If there’s one thing you should know about us at Readers Lane, it’s that we’re unapologetic fans of YA fiction. And why not? Top-shelf YA fiction is full of realistically flawed characters, challenging situations, magical adventure, and emotional truths — just like “adult” fiction. Here are some of our favorite picks from 2014. Add them to your wishlist, suggest them to your book club, and read them right away! And don’t forget to check out our top 2014 fiction and nonfiction lists, too.
The Glass Sentence (The Mapmakers Trilogy)
Author: S. E. Grove
The first of a forthcoming trilogy, The Glass Sentence has gotten lots of praise for its richly inventive universe. In 19th-century Boston, Sophia Tims lives a sheltered existence with her brilliant and absent-minded uncle Shadrack, the city’s most prominent cartologer. Sophia’s parents — part of a dynasty of explorers and cartologers — disappeared on a secret mission eight years ago and never returned. When Shadrack is kidnapped, Sophia and her travel companion Theo must venture over uncharted terrain, deal with pirates and traders as they explore unknown lands. But the world is very different since the Great Disruption of 1799 hurled all the world’s continents into separate time periods, and her journey will be long and dangerous. Swashbuckling fantasy adventure on the high seas!
The Impossible Knife of Memory
Author: Laurie Halse Anderson
17-year-old Hayley is the daughter of a veteran whose PTSD overshadows both their lives. Hayley lives in fear of her father harming himself or others, and has stepped up as the surrogate parent in their relationship. Flashbacks to her father’s war experiences give us insight and sympathy toward his present-day struggles. Tough and sarcastic as a coping mechanism, Hayley starts to thaw when she befriends Finn, an easygoing guy who allows her to see what normal teenage life could be life. Can she let down her guard and learn to trust? A story of suffering, loyalty, forgiveness, and redemption, this book takes an honest look at the realities of war and its damaging effects on soldiers and their families.
Ms. Marvel Volume 1: No Normal
Author: G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona (Illustrator), Jacob Wyatt (Illustrator)
This groundbreaking new series by Seattle author G. Willow Wilson just released its first trade paperback, compiling issues 1-5. Kamala Khan is a teenage Muslim girl from New Jersey who suddenly develops shape-shifting powers; deciding to become a superhero, she takes on the name formerly used by her favorite Avenger, Carol Danvers. Yet her first great struggle is against herself — learning to understand and use her powers, figuring out how this fits in the framework of her conservative Pakistani family, and contending with all the normal drama that any teen faces. The “superhero” metaphor is a symbol for the struggle of immigrant-born Americans straddling the expectations and rules of two often diametrically opposed cultures. Ms. Marvel is the first Muslim character to have her own series, and we’re looking forward to seeing what Wilson does with this title. For more like this, see our Graphic Novels of the Pacific Northwest list.
Author: Esther Ehrlich
Naomi Orenstein, a young girl always on the outside because she is Jewish and has an ineffable love of birds, has a fairly normal, happy life until her mother comes down with a serious, debilitating disease. A novel originally written for those 10 and up (according to the random house blurb anyway), the topics of love, loss, and abrupt growing up fit better into the YA genre. Nest twists and turns, giving a roller coaster of emotions and ultimately teaching children and young adults how to deal with the first onset of illness and death in the family without ever losing the magic and innocence of childhood and the ultimate beauty of friendship, family, and life. You’ll still need a box of Kleenex, though. Read our full review.
The Queen of the Tearling
Author: Erika Johansen
In these days of super-popular epic fantasy series like Game of Thrones, this genre is popping up all over the place, for adults as well as YA audiences. Let’s face it, most of them will suck and be ripoffs of more successful series. But not The Queen of the Tearling. First-time author Erika Johansen deftly combines medieval and dystopian future fantasy into one book as she introduces her trilogy about a young girl on her way to being queen. Kelsea was raised by foster parents isolated from her very dysfunctional kingdom and now she must learn — quickly — how to identify friend and foe, as well as deal with her own newly emerging power as both a leader and something much (magically) more. Filled with dramatic tension, action, a wee touch of romance and a lot of very solid world-building, this is a top-notch fantasy novel that will appeal to teen and adult audiences. Read our review.
Red Rising (Red Rising Trilogy, #1)
Author: Pierce Brown
There is a whole lot of sinister genetic manipulation in this bleak, violent sci-fi novel (the first in a trilogy). In a color-coded system reminiscent of Brave New World, the humans of the future are genetically modified by class: at the top are the nearly godlike Golds, the political and social elite, and at the very bottom are the Reds, who do the lowliest of menial labor. Darrow lives on Mars, slaving in the mines for fossil fuels, which they’re told is for the noble project of terraforming Mars for all mankind to coexist and thrive (having fled the uninhabitable Earth). After his wife is executed for political rebellion and Darrow is nearly killed, Darrow learns that the government has been lying to and exploiting the Reds for generations. A revolutionary group called the Sons of Ares recruits Darrow for a risky scheme: to undergo drastic body modification, pose as a Gold, and infiltrate the highest levels of society before bringing them down. Darrow agrees, but once he begins his mission, he realizes it’s not as simple as all Golds being villains. There’s plenty of action and an impressively well-built-out world, and the occasional breather to ponder the big questions of destiny, free will, and inherent good and evil. See more like this in our Orphan Black read-alike list.
Author: Amanda Maciel
In Tease, author Amanda Maciel puts both the bully and the situation that created her front and center, defying society’s wish to focus on the victims. This book’s twist is that it’s told from the perspective of the bully: mean girl Sara. Social pressure, the unrelenting push and pull of high school politics, and a strained family situation have all helped make Sara into a girl who is desperate to fit in, hold her social ground, and keep what she thinks are the important things in her life. But Sara doesn’t believe she’s a bully — she’s so entirely focused on herself that any thought of the effect of her actions on others is lost in the din of her own insecurity. Tease is a great conversation starter for parents and teens about a subject that is very rarely examined from the perpetrator’s point of view. Read our full review.
The Zaniyah Trilogy
Author: Kelly Ann Jacobson
A rollicking, three-part teen adventure series with an addictive fantasy atmosphere that adults will happily cuddle into as well, The Zaniyah Trilogy follows a 16-year-old farm girl, Zoey, who discovers that there is more to her past, and inexplicable magical powers, than she could have ever foreseen. Engaged in a battle started at the beginning of time, Zoey confronts her past, meets new friends and companions, teams up with an ages-old love, rides a grumpy dragon, and laughs and cries her way to truth. As the final battle approaches, Zoey gets ready to go up against the most evil wizard in the universe. Will her lovable, ragtag band really be able to prove that good is stronger than evil? Addictive, fast-paced, imaginative, funny, and surprisingly heart-wrenching, this is a teen read that adults will guilty sneak into their own reading stacks. Oh, and there is a cool dragon on the cover, which goes great with my Squishable dragon buddy.