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YA Wednesday: Best Books of 2014

Back in January I thought 2013 was going to be tough to beat in terms of great YA but here it is, mid-November, and I just got over the trama of having to narrow down my favorites to a list of 20.  Interestingly enough, the last couple of years have had the top picks release in the first half of the year.  Typically it's the fall that brings the "big" books, but not so in YA.  At the end of the day, and basically the year, I'm still most in love with We Were Liars (as an aside, in our Celebrity Picks Martin Short chose We Were Liars as one of his favorite books this year, too).   Below are the top 5 titles for the Best Young Adult Books of 2014: WeWereLiars400

1. We Were Liars by E. Lockhart  - What can I say, every bit of this short book is beautifully written and this is a story that grabs hold and doesn't let go.  Mystery, love, friendship, pain, and most of all beautiful writing fill these pages. I've received middle of the night email from friends I gave We Were Liars to, telling me they just finished (and it's 2 a.m.) and loved it.

2. Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer - In her debut YA novel, Belzhar, Wolitzer captures the urgency and larger-than-life feelings of adolescent love, heartbreak and friendship through the story of Jam Gallahue.  After a traumatic experience at home, Jam is sent to a boarding school with similarly "damaged" souls and there they uncover truths about themselves and each other.  Surprising, observant, and completely absorbing, this is a book you'll want to read straight through. 

3. Hollow City by Ransom Riggs - The long-awaited follow-up to Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children was worth waiting for.  Out in the world outside their island, Miss Peregrine's charges make their way to London trying to find her before it's too late.  The year is 1940, a turmultuous and uncertain time, and what transpires on their journey is harrowing and riveting.  Like he did in Miss Peregrine's Riggs includes eerie but perfect vintage photographs throughout the story.

4. I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson - Twins Jude and Noah tell the story of what happened between the age of thirteen and sixteen, a time when everything changed in their relationship,their family, and themselves.  The dual narratives dovetail beautifully, one starting at the beginning and the other moving backwards from where things ended up.  I'll Give You the Sun is a powerhouse story of identity, loss, fear, and forgiveness that had me trying to read at stop lights just so I could see what happens next.

5. Dreams of Gods & Monsters by Laini Taylor - This third and final book in the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy sealed it for me--this is one of my favorite YA series. Period.  Laini Taylor is an extremely talented writer and in this moment I'm reminded of how it feels to begin one of her books. It feels like you are starting something you won't want to end (and you won't).  The end of anything can be tricky, but Taylor knows just how to do it in Dreams of Gods & Monsters, combining new twists with the reappearance of beloved elements of the earlier books.  Good and evil, friend or foe, a blue-haired girl and fire-eyed boy--I miss all of it and think I might have to read these again.

You'll find the other 15 books that made 2014 memorable here.

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YA Wednesday: Carl Hiaasen on His First Young Adult Novel

SkinkBigCarl Hiaasen has joined the ranks of best-selling authors writing for younger readers.  He's already written a handful of books for readers age 10 and up, including his most recent, Chomp. Hiaasen's first young adult novel, Skink: No Surrender (one of our Best YA Books of September) marks the return of a popular character from his adult novels who first appeared twenty-five years ago. 

In the video below, we talked to Hiaasen about his blend of humor, environmentalism and timely subjects in Skink, as well as the books that inspired him as a young reader and led the way to his career as a journalist and author.

 

 

Books mentioned in the video above:

YA Wednesday: Meg Wolitzer on "Belzhar"

BelzharBack in June I read a book called Belzhar that I'd been hearing about.  Author Meg Wolitzer's The Interestings was one of our Best Books of 2013 and prior to that I'd loved her novel for middle graders, The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman, so I was eager to read her first book for young adults.  It's amazing. And it just released so not only did it *finally* get to claim it's rightful spot at the top of our Best YA of October list, but now when I rave about it I don't have to follow-up with, "...but it won't be out until September 30th..."

Belzhar speaks to the experiences of love, loss, and reading something life-changing. And sharing those experiences with people you may never have picked out of a crowd but when life throws you together, deep friendships are forged.  I laughed, I cried, and in the video below I talked about Belzhar with Meg Wolitzer at Book Expo in New York. I enjoyed talking with her as much as I do reading her books.  Now I anxiously await the next...

