

 

What’s So Special About YA?

When we often think of children’s literature we immediately think of classics like The Secret Garden, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, etc. Yet, as many educators and parents know, a children’s section of a library does not just mean picture books.

When a child feels they have outgrown the “baby” books, but they are too young for the adult section, they are ready to enter the young adult (YA) section of a library.

But, what exactly is YA? What makes it so special? This genre is much more than just an in-between one for readers who are usually in middle and high school.

YA tends to focus on main characters who are between the ages of 12-18. Why? Because this is the main demographic of readers. Tween/teen readers want to read about characters who are around their age, so it makes sense that main characters in YA are on the younger side.

YA also tends to focus on plot points that deal with family, friendship, love, authority, leadership and growing up. While the YA genre can be broken down into subcategories such as sci-fi and fantasy, it’s important to realize that these same ideas are present regardless of the sub genre. Tween/teen readers are going through a lot at this stage of life. They are constantly dealing with bullying, social media, dating, family issues, puberty, and more. It’s not wonder they turn to YA novels to seek answers they may not even know they are looking for. While they probably won’t read a self help book, they may look at how Percy Jackson dealt with learning the truth about his family in The Lightning Thief, and see him as a role model.

YA novels are extremely powerful tools to help readers cope with reality.

Truthfully, any reader will tell you they read to escape reality, even if it’s just to relax at night before bed. The same happens to adolescent readers. If you were to Google popular YA novels, quite a few of them are sci-fi or fantasy based. Why? These types allow readers to completely forget about their reality. For just a little bit they can be a participant in The Hunger Games and watch Katniss kick some major butt.

There is also a sense of maturity in reading YA. Oftentimes the content can be more suggestive, gritty, and real. Gone are the G rated books, and readers can step into worlds where they mention sex, drugs, alcohol, smoking, violence, etc. This is where parents usually get nervous about YA. In truth, when I have read YA books aloud to my students I have omitted words, sentences, or whole sections of a chapter. We need to remember that these books are meant to draw in readers from ages 12-18, so of course there’s going to be some things not meant for sixth grade students.

However, with the aid of technology, it’s easy for a parent to check to see if a book is appropriate for a tween. My personal go to checker is CommonSenseMedia.org, which can be used as a guide for parents, educators and advocates.

Personally, I also find that YA is raw on an emotional level. Characters take us on an emotional journey with them as they make decisions and live through experiences. One of my favorite YA novels is Dreamland by Sarah Dessen. I read it in middle school and have returned to it a few times since then. We see the main character, Caitlin, go through the shock of dealing with her runaway sister, and how that emotional trauma led her down a dangerous path of drugs and a physically abusive relationship. Caitlin expresses why she stays with Rogerson and isolates herself from her friends and family, which is truly an emotional journey filled with anger, sadness, and love.

As an adult reader, I am still drawn to YA because of these factors. The writing is incredible, and the characters are truly real people to readers.

Project Dandelion: Reentry Book Review

It’s been a little while since I read a YA dystopian novel, so I decided to get back to my true love. In July I reviewed Project Dandelion, and I was so excited when the author sent me a copy of the sequel.

Project Dandelion: Reentry, by Heather Carson, is a fabulous YA dystopian novel that reminds readers how important it is to fight for our rights.

The story picks up right where the first book left off. The group is heading towards Katrina’s dad’s cabin to seek safety and hopefully answers. The nuclear explosions have cleared and the world is covered in ash. Early on, the group encounters survivors who realize the teens are part of Project Dandelion and try to capture them. However, the survivors don’t know they are dealing with incredibly resourceful teens who manage to escape.

During their trek to the cabin, the group uses their survival skills to hunt, fish, build shelter, etc. They work together to stay alive and they don’t leave anyone behind. I love that even those this takes place in modern day, the kids aren’t helpless without the use of a cellphone. There is no Alexa for them to ask for help, and yet these teenagers are able to make it through.

There is a smidge of teenage love, but it reminds me of the relationship between Tris and Four in Divergent. Katrina and James are like a team, supporting one another and keeping on eye out for the other. They do kiss, but other than that there is no mushy gushy stuff going on. Personally, I admire teenage relationships like this because it teaches readers about the important aspects of what to look for in a partner.

Without giving too much of the plot away, we learn more about Project Dandelion as the story progresses. The new government wants to keep all of the chosen teenagers safe so they can help create a new society. While this sounds good in theory, it quickly becomes obvious that the teens will not have many choices in the new world. They will be forced to have children in a few years and do what the new government tells them.

Katrina, Dreya, Mia, James and Jayden continue to go against the crowd, as they did in the first novel, to fight for their rights. They want the right to make decisions about their own lives, such as when to have children and where to live. By working together, they demonstrate the power of teamwork and perseverance. They don’t let petty teenage drama cloud their judgements, and show how important maturity is.

