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.


Picture Books for Teens!

Posted by kacates on October 19, 2011

The theme of Teen Read Week this year is “Picture It @ Your Library”. And I thought, what better way to celebrate than to point out some of my favorite picture books for the older crowd? That’s right, I’m encouraging you to go check out some picture books. Don’t let the little kids hog all the fun this week. Here’s a great list for you to start from:


Picture This by Lynda Barry

Acclaimed comics artist Lynda Barry offers a guide to freeing your creative potential with this guided tour led by her character the Near-Sighted Monkey. Barry (and Monkey) provide all kinds of exercises for the budding young artist as well as fascinating stories and facts about what it is to be a comics artist.

  Rapunzel’s Revenge, by Shannon and Dean Hale and Nathan Hale

You probably think you know the story of Rapunzel, but you’ve never heard it like this before. In the Hales’ tale, Rapunzel, trapped in her tower by her supposed mother, gets tired of waiting for rescue and uses her magically long hair to free herself, before running into Jack (of Beanstalk fame) and setting off on a mission to find and free her birth mother.

  There’s a Hair in my Dirt! by Gary Larson

This twisted story from the creator of The Far Side comic strip features a biology lesson as told to a young earth worm angry to find a human hair in his supper.

  Amiri and Odette by Walter Dean Myers and Javaka Steptoe

Award-winning YA author Myers joins forces with illustrator Steptoe to retell the classic ballet of Swan Lake as a hip-hop ballad taking place in the inner city.

  We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball by Kadir Nelson

Kadir Nelson is one of my favorite illustrators, and here he uses his beautiful artwork to illustrate the story of the Negro Leagues of the early and mid twentieth century, when African-American baseball players were banned from playing on Major League teams.

  The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith

Okay, for this one you’re going to have to go raid the children’s department, because unfortunately I don’t have a copy down in the teen section. But I had to include it since it’s a favorite of mine and practically a classic. Read along as Al Wolf tells you what really happened to those three little pigs and their houses.

  The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

This book is a hybrid, told half through beautiful charcoal drawings and half through words. It’s the story of young orphan Hugo, whose life in hiding in a Paris train station is thrown into upheaval when he discovers a mysterious automaton – a mechanical man. Read this, then get ready to see Martin Scorsese’s film based on the book coming out in November.

  The Arrival by Shaun Tan

This is a true picture book, with no words anywhere to be found – well, maybe on the title page. Oscar-winner Tan uses his striking images to tell the wordless story of a man leaving his family behind to immigrate to a new land.

  The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg

In this book, illustrator Van Allsburg, creator of classics like The Polar Express and Jumanji, provides the reader with fourteen drawings, each with their own title and caption, and leaves it up to the reader to create stories to go along with the images. If you like this one, you should also check out The Chronicles of Harris Burdick, featuring 14 best-selling authors telling their own stories based on Van Allsburg’s illustrations.

  Woolvs in the Sitee by Margaret Wild and Anne Spudvilas

A genuinely creepy picture book, perfect for the days leading up to Halloween. A teen living alone in an abandoned building hides from the “woolvs” he sees wandering the outside world.

Teen Fiction Trends: Dystopias

Posted by kacates on October 18, 2011

Part of my job as the NPL teen librarian is to keep on top of trends in the teen book world. Well, after the runaway success of Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy (and if you haven’t heard of it by now, have you been living under a rock?), the latest big thing in YA publishing is dystopian fiction. A dystopia is a novel set in a future world with a repressive or abusive society, usually featuring a character or characters who slowly come to realize the truth of their world and fight back, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. Think classics like 1984 or Brave New World, or Newbery award winners like Lois Lowry’s The Giver.

In the past few years, dystopian novels for teens have been everywhere, and they’ve been some of the most popular books on the shelves at NPL. I’m working on creating a great big list of all the best YA dystopias that I’ll share when I’m finished, but for now, here’s a short list of some of the most recent favorites:

  Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

In America’s Gulf Coast region, where grounded oil tankers are being broken down for parts, Nailer, a teenage boy, works the light crew, scavenging for copper wiring just to make quota – and hopefully live to see another day. But when, by luck or chance, he discovers an exquisite clipper ship beached during a recent hurricane, Nailer faces the most important decision of his life: Strip the ship for all it’s worth or rescue its lone survivor, a beautiful and wealthy girl who could lead him to a better life…


  Matched by Ally Condie

Cassia has always trusted the Society to make the right choices for her: what to read, what to watch, what to believe. So when Xander’s face appears on-screen at her Matching ceremony, Cassia knows with complete certainty that he is her ideal mate…until she sees Ky Markham’s face flash for an instant before the screen fades to black. The Society tells her it’s a glitch, a rare malfunction, and that she should focus on the happy life she’s destined to lead with Xander. But Cassia can’t stop thinking about Ky, and as they slowly fall in love, Cassia begins to doubt the Society’s infallibility and is faced with an impossible choice: between Xander and Ky, between the only life she’s known and a path that no one else has dared to follow.