Rick Riordan's Greek Mythology Pop Quiz

BloodOlympusToday marks the release of The Blood of Olympus, the fifth and final book in Rick Riordan's Heroes of Olympus series. It's hard to believe the second Percy Jackson series has come to an end, but in true Riordan fashion he wraps things up beautifully though of course we still want more (always). 

Next up will be a brand-new series based on Nordic mythology--look in the back of The Blood of Olympus for a tidbit of info about the first book...

After all the Greek mythology we've absorbed courtesy of the Percy Jackson books, including the recently released Percy Jackson's Greek Gods, now might be a good time to take a little pop quiz composed by the author himself to see how your knowledge stacks up:

Choose the best answer to each question below then check your answers to see how you did.

1. He was raised by the magical goat Amalthea on the island of Crete; after eating and drinking from the cornucopia, he was eventually returned to his father, soon after which he rejoined his brothers and sisters.




2. She was the mother of the goddess of spring, who was also the Queen of the Underworld; her name in Greek means “Barley-Mother.”

Artemis
Hera

3. Which of the Olympians chose never to set foot on Mt. Olympus?

Aphrodite
Athena
Poseidon
Hades

4. This god’s symbols are the shield and spear; the moons of the planet which bear his namesake are Phobos and Deimos.




5. This Greek goddess of victory’s Roman name was Vitula; the gods wisely did not contest with her, as she could not be defeated.




6. This Olympian god made golden mechanical women and twenty 3-legged tables with golden wheels that ran by themselves to help him in his smithy as he made weapons and armor for the gods and heroes. Who was he?




7. Chiron was this type of mythological beast.




8. This sorceress changed the men of Odysseus into pigs, although later she recanted and turned them back into men when Odysseus tricked her.




9. This was the favorite food of the gods.




10. Who ferried the dead across a river in the Underworld if they gave him the proper payment, a coin or obol, which the Greeks always placed under a dead person’s tongue when given a proper burial?




 SEE THE ANSWERS

Graphic Novel Friday: Hello Kitty(!) at 40

Hello Kitty is 40 years old. How did this happen? I remember first encountering Hello Kitty’s visage in a puffy sticker pack belonging to my sister. Then she appeared on purses, backpacks, notebooks, clothes, cards, and soon celebrities began to co-opt her image—and then Hello Kitty was everywhere. To celebrate the 40th anniversary milestone, Perfect Square enlisted significant talent to tell 40 stories (plus one for good luck) in the life of Hello Kitty and her friends. The results are a lot of fun, no matter the age of the reader—and now I’m online looking for vintage Hello Kitty puffy stickers.

Top 10 Reasons to Read Hello Kitty, Hello 40: A 40th Anniversary Tribute

10. “Cast the Pie,” Chuck BB’s story, sets Hello Kitty and her crew in medieval times with cloaks, eye patches, helmets, torches, and a scary dragon.

9. Juan Calle sends Hello Kitty into outer-space in “Lost & Found,” complete with a lovable alien cyclops.

8. That cover…you cannot resist…that adorable cover.

7. Full color interior, although a few artists employ beautiful black and white pages as well.

6. The artists appear to be free to express their indie selves—like Theo Ellsworth’s weird Hello Kitty rollercoaster ride to…well, I’m not sure, or Cynthia Liu’s mushroom-laden “Hello Kitty in Dreamland.”

5. The spooky-themed stories like “The Picnic of Peril” by James Turner and “A Frightful Night!” by Brian Smith—perfect for trick-or-treaters in October.

4. Gene Luen Yang pits Hello Kitty against a minotaur in his story.

3. Every few pages, the stories stop to give the artists a chance to write “What Does Hello Kitty Mean to You?”

2. This is Hello Kitty at age 40. In another 40 years she will likely rule us all. Best to appease her now.

1. Reading or even flipping through this book is the equivalent of smiling: it’s infectious and best passed to a nearby friend.

Happy Birthday, Hello Kitty! (File under: things I never thought I'd type)

--Alex

Behind the Book: Lauren Oliver on "Rooms"

RoomsSince her debut novel, Before I Fall, Lauren Oliver has established herself as a beloved author of young adult novels, most recently with Panic, one of our Best YA Books of the Month (March 2014).  Oliver has also successfully ventured into the world of children's books in recent years, and yesterday her first book for adults was released. Rooms is another shining example of what makes Oliver so popular, and in the same way that her YA books are often sought out by older readers, I think many of her young adult readers will fall in love with this one. 

