Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Unsung YA! or The Greatest YA You Haven't Read (plus a few bonuses) = longest blog ever

It's that time of year: "best of" lists are flying around the blogosphere. Everyone's talking about their favorite books of 2009. And we've been seeing a lot of repeats.

Which isn't to say any of these books are undeserving of recognition - there's a reason so many people love GOING BOVINE! It's a fabulous, hysterical, heartbreaking, ridiculous read! BUT, there have been a lot of books in recent years that completely flew under the radar, and that's where this project comes in. Over at YAnnabe, Kelly used LibraryThing to find other YA bloggers and their most loved but least known-about YA books. These is my list, and for everyone else's check out the list at YAnnabe.

BAD GIRLS DON'T DIE by Katie Alender (Hyperion DBG 2009; 116 LT members)
Alexis Warren is part of your average dysfunctional family. Her sister is an obnoxious princess, her parents who just don’t get it. She may be the pink-haired artsy type, but even her photography hobby can’t distract her from her sister’s latest weirdness. Kasey has always collected dolls, but ever since she found a certain specimen she’s been acting crazy -- maybe even possessed. As Alexis finds herself deeper and deeper in the history of her home and her town, she finds she might have to enlist the help of her least-likely co-conspirator: a cheerleader. This intensely creepy, highly insightful book goes beyond the typical haunted house story. Bad Girls Don’t Die is a novel about class, status, and consequences. Still, you don’t want to read it alone in the dark!
RAVEN SUMMER by David Almond (Delacorte Books for Young Readers 2009; 30 LT members)
In the eerie, literary voice David Almond is so well-known for, RAVEN SUMMER chronicles the life of Liam Lynch, a young man living on the English country side. When he and his friend follow a Raven on one lazy summer afternoon, they’re shocked to find an abandoned baby. What unfolds is a chain of events that all lead back to that day. The people Liam meets through saving the baby will change his life, and the life of his family, forever. Touching on current events, the human condition, and coming of age, everyone will see a bit of themselves in these characters. Part adventure, part drama, part contemporary folk tale, RAVEN SUMMER is the kind of book that stays with you long after you’ve read it.
BORDER CROSSING by Jessica Lee Anderson (Milkweed Editions 2009; 12 LT members)
Manz is living on the border, in so many ways. His father was Mexican, his mother is white, and he lives in Texas pretty close to Mexico. Things haven't been right with his Mom since his father died, and since she lost the baby it's gotten even worse. But Manz is starting to worry about things he didn't used to: like Operation Wetback and whether or not his stepdad can be trusted. As we delve further and further into Manz' story, we see that he is not only battling physical and cultural borders, but that he is on another border as well: sanity and delusion. BORDER CROSSING is heartbreaking, real, and impossible to put down.
CANDOR by Pam Bachorz (EgmontUSA 2009; 92 LT members)
Candor is the perfect city where perfect teens live perfect lives and make their perfect parents proud. Oscar knows why -- his father, the founder, developed technology that makes even the most rebellious teens conform. Oscar gets kids out…for a price. Then he meets Nia, an artist and a rebel, and he finds himself smitten. Oscar wants to change -- he wants to save Nia, whether that means getting her out or hiding her in plain sight. But the powers that be are stronger than even Oscar realized, and soon he is asking himself what sacrifices he is willing to make for love. CANDOR is a terrifying, heartbreaking, slightly insane story that clearly resonates a Stepford vibe and keeps the reader guessing through the last page. If you’re looking for a chilling sci-fi, this is your book.
FADE TO BLUE by Sean Beaudoin (Little, Brown Young Readers 2009; 48 LT members)
FADE TO BLUE is easily among the weirdest books I’ve ever read -- and the most engaging. The heroine, Sophie Blue -- or Gothika, as her not-so-friendly classmates call her -- is haunted by visions of a mad popsicle truck driver, and thinks she hears a voice telling her to visit ‘the lab.’ Sophie’s best friend, Lake, an ex-cheerleader-turned-paraplegic, has little advice to offer. Her mother is too depressed and disconnected to help. The school counselor only makes her write essays, and her brother, O.S., is seemingly too caught up in his comic books to do anything but get fatter. But when Kenny Fade, basketball star, starts to question his perfect life, reality begins to unravel, and Sophie is forced to confront something she has been trying to put past her: the disappearance of her father. With its references to pop culture, snarky sense of humor, and a plethora of bizarre characters, FADE TO BLUE will stick with you long after you’ve turned the last page.
JENNY GREEN'S KILLER JUNIOR YEAR by Amy Belasen & Jacob Osborn (Simon Pulse 2008; 13 LT members)
Disappointed by recent social politics at her prep school, self-proclaimed JAP (Jewish American Princess) decides to follow her crush, Josh, to a boarding school in Canada. Away from Long Island and her ex-friends, Jenny is sure she can finally snag her boy. But things don't exactly go her way, and it's not long before Jenny discovers that men are pigs and they must die. This book is not for the weak of heart -- it is a scandalously delicious black comedy that is sure to have the Tipper Gores of the country screaming with rage. But love her or hate her, Jenny will get under your skin. And you'd better hope she's not interested in dating you -- you could, in fact, be next.
PRETTY DEAD by Francesca Lia Block (HarperTeen 2009; 103 LT members)
