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.

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.

Swimming Sideways Book Review

It’s no secret that I LOVE a good YA novel. I’ve realized that I tend to gravitate towards dystopian, fantasy, sci-fi work, so it was nice escaping into a a realistic fiction piece.

Swimming Sideways, by C.L. Walters, is a relatable YA novel that focuses on the importance of family, love and friendship.

Our main character, Abby, has just moved from Hawaii to Oregon with her family (parents and twin brothers). Her parents are hoping for a fresh start so they can work on their marriage. Abby is hoping for a fresh start because of events that were out of her control in her old school (that involved social media).

As an older sibling myself, I love how protective Abby is when it comes to her family. Even though she is hurting from her own social media situation, she hides it from all the members of her family so they don’t have to worry, suffer, etc. She carries her secret alone and deals with the emotional side effects. Her pain is felt in the first few pages and readers question why there’s a Good Abby and a Bad Abby.

Abby’s home life is also not as clean as one would hope. It’s clear that her parents are having marital problems and the family is struggling emotionally. Usually, the YA books I read only focus on the love part of being a teenager, but Swimming Sideways also tackles the reality of problems at home. The realness that Walters created with this conflict not only puts readers in Abby’s shoes, but also shows adults how children are affected by words and actions. The use of Abby’s point of view really does shed light on how a teenager interprets experiences.

As with any great piece of literature, there’s a little bit of a love triangle. Abby spent time in Oregon growing up with her grandma, who happened to be neighbors with Seth. The two of them pick their friendship right up and start to date. Meanwhile, Abby is fascinated by the school “freak” Gabe, and makes friends with him. And just to thicken the plot, Gabe and Seth used to be best friends. If I say anymore I will give away some of the plot, but Walters does a beautiful job of showing readers that friendship is the foundation of a good dating relationship.

One of my favorite characters was Abby’s new best friend Hannah. Hannah approaches Abby in the cafeteria on her first day of school and goes out of her way to make Abby feel welcome. Through all that happens over the course of the novel, Hannah never leaves Abby’s side, providing a safety blanket that teenage girls need, especially in social situations. This reminds readers that it isn’t the quantity of friends, but the quality that is most important. There were a few times I wanted to reach through the pages and hug Hannah for being a true friend.

As a teacher, I know some of the situations my students have dealt with in their personal lives. What really drew me into this story was how so many real life situations are woven into this text. Dealing with relationships, family problems, abuse, social media, and the social pressure of being a teenager all come together in such a realistic way. The ending does leave readers on an intense cliff hanger, so be prepared.

This was one of those books that I stayed up all night reading. I messaged C.L. Walters on Instagram the next day because I had to tell her how sucked in I was (and that I was grateful the second book was already out).

I would recommend this book for students in grades 9-12, parents of teenagers, and teachers working with high school students.

For more information check out the author’s website here

The Fever King Book Review

I really feel like my TBR pile has exploded in the last few weeks. I feel truly touched that authors and agents have reached out to me for book reviews, so be prepared for a lot of great new texts appearing on this little blog in the near future.

In the past I have reviewed books I’ve won from Goodreads giveaways (see Dating a Quarterback Secret #3). Today I’m sharing another one of my wins!

Fever King, by Victoria Lee, is a YA political novel about trust, love, and change.

The setting is futuristic in America that is no longer the country we all know. We follow Noam, a teenage boy, as he navigates the world among refugees, a virus, and a very tense political climate. Early on, Noam is infected with the virus and turns into a witching (a survivor of the virus with magical powers). His magic is so special, he is to be trained with the most elite witchings and has private tutoring sessions with Lehrer. Lehrer is the most powerful witching, who survived the catastrophe that transformed America over a hundred years ago.

In all honesty, it took me a while to wrap my head around the history of story. While texts like The Hunger Games are super straightforward about the history, Fever King was not as upfront. There are bread crumbs here and there to provide the reader with more background (letters, videos, etc), but it was hard for me to keep all of the information straight. I’m also not very big into politics to begin with, so my brain isn’t used to reading about political issues in a text. In my opinion, this text is a HUGE social commentary, and the timing of it is perfect with our current society.

I realized while reading this text, that most popular YA novels have a female main character, so it was quite a treat to have a male one. Noam is an incredibly intelligent, mature and responsible individual. It is also revealed that he is bi-sexual, which I loved. Since it is a YA book, there is a hint of romance, but it is not the center of the plot. Noam is a character that does wrong things for the right reason. He has difficulties trusting others and takes this very seriously. He is an extremely loyal individual, until he has a reason not to be.

I can honestly say I haven’t read any other books that are similar to Fever King. Between the heavy politics, bi-sexual romance, and complicated relationships, this book keeps readers on their toes. While reading the last few chapters, I found myself skipping lines to find out what happens next.

One aspect that caught my eye right away was style of writing. Usually YA books are written on a less complex writing level, making it user friendly for readers in middle school. Fever King‘s sophisticated writing is definitely geared towards an older audience, I would suggest sophomores and up. I can’t wait for the next book!!

Project Dandelion Book Review

My reader heart has been so happy the last few weeks with reading new YA books. Even better are YA dystopian novels.

Project Dandelion by Heather Carson, is a YA dystopian novel about the potential end of life in the US.

Katrina wakes up in a fall out shelter after multiple nuclear explosions have occurred. Like the other teenagers in the shelter, she has the Dandelion Gene, making her super adaptable. Like all heroines in YA dystopian novels, there is something different about Katrina. She tries not to get attached to the others (like her father told her), she uses her knowledge of survival skills to devise a plan for when the doors open, and she always seems to be one step ahead of the game.

The plot reminded me of Maze Runner, but a much more straight forward and quick read. I kept waiting for a plot twist with Nanny dropping a bombshell on the group, but the 14 days spent in the shelter moved along quickly. It didn’t feel as drawn out as The Hunger Games, which makes this a great read for students who struggle with reading stamina and comprehension.

While reading, I did have a few reader questions that weren’t answered. Why a dandelion? How does the government know the teens have this gene? Is there something more than these kids just being able to adapt well? None of these were answered in Book 1, so I’m curious if Carson will address some more of the back story in the next book.

As primarily a middle school teacher, I really appreciate YA texts that are appropriate for grades 6-12. The only little comment that raised a teeny tiny red flag was when Lark told James he just wanted to get laid. Personally, I think this will go over most middle schoolers heads, so I would still recommend it to readers in grades 6-12. There is a little bit of a flirting between Katrina and James, but it is purely innocent.

For more information visit the author’s website here.

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.