Rooms is the story of a fractured family, a house haunted by the past, and connections between the living and dead told through the voices of multiple narrators.  Earlier this year, I met up with Oliver at Book Expo America in New York to talk about Rooms, what it was like to write her first adult novel, ghost stories, and what's next--as you'll see in the video below, this is an author who stays busy

Books referenced in our interview with Lauren Oliver:

TurnofScrew VanishingGirls

2014 National Book Award: The Longlists

The titles long listed for the National Book Awards have been trickling in this week and today the final category, Fiction, was announced.  Some of the titles that have appeared on our Best Books of the Month lists are included but we'll have to wait until October 15th to see which books make the list of finalists.  We usually do a pool in the office with our predictions for the winners in each category--last year our Director, Sara Nelson, was the most prescient.  Do you have any thoughts about who should take home the National Book Awards this year?

NBAlonglistFBCollage

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fiction:

 

Nonfiction:

 

Young People's Literature:

 

Poetry:

 

 

YA Wednesday: Best Books of September

Labor Day weekend is always a bit of a double-edged sword--it's a nice long weekend to relax and eat lots of barbeque but the end of it means that it's actually September and the start of fall. Already. Here in Seattle this means crossing our fingers that we can stave off the fall rains for one more month (please, please, please...).  This September there are so many stellar YA books that the best books list for the month has a half-dozen that just couldn't be left out. GiveYouSun

I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
Our spotlight pick for the month and a book I'll continue to recommend for the rest of the year and beyond. The novel centers around boy-girl twins who are extremely close and also extremely competitive.  The narrative alternates between Noah filling in the time when they were thirteen and Jude telling their story three years later, at sixteen. Somewhere in the middle things went horribly wrong and picking up clues and peeling back layers page-by-page is an unforgettable experience. I'll Give You the Sun captures several complicated relationships in one remarkable story that has me wondering if it has left an indelible mark on my mind.  I hope so.

 

Skink Skink--No Surrender by Carl Hiaasen
In his first YA novel, Carl Hiaasen introduces a new generation of readers to one of his most popular characters. Richard and his cousin Malley have always had each other's back, so after Malley disappears with a man she met on the internet, Richard knows he's got to get her back fast. Luckily, Richard stumbles (literally) upon Skink, a man who doles out his own brand of swamp justice to eco-terrorists and sleazy internet predators alike. Skink, No Surrender is classic Hiaasen: quirky, funny, thoughtful, and compulsively readable.

 

EvilLibrarianEvil Librarian by Michelle Knudsen
Imagine a super-hot guy high school librarian who has Cyn's best friend turning to the stacks like never before.  Now imagine the hot librarian is really a demon using the student body like a supermarket of souls and his source for a future wife.  Cyn finds herself somehow immune to his charms but she's definitely in the minority.  Add lots of laughs, crushes, more demons, romance, and unholy high school embarrassment opportunities, and you've got your next favorite read in Michelle Knudsen's clever horror/comedy.

 

EggSpoon  Egg & Spoon by Gregory Maguire
Gregory Maguire's new novel is one of those unique stories that readers in a wide range of ages will love and I've been recommending it to all of them.  Maguire is known for putting his twist on a familiar tale with Wicked, and in Egg & Spoon he does it again with the best known characters from Russian folklore, Baba Yaga and the Firebird.  Russian history and class disparity are explored through a fantasy adventure that has all the ingredients of a beloved fairy tale: mistaken identity, bravery, unlikely friendship, and a magical setting.  An utterly delightful read.

Afterworlds

 

Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld
Such a cool concept to this YA story-within-a-YA story, and Westerfeld lives up to the promise.  I'm not gonna lie, this book is a door stopper, but somehow it doesn't bog down despite the page count (don't even look).  All you want to know is what's happening next in the YA novel titled Afterworlds, written by the main character, Darcy, and in the story about Darcy that you are also reading in the pages of Afterworlds as written by Scott Westerfeld.  I hope that isn't too confusing, because it really works--you'll see.

