A Few Great Books of 2017

As we’re wrapping up 2017, I thought I’d offer a few of my favorite reads that came out this year. I haven’t had as much free time recently as I’d like, so I feel lucky that some of the books I did manage to read were this good!

book cover of Amina's Voice
Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan – Realistic fiction is not normally my thing, but this sweet MG novel charmed me while also teaching me a few things about the experiences of some Muslim Americans.

book cover of The Dark Prophecy
The Dark Prophecy by Rick Riordan – I continue to be impressed by (A) Rick Riordan in general, as an author and a person, and (B) his ability to pull off writing a series from the point of view of the god Apollo.

book cover of Dreadnought
Dreadnought by April Daniels – My favorite of the year! The prose, characters, and world are all excellent in this YA novel about a trans girl who becomes a superhero.

book cover of One Dark Throne
One Dark Throne by Kendare Blake – Sequel to the fascinating fantasy Three Dark Crowns, which is a hard act to follow. I couldn’t put this one down, either. Kendare Blake can write, y’all.

What 2017 books did you love?

Diverse Books to Add to Your Reading List

Sometimes, when the world seems a little scary, you ask yourself: how can I use my powers for good? We all have powers of one kind or another. In addition to writing, it happens that I am a librarian. So here is one of my powers: book recommendations.

Note: Possibly you have encountered the term “own voices” (often seen as a hashtag, #ownvoices). It’s become popular in the publishing and reading community. This term refers to books about diverse characters (people of color, LGBTQIA people, people with disabilities, and more) that are written by authors who themselves come from those groups. I, like many, think that a sensitively-written book featuring diverse characters is valuable no matter who writes it, but I also recognize that there is value in (A) the authenticity of a book that draws on personal experience, and (B) promoting the voices of marginalized people, who often have a harder time reaching a mainstream audience than white/straight/cis/ablebodied/etc. people do. So the following list is of “own voices” books.

The world benefits, and we benefit, when we see diverse points of view. Here are some books that can help us do that. These are all books I have personally read and can highly recommend, which means that they skew heavily toward books for teens, though I’ve included a few other categories. If you’re holiday shopping, they make excellent presents!

Picture Books

Just in Case by Yuyi Morales – beautiful book that teaches the alphabet as well as having a charming, sweet story

Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña – winner of the 2016 Newbery and a Caldecott Honor book

Little Red Riding Hood by Jerry Pinkney – classic story; rich, gorgeous illustrations

Please Puppy Please by Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis Lee – adorable illustrations; cute story that reads aloud well

Middle Grade Books

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander – exciting basketball-centric story written entirely in hip-hop-esque poems

El Deafo by Cece Bell – funny, cute, and surprisingly informative graphic novel memoir

Mountain Dog by Margarita Engle – sweet novel in verse about a boy who, after his mother goes to jail, goes to live with his uncle and bonds with him and his search-and-rescue dog

Young Adult Books

I’ve heard people complain about YA books as a whole being too grim and bleak. Some of these books, I admit, are pretty sad and/or scary – and sometimes that intensity and feeling is what you want! (After all, The Fault in Our Stars became a smash hit for a reason.) But for people who could use an uplifting story, I’m tagging some of these in particular as ***Not a Downer!*** Doesn’t mean nothing bad happens in them, but it means they are ultimately uplifting and leave you with hope, excitement, and/or other positive feelings.

Ash by Malinda Lo – lovely Cinderella retelling
***Not a Downer!***

Brain Camp by Susan Kim and Faith Erin Hicks – this graphic novel is creepy, but fun-creepy
***Not a Downer!***

Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina – thrilling historical fiction set during the infamous New York summer of 1977, when power outages and fires swept NYC while the serial killer Son of Sam terrorized the city
***Not a Downer!***

Fake ID by Lamar Giles – smart, fast-paced thriller
***Not a Downer!***

The Girl from the Well by Rin Chupeco – a poetically-written, chilling ghost story based on Japanese folklore

Hero by Perry Moore – clever and thoughtful superhero story packed with fantastical action
***Not a Downer!***

How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon – absorbing story that shows the aftermath of an incident when a white man shoots a black teen

