Thursday, December 23, 2010

Favourite teen books of 2010

So, funny story. I have sort of been reading fewer teen books this year. I was worried I was using them as an emotional crutch in life, a kind of lazy bibliotherapy. I actually didn't realise how much I had cut back until I ran a list in LibraryThing for YA2010 tags, and there were a pitiful 10 titles. Well, that makes a Top 10 list hard to write! So here's my top, um, 5.

Heist society by Ally Carter - Slight guilty pleasure. Carter is a pretty good writer, but she airs on the side of repetetive, sometimes. That being said, don't let the cover put you off this book: while it looks chick lit-y, it does have some serious art history in it. Katarina Bishop is tired of being involved in her father's art heist schemes, and enrolls herself in a private school; alas, her "vacation" from the family is short-lived, as her father ends up the prime suspect in a major heist that, ironically, he claims he didn't pull off. In an attempt to clear his name, Kat assembles a team of teen accomplices to retrieve the stolen art (which ends up being stolen Nazi art). Great descriptions of exotic locales, fancy espionage techniques... I really stick with Carter for the humour, though.

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins - Captain Obvious, I know. The Hunger Games Trilogy was, in my mind, absolutely brilliant, and one of the most complex, disturbing teen titles to come out in a long time. I previously wrote about my anticipation of Mockingjay, the third and final book in the trilogy; in that post, I quoted an interview with Collins in which she described how her father told her stories about the war growing up. She said that "if the whole concept of war were introduced to kids at an earlier age, we would have better dialogues going on about it, and we would have a fuller understanding." Well, I think Mockingjay does that; the novel covers topics such as PTSD, child soldiers, media, and propaganda in an action-packed drama with real appeal to teens. Many meaningful links are drawn in all three books between Katniss' society, the ancient Romans (the candy-coloured buildings, the Latin phrase panem et circenses, or bread and circuses) and our modern age (media embedded with soldiers, the meld of performance, politics and battle - hey, we live in a world in which Stephen Colbert testifies - in character - in front of the Senate). Katniss is a tough girl to like, all right, but then so is any child soldier: she is selfish, and her relationships with those close to her (especially her mother) are forever marred by her experiences, and the choices she has had to make. Lots to chew on.

Wildthorn by Jane Eagland - Seventeen-year-old Louisa Cosgrove is a (mostly) respectable Victorian girl, with some not-very-respectable ambitions: she wishes to be a doctor, like her father. After her father's unexpected death, her somewhat unorthodox interests, which had been tolerated by her mother and brother until then, are promptly dismissed. When Louisa objects, her family has her committed to Wildthorn Hall, a home for lunatic women, under an assumed name. Deprived of her very identity, and faced with inhumane treatment by nurses and doctors, Louisa tries to hang on to her sanity, and forge bonds of trust with other residents of the Hall. Wildthorn is inpsired by true stories of women who were incarcerated in asylums in the nineteenth century.

The secret fiend by Shane Peacock ("The Boy Sherlock," #4) - This series works for kids 10+, but I'm putting it here anyway. There is a lot of darkness in Peacock's Sherlock, and I think Sherlock's growing self-awareness, and control over his emotions, is better appreciated by a more mature audience. I've been a fan of the boy Sherlock since Book 1, which blew me away. Peacock has mastered a truly remarkable, unique voice in these books: they are taut, gritty, realistic, historically authentic, and also, at times, touching and tender. Future classics.

Red: A Haida Manga by Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas - What is Haida manga, you ask? Haida manga is a hybrid art form that com­bines clas­sic Haida design and sto­ry­telling techniques with manga. I enjoyed this book a lot because it was so utterly unique. I don't read a lot of folk tales anymore, but the art in this book drew me in. I read a review in Quill and Quire, and was fascinated by the fact that Red was constructed as a single giant mural; in other words, if you put every page together, they compose a single artwork. Each double-page spread also has its own image (see this for an example). The story itself comes from the oral tradition of the Haida Gwaii, and features a young man, the titular Red, seeking revenge. A more eloquent review of the book, with more spectacular scans of the art, and a video, is here.

Previous "Favourite teen books" of the year on this blog: 2009, 2008.

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