First and foremost, this is NOT another vampire novel. This is a love story, through a century of fashion, music, architecture, friendships and losses. This is a story of grieving, after the suicide of a young girl -- the story of the vampire girl and the human boy who have survived her. This is a story of fear -- fear of the unknown, of death, and of the people we cannot ever leave. Francesca Lia Block is as elegant and beautiful as ever in writing her take on the current vampire trend. And, you know what? It is ethereal and disorienting and nothing like anything else in the genre. Pick it up. Read it. Fall in love.
THE WATERS & THE WILD by Francesca Lia Block (HarperTeen 2009; 70 LT members)
Francesca Lia Block is one of my favorite writers for a reason -- her smart, poetic prose easily transports you to an alternate reality, layering real issues with surreal context. In her latest, we explore the possibilities of a doppelganger, as thirteen-year-old Bee has begun to see herself at night, claiming to be the real her. Turning to the weird kid at school, Haze (he's rumored to believe he's an alien) she discovers that she might not belong in L.A. -- in more ways than one. Picking up Sarah, a street-singer with a gorgeous voice who believes she's a reincarnated slave girl, the trio embark on a mission to save Bee, and to understand their own realities. Like Block's other works, The Waters and the Wild is tightly written, with an ethereal feeling that leaves you feeling pleasantly disoriented. Don't miss this wonderful opportunity to be enchanted.
WE WERE HERE by Matt de la Peña (Delacorte Books for Young Readers 2009; 32 LT members)
Miguel's life wasn't so bad before what he did. His crime landed him in juvi and then a group home, where he knows he doesn't fit in. Sentenced to write in a journal, Miguel chronicles the events and people surrounding him, including his ex-roommate from Juvi, Darnell and Mong, a kid too crazy to think twice about killing you, if he felt like it. What Miguel never could have expected was that Mong and Darnell would convince him to run away from the group home in an attempt to start over in Mexico. The trip that ensues is an unexpected story of friendship and redemption. WE WERE HERE is one of the most beautiful and heart-wrenching books I've read, and it is not one you want to miss.
DIRTY LAUNDRY by Daniel Ehrenhaft (HarperTeen 2008; 25 LT members)
Carli Gemz (pronounced "games") is a teen actress who has just landed a role in a new TV show: Private Nights. Since she'll be playing a bitchy teen queen and a boarding school, Carli is being enrolled undercover at the Winchester School of the Arts, an East coast boarding school where all the freaks, geeks, and would-be criminals are sent after being kicked out of more prestigious academies. With a reputation for harboring the "dirty laundry" of the social elite, Carli knows that the few weeks she'll be spending as Sheila Smith will be pretty wild, but she never imagined that, together with her boss's son (and her new personal assistant), she'd wind up investigating the disappearance and possible murder of Winchester's favorite student, Darcy Novak. Fun, the aforementioned son of Carli's boss, is only still attending Winchester because of the money the school is getting from his dad for hosting Carli. He and his room-mate, Nails, would usually be up to no good, but with Carli on campus and the disappearance of Darcy, he has better things to do. Especially when it turns out that everyone is a suspect. Ehrenhaft's novel is part mystery part satire, at times dark and at other times sweet. The characters are completely three-dimensional, and while they will surprise you, their motives and methods are realistic within the context of the wacky world of Winchester. This is not the sort of book that one can put down easily.
GIRL IN THE ARENA by Lise Haines (Bloomsbury USA Children's Books 2009; 87 LT members)
After his son died in Vietnam, one man started a back yard gladiator league to honor his memory. With safety gear and rubber-tipped swords, he never imagined that 30 years later gladiators -- who now fight to the death in nationally televised events -- would be celebrated celebrities, followed by the paparazzi. Lynie G. is the daughter of seven gladiators -- her mother Allison likes her to say this, though, really, Tommy G., her current (step)father is the only one who has been a family man. In fact, Allison would love if Lyn would attend the local college for gladiator’s wives -- but Lyn is uninterested in “glad” culture altogether. That is, until the day Tommy’s opponent Uber gets a hold of Lynie’s dowry bracelet, forcing her, by the gladiator bylaws, to marry him. But Lyn has other plans. She wants to fight for her honor. This gripping novel that follows an alternate U.S. history and highlights some of the more gruesome aspects of culture -- both ancient and modern -- is both beautiful and terrifying. With all the Greco-Roman influenced middle grades on the market, GIRL IN THE ARENA is a refreshing new take on the topic for teens.
POSSESSIONS by Nancy Holder (Razorbill 2009; 19 LT members)
Lindsay is a scholarship student at Marlwood Academy. Surrounded by rich girls, Lindsay isn’t sure she’ll survive. Of course, fitting in is the least of her worries once she discovers queen bee, Mandy’s, weird obsession. Marlwood has a secret past, and Mandy and pals are up to no good…in a black arts, raising the dead sort of way. Possessions is the novel Steven King would have written has he been asked to write GOSSIP GIRL -- full of the posh cliques, girlie drama and high school shenanigans, but also scary as Hell. With its creepy, secluded setting, ethereal language, and leanings toward the occult, Possessions is the perfect book to not read alone in the dark.
EVERYTHING BEAUTIFUL by Simmone Howell (Bloomsbury USA Children's Books 2008, 53 LT members)