As we know, there is no utopia without a dystopia, and this novel is a fantastic demonstration of this idea. It is a quick read with a few curse words, so I would recommend the text for eighth grade and up.

To purchase the book click here.

I Am This Girl: Tales of Youth Book Review

Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this book from the author to facilitate this review. As always, all opinions are my own and are not influenced in any way.

I’ve been teaching for ten years, and during that time I have seen/heard about quite a bit of tween/teen girl drama and bullying. Cellphones and social media have completely changed the world for bullies since victims can never escape it like they used to back in the day. When we read about incidents in the news we never get the whole story, until we are introduced into that world by a book.

I Am This Girl: Tales of Youth, by Samantha Benjamin, is a young adult novel that takes readers on a journey filled with bullying, self discovery, and teenage love.

We follow Tammy, a teenage girl, as she moves from London to Morpington, a small town where everyone is related and knows each other. She instantly struggles with leaving her two best friends, Kristie and Sonia, and tries to fit in at her new school. The girls aren’t very welcoming, and Tammy finds her head in a toilet on her very first day. She also endures physical altercations with girls while trying to navigate her new social environment.

If that isn’t stressful enough, Tammy is also expected to spend time with her dad who clearly is not father of the year. He pushes his daughter to date a boy she is not a fan of, and does not support her emotionally or financially. Readers will like him less and less the more they learn about him.

As we dive deeper into her story, we learn that Tammy was bullied in her old school by a girl named Lorraine. Readers can understand why this character has trust issues and has difficulties making friends.

It’s been a while since I’ve read a book based in the U.K., and I realized I don’t think I’ve read any YA book quite like this one.

The story is told in third person omniscient, and the scene changes happen very quickly, which took me a little getting used to because there are no space breaks between switches. My reading was definitely a little choppy in the beginning because of this, since I was trying really hard to figure out what was going on. However, once I got the hang of it my reader brain was able to follow the story line seamlessly. In fact, I don’t think certain pieces of the story would have been as effective without the quick switches.

The characterization of Tammy is raw. Plain, simple, and true. We experience all sides of her, not just the good ones, and she is not meant to come across as cute. It reminded me a little bit of Veronica Roth’s Divergent character Tris, except that while Tris had an inaccurate portrayal of herself, Tammy knows she has issues and expresses them very clearly.

Tammy will admit to readers when she is making a poor decision, but will continue to do so anyway. Why? Because she’s a teenager and that’s what they do. Her realness is incredible. Because of a domino effect, Tammy smokes cigarettes and weed, and even dapples with drinking. She tells readers she needs cigarettes to take the edge off, not because it’s cool. Adults tend to think teens partake in these activities because of peer pressure or whatnot, but Tammy shows readers that sometimes teens do the same things as adults for the same reason, to escape.

She is also going through the process of self discovery with her sexuality. Benjamin leaves little hints here and there, but it’s not until Tammy’s neighbor Alexis discusses the topic with her that Tammy realizes that she is bisexual. Personally, I loved this component of the plot. Being a teenager is challenging enough, as Tammy shows readers, but it’s even more complicated when you have to hide part of yourself.

As adults, we often look down on teenage love as not real. Teenagers are hormonal, emotional and have a flair for the dramatics. However, teenage love is also extremely complex and complicated, as we see with Tammy. When she starts seeing a girl named Lucy we are introduced to the legit crazy world that some teenagers experience. Feelings of guilt, desperation, and obligation are all very much real, and adults sometimes don’t realize their significance.

This novel was truly eye opening about what happens in the life of a teenage girl. Not going to lie, I was petrified a few times while reading it, especially thinking about what the world will be like when my three year old daughter is older. However, if you work with teenagers or you have a daughter, this is a must read.

I would also highly recommend that every teenage girl read this at one point to realize that they are not alone with how they feel or what they experience. The intricacies of friendships, family issues, and surviving high school are extremely complex and delicate. This book holds nothing back and literally touches on every topic imaginable for a teenager.

To purchase the book click here.

My 5 Favorite Books of 2019

2019 was a really big year for this blog. I took a HUGE nose dove into book reviews, and I loved every second of it. I have worked with some absolutely incredible writers and read some amazing texts. As 2019 draws to a close, I thought I would recap my favorite five books of the year before we ring in 2020 (in no particular order).

Bound in Silver

Bound in Silver by Marie Grace. This book is the ultimate YA fangirl book. I love the creativity and all of the amazing reminders of other great YA books (Harry Potter, Divergent, The Hunger Games, etc.). The plot moves at a great pace and really sets up ideas for the next books. And, as a plus, the author is a true book lover with an amazing Instagram account.