If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth – clever, quietly-powerful story of a boy struggling with poverty and discrimination who discovers that if you let them, your friends can be exactly what you need
***Not a Downer!***

The Living by Matt de la Peña – taut thriller that follows a boy who is working on a cruise ship when a tsunami wrecks it, and the survivors realize that tsunamis are far from the only disaster hitting their world

Ms. Marvel by G. Willow Wilson – witty, exciting, utterly fabulous superhero graphic novel series
***Not a Downer!*** Seriously, like, the least downer-y thing ever written

Otherbound by Corrine Duyvis – fantasy with great worldbuilding, tight pacing, and an original premise
***Not a Downer!***

Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee – well-researched, well-plotted, well-written historical fiction set in San Francisco during 1906, the year when a deadly earthquake strikes

Pointe by Brandy Colbert – a teenaged ballerina’s life is shaken when her childhood best friend, who was kidnapped years ago, is returned

Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan – a sort of romantic comedy set in high school; fun and unusual; also deals with bullying/harassment in a positive way
***Not a Downer!***

This is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp – not for the faint of heart, this powerful story offers the viewpoints of various students during a terrifying school shooting

Adult Books

The Arrival by Shaun Tan – gorgeous, uplifting wordless graphic novel about an immigrant coming to a fantastical new city (great for kids and teens, too!)

The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo – I cannot tell you how lyrically beautiful this book, full of Chinese folklore, is, but trust me, it will suck you right into its intricate, fascinating world

House of Purple Cedar by Tim Tingle – gorgeous storytelling with touches of magical realism

Some resources to check out for further recommendations:

Seven Great Nonfiction Books for Writers that Aren’t About Writing

Writing fiction – even writing fantasy – doesn’t mean you make everything up. Does your book have human characters? Does it have animals, plants, stars, diseases, art, wars, pretty much anything that exists in the real world? Then your book will be stronger if you know something about how those things really work. Research: luckily, it’s more fun than it sounds.

There are fabulous books out there that are specifically about writing. I especially like The Complete Guide to Writing Fantasy by Darin Park and Tom Dullemond. Books like that can boost your craft, for sure. But it’s also helpful – and incredibly fascinating – to read other nonfiction that touches on topics relevant to your work. (Bonus: these books make you more interesting to talk to at cocktail parties, and you can recommend them to friends who aren’t writers!) The following seven books have illuminated various topics for me, including . . .

1. FoodWhat the World Eats by Faith D’Aluisio and Peter Menzel
book cover
This book’s creators visited dozens of countries all over the world to photograph families with all the food they eat in a week. There’s a profile of each family, plus a list of all the food they consume in an average week, including brand names and prices in US dollars. Plus, it has features on things like street food – scorpion on a stick, anyone?

2. Plants, and the Domestication ThereofThe Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan
book cover
In a breezy, storytelling style, Pollan explores the histories of four plants: apples, tulips, marijuana, and the potato.

3. DiseasesSpillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic by David Quammen
book cover
A zoonosis is a disease that crosses over from a nonhuman animal species to infect humans. This book plots the course of several outbreaks that started in animals before jumping to humans. The author also goes to adventurous lengths to meet and speak with people who are on the front lines of zoonosis research.

4. AnimalsMammals by Juliet Clutton-Brock
book cover
Come for the cool photos, stay for the weird facts. This Smithsonian Handbook might just introduce you to your favorite mammal that you’d never heard of. This was where I first learned about binturongs, and life has never been the same.

5. WarThe Hutchinson Atlas of Battle Plans: Before and After by John Pimlott
book cover
Clear without being condescending, this book explains significant historical battles and shows the movement of troops using before-and-after maps (hence the title). It profiles battles from all over the world and all through history, each one chosen to emphasize a specific factor, e.g. “smart leadership” or “underestimating the enemy.”

6. Nineteenth-Century EnglandWhat Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew by Daniel Pool
book cover
Theoretically, this book is intended as a desk reference for people who like to read Victorian fiction. It’s a funny, highly readable explanation of the nitty-gritty details of life in England in the 1800s, from the etiquette of fox hunts to the treatment of servants to the currency system.