Tricked into attending a week-long Bible camp by her dad and kooky stepmother, Riley Rose feels doomed. For one, she’s an atheist, and she certainly doesn’t play by the rules. She’s a big girl, but she flaunts her figure just to unnerve the people around her. She cuts and dyes her own hair. Her best friend is definitely a bad influence, but Riley likes it that way. She arrives at camp with a plan to go AWOL halfway through the week. But by the time that day comes, Riley’s take-no-prisoners attitude has rubbed off on many of her bunkmates -- and Riley herself has befriended a paraplegic ex-bully who just might have values that rub off on her as well. Howell’s novel is about way more than spirituality -- it’s about growing out of selfishness long enough to understand someone else, about the universal suffering that is teenage awkwardness. Howell’s writing is honest, cheeky, and fun, and her character, Riley Rose, is just the same. She’s an angry kid with a chip on her shoulder, and yet she is completely accessible, hitting the heart of every teen girl that ever longed to love herself -- and isn’t that all of us? Everything Beautiful leaves a truly lasting impression worthy of acclaim.
SISTER WIFE by Shelley Hrdlitschka (Orca Book Publishers 2008; 103 LT members)
While polygamy and religious fundamentalism are hot topics for fiction right now, SISTER WIFE steps outside the box to present the truly compelling story of three different girls from the same polygamist sect.Two sisters and one outsider each speak from their own points of view, and Hrdlitschka weaves their voices seamlessly together for the sort of prose the reader is easily wrapped up in. Celeste will soon be fifteen and assigned a husband, but she has plenty of doubts about the Movement, unlike her sister, Nannette, who is as pure as they come. It is Taviana who is bold enough to speak her mind - a former teen prostitute, taken in by the Movement, only to be thrown out when it is clear her influence is "dangerous." But there are other ways for Celeste to discover the world outside, and as it gets closer and closer to Celeste's birthday, she knows she has a choice to make. This stirring novel may not tell the most original story, but it tells the story well. The characters will stay with you long after you've turned the last pages, making time you've spent with SISTER WIFE time well spent.
FREAKS AND REVELATIONS by Davida Wills Hurwin (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers 2009; 27 LT members)
What do a skinhead Neo-Nazi and a homeless gay teen have in common? Not much. FREAKS AND REVELATIONS begins in the seventies, several years before the incident that will impact Doug and Jason for the rest of their lives. The two boys are both growing up in troubled homes, one with an abusive dad and another with an intolerant mother. The fact that the story starts long before the identity of the characters has begun to develop puts an intriguing spin on the characters themselves. FREAKS AND REVELATIONS is a heartbreaking page-turner, and a must read for anyone who’s loved books by Laurie Halse Anderson and Ellen Hopkins.
HANCOCK PARK by Isabel Kaplan (HarperTeen 2009; 15 LT members)
I can't believe this stunning debut novel was written by an eighteen-year-old! Our heroine, Becky Miller, is an average girl with an above-average life. She goes to an elite L.A. high school, and appears to live the dream life. And, aside from her struggles with mental health, Becky is mostly okay with being average. She has her best friend, Amanda, to lean on. But when Amanda moves to New York and Becky's parents split up, it turns out that junior year will be tougher than predicted. To make matters worse, her shrink has just gotten in trouble for prescribing Becky way too much medication. On the bright side, the Trinity -- the school's most elite clique -- have their eye on Becky. Before she knows it, Becky is popular. But of course this comes with strings attached -- Becky can't be the public brainiac she used to be, or hang out with drama-geek Taylor, who might be her only real friend now that Amanda's gone. With her self-worth dwindling, Becky has choices to make. Can she find her old self, or is the new Becky the real Becky after all? In stark contrast to the no-consequences world of GOSSIP GIRL, HANCOCK PARK is a strong, fulfilling addition to teen literature. I can't recommend this enough to girls who want to read about the glam life, but don't want to ditch the real life altogether. I'm looking forward to seeing more novels from Isabel Kaplan.
NOTHING BUT GHOSTS by Beth Kephart (HarperTeen 2009; 67 LT members)
To label this as a novel about loss is a gross misrepresentation that does Beth Kephart's latest no justice at all. To think of it as another grieving daughter story or an issues book takes so much away from this multi-layered narrative. Nothing But Ghosts is as much a mystery about the town in which Katie D'Amore lives, the woman she works for but has never seen nor spoken to, her father's genius and the painting he's restoring, and the blossoming of new relationships as it is a mystery of personal loss. As Katie remembers her mother's final days, their trip to Barcelona before she was diagnosed, her childhood, spending time with friends before she began ignoring them (avoiding their questions about her mother), she is evolving. Where many young adult novels lay aside the adult characters to focus solely on the teens, Kephart has created a father for Katie who is as 3-dimensional as the hand in front of your face. The buildings are characters too -- the library, the D'Amores' home, Miss Martine's estate - they all live and breathe life into a story that cannot be laid to rest even after you've turned the last page. I urge you: pick up this book, enjoy it.
HEADLONG by Kathe Koja Farrar, Straus, & Giroux (BYR) 2008; 38 LT members
Not your typical boarding school tale of hook-ups and hijinx, HEADLONG is the story of Lily Noble, a lifer at Vaughn - a school known for its “Vaughn Virgin” social elite. Lily has always fit in with the girls at school -- the pretty ones with perfect grades and wealthy families. But then Hazel comes to Vaughn on scholarship, bringing her alternative family, her hot cherry licorice, and punk-rock style. Soon Lily is drifting away from her old friends, and as she spends more time with Hazel, she comes to realize she’s never truly known herself. This coming of age story will surprise you, with characters as malleable and honest as real teenagers, and poetic writing perfectly in touch with the experience of finding one’s identity. HEADLONG will stay with you long after you’ve put the book down, and it is an absolutely worthwhile experience.
