I have a thing for YA lit. I always have. I started reading it long before I was a young adult and I didn’t stop once I left those days behind. I re-read old favorites; search for the books I might not enjoy with the same abandon as I do “grown-up” books, but that I want my girls to read when they are tweens and teens; and I’m always searching for the next great crossover book, one that will make me force it upon all of my unsuspecting friends. (I know they love it when I do that.)
Plus, they have great covers. Heh.
Here you go – the YA and Children’s Lit Books of 2012.
1. Beauty Queens by Libba Bray. (Jan 2012) I had such high hopes for this book, about 50 Miss Teen Dream beauty pageant contestants whose plane crashed on a deserted island. Then I read it and remembered that not all YA books have crossover appeal. See my full review here. 2 of 5 stars.
2. Stargirl, by Jerry Spinelli. (Jan 2012) Somehow I missed all of the Jerry Spinelli books when I was a tween/teen and hadn’t stumbled into them since. My sister shoved this one into my arms while we were out bargain book hunting. Who can say no to a fifty-cent book? Not this girl. It was an enjoyable, easy read about being different in high school (without being different just to be different, because it’s the cool thing) and having the courage to be yourself, blast the consequences. It was a cute story, with a rather engaging girl – Stargirl – at the heart of it all. The problem for me was that it read like a middle school book by the end of it. Nutsy, right? Something sounding like it was meant to? Heh. I’ll give it 3 1/2 of 5 stars, because it’s something I really want my girls to read when they are old enough to realize not everyone wears two different shoes to the store just because they want to.
3. Will Grayson, Will Grayson, by John Green and David Levithan. (Feb 2012) Two boys with the same name on a collision course that will change their truer-than-real life little highschool selves. One of my favorite characters in all of literature, who is the sidekick to end all sidekicks, the star of his own awesometastic high school musical, and fantastically, awesomely, larger than life (literally and figuratively). You need to read this book because you will laugh until you can’t breathe and sniffle in the tears until even your 8-year-old tells you to just blow your nose already. It’s about first love (and 2nd love and 20th love and 303rd love) and friendships and drama in a way that maybe some of us could imagine, but only John Green and David Levithan can pin to paper. It’s the kind of book that your best friend will return to you and say, “I can never read anything again after that book.” Because it is just unpossible for anything else to measure up. 5 of 5 stars and a serious contender for the best book I’ve read this year.
4. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, by John Boyne. (Feb 2012) This book was a home-run for me. Designed for older children and tweens, Striped Pajamas is about the family of an SS officer stationed at a concentration camp…as told by his very young son who doesn’t understand why the “people in the striped pajamas” are stuck behind a fence. The young boy befriends one of the prisoners, a Jewish boy his own age, unbeknownst to anyone, and…well, you’re just going to have to read it to find out what happens. Striped Pajamas was a quick read, but I’ll admit that I cried nearly all the way through it. Boyne did a tremendous job exploring difficult themes and offering a new perspective on a subject that’s been written about from seemingly every angle. I admired the way he raised questions in a way that makes them easier to talk about with kids – not that that makes the answers any easier to explain. I’ll definitely offer this to my children when I feel they’re old enough. 4 of 5 stars.
5. The Secret Garden, by Frances Burnett Hodgson. (Feb 2012) This was a re-read for me. Reading it with your daughter for her first journey through the magic really brings the wonder back. We even made plans to build our own secret garden! 4 of 5 stars.
6. Feed, by M. T. Anderson. (Feb 2012) I picked this one up at Kim’s suggestion. In fact, I believe she even shipped the book to me to borrow. Alas, despite the strong YA-dystopian pull I felt, I couldn’t get into it. Teenagers vacationing on Mars and trying to overthrow the radio-broadcast of their thoughts? Sounds intriguing. But the reality was just too sci-fi-ish for me. (Note: I was going to write that as Sci-fy-ish, but then I heard Sheldon yelling in my head. True story.) 1 of 5 stars.
7. The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, by Avi. (Mar 2012) I somehow skipped over all of the Avi books when I was younger. I saw this at the Goodwill, so I picked it up. Hey, it was in good shape and all of a dollar. Someday very soon, Gracie will be at the age when she devours everything in sight, and this came highly recommended. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that I read this first as an adult – and right after Oscar Wao and Native Son – but I wasn’t as impressed as my sister and my cousin. Sure, it’s a good swashbuckling story, and it outlined (a piece of) life in the 18th century, and it does feature a strong female protagonist, but the writing. Oh, it could have been so much stronger. And the story could have been tighter. Aside from that… 2 1/2 of 5 stars.
8. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Roald Dahl. (Mar 2012) Another of my read-aloud-to-the-children books. Still just as awesome as the first time I read it. THAT is the sign of a good book. 5 of 5 stars.
9. All Souls, by Christine Schutt. (Mar 2012) I know this book won awards, and I realize that no matter how many YA books I read, I am still an adult and will approach books from that vantage-point, but I just could not attach myself to this book. The characters seemed vapid. Their causes stupid. Perhaps I didn’t give it enough of a chance, but hey – I can only meet the story, narrator, and everyone else halfway. 1 of 5 stars.
10. The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins. (Mar 2012)
11. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, by J.K. Rowling. (Apr 2012)
12. Bunnicula, by James and Deborah Howe. (Apr 2012) Gracie got this book in her Easter basket and couldn’t read it fast enough. I snuck in a chapters myself each night after she had gone to bed. I wanted to make sure I knew what she was talking about each morning when she excitedly recapped the action! It had been so long since I read it the last time, I wanted to be sure of myself. 4 of 5 stars.
13. The Princess Diaries, by Meg Cabot. (Apr 2012) I picked up this one at a thrift store while my sister was in town. Fifty cents, why not? My baby sister had read them and said they (there’s a series) were crossover friendly and my 8yo would be ready for them soon enough. I have to agree: I could tell it was written for the YA or maybe pre-YA crowd, but it was an enjoyable, easy read. You couldn’t help rooting for the accident-prone protagonist who finds out – to her chagrin – that she’s an heiress to the throne of some tiny fictional country. Need to feel like you’re not alone in your calamity-filled week? Spare an hour and bolt this down. I guarantee a laugh or two. 3 of 5 stars.
14. The Fault in our Stars, by John Green. (May 2012) I don’t care that it’s a “YA” book; I don’t care that it made me cry so hard I was afraid my sinuses were going to burst open; this book was one of the very best books I read all year. Go read my full, spoiler-free review here. 5 of 5 stars.
15. The Magician’s Nephew, by C.S. Lewis. (May 2012) Can you believe I haven’t ever read these? I hated fantasy and sci-fi growing up. I still hate most of it. But if Gracie’s going to be reading these, I’d like to be able to hold a conversation about them. And so I picked it up and read it. It was blechy. In my professional book-reviewing opinion. Ahem. 2 of 5 stars. (May 2012) Can you believe I haven’t ever read these? I hated fantasy and sci-fi growing up. I still hate most of it. But if Gracie’s going to be reading these, I’d like to be able to hold a conversation about them. And so I picked it up and read it. It was blechy. In my professional book-reviewing opinion. Ahem. 2 of 5 stars.
16. The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis. (May 2012) This one was a little more readable than Magician’s Nephew. For one, it has a magic wardrobe with a door in the back that leads to a magical land. You all know what a sucker I am for magic doors that lead to faraway lands. The Witch is deliciously wicked (if a bit flat at times), and dialogue isn’t Lewis’s strong point, but I’ll forgive him because there is just something about Aslan. Doesn’t he have more there-ness than the rest of the story? I can see why he’s been borrowed by fiction writer’s everywhere. (Shoosh. I know he’s Christ-like. I’m ignoring the churchy churchiness of it all.) All in all, I can easily understand why Gracie liked this one so much. 3 of 5 stars. (or, 4 for the bit about the door, 2 for the rest of the story.)
17. Slam, by Nick Hornby. (Jun 2012) You all know my weakness for Nick Hornby. This was a departure from his others in that it was written for Young Adults. The protag – a teen boy off somewhere in London – falls hard for a girl, knocks her up, and then slips out of love with her (to his great surprise). I mean, hey, she’s a catch! And having his baby! So what gives? Engaging and tackles sticky issues without sounding like and after-school special. 3 1/2 of 5 stars.
18. What Happened to Goodbye?, by Sarah Dessen. (Jul 2012) This wasn’t book of the year or anything, but it kept me interested and had a lot of good girl-next-door-type romance in it. Not to mention, it hit a lot of “who am I?” questions in (mostly) non-preachy ways. I gave it a 4 of 5 stars rating at the time, but I think I might back it down to 3 1/2 of 5 now that I have some distance.
