Spring's Big YA Books
Just in time for spring break, Shannon Donnelly sifts through the 10 best new books for the young-adult audience and figures out just what makes them successful.
As college and high school students head off for spring vacation and look toward the summer to come, they'll finally have the chance to swap textbooks for leisure reading, preferably on a beach somewhere. Here are 10 hot picks for spring reading for the young—or young at heart.
1. The Seven Rays by Jessica Bendinger
Jessica Bendinger, the screenwriter behind hits like Bring It On and Stick It, makes her novel debut with The Seven Rays. The story follows Columbia-bound high-school senior Beth as her life unravels after the sudden onset of strange floating dots that begin to plague her vision. Her only ally is former bad boy Richie Mac, who's got some problems of his own after a kiss with Beth has some unexpected, supernatural side effects. While The Seven Rays is billed as a paranormal romance, Bendinger says she's careful to keep the balance between exploring Beth's personal growth and her romantic leanings. "In Stick It, I had to fight to have no romance for the lead character, because I felt like anyone going through that much drama in their life is not going to have space for a romantic relationship, and I kind of felt the same way as I was writing [ The Seven Rays]," Bendinger says. "She's going to be swept away by the Richie thing, but there's so much going on, there's so much sensory overload for her, it didn't feel organic to make [the romance] completely front and center."
2. The Sky Is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson
Those who think young-adult books can't be as literary, rich, and mature as their adult counterparts will be disabused of that notion after reading The Sky Is Everywhere. After the sudden death of her sister, 17-year-old Lennie Walker is caught between a burgeoning relationship with the new boy in town and her grief-fueled hookups with her sister's boyfriend. First-time author and literary agent Jandy Nelson has created a finely-drawn portrait of grief and first love, with vivid characters and melodic prose that's interspersed with the fragments of poetry that Lennie writes on scraps of paper and scatters around town.
3. The Reckoning by Kelley Armstrong
Kelley Armstrong's New York Times bestselling Darkest Powers trilogy comes to a nail-biting conclusion with The Reckoning. Her previous book, The Summoning, saw 15-year-old Chloe Saunders unexpectedly coming into her powers as a necromancer, getting labeled a schizophrenic, and thrown into a group home for the mentally disturbed. The Awakening saw her and her supernatural allies—including moody werewolf Derek, charming sorcerer Simon, and prickly witch Tori—on the run from the nefarious Edison Group, who convinced them they were crazy, and not supernatural, in order to experiment on them. Finally, in The Reckoning, the group thinks they've found safe harbor, but they still have to face down the Edison Group and find out the dark secrets behind their powers. Armstrong's characters are sharp and engaging, and she doesn't shy away from the gore and gut-wrenching plot twists, making this a must-read for horror fans of any age. ( The Reckoning hits stores April 6th.)
4. Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater
Werewolves, those most monstrous of fairytale creatures, get an almost gentle makeover in Maggie Stiefvater's Shiver, the first in a trilogy. Stiefvater's spare, haunting prose tells the story of Sam, a werewolf whose lupine transformation is triggered not by the moon but by the cold. When he falls in love with human Grace, he must fight the encroaching winter and the change it will bring. As for Stiefvater herself, she's thrilled with the current explosion of paranormal books for younger readers. "I used to hunt that stuff out like a crazy person when I was a teen, and all of a sudden it's popular and I can find it everywhere," she says. "The great thing about paranormal is you can play with all kinds of metaphor, and so for me it was playing with the loss of identity and what it means to conform, but I got to make it where your loss of identity is you're becoming a wolf instead of just a cookie-cutter American. Teens would rather read that because it's not so preachy."
5. Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan
As unlikely as it may seem, with not one but two Will Graysons bumping around this hilarious collaboration between superstar YA authors John Green ( Looking for Alaska, An Abundance of Katherines) and David Levithan ( Boy Meets Boy, Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist), the real star of this book is the ironically named Tiny Cooper, perhaps the most fabulous and self-assured gay teenager in the history of literature—if not the world. Will Grayson, Will Grayson follows two characters with the same name whose worlds unexpectedly collide thanks to a few strange twists of fate. As 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), the other Will finds himself falling for Tiny and figuring out how he fits into his newly de-closeted lifestyle. While some coming-out themes are addressed, most of the gay and straight characters blend seamlessly together, something that Levithan says is a result of the watershed year of 2003, which saw the publication of several YA novels that dealt with gay themes, including his own Boy Meets Boy: "They really did change the landscape because you could actually have books with gay characters falling in love without there being dire consequences. And then the audience was there, and the reviews were there, and the gatekeepers didn't freak out. Well, most of them didn't," Levithan says. "Many gay teens, they've been out for a very long time, and by the time they get to high school and are dealing with relationships, the gay part isn't the big part, the relationship is the big part, and I think books have to reflect that." ( Will Grayson, Will Grayson hits stores April 6th.)
6. Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick
"I loved reading romance when I was a teen, and there wasn't a lot of selection out there, so my friends and I would sneak our moms' books. I think it's really nice now that teens have books that are written with characters their age," says Becca Fitzpatrick, author of the fallen angel trilogy that kicked off with Hush, Hush in October. And indeed, in Hush, Hush, unlike too many YA novels, the teenagers actually sound like teenagers—even if one teenager is a millennia-old fallen angel. Protagonist Nora is a smart girl who, like so many smart girls before her, falls for bad boy Patch, a mysterious new student harboring a (Biblically) large, dark secret. So why do bad boys get all the girls? "I know I love reading about bad boys," Fitzpatrick says. "Some people say, 'Oh, it's because girls want to change the bad boy, fix them,' but then I always think 'I don't want them to change! I want them to stay the exact way they are.' I have no clue what it is that draws fans in, there's something elusive there."
7. Ash by Malinda Lo
With Ash, first-time author Malinda Lo has crafted an exquisite, imaginative story that blends the Cinderella tale, fairies, and first love. Evocative of the works of Gregory Maguire, Ash reimagines Cinderella as Aisling, a strong-willed, unlucky orphan who is caught between her domineering stepmother, the dangerous world of the fairies, and her growing love for Kaisa, the king's huntress. David Levithan says that novels like Ash, which blend paranormal and gay romances, are on the rise because the themes that run through supernatural fiction speaks to a lot of young, gay readers: "So much of the paranormal stuff, even if it's not a same-sex relationship, so many of the emotions involved are just so gay. Wanting somebody you can't have, I think that's very relatable whether it's a vampire or a straight boy."
8. Darklight by Lesley Livingston
Forget vampires vs. werewolves: The real supernatural showdown in YA lit is between fallen angels and fairies (or faeries, in the preferred parlance). On one side you've got Hush, Hush and Fallen repping for the angels, while books like Ash and Darklight spin fairytales that are anything but Grimm. Darklight, the second in a series that began with Wondrous Strange, follows aspiring young actress Kelley as she rehearses Romeo and Juliet; pines for her beau Sonny, a Changeling who was banished to the faerie realm at the end of book one; and gets control of her newly discovered faerie powers. Darklight is a fun, quick read, with vivid characters, sharp dialogue, and plot twists that will keep readers guessing until the end—and wondering when the next book is due out.
9. Gone by Lisa McMann
Lisa McMann's bestselling Wake trilogy wraps up with the fast-paced, utterly gripping Gone. The series follows 17-year-old Janie as she struggles to control her unfortunate tendency to get sucked into other people's dreams. A drag on her social life, sure, especially since high -chool students tend to fall asleep in class on a near-constant basis, but her uncontrollable power may also be physically killing her. McMann avoids easy answers, both in terms of Janie's ability and her mercurial romance with reformed bad boy Cabel, giving this book a refreshing, darker edge than is usually found in stories aimed at young readers. Janie's very realistic, working-class worries over money are especially resonant. Fans kept the second book in the series, Fade, on The New York Times bestseller list for 11 weeks, and it won't be a surprise if Gone follows suit.
10. Incarceron by Catherine Fisher
Disturbing but true: Dystopia is red-hot right now in children's literature. The first two books in Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy have been dominating The New York Times bestseller list for 77 and 26 weeks, respectively. And now comes Incarceron, by Catherine Fisher. Finn, a 17-year-old lifetime resident of Incarceron, a futuristic prison that is as alive as the prisoners it holds captive, believes there's life outside of the prison—a belief not shared by most of his fellow residents. But when he finds a crystal key that allows him to contact a girl named Claudia who claims to live outside, he begins to hatch a plan for escape. Since its publication in January, Incarceron has already hit the Times list and inspired a bidding war for its film rights. Who knew the end of the world could be so fun?
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.