HOLD STILL by Nina LaCour (Dutton Juvenile 2009; 73 LT members)
After her best friend’s suicide, Caitlin is devastated. She struggles with school, where her photography teacher -- whom she thought would be her greatest supporter -- is ignoring her. Then she finds Ingrid’s diary, filled with heartbreak and desire, and Caitlin is both pleased and terrified to be entrusted with her last thoughts. As she works to rebuild her life and find new friends, you will be moved irrevocably by Caitlin’s vulnerability and her strength. Unlike so many “issues books” we’ve seen in recent years, HOLD STILL transcends the genre to make something beautiful out of the grim.
GOTHIC LOLITA: A MYSTICAL THRILLER by Dakota Lane (Ginee Seo Books 2008; 24 LT members)
Miya and Chelsea, are half a world apart, living in Japan and L.A. But it's been three years since Chelsea's last blog post, and Miya is feeling lost without her friend, even if they didn't really talk much. Chelsea misses the connection with Miya, too, but a tragedy in her life has kept her from communicating, and it seems like she'll never be okay. But there is so much the girls don't know about each other, and as the pieces fall into place, their lives will never be the same. You know you're in for something unconventional the minute you open this book. There isn't a capital letter to be seen -- perhaps emulating the style of many teenage bloggers, since the two girls in Gothic Lolita met through their online journals. Part of the story is also told with black and white photos, and these images are both haunting and ethereal. This, with the poetic voices conjured by Ms. Lane, makes GOTHIC LOLITA a must read.
THE MILES BETWEEN by Mary E. Pearson (Henry Holt and Co. (BYR) 2009; 87 LT members)
This story of four friends on a road trip is both heart-breaking and triumphant. When Des decides to disregard her loathing of October 19 -- a day that has always plagued her -- and take charge of her own fate, the coincidences multiply to astounding proportions. For a girl obsessed with coincidences and anomalies, this is both terrifying and exciting. As Des digs to find the truth of her abandonment, however, it is no coincidence that emotions run deep and the friends she told herself not to make surprise her in wonderful ways. A complete departure from THE ADORATION OF JENNA FOX -- Pearson’s highly-acclaimed previous novel -- THE MILES BETWEEN is a sweet, enchanting story rife with twists and turns til the very end.
Touch by Francine Prose
STRUTS & FRETS by Jon Skovron (Amulet Books 2009, 21 LT members)
Sammy Bojar is a musician. He plays guitar in a band that, unfortunately, is named Tragedy of Wisdom, since his lead singer, Joe, is the kind of terrifying dude that you just don’t mess with when he tells you Tragedy of Reason sucks. His best friend Rick is the bassist and TJ the drummer is one of the most solid musicians you’ll ever find. When a Battle of the Bands is announced, Sammy worries that it’s too commercial for their band, but once again Joe convinces everyone they’re going to play. Of course, this would require Joe to remember Sammy’s lyrics and Rick to play the right baseline. But priorities go out the window when Sammy’s grandfather starts acting strange. Further complicating matters is Sammy’s other best friend, the super cute but (up until now) one of the guys Jen5, is revealed to be in love with him. This funny, sweet, exciting novel is a sure-fire hit with indie-rock wannabes and veterans, as well as anyone who’s ever had to navigate the complex fields of first love.
THE LUCKY PLACE by Zu Vincent (Front Street 2008; 18 LT members)
Zu Vincent's voice is poetic, her short chapters capturing the moments in Cassie's life from the age of three, when her alcoholic father left her at the racetrack. After her mother's divorce, Ellis comes into the picture. Ellis is everything Old Daddy wasn't -- responsible, affectionate, available. He even buys the family a house - their "lucky place." Cassie's brother, though, refuses to accept New Daddy, creating a rift in the family. And when the unthinkable happens to Ellis, everything lucky seems to fall apart. This story is poignant, unforgettable, and one of the most beautifully written I have ever encountered.
VIOLET ON THE RUNWAY by Melissa Walker (Berkley Trade 2007; 90 LT members)
Violet has always felt like a bit of a freak - too tall, too thin, and too plain to fit in with the queen bees at her high school. But when an agent discovers Violet at her part-time job, she is whisked into the world of New York fashion week, and facing a whole new life. Leaving behind her best friends for her model apartment in Manhattan, Violet has a lot of choices to make. Should she talk to someone about her room mate's drug problem? And should she be drinking and clubbing with the older crowd? And what about the cute boy socialite who seems to have eyes for her? Worst of all, will she leave her BFFs behind for the popularity that fame has given her? Walker's novel is a refreshing look at the modeling world, providing all the scandal girls want to read about through the eyes of a character they can relate to. Violet on the Runway is witty, exciting, and perfect for young fashion aficionados.
BREATHLESS by Jessica Warman (Walker Books for Young Readers 2009; 54 LT members)
This elegantly written story chronicles the high school years of Katie Kitrell, a swimming prodigy who is sent away to boarding school when her schizophrenic brother, Will, becomes violent. At first she resents her parents, but soon she is relieved to be a part of a world that doesn’t know about Will and his outbursts. It’s not long before she is telling people he is dead. Shedding her past and embracing new friends, and even a new boyfriend, Katie finds herself keeping up in the competitive reality that exists in the pool, the classroom, and the social scene. But Katie can’t hide from who she is, and the choices she makes, whatever her reasons, have repercussions. BREATHLESS is a beautiful novel, with so many delicate layers to sift through – it’s the sort of book that stays on your mind.