19. Before I Fall, by Lauren Oliver. (Jul 2012) A lot of readers are gaga over Lauren Oliver. Maybe I found the wrong books to start with, but I just wasn’t feeling it. She wasn’t warm, I didn’t connect, and I could have cared less about her characters. Three kill shots right there. Here’s what I wrote at the time. 1 of 5 stars.
20. The Name of the Star, by Maureen Johnson. (Jul 2012) I really enjoyed the different take on the serial killer mystery plot that John laid out. Her characters were quirky, but not usually annoyingly so. I explained a little more here. 3 of 5 stars.
21. The Age of Miracles, by Karen Thompson Walker. (Jul 2012) Want to get me to read a novel? Tell me it’s about post-apocalyptic America. Ever since my mad love affair with King’s The Stand began when I was in high school, I’ve had these things for whacked-out the-end-is-night disaster survivors and the land they walk. It got me to finish every single bleak page of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, hoping for a turnaround. It forced me to read Justin Cronin’s The Passage, even though I wasn’t big on that one, either (at least not the bits that weren’t about the little girl). It drew me into The Hunger Games. And when I heard The Age of Miracles was about the earth’s gradual slowing spin cycle – and the lengthening days and increasing disaster that went along with them – I knew I was going to have to read it. I think I like it a little better now than when I first reviewed it, but I still think Walker left an awful lot on the table that I wish she had explored a little more. 3 of 5 stars.
22. Divergent, by Veronica Roth. (Jul 2012) My sister Rhi let me borrow her copy – and by “let me” what I really mean is “forced me” – but it wasn’t forced for long. This dystopian novel might be a bit mushier than Hunger Games’ anti-Bella, but the novel is just as kickass. This is a must-read. 4 1/2 of 5 stars. (Because sometimes there is simpering teenaged love. Sigh.)
23. Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins. (Jul 2012)
24. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, by Ranson Riggs. (Aug 2012) I’m going to say something, and then I’m going to almost contradict it. Miss Peregrine’s was one of my biggest disappointments for 2012. Which isn’t to say it wasn’t good… See how that’s confusing? But the end of that sentence is …for tweenaged boys. It’s good for them, but didn’t hold my attention quite as well. I don’t quite know if it was that the book was geared towards tweeny-boys in a way that excluded me, or if it was just that I wasn’t in the mood for it at the time. What I thought I was getting was another fantastic escapism/secret society type book. It was that, but it wasn’t my next favorite thing, which was also part of the hype I had built up in my head. I think this is one of those cases where cautious optimism would have done me much, much better. 2 of 5 stars.
25. Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher. (Aug 2012) If you are looking for great writing about anti-bullying that is fit for adults and teens alike, you must, must, MUST read this book! I devoured this book in two servings – and it would have been one if I hadn’t forgotten it at work. The format was creative, the tone was as complex without being off-putting, the voice was fresh and compelling: I felt like I was sitting right there with the narrator and…narratee?…the hauntingly sad and sarcastic Hannah and the bumbling, average-teen Clay, listening to the tapes as Clay wanders the city. I wanted to stop reading because it was, at times, heavy and dark and pressing down on my day, but I had to find out what happened next and who got the next tape. Maybe teens are as creative and well-spoken as this fictional portrayal, but if you think the subject isn’t being played out every day, in thousands of cities and towns, you need to think again. 4 of 5 stars.
26. Fever 1793, by Laurie Halse Anderson. (Aug 2012) A quick fictional piece about what it was like to – you’ll never guess – live during the yellow fever epidemic of 1792. A good intro to mid-elementary-level kids like my 8yo who are interested in history. It kept the facts simple and used enough drama to keep the pace up. 3 of 5 stars.
27. Divergent, by Veronica Roth. (Aug 2012) I had to re-read it before diving into the sequel. And I found it just as enjoyable the second time through. I love finding new worlds like this.
28. Insurgent, by Veronica Roth. (Aug 2012) I will confess that I didn’t like the follow-up nearly as much as the original novel, but then I never do. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was better than And the Chamber of Secrets, Hunger Games was better than Catching Fire, Boxcar Children was better than all of the others combined… It’s just that setting the scene and explaining the rules is always more fun than developing the cliffhanger that you’re going to solve in the third book. Which isn’t to say you shouldn’t read the second book; I’m just saying temper your expectations. And allow for an eye-roll or two. 3 of 5 stars.
