09 Dec 2012

Best YA Fiction of 2012

The List by Siobhan Vivian

The week before Mount Washington High’s homecoming, the list appears. Again. Just like every year, the list provides the names of the Prettiest and Ugliest girls in each grade. And just like every year, nobody knows where this list comes from.

Ambitiously, Vivian tells the stories of all eight girls – eight alternating POVs, just wrap your head around that one for a second. This book could have collapsed at any point, imploded into a confusing puddle of nonsense. But somehow, Vivian pulls off eight distinct characters, eight distinct POVs that you can keep straight, eight well-developed characters.

When juggling this many characters, it’s natural that some will feel more compelling or interesting than others, but regardless of what I thought of each individual character, the whole was greater than the sum of the parts for me. The combination of voices calls attention to the ways these very different girls are the same; the list calls attention to the ways these similarities often relate to a misguided sense of self and learning to live under the male gaze.

But I am making this sound ridiculous and philosophical. It’s fascinating, yes, but it’s also a mystery. I read the last few chapters at the edge of my seat, no idea who the secret list writer could be.

Baby’s in Black by Arne Bellstorf

Some time deep into our August trip home – hours upon hours upon hours in the car – we ran out of music to listen to. The Boy put on the same playlist of Beatles songs we’d listened to countless times before. “Does it annoy you that I listen to so much of The Beatles?” he asked, and I laughed, laughed, laughed in his face. I love The Beatles, I do. If I had to pick a single artist to soundtrack the rest of my life, that would be fine.

Years ago, I read my first Elizabeth Partridge – John Lennon: All I Want is the Truth, my official indoctrination into Beatles history and lore. Baby’s in Black hones in on the earliest years of The Beatles, back when they were playing seedy bars in Berlin, back when there was a fifth Beatle named Stuart Sutcliffe. Stuart and his German girlfriend, Ingrid, are the stars of this book, but the other Beatles lurk around the pages along with Beatles lyrics, lore, and iconic imagery. Did I mention this is a graphic novel? It is indeed – all black and white and gray and moody and delicious. So you might like it even if you don’t give two rips about The Beatles, just sayin’. Also just sayin’: it made me cry.

Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins

Finally discovering Stephanie Perkins was a bright spot in a cold, sad kind of January. Lola is a likeable, somewhat mercurial artist-type with grand plans to build an epic Marie Antoinette costume. When she’s not crafting crazy outfits, Lola works at the movie theater, fights with her two dads, and hangs out with her sexy older boyfriend. THEN! Everything gets turned around when her twin next door neighbors move back in – one twin who used to be her best friend, the other who maybe was in love with her or maybe she was in love with him, and wow, that guy shouldn’t be moving in next door to a girl who already has a sex older boyfriend.

Good romantic fun. I’d been looking for an another author to live up to my Sarah-Dessen standards, and she finally came along. I look forward to years of fan-girl fun!

The Ivy by Lauren Kunze and Rina Onur

Sometimes, you love a ridiculous book.

The Ivy is about some characters who I’m sure have personalities, motivations, names. But no, it’s not about any of that, it’s about Harvard. It’s not even about Harvard, really – it’s about how bizarre social structures and habits look like from the outside, and how crucial and important it all seems when you are living them, especially when you are living them as an 18-year-old.

Okay, I gotta stop trying to be so abstract. The Ivy is about Dinner clubs and Your Rich Roommate and smoking weed in your dorm room and how weird it is to be a college freshman, especially in such a weird place as Harvard.

Also: ridiculous.

The Watch That Ends the Night by Allan Wolf

I keep forgetting that this book isn’t one of the billions and billions of nonfiction books in my life. It is researched, based in fact, about a famously-real historical incident, and the characters are mostly people who existed in life. But nope, this is fiction – a delightfully fictionalized true story, written in verse nonetheless. Longer review here. This is a book that I didn’t want to put down, but also didn’t want to finish out of sheer dread. A book that I shared with my significant other, read aloud. A book that I once left in the basement of my place of work and even though I knew it would mean speaking with someone I didn’t really like, I called work immediately to make sure my book was found and wasn’t accidentally sold (I worked at a bookstore, it could happen).

Now excuse me, I think Titanic just came on HBO…

Up next… Books for Adults!

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