While we're at it, here are a few middle grades to consider:

TRUDY by Jessica Lee Anderson (Milkweed Editions 2008; 11 LT members)
Elegantly written, Trudy is the story of a middle-school girl faced with the sort of problem no one her age expects: her father has alzheimers. This just compounds Trudy's list of problems: she's embarrassed that everyone assumes her parents are her grandparents, her best friend has abandoned her, and math is doing her head in. As Trudy and her mother try their best to hold the family together, Trudy finds companionship in a fellow outcast. This is a story of tragedy and hope that truly stays with you long after you've read it.
KALEIDOSCOPE EYES by Jen Bryant (Knopf Books for Young Readers 2009; 52 LT members)
This novel-in-verse is a lovely tale of a treasure hunt, family and friendship, all beginning when thirteen-year-old Lyza finds three maps in her grandfather's house after his death. It appears that her grandfather has left her clues to find the famed pirate William Kid's New Jersey! Taking place in the late 60s, KALEIDOSCOPE EYES has all the vibrancy of the era, and Bryant delves into history -- both 1960s and 1690s -- in all the best ways. With all the sneaking around, Lyza's sister thinks she must be on drugs, but when Lyza and her friend Malcolm confide in her sister's boyfriend, everything just might fall into place. It's a secret treasure hunt, complete with pirates. What's not to love?
I WANNA BE YOUR SHOEBOX by Cristina García (Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing (Paperback Edition) 2009; 25 LT members)
Yumi's dad is half Japanese and half Jewish; her mom is Cuban. She is like no one she has ever met. But she fits in fine at school with her musician friends in the orchestra, which is all well and good, until the school announces that there is no longer a budget for the orchestra and it will be disbanded. To make things worse, Yumi's grandfather has been diagnosed with terminal cancer and her mother's boyfriend is cramping her style. Yumi, however, has a few plans. For one thing, if she is going to lose her grandfather, she is going to have her tell him his life story. Secondly, she and her friends will raise money to save the orchestra, but how? In this poignant story of challenge and change Yumi is an eccentric young heroine - a clarinetist who surfs with a punk rock dad and an author mom. Cristina García constructs a powerful story around her, woven together with her grandfather's memories of growing up in Brooklyn. While sad, I Wanna Be Your Shoebox is hopeful, sweet, and truly memorable.
WILD GIRL by Patricia Reilly Giff (Wendy Lamb Books 2009; 55 LT members)
Lidie hasn’t cried since her father and brother left for America when she was seven. She has learned to be patient, living with her aunt and uncle in Brazil, waiting for the day her father would send for her. When he finally does, it’s not the reunion she expected. Her father and brother, who now work training racehorses, don’t know her like they used to. They think her favorite color is still pink and that she loves Snow White even though she’s now in sixth grade. Worst of all, they don’t realize she already knows how to ride a horse. School isn’t much better, since Lidie’s English is still pretty poor. But it is through Lidie’s connection with one special horse -- Wild Girl -- that she might finally find her way. WILD GIRL is a beautifully written novel that transcends the notion of a “horse book” or an “immigrant family story.” It is as compelling as it is heartfelt, and readers will have to work hard not to identify with Lidie and her horses. The spirit of this book will stay with you.
A TASTE FOR RED by Lewis Harris (Clarion Books 2009; 33 LT members)
This new take on gothic kidlit by Lewis Harris is a wonderful, funny read about a girl who thinks she might be a vampire. Svetlana Grimm sleeps under her bed, has a sixth sense, and only likes red food -- it’s the obvious conclusion, right? She’s starting sixth grade after being homeschooled her whole life, and she is NOT happy about it. The new science teacher is interesting, though. She’s absolutely beautiful, but smells like rotting food. And she seems to have it out for Svetlana. Her only hope may be the strange old lady who lives next door, and her new -- if unwanted -- friends from school. This fun, exciting middle grade novel is perfect for girls and guys who want to jump on the teen vampire bandwagon, but aren’t quite ready for some of some of the racier teen books.
PIP: THE STORY OF OLIVE by Kim Kane (David Fickling Books 2009; 22 LT members)
This engaging narrative takes place in suburban Australia, following the unusual Olive Garnaut, who is just entering Year Seven in school. Olive has wide set eyes, pale skin, and white-blonde hair; the girls at school aren’t always very nice. Olive’s mother, Mog, is a rather successful career woman and is rarely at home. This leaves Olive with a lot of responsibilities. She has her own credit card for groceries, and her own mobile phone, which her best friend, Mathilda absolutely adores. Things are mostly fine, but when suddenly Mathilda allies herself with the school Queen Bee, Olive finds herself out of place. It is fortunate that this is when her twin sister, Pip, appears. And Pip is everything Olive is not. Where Olive is polite and shy, Pip is brash and outspoken. Where Olive is reserved, Pip is spontaneous. So when Olive mentions their long-lost father, WilliamPetersMustardseed, it is Pip that insists they embark on a journey to find him. Funny, sweet, devastating, and wicked, PIP: THE STORY OF OLIVE is a book with characters that are so alive, you soon feel that they are your oldest friends. Sprinkling a modern Australian landscape with bits of magic realism, Kim Kane’s first book will enchant you from page one.
