Kristi’s favorite 2011 books

Posted by kacates on December 30, 2011

Because I’m sure you’ve all been dying to know what YA books I loved this year, I’ve been compiling a list of some of my favorites. These are all books published in 2011; if I opened the field to all books I read this year, the list would be a lot longer! So what do you guys think? What were some of your favorites from this year?



Chime by Franny Billingsley

On the surface this looks like your typical paranormal romance we’re seeing everywhere these days (And I’m not knocking them – there have been some fun ones published this year). But underneath is the story of Briony Larkin coming into her own and pushing back against what she’s been told all her life, while trying to placate the Old Ones who want her to save their beloved swamp from being drained. The way Billingsley plays with language is just beautiful. This is one to read slowly and savor.



Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

If you’ve read the fabulous Printz-winning Going Bovine, about a boy with mad cow disease, then you know that Bray is a hilariously inventive writer. This is another mad trip through Bray’s brain, featuring the contestants of a teen beauty pageant forced to survive alone on a desert island after a plane crash. A satire full of fun little pokes at pop culture and beauty pageants, plus great characterization, a survival adventure, and even a little bit of romance. And hey, it’d be a great beach read!


Leverage by Joshua C. Cohen

Danny may be a star gymnast at his high school, but he’s still a target for the much-bigger, steroid-fueled football players who rule the school. When an ugly prank war has devastating consequences for one of Danny’s teammates, he finds an unlikely ally in Kurt, a huge, scarred new member of the football team who has a dark past. The harsh and chilling light shown on the business of high school sports makes this one tough to read, but it’s completely worth it for the characterizations, especially of the quiet, misunderstood Kurt.



The FitzOsbornes in Exile by Michelle Cooper

This is a sequel to a book from last year that I loved, A Brief History of Montmaray, about the royal family of a tiny island between England and Spain struggling to hold on as those around them prepare for World War II. Now the FitzOsbornes have been forced to leave their island after it’s taken over by the Germans, finding refuge in England and struggling to adjust to their new world. Full of real historical figures and facts but without ever getting bogged down, this is a great example of what good historical fiction can be.



The Shattering by Karen Healey

I read and enjoyed Healey’s earlier book, Guardian of the Dead, but that didn’t prepare me for how much I would love her new one. In the idyllic New Zealand town of Summerton, three teens band together when they discover that all three of them have an older brother who committed suicide under mysterious circumstances. Now they’re beginning to suspect that their brothers’ deaths weren’t suicides at all, and may have something to do with the town of Summerton itself. I can’t recommend this one enough.



Paper Covers Rock by Jenny Hubbard

Alex is a student at an all-boys boarding school. When he and his friend Glenn are the only witnesses to what really happened when another boy drowns in the nearby river, Alex hides away in the school library and begins to write the true story in his journal. When the new English teacher, Miss Dovecott, begins to encourage Alex’s writing, Glenn insists that she must know more than she’s letting on about the accident and must be out to get them. Now Alex faces a difficult choice. Blending mystery, literary ambition, boarding school life, and the realities of loyalty and friendship, this book definitely made its way to the top of my favorites this year.


The Piper’s Son by Melina Marchetta

I was already predisposed to like this book because Marchetta is probably my FAVORITE AUTHOR EVER, plus it’s a sequel of sorts to another book I loved, Saving Francesca. Thomas Mackee finds himself sinking under the weight of his family’s grief after a beloved uncle dies. He quits school, turns his back on music and the girl he thought he loved, and deals with his alcoholic father. Now he has to figure out how to climb out of the hole he’s dug for himself. This one broke my heart into tiny little pieces and then painstakingly sewed it back together again. If you’ve never picked up one of Marchetta’s books, you need to do so immediately!



Shine by Lauren Myracle

Cat used to be best friends with Patrick. The two outsiders hung together in their tiny, poverty-stricken Southern townuntil one day several years ago, when Cat withdrew from everyone. Now Patrick lies in a coma after a horrifying gay-bashing incident, and Cat is determined to find the culprits. Myracle creates an attention-holding mystery while exploring some of the harsh realities of small-town America: poverty, lack of education, meth addiction, homophobia, and a sense of hopelessness that threatens many of her characters.


This Dark Endeavor by Kenneth Oppel

It’s likely that at some point in your school career you’ll come across Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley. Kenneth Oppel’s new book is a prequel to Shelley’s famous story, in which Victor Frankenstein is growing up with his twin brother Konrad. All their life they’ve been told that alchemy is forbidden, but when Konrad becomes dangerously sick, Victor is determined to create the Elixir of Life – with devastating consequences. A great read for those who like their books a little darker – plus, it’s supposed to be the first in a series, so there’s more to look forward to!


Life: An Exploded Diagram by Mal Peet

Mal Peet is probably one of the best YA writers that hardly anyone has ever heard of, and his latest only solidifies his genius in my mind. Working class Clem was born during World War II in the midst of the German bombing of London, and we follow him through to adulthood and his meeting and falling in love with Frankie, the daughter of a wealthy landowner. Meanwhile, huge events are happening in the outside world, from the Cuban Missile Crisis all the way to 9/11.


The Queen of Water by Laura Resau and Maria Virginia Farinango

Virginia was born into poverty in a tiny village in Ecuador – one of many indigenous people who are seen as the servant-class by the ruling mestizos, who can trace their descent back to Spain. When a mestizo family offer the seven-year-old Virginia a job working for them in the city, her family sends her off to what they’re sure will be a better life. But Virginia finds herself working long hours for no money for masters who don’t hesitate to beat her. She struggles to obtain some schooling and escape from her harsh masters. This story is especially compelling when you realize it’s true: the two authors met in the U.S., where Farinango asked Resau to help her tell her own story of an Ecuadorian childhood.


Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

In Between Shades of Gray, Ruta Sepetys tells the little-known story (at least here in the U.S.) of the forced relocation of many Lithuanian families to Siberia after their country was invaded by the Soviets in 1939. 16-year-old Lina, along with her mother and younger brother, must make the long trek to a work camp where many die of sickness and starvation. Meanwhile, Lina secretly sneaks out drawings in the hopes that somehow her missing father will find them and learn where the family is. Sepetys is the daughter of a Lithuanian refugee, and her shocking story holds a real ring of truth that makes it one of the year’s best works of historical fiction.


The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

On Puck’s small island of Thisby, each year riders participate in the Scorpio Races, in which bloodthirsty water horses emerge from the sea and are raced by death-defying young men of the village. But this year, Puck plans to enter the races herself, becoming the first girl ever to do so. Meanwhile, stable hand Sean, one of the only people who can truly control the water horses, fights for recognition despite his humble background. This has been one of the books with the most buzz this year, and with gorgeous writing and heart-pounding action scenes, it deserves every bit of it.



Blood Red Road by Moira Young

This has been the year of the dystopia in YA lit, but to be honest most of them have left me kind of cold – except for Blood Red Road, which had me hooked from the first page. Saba lives in a tiny village in the dried-up land that’s left after the Wrecker civilization destroyed the Earth and then died out. When her beloved twin brother Lugh is captured, she heads out into the unknown to bring him back home. This is a violent look at one possible future for our world, but I absolutely loved Saba. She might be one of my favorite characters of any book this year – she’s tough, a fierce fighter, and above all, a survivor.


Book Review: Liar by Justine Larbalestier

Posted by kacates on December 1, 2009


Liar by Justine Larbalestier

Micah is a liar.  She has always lied.  It’s a family curse – she can’t help but lie to you.  But now, her classmate (and secret boyfriend) Zach has been killed under mysterious circumstances, and all of Micah’s carefully constructed lies are starting to crumble around her.  So Micah promises that this time she’s going to tell you the truth about what happened to Zach, and about her mysterious family history.  No lies, no omissions.  But can you really believe a word she says?

Whew.  I'm not sure how to describe this one without spoiling it for everyone.  I raced through it, desperate to find out what really happened to Micah and Zach, but even after finishing, I have no idea what the real truth is.  Micah is the queen of unreliable narrators, as she'll tell you herself.  Throughout the book, she's constantly revisiting things she's told the reader are the absolute truth, only to confess that, well, maybe she's still telling you a few tiny lies.  Over and over again this happens, until you're not sure if you can trust that anything Micah's telling you is the truth.  Add in a huge twist in the middle that takes the story in a completely unexpected direction, and an ending that does its best to avoid answering any questions, and you've got a suspenseful, page-turning read that doesn't really fit in any genre category.

If you've read any of Labalestier's other books (including the also wonderful Magic or Madness trilogy, and the fluffy but funny How to Ditch Your Fairy), be prepared for something completely different than anything else she's done.  I can't guarantee you'll love it – it's a frustrating read – but I think that anyone who's into suspensful, creepy tales should give it a shot.  I thought it was great, and I'm adding it to my list of favorite books of 2009.

P.S. – If you've finished Liar and you're looking for a good, spoilery place to discuss it with others, Larbalestier has provided a post to do so on her blog.  Actually, I'd highly recommend checking out her blog, period.  She's hilarious and also provides some great tips for aspiring writers.

P.P.S – This has nothing to do with the rest of the thread, but did you know that Justine Larbalestier is married to Scott Westerfeld, writer of the Uglies and Midnighters trilogies, among others?  I love the idea of two great writers of young adult novels being together – wonder if they ever steal each other's ideas?

NASA has bombed the Moon!

Posted by kacates on October 9, 2009

Yes, you read that right. Early this morning, a NASA mission blew a hole in the Moon (well, sort of) in the process of testing for water.  Anyone who's read Life As We Knew It knows what to expect now, right? I'm planning to stop off at the grocery store on the way home to stock up on canned goods. Get ready for the end of the world, everybody!  And I would definitely encourage you to come in and check out Life As We Knew It, if you haven't already.  I'm reposting my review of the book below.

lifeLife As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer

Whew. After I finished this book, I had to just sit and stare at the wall for a while. This was definitely a page-turner and a nail-biter! It’s written as the diary of a girl named Miranda, who leads a completely normal teenage life, complete with all of the usual worries about homework and prom dates, until a meteor hits the moon with a far greater impact than expected, knocking its orbit askew and completely wreaking havoc on life on earth. First there are the disastrous tides caused by the moon’s near proximity, then there are the massive volcano eruptions, which send so much ash into the air that the sun is completely blocked and temperatures plummet.

So yeah, lots of disaster here – but it all pretty much happens off-screen. What we see is a much more intimate portrait of how Miranda and her family deal with all of these end-of-the-world catastrophes as they become increasingly isolated from the world outside their home. I was iffy on this book at first, because I thought the initial plot catalyst was so far-fetched, but in the end I loved it. It’s incredibly tense in a quiet, smothering kind of way. I love Miranda’s voice – she and her family face problems that would have been unthinkable just months earlier, and she shows a lot of strength and growth, but she’s still just such a normal teenage girl that I couldn’t help but love her. The depiction of her family and her relationships with them was wonderful, too.  I recommend this one highly to everyone.