  Wither by Lauren DeStefano

A botched effort to create a perfect race has left all males with a lifespan of 25 years, and females with a lifespan of 20 years. Geneticists are seeking a miracle antidote to restore the human race, desperate orphans crowd the population, crime and poverty have skyrocketed, and young girls are being kidnapped and sold as polygamous brides to bear more children. When Rhine Ellery is kidnapped, she vows to do all she can to escape. Her husband, Linden, is hopelessly in love with her, and Rhine can’t bring herself to hate him as much as she’d like to. But Rhine quickly learns that not everything in her new husband’s strange world is what it seems. Will Rhine be able to escape – before her time runs out?


  The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

Imagine you’re the only boy in a town of men. And you can hear everything they think. And they can hear everything youthink. Imagine you don’t fit in with their plans…Todd Hewitt is just one month away from the birthday that will make him a man. But his town has been keeping secrets from him. Secrets that are going to force him to run…


  Birthmarked by Caragh M. O’Brien

After climate change, on the north shore of Unlake Superior, a dystopian world is divided between those who live inside the wall, and those, like sixteen-year-old midwife Gaia Stone, who live outside. It’s Gaia’s job to “advance” a quota of infants from poverty into the walled Enclave, until the night one agonized mother objects, and Gaia’s parents disappear. As Gaia’s efforts to save her parents take her within the wall, she faces the brutal injustice of the Enclave and discovers she alone holds the key to a secret code, a code of “birthmarked” babies and genetic merit. Fraught with difficult moral choices and rich with intricate layers of codes, Birthmarkedexplores a colorful, cruel, eerily familiar world where a criminal is defined by her genes, and one girl can make all the difference.


  Delirium by Lauren Oliver

Before scientists found the cure, people thought love was a good thing. They didn’t understand that once love – the deliria – blooms in your blood, there is no escaping its hold. Things are different now. Scientists are able to eradicate love, and the government demands that all citizens receive the cure upon turning eighteen. Lena Haloway has always looked forward to the day when she’ll be cured. A life without love is a life without pain: safe, measured, predictable, and happy.  But with ninety-five days left until her treatment, Lena does the unthinkable: she falls in love.


  Across the Universe by Beth Revis

Amy joins her parents as frozen cargo aboard the vast spaceship Godspeed and expects to awake on a new planet, three hundred years in the future. Never could she have known that her frozen slumber would come to an end fifty years too soon and that she would be thrust into a brave new world of a spaceship that lives by its own rules. Amy quickly realizes that her awakening was no mere computer malfunction. Someone—one of the few thousand inhabitants of the spaceship—tried to kill her. And if Amy doesn’t do something soon, her parents will be next. Now, Amy must race to unlock Godspeed’shidden secrets. But out of her list of murder suspects, there’s only one who matters: Elder, the future leader of the ship and the love she could never have seen coming.


  Divergent by Veronica Roth

In a future Chicago, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. On the day of her decision, Beatrice makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself. During the initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles to determine who her friends really are. But Tris also has a secret, one she’s kept hidden from everyone because she’s been warned it can mean death. And now she’s learned that her secret might help her save those she loves…or it might destroy her.


  All These Things I’ve Done by Gabrielle Zevin

In 2083, chocolate and coffee are illegal, paper is hard to find, water is carefully rationed, and New York City is rife with crime and poverty. And yet, for Anya Balanchine, the sixteen-year-old daughter of the city’s most notorious (and dead) crime boss, life is fairly routine. It consists of going to school, taking care of her siblings and her dying grandmother, trying to avoid falling in love with the new assistant D.A.’s son, and avoiding her loser ex-boyfriend. That is until her ex is accidently poisoned by the chocolate her family manufactures and the police think she’s to blame. Suddenly, Anya finds herself thrust unwillingly into the spotlight – at school, in the news, and most importantly, within her mafia family.


*All book descriptions from the publishers*

Back to school

Posted by kacates on August 18, 2011

I know how excited everyone is to be heading back to school this week. In honor of this momentous occasion, here’s a list of some great school-related books you can check out here at the library:

  The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

In his first book for young adults, bestselling author Sherman Alexie tells the story of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot.

   Spy High by A.J. Butcher

As students at a special high school that trains them to be secret agents, six teenagers struggle to complete the training exercises as a team before being sent out into the field to sink or swim.