THE UNUSUAL MIND OF VINCENT SHADOW by Time Kehoe (Little, Brown Young Readers 2009; 13 LT members)
After Vincent's mother died, he began to lose his inspiration. He'd always been an inventor, and even had a secret lab in his New York apartment, which his mother had helped him to build. Things hadn't been going well, however, and it was getting even worse. His step mother gets her way and Vincent is forced to move across the country and leave his lab behind. On the bright side, though, there is this annual contest run by an eccentric toy-inventor, and Vincent has to be a contender. If only he could get it together. Told with excitement and panache, Kehoe -- a real-life toy inventor -- captures the spirit of childhood creativity and the loneliness of genius in the beautifully illustrated debut. This is a perfect pick for reluctant readers and science geeks of all ages.
THE WITCH'S GUIDE TO COOKING WITH CHILDREN by Keith McGowan (Henry Holt and Co. (BYR) 2009; 43 LT members)
Remember the story of Hansel and Gretel? Well, the witch – one Fay Holadarry – is still alive. The city has been built around her, where the forest used to be. And her house no longer looks like candy, but she has her ways of getting children. Parents, for example, who no longer want their children can drop them off at various locales. Holaderry does not go hungry. When Sol and Connie move in next door to Holaderry, they immediately smell something fishy. It’s not long before these clever kids learn Holaderry’s secret and decide to do something about it. This delightful tale is as quirky as it is heartwarming, with distinct characters that readers young and old will not easily leave behind. Illustrations by Yoko Tanaka fit in perfectly with this retold classic.
THE BOOK OF NONSENSE by David Michael Slater (Children's Brains Are Yummy Books 2008; 29 LT members)
Even though they're twins, Daphna and Dexter don't get along. Their father is a book scout who travels the world looking for rare and interesting tomes, and while Daphna loves to accompany him on his adventures, Dexter hates books and everything to do with them. While their father was gone on their last trip, the ABC, a new used book shop that mostly stocks texts on magic - opened in the twins' hometown. Daphna is excited to show her dad the ABC and takes him there with his latest acquisition: an incredibly old book filled with nonsensical words. But the owner of the shop is a creepy old man who seems to hypnotize their dad, tricking him into giving the book away and signing up Daphna to work in the shop. The twins are soon whisked into a wild world of magic and mischief as they try and steal the book back from the weird old man and the spooky red-eyed boy he keeps in his service. Slater's is a book filled with whimsy and intrigue, with a perfect sibling rivalry and plenty of surprises. This is the first in a series that I predict will be exciting and top notch - one that kids will want to read again and again
THE SECRETS OF THE CHEESE SYNDICATE by Donna St. Cyr (Children's Brains are Yummy Books 2009; 3 LT members)
This delightful and surprising story begins with a brother-sister squabble and an unlikely elixir. Actually, it begins way before that, when a man went in search the mysterious Cheese of Eliki went missing, leaving his wife and two kids behind. These kids -- Robert and Janine Montasio -- are soon confronted with a secret world of cheesemongers, manticores, and other hazards. But Robert is in a bind -- if he doesn't accept the Cheese Syndicate's mission, his obnoxious sister Janine will never stop shrinking...and he may never find out what really happened to his dad. Laugh-out-loud funny and sure to please fans of SPIDERWICK, THE SECRETS OF THE CHEESE SYNDICATE promises to be the start of a fun new mythological series.
CLOVER TWIG AND THE MAGICAL COTTAGE by Kaye Umansky (Roaring Brook Press 2009; 23 LT members)
Ten-year-old Clover Twig is a practical girl. She knows how to cook and clean and likes things neat and tidy. When she sees a classified ad for a housekeeper, she knows she is the girl for the job, even if it means moving in with the local witch, Demelza. Of course Clover Twig did not anticipate the many downsides to this job. Like the fact that this witch might be the most disorganized woman on the planet, or that a clumsy delivery boy would make her life difficult, or that a feud with Demelza’s evil sister -- who has a PLAN -- could put her in a lot of danger. This whimsical, exciting story will easily capture readers both young and old with its lighthearted magic and sense of humor. Johannah Wright’s wonderful illustrations are the icing on the cake. For sure, Clover Twig is a character you will not forget
LEAVING THE BELLWEATHERS by Kristin Clark Venuti (EgmontUSA 2009; 18 LT members)
Absurd, hysterically funny, and impeccably well-written, Leaving the Bellweathers is the story of one butler, Tristan Benway, and the family in the lighthouse on the hill, whom he is bound to serve by an Oath of Fealty sworn by one Benway long deceased. But this oath will soon be expiring, and Benway has decided to write a tell-all book about the strange family: the mother who is constantly painting the walls, the inventor-father who accosts all doorbell-ringers by dropping things from the window, the artistic triplets who only speak VERY LOUDLY LIKE THIS unless they are Up to No Good, the bagpipe-playing daughter who takes up any cause she can find (and often invites them to dinner, and the son whose love for endangered animals that can kill you has recently brought an albino alligator into the house. There simply is nothing like LEAVING THE BELLWEATHERS, and it is easily among the best middle grades of the past few years.