 

InfiniteSeaThe Infinite Sea: The Second Book of the 5th Wave by Rick Yancey
For my reaction to this one just insert your favorite my-jaw-hit-the-floor phrase here. If you thought Yancey threw some curveballs in The 5th Wave, get out your catcher's mitt because he's on fire in the sequel.   And the best part is, this is a well-plotted, thoughtfully written story with deliberate twists that add to the puzzle just when you had all the border pieces filled in. I don't want to spoil anything, so let's just say this is another obsessive read that had me looking back through the pages after it was all over. We'll talk more once it's published on September 16th.

YA Wednesday: Talking to Chris Weitz and Jennifer E. Smith

YoungWorld GeoMeYouEarlier this year I had the great pleasure to sit down with two delightful YA authors to talk books. 

Chris Weitz, best known for his work in film including the movie adaptations of The Twilight Saga: New Moon and The Golden Compass,  just released The Young World, a dystopian novel (the first in a series) set in New York that is also one of our August Best YA Books of the Month.  

Jennifer E. Smith is the beloved author of several contemporary YA novels that deftly navigate the waters of teen relationships with humor and creativity, including this year's The Geography of You and Me.  

On a random note, when we were talking both authors shared major league baseball hopes for this year and it's interesting to see how things have shaken out. Chris Weitz hoped the Yankees new pitcher Masahiro Tanaka didn't turn out to be a dud (so far so good, though he's coming off an injury...) and Jennifer E. Smith was pretty adamant that the Cubs were going to take the 2014 World Series.  Well, there's always next year...

Below is a transcript from our chat.


So, what would be the elevator pitch for your book?

Chris Weitz:  It’s basically about a group of kids making their way in a post-apocalyptic New York in which every convenience and comfort they're familiar with is gone.  So it’s a New York that has fallen into a chaos of warring tribes, and how they will function in that world.

Jennifer E. Smith:  I keep joking that my book has the best elevator pitch ever because it starts in an elevator. It’s about two teens who get stuck in elevator during a major blackout in New York city and end up spending an evening together on a really magical night in the city where you can actually can see the stars because all the lights are out. It’s loosely based on the blackout that happened in 2003.  Then, as the title might suggest, with Geography, it sort of spins off into other locations from there, but it all begins in an elevator in New York on a very dark night.

Chris Weitz: That was a great blackout...

Jennifer E. Smith: Yeah, it was really fun. I won’t tell you all about my experiences since we’re on the record here, but it definitely included more alcohol than cute boys and elevators.  It was one of those nights that felt sort of out of time, once people realized that nothing was seriously wrong everybody was out on the streets, people were giving away beer before it got too warm, and giving away ice cream before it could melt, and New York took on this almost celebratory atmosphere. It was a really memorable night.

Weitz: It’s funny because I think I found the one single thing that unites our books, because my book was partly inspired by the blackout amongst other things, this is sort of New York without electricity and the way that people behave when everything they’re used to goes out the window.

Chris – you’ve directed films adapted from YA novels and written screen plays, was writing a novel a logical next step for you?

I’m not sure it was a logical step, especially looking back.  Given how much harder it is to write a novel than a screen play, it’s a highly illogical thing to do...  but, in a sense, adapting as many books as I have, and I was a literature major in university, that’s where I thought my life was going to be concentrated. Making films was kind of a way to deal with my love of books in a positive way, so it isn’t totally unreasonable that I would turn my attention to trying to write something.

And why young adult?

Weitz: Well, at the time that I decided to do this, I was receiving a lot of submissions of YA and some were great and some were less so, so I thought, well, I may as well give it a go myself.  And I had certain things that I’d been thinking about that I wanted to explore further that kind of come out in this--not necessarily YA related stuff but actually stuff about economics, sociology, and politics.

Jen, you’ve written YA and one middle grade, do you think you’ll write adult in the future?

Smith: I think always it’s fun to explore different creative outlets. The middle grade was really fun for me because all of my YA books are for a similar audience, so the middle grade was very different.  I was once telling somebody that the three things I would never do were: write middle grade, write fantasy, and write for boys, and I literally came out of the lunch and was like, ok, now I kind of want to try… So I think it’s a similar thing with the adult side, I think if the right idea came along it’d be something new to try and something exciting, so we’ll see.  But I really love YA, I think that’s kind of my sweet spot, I feel like I’m 16 at heart and it’s a genre I really love and the audience is amazing for YA books.  It’s just so much fun meeting teens, they’re so enthusiastic.

