Someone asked me recently if I would recommend some young adult books for a 12-18 -year-old audience. Sure, no problem, I said: I spent almost two years reading YA novels almost exclusively. But then I went back and looked at some of my old CC2K pieces and realized that I had a slight problem: when I’ve written about young adult novels, I’ve often written about them as an adult reading them. But what would I have thought if I were actually an adolescent again? (Somehow I don’t think the argument about the anti-feminist implications of Twilight is one I would have made as a teenager.)
So for this week’s Book Nook, we’re traveling back in time—or at least, I am. With the help of my Magical Time Machine Thingamajig™, I have brought the 15-year-old Beth to 2011 for her book commentary on some modern-day teen fiction. She likes Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Dawson’s Creek and is the only teenage girl on the planet who hasn’t seen Titanic. (Having now seen it, I can tell her she’s not missing much.)
So, in alphabetical order by author:
The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare
Books in the series
City of Bones
City of Ashes
City of Glass
City of Fallen Angels (releasing April 5)
The concept: 15-year-old Clary Fray discovers that she’s part of a secret sect of demon hunters, known as Shadowhunters.
What 15-year-old Beth likes about them: Clary is a strong, intelligent, independent heroine. The series also takes place in a unique, fun world. There’s also a great love triangle with Clary; Jace, a handsome, angry Shadowhunter; and Simon, her sweet, sardonic best friend.
What adult Beth has to say: These books remind me a bit of the Harry Potter series, with the main character suddenly learning about the supernatural world. The Voldemort/Valentine comparison is also an easy one to make. But these books have carved out a niche of their own, and they were among my favorites of 2009. When I heard that a fourth book in the series, City of Fallen Angels, would release in April, it was enough to make me let up my self-imposed moratorium on teen fiction. Clare’s other series, The Infernal Devices (the first of which, Clockwork Angel, was released last year), is also worth a look, especially for those who like steampunk and sci-fi.
The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins
Books in the series:
The Hunger Games
The concept: In a dystopian future, 16-year-old Katniss volunteers to take her sister’s place in the Hunger Games, a televised competition where 24 of Panem’s children fight to the death. Her struggle seeds a rebellion among the oppressed citizens.
What 15-year-old Beth likes about them: Katniss is independent and strong, and she fights for what she believes in. I love both of her romantic interests, too: strong, stoic Gale, and sweet, caring Peeta.
What adult Beth has to say: I know I’ve recommended these books a gazillion times, but with good reason. If there were any contemporary YA series I would classify as a “must read,” it would be this one. A few words of caution: these books definitely skew older. They are unflinchingly brutal and violent. When I read Mockingjay, I was shocked to see that it was published as a YA. Furthermore, although much of the discussion within the fan community centered around the Katniss/Peeta/Gale love triangle, these books are definitely not romance. If that’s your expectation, you’ll be disappointed.
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
The concept: Orphaned when his parents are brutally murdered, a baby boy is adopted by the ghosts of the graveyard and named “Nobody Owens.” What follows is a slightly sweet, slightly scary, coming-of-age novel.
What 15-year-old Beth likes about it: This is a weird book! There’s all kinds of things mixed up here: ghosts, murder, romance, growing up. It’s different than anything else I’ve read.
What adult Beth has to say: The Graveyard Book is a great introduction to Gaiman, whose weird and wonderful worlds provide amazing reading well into adulthood.
The Gone series by Michael Grant
Books in the series:
Plague (releasing April 5)
The concept: In the small town of Perdido Beach, California, every citizen over the age of 14 suddenly disappears one day, and many of the remaining teens discover that they’ve developed superpowers.
What 15-year-old Beth likes about them: This series is full of mystery! All the adults disappear, but we don’t know why. We also have some engaging characters: Sam, the de facto leader of the group, and Astrid, the “genius” who figures out many of the groups problems, especially. I also love the realistic way the group seems to deal with the problems of survival: food, shelter, taking care of the kids. There’s fighting and conflict, but they don’t just try to kill each other.
What adult Beth has to say: This series is part mystery, part thriller, and part Lord of the Flies. There are a lot of characters in this series, and sometimes it’s hard to keep track of who’s who. The books are at their strongest when they focus on Sam and Astrid (and their “bad” counterparts, Caine and Diana). As the series has progressed, it’s focused less on the mystery of what happened to the adults and how to fix it and more on the logistics of survival. Still, I hope Grant plans to solve this mystery before the end of the series.
The Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy by Maggie Stiefvater
Books in the series:
Forever (releasing July 12)
The concept: When Grace and Sam fall in love, the winter threatens to tear them apart forever. Sam is a werewolf, his wolf form brought out by the chill of winter—and ultimately, the change will be permanent.
What 15-year-old Beth likes about it: This is such a sweet, sad romance! Just when you think things are going to work out for Grace and Sam, they have new, bigger challenges to face.
What adult Beth has to say: There are a lot of teen love stories out there, but Shiver is just so perfectly, beautifully written that it stands out from the crowd. Grace and Sam, with their feelings of sadness, alienation, and longing, will be identifiable for many teenagers.