Thursday, February 25, 2010

Favourite teen books of 2009

(2008 list here)

Pre-amble: I was just reading an interview with novelist Allan Stratton in Quill and Quire (whom I had the pleasure of hearing speak at last year's CLA Conference), and he talked about being uncomfortable with the label "YA." He makes the excellent point (which I'm assuming is totally obvious to you, my discerning readers) that the label makes a work get more attention in one field, but it also means that "lots of people won't read your work that otherwise might." I'd like to remind you all, as he reminds me, that great "YA" books such as Catcher in the rye, Lord of the flies, and The Lovely bones, have cross-over appeal. As do almost all of the titles below!

And so, in no particular order....
  • Isadora Duncan: A Graphic Biography by Sabrina Jones - I've long been an Isadora Duncan fan, and this graphic biography gracefully captures both her story and the visual impact of her dancing. Feminist angle well-played.

  • Audrey, Wait by Robin Benway - One of my all-time favourite teen books. Sometimes the connection to a particular literary work is more emotional than anything: I read this last March, while deathly ill with a nasty flu bug, after a professional meeting that turned into a bitchfest directed at me. Long story. I spent the weekend in bed, snotty, reading this and at least three other books, feeling deeply sorry for myself. Ahem. Where was I? Oh yes, Audrey. Audrey breaks up with her musician boyfriend (as she leaves him - literally - behind, he calls out, "Audrey, wait!" and she doesn't turn around). Said ex's band then strikes it big with a song called "Audrey, wait," painting her as the villain in the relationship, turning many people against her (can you see how it struck a nerve?) and making her famous (hello, tabloids) for all the wrong reasons. She suffers through encounters with those who hate her (cold! unfeeling!) and those who love her (feminist! trend-setter!), and who knows which is worse. Through it all, she manages to keep a few friends and her job at the local ice-cream store, but not without drama. A great book about who people think you are versus who you really are. Website here.

  • I'd tell you I love you, but then I'd have to kill you by Ally Carter - First in a series. Unfortunately, my feeling is that the series overall is copy after copy of this book. At the time, it really stood out for me (still does!), but the 2nd and 3rd are beginning to try my patience. This is an excellent read-alike for those of you, like me, who mourn the demise of the TV show Veronica Mars. Or, I guess, for Buffy fans. For anyone who likes their narrators female, sarcastic, skilled in self-defense, full of secrets, and highly suspicious of everyone. Cammie, our heroine, attends the Gallagher Academy For Exceptional Young Women, which is basically a secret school for spies, run by her mother, one of the best spies around. Cammie and her friends try to untangle various mysteries in the series, the over-arching one being the circumstances of her father's death (on the job, of course). The first book also focuses on Cammie's first love, with a "regular" boy who has no idea that her finishing school has also taught her 14 languages and advanced encryption, and that she and her friends speak a different language (each day's selection on a notice board outside the hall) during dinner. Dry humour sample: Cammie's mum says "the worst part of the spy life isn't the danger -- it's the paperwork. After all, when you're on a plane home from Istanbul with a nuclear warhead in a hatbox, the last thing you want to do is write a report about it."

  • Hate that cat by Sharon Creech - A companion piece to 2001's Love that dog, which followed Jack's story of his dog, as told through correspondence with his teacher over the course of the school year. As his teacher exposes him to literature, particularly the poetry of Walter Dean Myers, Jack's writing changes, and his story develops. Hate that cat picks up at the start of the following school year, where his teacher has thankfully followed him into the next grade, introducing him to new poetry to inspire Jack to reflect on love, loss, worry and, yup, cats. Along the way, Jack is introduced to onomatopoeia, metaphor, free verse, William Carlos Williams, and the wonderful picture book by Walter Dean Myers' son, Christopher, Black cat. Teacher's guide to both books here. You will be incapable of not crying while reading this.

  • The adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary Pearson - Jenna awakens from a coma after an accident feeling as though her family is hiding something from her. Not to mention, while she was in the coma, they moved, effectively cutting her off from anyone in her former life. As she pieces together the circumstances of her accident, and her new life, she reaches some startling conclusions about the love parents have for their children, and the limits of what makes us human. A sci-fi title for people who don't like sci-fi. My home-based learners' book club is reading this for this month.

  • Janes in love by Cecil Castellucci - Another book I read over that long, germ-filled weekend in March. A sequel to The Plain Janes, which was on my list last year, this book follows the continued work of the Janes, whose art movement, PLAIN (People Loving Art In Neighborhoods) gets a spot in the Metro City Museum of Modern Art Contest, taking the "Art saves" message to a new level. Meanwhile, on the home front, first love, crossed wires, and general awkwardness complicates everything. Can art save, or will it just mess everything up?

  • Becoming Billie Holiday by Carole Weatherford - This fictionalised biography is a great title for reluctant readers, as it is written in verse and accompanied by evocative art. The bio follow's Billie Holiday's rise to fame, ending just as her first signature song makes it big. The focus here is on her unstable home life, with scenes of violence, rape, prostitution, poverty and racism. Ending on a high note, the book leaves Holiday's later tragedies to be explained via other works.

  • What I saw and how I lied by Judy Blundell - Evie's stepfather returns from WW2 with a few secrets, and he convinces her and her mum to leave New York for off-season Florida when one of his (alleged) old war buddies begins calling their home. What is he hiding? A budding romance with an older man distracts Evie momentarily, until her new beau seems more interested in her parents that in her.

  • Crusade: The heretic's secret, Part I by John Wilson - A brilliant depiction of the rise of the Albigensian (Cathar) Crusade, as told via the relationship between two orphan boys, John and Peter. While Peter's intensity and need for certainty and power leads to a career in the priesthood, mentored by one of the Crusade's key figures, John's love of art and literature, and his desire to question the way things are in the world, leads him to befriend the Good People (as the Cathars were known). Their lives intersect throughout the book, with often tragic consequences. At the end of this first book in a series, John is embarking on a trip to Spain with a young woman Peter once loved, and Peter is embarking on his first trip to Rome. A powerful examination of the fervent quest during the Middle Ages for the salvation of the soul, at the cost of all else.

  • Rough magic by Caryl Cude Mullin - An interpretation of the events preceding and succeding The Tempest, told from various perspectives, including that of Caliban and his mother Sycorax.

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