The guide to choosing the perfect book for every kind of young adult reader on your list, from the vampire-obsessed to the perfect comic book. Shannon Donnelly offers her best of the year.
For the One Who Still Loves Bloodsuckers
Last Sacrifice (Vampire Academy, Book 6) by Richelle Mead
Richelle Mead’s bestselling Vampire Academy comes to a close with Last Sacrifice, the sixth book in the series. Rose, the feisty warrior charged with protecting mortal vampires from their immortal (and immoral) counterparts, is on the run after she’s framed for the murder of the mortal vampire queen. As her friends work to clear her name, Rose sets off with Dimitri, her ex-boyfriend who is still recovering after being restored from his stint as an evil vampire in the previous book. Last Sacrifice is stuffed with action and romance that makes the hefty 594-page tome fly by, and while most of the major plotlines are wrapped up nicely by the end, enough intriguing threads are left dangling to ensure fans will want to pick up Bloodlines, the spinoff series coming in August 2011.
For the One Who Needs to Know It Gets Better
Will Grayson, Will Graysonby John Green and David Levithan
It’s a shame fictional characters can’t record “ It Gets Better” videos, because Tiny Cooper—one of the stars of the dual-bylined Will Grayson, Will Grayson—would be quite an inspiration after a year that saw a rash of disturbing incidents involving the bullying of LGBTQ teens. Cooper may be the most fabulous and self-assured gay teenager in the history of literature, if not the world. But this collaboration between John Green ( Looking for Alaska, An Abundance of Katherines) and David Levithan ( Boy Meets Boy, Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist) also offers up a pair of characters—both named Will Grayson—who are a little less sure-footed. One Will struggles to break down his own emotional barriers enough to have a romantic relationship with the cynical, spunky Jane (and a nonromantic but equally emotionally charged relationship with his best friend Tiny), while the other Will finds himself falling for Tiny and figuring out how he fits into his newly de-closeted lifestyle. Told in alternating viewpoints between the Wills, Will Grayson is a riveting collaboration between two powerhouse YA authors.
For the One Who Thinks Reading Is for Girls
The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff
Mackie Doyle is a Replacement, something not-quite-human that is left in place of a child that’s been snatched by the creatures that live underneath the small town of Gentry. Most replacements die quickly, and with good reason—they’re fatally allergic to iron and blood and other staples of the human world. Mackie has held on into his teenage years—in part because he’s done everything he can to keep his head down and blend in with his peers—but as he gets sicker, he realizes he has to figure out more about where he came from if he has any hope of staying alive. The Replacement has an eerie, Tim Burton feel, with unforgettable characters and intriguing moral ambiguities that will appeal to anyone who wants some gore-flecked humor.
For the One Who Thinks High School Is the End of the World
Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
Lauren Oliver’s Before I Fall pulls elements from Mean Girls, The Lovely Bones, and Groundhog Day and spins them into something wholly original and entirely moving. Pretty, popular Samantha Kingston—one of the mean queen rulers of her high school—is stuck in a loop, reliving the day that originally ended in a gruesome car accident that took her life. Samantha is a smart, acerbic narrator, and her observations about high-school warfare ring true.
For the One Who Knows Only the End of the World Is the End of the World
Mockingjay (The Hunger Games, Book 3) by Suzanne Collins
With Ally Condie’s just-released Matched and Lauren Oliver’s upcoming Delirium both poised to make big splashes in 2011, it’s actually possible—for the first time since Twilight’s pop-culture takeover—to imagine a world where something other than paranormal romance rules the YA landscape. You can thank Suzanne Collins’ hit Hunger Games trilogy for the rise of dystopian fiction for the teen set. The smart, brutal trilogy draws to a close with Mockingjay, which sets Katniss and every ally she made in the previous two books up against the tyrannical Capitol in an all-out war where Katniss is forced to decide whether she wants to be the face of a cause she may not even believe in. Collins’ narrative is unflinching—not one shred of wartime realism is sacrificed in order to shield younger readers. But with her trilogy, and especially Mockingjay, Collins has crafted an unforgettable literary heroine whose journey is immensely satisfying, if not always pleasant.
For the One Who Knows Comics Aren’t Just Guys in Tights
Cuba: My Revolution by Inverna Lockpez, Dean Haspiel, and Jose Villarrubia
The Cuban revolution and rise of Fidel Castro is explored in this graphic novel written by Inverna Lockpez and based on her life. Artists Dean Haspiel and Jose Villarrubia use a stark palette of black, white, and red to tell the story of Sonya, an idealistic young woman who gets swept up in the revolution that saw Fidel Castro installed into power. But it doesn’t take long before the regime’s abuses turn her from a revolutionary to a disillusioned artist looking to flee the increasingly oppressed country. Though some graphic violence and sexual themes make it unsuitable for younger readers, it will appeal to more mature fans of Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis and Art Spiegelman’s Maus.
For the One Who Doesn’t Fit In (and Likes It That Way)
Bleeding Violet by Dia Reeves
For her debut novel, Dia Reeves has crafted a delightfully strange narrator and placed her in an even stranger setting. Hanna is bipolar, and not particularly fond of taking her pills. After her aunt, with whom she’s been staying since her father died, threatens to send her to a mental hospital, Hanna clocks her over the head with a rolling pin and flees to Portero, Texas, to find her birth mother. What she finds is a town filled with monsters and magical doors, and suddenly the girl who hears voices and wears only frilly purple dresses is hardly the oddest thing walking the streets at night. The story is carried along nicely by Reeves’ lyrical prose, and Hanna is a refreshingly upbeat protagonist whose unpredictable and unapologetic world view will appeal to anyone who has ever felt like they don’t fit in. Which is pretty much anyone who ever went to high school.
For the One Who Is So Over Unicorns
Ascendant (Killer Unicorns, Book 2) by Diana Peterfreund
Most people think of unicorns as white, fluffy, docile mythical creatures. Astrid the unicorn hunter knows better. In Diana Peterfreund’s sequel to Rampant, Astrid—who as a female virgin descendant of Alexander the Great is one of the few people with the ability to tame and slay venomous, man-eating unicorns—struggles not only with her powers but also the ethics of hunting unicorns. And then there’s the dating issue. If she gets too, ahem, close to her boyfriend Giovanni, she gives up her unicorn hunting eligibility. (See above, re: virgins.) Overwhelmed by her responsibility, she winds up in France at a scientific research facility that is trying to uncover the source of the unicorns’ unique healing power. Themes of destiny and animal rights are explored, but readers will mostly be drawn in by Astrid’s sharp voice and the smart blend of action and humor.
Shannon Donnelly is a video editor at The Daily Beast. Previously, she interned at Gawker and Overlook Press, edited the 2007 edition of Inside New York, and graduated from Columbia University. You can read more of her writing here.