Arial the Youtuber

Arial the Youtuber by Mary Nhin. It’s no secret that I have fondness for this incredible unicorn, but this is my favorite Arial book. Being a virtual teacher, I’m drawn to ideas that involve technology, and this one shows how much work is involved in making it in the Youtube world. Nhin allows has life lessons mixed into inventive plots making her books engaging for young readers.

Timothy's

Timothy’s Lesson in Good Values by Christopher Gordon.  I always find it hard to find good books for boys that teach life lessons that don’t feel super Disneyish. This text definitely engages all readers, especially boys, with the use of a superhero. The stories are quick and effective, while focusing on one core value at a time. The questions at the end of each story also allow readers to interact with the text and make it personal.

Under the Scars

Under the Scars by Isabella Morgan.  This book is a little outside my usual review genres, as it’s an adult romance novel. It’s nothing like 50 Shades. It’s an incredible love story that will have you falling in love with Nick from the moment you meet him. This book will make you believe in the power and magic of love, and I guarantee each reader will want their own Nick or Violet.

Swimming Sideways

Swimming Sideways by C.L. Walters. This realistic fiction YA book is truly one of a kind. It’s the first in a trilogy that follows three extremely relatable characters as they struggle through life as teenagers in today’s world. The characterization is so intense and realistic that I can picture Abby, Seth, and Gabe as my own students. The realness of this book will leave an impression on any reader, especially those in high school.

The Bones of Who We Are Book Review

Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this book from the author to facilitate this review. As always, all opinions are my own and are not influenced in any way.

As you know, my weakness in my book life is YA. A few weeks ago I shared my thoughts on Swimming Sideways, and I loved it so much that I DM’d the amazing author and totally bonded. So when C.L. Walters reached out to me to be part of the The Bones of Who We Are I literally jumped at the opportunity.

The Bones of Who We Are, by C.L. Walters, dives into the realities of friendship, family, and personal growth.

The amazing characters pick up right where they left off, but this time we get Gabe’s story. The amount of build up to this will have you skimming pages to get to the good stuff, although the entire novel is quite fabulous. My goal is to not give anything away because I don’t want to ruin that reader moment for anyone.

Walters has a way of creating the most genuine characters I have ever come across. In The Bones of Who We Are, two characters really packed an incredible punch that have such positive impacts on Gabe’s life.

Martha, Gabe’s adoptive mother, has been depicted as the quintessential housewife. The woman makes fresh, homemade chocolate chip cookies every day with an apron. But, we discover that Martha is an incredibly strong woman. We get a glimpse into her past during a heartfelt conversation with Gabe. Underneath the perfect mom, is a ferocious mama bear who has the biggest heart I have ever seen in literature. The love that she has for Gabe and the need to protect him reminds me of Lily Potter. Martha will stop at nothing to get her son what he needs to learn in a healthy environment. As a teacher and parent, I hear this story so many times from mom’s of classified students who have to fight for their children. Martha symbolizes the strength it takes to raise a child who is different in a world that is not understanding.

Dr. Miller, Gabe’s psychologist, is a true team player. We go back in time to the first session, and it’s clear that Doc Miller has way with children. I love how he is able to guide Gabe through the healing process with such kindness and heart. He is the glue in Gabe’s life. Dr. Miller’s insight is powerful and leaves readers to ponder their own lives. He is a pillar of strength in Gabe’s support system.

Along with incredible characters, Walters really dives into the themes of family and friendship. Families today look very different than families from fifty years ago. Families deal with addiction, separation, divorce, and abuse in a very judgmental society. Through Gabe’s story, Walters shows readers that a family does not have to be made up of biological parents and children. Family can be defined by those who love, fight, and protect one another. This is a very powerful message for readers today. It let’s them know it is okay not to have the perfect nuclear family. In fact, there is no such thing as a perfect family.

Friendship is a re-occurring theme in Walters’ novels, and she continues to dig deeper into this concept with each novel. In The Bones of Who We Are, forgiveness is seen between all of the characters. They learn that regardless of what was done in the past, it is possible to move forward with relationships. True friendships have a solid foundation that can withstand anything, as we see with Seth, Abby and Gabe. The quality of friends is more important than the quantity.

Personally, I think that every reader can relate to Gabe. Throughout the novel, he is battling some serious internal conflicts that have plagued him for years. It is as though Seth’s accident and life/death situation has forced Gabe to battle through demons of his past. We see him contemplating suicide while extremely intoxicated in order to deal with Seth’s condition. Gabe’s personal growth is really explained in the second part of the book. We see his physical change in actions (sitting in the cafeteria again) but we also see some symbolism with his wardrobe. He exchanges his black hoody based attire for lighter colored clothing. It’s as though Abby has literally brightened his world. I love that he takes Dr. Miller’s advice of working through situations because it allows Gabe to morph into a stronger individual.

The Bones of Who We Are is an incredible book that I would recommend for readers 15 and up. There is some mature language and content included in this text. I truly can’t say enough about these amazing novels.