29. The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick. (Sep 2012) My jaw fell so hard, so fast that I was afraid it would fall off when I saw how big this “children’s” book was. Don’t be put off – most of the book is filled with swoon-worthy, gorgeous illustrations. The story is simple, but moving. I haven’t seen the movie, but I dare it to be half as cinematic as this book. My original review can be found here. 5 of 5 stars.
30. Dare Me, by Meg Abbott. (Sep 2012) I hate cheerleaders. I hate cheerleading books. I couldn’t put this one down. It was gossipy. It was filled with drama and backstabbing. It was a mystery, but a wickedly smart and devious one. It was pretty much the Gone Girl of the YA world this year. Even when you think you know what happened, or who happened, you wont’ have it exactly right, even though you kind of do. Trust me: reading each salacious detail is so worth it. 4 of 5 stars.
31. Every Day, by David Levithan. (Sep 2012) I am still mad at this book. First, read it. (Really.) Then read why I lovehate it here. 4 of 5 stars.
32. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by J.K. Rowling. (Sep 2012)
33. Coraline, by Neil Gaiman. (Oct 2012) I never knew Gaiman wrote Coraline. I made myself read it (this story creeps me the heck out; I had nightmares for weeks) just because my 8yo was loving it so much. Oh, the things I do for that child. 3 1/2 of 5 stars.
34. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, by J.K. Rowling. (Oct 2012)
35. Gooney Bird Greene, by Lois Lowry. (Oct 2012) Ms. Lowry is the third point of the childhood author trifecta: Judy Blume, Bev Cleary, and dear Lois Lowry. I couldn’t have survived my early years without them. So how I missed Gooney Bird Greene was somewhat of a mystery…until I saw that it was published when I was in high school. Well, that solved that question rather quickly. I found the tale of Gooney Bird, the girl who tells only ABSOLUTELY TRUE STORIES, because Gracie’s 3rd grade teacher (and my new BFF) was raving about how she loved it and was trying to find enough copies to give to her class. I bought a used copy for Gracie, read it, and then bought seven more used copies to gift to the class. Yes, it’s that good. I haven’t ever read a book that better taught story-telling (and writing) skills. Best $35 I spent all year. 5 of 5 stars.
36. Liar & Spy, by Rebecca Stead. (Oct 2012) I wonder if I read Dear Mr. Henshaw or Then Again, Maybe I Won’t or…um… other books geared towards tween boys, would I still like them? Because I’m sensing a theme here. I recognized as I was reading Liar & Spy that it was well-written and had good characters and clever plot development. All the good ingredients were there and they were even mixed in tasty-looking fashion. The problem was that it just wasn’t a flavor I was in the mood for. So don’t take this personally: I would still hand it to my kid if one of them was a boy-child. 2 of 5 stars.
37. Please Ignore Vera Dietz, by A.S. King. (Nov 2012) Loved. LOVED this book. Like Thirteen Reasons Why, Vera Dietz had, essentially, both a boy and girl leading the action. Need to identify with one or the other? You have options. I also liked that there were issues address that seemed to have a modern update. This isn’t the Lurlene McDaniel of my youth. This was something my daughter would think was a bit more of her time. It addresses teen alcoholism and parents divorcing for not-the-usual reasons, and parents being people too (gasp! there’s dating), and mom’s being not-stereotypical mommish, and creepy men taking advantage of not just girls, but boys too. There’s bullying and inappropriate relationships and just about everything except internet dating. It was relevant without being preachy or having a nice tidy ending. Plus, lots of snark, sarcasm and with, and you KNOW I can’t live without those. You must not ignore Vera Dietz is what I’m saying. 4 of 5 stars.
38. Will Grayson, Will Grayson, by John Green and David Levithan. (Nov 2012) Yep. Definitely one of the best books I read all year – both times. I can already tell that this is book I will read and re-read in years to come. Need to recommend a book to tween- and teen-aged boys? This. THIS ONE.
39. On the Banks of Plum Creek, by Laura Ingalls Wilder. (Nov 2012) The story of Laura never grows old to me. This was a book that we read aloud, chapter by chapter each night; I love that my 8-year-old is falling in love with the adventures of the Ingalls family just I did, even if it doesn’t quite hold my 6-year-old’s attention in the same way. 5 of 5 stars.