And, for good measure, here are a few of my picks for under-loved adult titles:
(NOTE: most of these will appeal to mature YA readers as well)

UNDISCOVERED GYRL by Allison Burnett (Vintage 2009; 56 LT members)
I was sucked into this voyeuristic mess from page one. Katie Kampenfelt is seventeen, and already everything our mothers warned us about. Her blog chronicles her excessive drinking and drug use, her sexcapades with her boyfriend and the older man she's sleeping with, and fantasies about her boss. The style, while gimmicky, is relevant -- everyone has a blog, everyone thinks their life is newsworthy. And while Katie's blog is indeed different from the rest, what she's writing is nothing you would want for anyone close to you. Like a bad reality show, you can't stop watching. But unlike said reality show, Undiscovered girl is cleverly written, culturally important, and the perfect summer read for young fans of transgressive literature. It's like Bridget Jones, if Bridget were a mal-adjusted, alcoholic, promiscuous teenager. And while most moms of actual seventeen-year-olds would be horrified to find this book in their daughter's room, you can bet the daring teens will be sneaking around to trade it with their friends.
THE SEAS by Samantha Hunt (Picador 2005; 64 LT members)
What I love most about this book is its insane romanticism -- not insane because it's romantic, but romantic because it's insane. Hunt's narrator has a special idealism in the face of imminent tragedy, and has convinced herself that she is a mermaid. Living with her mother and dictionary-writing grandfather in an isolated coastal town, a 19-year old girl is still mourning the loss of her father, who one day walked into the sea never to return. The desolate landscape of the story is spattered with her doomed love affair with a (much older) Gulf War vet and her desire to escape. THE SEAS is unbelievable, and unforgettable.
IN THE HEART OF THE CANYON by Elisabeth Hyde (Knopf 2009; 94 LT members)
It's nearly impossible for me to summarize this book. For a few days, this was my own personal Colorado River adventure. The characters felt like my friends, and as each day passed in the book and the strangers felt closer to each other, I felt closer to them. These people from all different walks of life -- a Harvard professor, a mother and her overweight daughter, a family from Salt Lake City, an elderly couple - may have signed up for this two-week ride, but the relationships that develop and fall apart on the journey are what make this book so authentic. Elisabeth Hyde's writing is smooth and compelling -- she changes voices from one character to the next seamlessly and artfully. This is the sort of book whose multiple angles will find it a wide audience - adventure and wilderness fans, older teens venturing into adult literature, family drama readers. Everyone will be ensconced, everyone will be thankful for the ride.
A MAP OF HOME by Randa Jarrar (Penguin (Paperback Edition) 2009; 83 LT members)
Nidali has an American passport, since she was born in Boston. Her Mama is Egyptian and Greek, her father is Palestinian, making Nidali "half-and-half." Growing up in Kuwait, she never quite feels at home. She is a smart girl, but it's never quite enough for her father, a man who expects her to become a famous professor. On her thirteenth birthday, Saddam Hussein's Iraqi army invades Kuwait, leaving her mixed family with no option but to flee to Egypt where Nidali once again wonders what it means to be at home. A MAP OF HOME is an unusual, poetic book that simply has no equal in contemporary literature to date. Jarrar's language is fluid, honest, and liberating, painting a beautiful picture of the Middle East that one would think impossible during times of turmoil. Nidali's account of growing up -- from school and friends to sex and politics -- transcends culture and unites us all in the struggle that is adolescence. At the same time, this is a novel that shines a new light on coming of age in an Arab family. Jarrar is a storyteller in the truest sense of the word, using charm and humor as much as hardship to bring us close to her characters and her truly musical narrative.
A TALE OF TWO SISTERS by Anna Maxted (Plume 2007; 130 LT members)
This book surprised me. While just as punchy as Maxted's other efforts in chick lit, this is as much a warm, heartfelt book about responsibility and growing up as it is a dry comedy. The story takes turns between the narratives of two sisters, Lizbet and Cassie, as they struggle through their relationships (Lizbet is single but committed, whereas Cassie is married but questioning her vows), their jobs (editor and lawyer, respectively), and their feelings for each other just as a surprise, followed by a tragedy, hit the family. Perhaps it sounds a bit cliche, but trust me when I say that this is Maxted's best book, rife with wit and cynicism, pushing her out of the chick lit pigeonhole.
THE VISIBLES by Sara Shepard (Free Press 2009; 34 LT members)
Sara Shepard is best known for her hit teen series PRETTY LITTLE LIARS. THE VISIBLES is a distinct departure, feeling much closer to the literary world than the world of GOSSIP GIRL. Her protagonist, adolescent Summer Davis, is devastated after her mother abandons the family out of the blue. She becomes obsessed with the concept of DNA, convinced that it is through science that she will one day reconnect with her mother. As Summer grows up, attends college and eventually finds her way to the genetics lab at NYU, it becomes her father that may hold her back, as his battle with mental illness finally reaches a head. THE VISIBLES is an intense, thought-provoking novel, and I look forward to Sara Shepard's next adult venture.