The YA writing community is really great too, isn’t it?

Smith: It really is, everyone is so supportive and generous, it’s a great little corner of the industry to be part of.

Chris, as someone just coming into this community, have you found that to be true?

Weitz:  I have and it’s also I think that this time in life, maybe from middle school through this period, is a period of really fervent reading.  I remember that from when I was younger, and that’s really wonderful. There’s also a tremendous desire to see  people succeed, to want to see the best in things, as opposed to, if you look at literary fiction, the extraordinarily snarky, kind of difficult, social landscape that that represents.  I think there’s a weird barrier to entry in literary fiction as far as ideas go, I think that young adult is where a lot of the most interesting fiction is actually being written because it’s not as caught up in questions of style.

I think the interesting ideas and openness is part of why so many adults are reading YA fiction...

Smith: Yeah--I get as many emails about my books from people in their 30s and 40s as I do from people in their teens.  Everyone is sort of 16 at heart, somewhere down deep.  Like what Chris was saying about the way you read at that age, there’s such a joy to it, whereas now you start reading a book and you have to go to work so you put it down, but as kids, I remember just tearing through books (I guess I still do now, but…) you can’t get enough and you find an author you love, you read everything they’ve written and then you look for  everything that’s similar to what they’ve written, and you’re obsessed.  And it’s such a joyful way to read.

YA Wednesday: A Picture is Worth...

AddisonStoneWhen I heard the premise of The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone I was intrigued. I figured it would be really good or really bad with not much wiggle room in between.  So I sat down to read a chapter or two and didn't get up until I was finished. 

Author Adele Griffin has written a memoir of the life and mysterious death of Addison Stone, a young artist-turned-celebrity, as told by her fans, friends, and enemies.  The book comes with photographs of the beautiful, petulant Stone and her art.  Addison Stone has a mesmerizing story. Addison Stone isn't real.  And the more I read, the harder it got to remember that none of these people are real.  So good.  Best of the Month good.

In the guest essay below, Adele Griffin shares the story behind the story (behind the story).


The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone is an imagined memoir about a small town girl who burns through the New York art scene as bright as a comet, and goes out just as fast. Inspired by the oral history Edie: American Girl, I saw the interview style of that groundbreaking book as a way to release myself to writing exclusively what I loved most: voice.

Addison’s story unfolds in memories and anecdotes as her family and friends, peers and rivals, dealers and buyers, all bear witnesses to her troubled, startling, wondrous life. As I created each voice in the drama, I was always conscious of how vividly I saw these people, and how hard I wanted to hear them.

The more real it became, the more I wanted to deliver “proof.” I’d always envisioned a photo insert as a way to showcase Addison’s talent, but soon it was clear to me that if the book was a layer cake, the next layer would have to be full-color illustrations.

And so Addison was ultimately a compendium of four women—three professional artists and one Pratt student—who all came together as a portfolio of talent that would define one artist’s gifts. With real art on the page, now my characters never needed to describe imaginary art, which can get stale or precious pretty fast, especially when it transports us to nowhere specific.

But a memoir also requires biographical intimacy. I had Addison in sketches and paintings, but where was Addison the girl, the young woman? Fate or a lucky break brought the electric Giza Lagarce into my home, and from the first photograph we took, I could feel Addison’s soul touch down. Giza also licensed me her childhood snapshots, family photos and candids. This all became the stuff of Addison Stone’s life, and again I was able to hold onto my cast of narrators without diluting them as vehicles for dumping in the description.

Oral histories are tantalizing glimpses of people as perceived by themselves and others. The roundtable style fascinates me because the endless rotating point of view allows us to enter the story and draw our own conclusions. In my “final Addison” Michelle Rawlings’ haunting portraits, that rotation is visually echoed in a looped reflection of identities that blurs the line of muse, model, artist, author. But for me the best visual gift of ADDISON STONE is that I was liberated to create a story of characters simply for character’s sake. This is where the story feels most real and pure as a work of my own imagining. And this is where I hope it will resonate. --Adele Griffin

Omnivoracious™ Contributors

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