   I’d Tell You I Love You But Then I’d Have To Kill You – Ally Carter

Cammie Morgan is a student at the Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women, which claims to be a school for geniuses but is really a school for spies. Even though Cammie is fluent in fourteen languages and capable of killing a man in seven different ways, she has no idea what to do when she meets an ordinary boy who thinks she’s an ordinary girl.  Can she maneuver a relationship with someone who can never know the truth about her?

   The Revenant – Sonia Gensler

To escape a home she doesn’t belong in anymore, Willie assumes the name of a former classmate and accepts a teaching job at the Cherokee Female Seminary. Nothing prepares her for what she finds there. Her pupils are the daughters of the Cherokee elite—educated and more wealthy than she, and the school is cloaked in mystery. The students whisper that Willie’s room is haunted by a girl who drowned in the river last year. Willie doesn’t believe in ghosts, but when strange things start happening at the school, she isn’t sure anymore.

   Looking For Alaska – John Green

Miles “Pudge” Halter is done with his safe life at home. He heads off to the sometimes crazy and anything-but-boring world of Culver Creek Boarding School, and his life becomes the opposite of safe. Because down the hall is Alaska Young. The gorgeous, clever, funny, sexy, self-destructive, screwed up, and utterly fascinating Alaska Young. She pulls Pudge into her world and steals his heart. Then…

   Hex Hall – Rachel Hawkins

When young witch Sophie attracts too much human attention for a prom-night spell gone horribly wrong, it’s her dad who decides her punishment: exile to Hex Hall, an isolated reform school for wayward Prodigium, a.k.a. witches, faeries, and shapeshifters. By the end of her first day among fellow freak-teens, Sophie has quite a scorecard: three powerful enemies who look like supermodels, a futile crush on a gorgeous warlock, a creepy tagalong ghost, and a new roommate who happens to be the most hated person and only vampire on campus. Worse, Sophie soon learns that a mysterious predator has been attacking students, and her only friend is the number-one suspect.

  Schooled – Gordon Korman

Capricorn (Cap for short) has lived every day of his life on Garland Farm, homeschooled by Rain, the only person he knows in the world. But when Rain falls out of a tree while picking plums and is hospital-ridden, he has to attend the local middle school and live with his new guidance counselor and her irritable daughter. Cap doesn’t exactly fit in at Claverage Middle School. He has long, ungroomed hair, wears hemp clothes, and practices Tai Chi out on the lawn. And now his fellow students…have nominated him for class president?

  The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart

Frankie Landau-Banks at age 14 is a mildly geeky girl attending a highly competitive boarding school. At 15, she’s got a knockout figure, a chip on her shoulder, and a gorgeous new senior boyfriend. And she’s no longer the kind of girl to take no for an answer. Especially when no means she’s excluded from her boyfriend’s all-male secret society. Especially when she knows she’s smarter than any of them. And especially when there are so many, many pranks to be done.

  Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

Anna can’t wait for her senior year in Atlanta, where she has a good job, a loyal best friend, and a crush on the verge of becoming more. So she’s not too thrilled when her father unexpectedly ships her off to boarding school in Paris – until she meets Etienne St. Clair, the perfect boy. The only problem? He’s taken, and Anna might be, too, if anything comes of her crush back home. Will a year of romantic near-misses end in the French kiss Anna awaits?

  Spud by John van de Ruit

John “Spud” Milton takes his first hilarious steps toward manhood in this delicious, laugh-out-loud boarding school romp, full of midnight swims, raging hormones, and catastrophic holidays that will leave the entire family in hysterics and thirsty for more.

More Sad News

Posted by kacates on February 23, 2011

I just found out that YA author L.K. Madigan passed away today from pancreatic cancer. Last month she had announced her cancer in a heartfelt post on her blog that blew me away.  She was pretty clear in her post that she knew she didn't have much time left, but I'm still shocked and upset to find her gone so soon.  I've never met Madigan, but I feel like I know her – her voice comes through so strongly in her writing.

Madigan, by the way, wrote the incredible Flash Burnout, which won the American Library Association's William C. Morris award for a debut author.  It's about, among other things, a boy named Blake who gets tangled up in his friend Marissa's life after finding out the woman in a photograph he took for class is her long-lost, meth addicted mom. It was one of my favorite books of last year, so I encourage all of you to run in and check it out.  She also wrote The Mermaid's Mirror, which just came out this past year.  I haven't read it yet, but I've heard good reviews so I'm eager to get to it.  I'm just incredibly sad that we won't be hearing more from a great new voice in YA literature.  If you're curious to know more about Madigan's books, check out this post from the librarians at Stacked, who post their own review of Flash Burnout as well as links to other reviews of Madigan's books.  They're also offering a chance to win a copy of Flash Burnout.