  1. I thought you were exaggerating when you said yours was crazy long. Wow. You went all-out! This is awesome!

    And I'm embarrassed to say I've only read ONE of these titles. I got some catchin' up to do!

  2. Oh wow! Long list. I've actually read a couple of these.

  3. That IS the longest post ever. My post with just 5 books took me over an hour. This would've KILLED me.

    I've read 6 of your picks and have several more in my pile :)

  4. Amazing list! Thanks for including VIOLET!

  5. This is such a wonderful list! Thanks for including BORDER CROSSING and TRUDY!

  6. Kelly & Rebecca - which ones did you read?

    Lenore - I recycled/edited a lot of my reviews from LT or else it would have taken me years. As it was, it took me all day (while watching Law & Order marathons). What ones have you read?

    Melissa - You KNOW Violet is my girl! I was surprised more people on LT hadn't read her yet.

  7. WHAT a list! I think every one of these is new to me -- I'll have to bookmark this for reference! :)

  8. fantastic post. All of these are new to me.

  9. These are the ones I have read:

    The Book of Nonsense
    Violet on the Runway
    The Miles Between (LOVE LOVE LOVE)
    Nothing but Ghosts (also one of my faves of 2009)
    Bad Girls Don’t Die

    I like your take on Possessions. I have that one in my pile - will have to move it closer to the top!

  10. Wow - how much bigger did my wish list just get? Excellent list - I think it would take more than two hands to count the number of books you added to my wish list single handedly. Today is definitely doing a number on my poor list! LOL

  11. Thanks for the shout-out! I'm going to get some of these for my TBR pile!

  12. thanks emily - I feel honoured to be on such an excellent and varied list - and I agree pip, the story of olive was one of my absolute favourite reads ...

  13. You guys are totally growing my TBR pile. I have The Miles Between here, and I am ordering Nothing But Ghosts ASAP. I'm loving these lists!

  14. Great list! Have you ever read any Miriam Toews? She is a fabulous adult author. If you're interested try The Flying Troutmans first!

    (and I am eagerly awaiting all those books Ms. Rabb has been working on!)

  15. Great list! I found several I'll be adding to the TBR pile - and I just loved your characterization of Possessions!

  16. There are so many good books here, and I haven't read any of them! Looks like my 2010 Reading List just extended significantly.

    Great post!

  17. Wow! Great list. I definitely going to be adding some of them to my list. Thanks for stopping by earlier. And I agree about Dirty Laundry.

  18. Grrrrl, you went all out! I've only read a few, but I loved those. I'm definitely going to get the others on your list. Thanks for posting!

  19. I'm adding Gothic Lolita to my TBR list, if only because I want to see what reading a book with not capital letters and half of it in pictures is like. But the story sounds good, too!

  20. Eek, I hadn't even heard of PRETTY DEAD! I love FLB, (who seems to have gone uber-prolific over the past couple of years; I really need to catch up on her output), and it sounds wonderful.

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  23. What a great list! Thanks so much for compiling this. You've increased my to buy/ to reads by about 200%. Happy to see Dakota Lane's cool "Gothic Lolita" on it. It's a wonderful book.

  24. What an amazing list! Nothing but Ghosts was great and I keep hearing about the Cheese Syndicate. I'm going to have to bookmark this post and add a bunch of stuff to my Wish List :)

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  26. I suck because I haven't read ANY of these books!

  27. Jamie, I'm always happy to help with your shopping list!

  28. Wow, totally helpful! *adds to wishlist*

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