7. More Things About the Nineteenth Century, and Not Just in EnglandEveryday Life in the 1800s by Marc McCutcheon
book cover
Does this book overlap some with the last one? Yes. Is it still worth reading, if you’re interested in the time period? Absolutely. Interesting and clever, this book has tons of great citations from period documents.

I’m always looking for more great nonfiction books, whether they’re relevant to my writing or not. Any recommendations?

What I’ve Been Reading in 2015

Well, I have finished buying a ton of books as holiday gifts for friends and family – can I just say thanks to my pals who are having kids for giving me an excuse to buy Mo Willems books?

it's a tiger
And also this piece of silly cuteness.

In other news, I finished my diversity reading list for 2015. Huzzah! I posted the list in a previous entry, with some descriptions of the books, so I won’t rehash it too much now. I’ll just note a few of my favorites.

girl from the well
The Girl from the Well by Rin Chupeco
Creepy and creative ghost story with a fascinating mythological background. Plus, I love that the narrator is the ghost – and that she manages to be sympathetic, righteous, and scary like whoah.

Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky
This beautiful book made me care so hard about its protagonist! I have been recommending it like a broken record.

How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon
Topical, important, and highly readable. You start reading to find out what really happened on the day that a white man shot a black teen boy dead; you keep reading to find out where the boy’s family and community will go from here.

100 sideways miles
100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith
I hadn’t read any Andrew Smith, and I’ll have to pick up some more. Weird, wacky, clever, and surprisingly good-hearted. Since the protagonist has epilepsy but the author doesn’t, I went looking for reviews by readers with epilepsy. I was happy to find this one at Disability in Kidlit, which offers a mostly-positive reaction to the portrayal of the condition. Nice!

And what the heck, here are some diverse books I read and loved in 2015 that weren’t on my to-read list:

the shadow hero
The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang
A fascinating reboot of the first Chinese-American superhero. Great plot with doses of hilarious humor (and some tearjerker stuff, too). Some of the original comics are reproduced at the end of the book.

fake id
Fake ID by Lamar Giles
Smart, well-paced thriller about a teen in the Witness Protection Program. He’s trying to stay out of trouble at his new school, but he has to know whether his best friend there really committed suicide or was murdered.

Chains and Forge by Laurie Halse Anderson
I listened to audiobooks of both of these and loved them. Historical fiction with action, drama, and characters you can really root for.

el deafo
El Deafo by CeCe Bell
Incredible graphic novel by a deaf woman about her childhood. Funny, yet informative.

the rest of us just
The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness
The big, impossible stuff happens to some people. They fall in love with vampires; they get powers; they save the world. The other people, they’re just trying to make the best of their far-more-ordinary existences, even when that supernatural stuff spills over and messes up their plans. After all, they just live here.

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
This graphic novel is THE FUNNEST, y’all.

Cover of The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
I saw Kwame Alexander speak at the Virginia Children’s Book Festival this year (which was, by the way, phenomenal). He’s an awesome poet, and that comes through big time in this book. The excitement of the basketball games comes through well, too, and I’m not even a sports person.

carry on
Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
Did you read Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell? If yes, then read Carry On. If no, then still read Carry On, but possibly read Fangirl first. Though if you’re a Harry Potter fan and you like the idea of a novel that’s basically a clever twist on Harry/Draco fanfic, then by all means dive directly into Carry On with no passing of Go or collecting of two hundred dollars.

What did you read and love this year?


Courtesy of all the girl-centric YA thrillers I’ve been reading at the gym lately, and of my amusement at this list of signs you are a YA protagonist and this list of ways to know you are in a gothic horror novel.

How to Tell if You are the Heroine of a YA Thriller

You have just moved to a new town. You moved here either to attend boarding school or to start over with one of your parents after something distressing happened to the other parent.

People react strangely when they see you for the first time. Everyone in your new town either hates you or is irresistibly fascinated by you. Instantly.

Your town is on the coast. It’s not a beachy, touristy coast. It is a gray coast composed of sharp rocks. Sharp, angry rocks.

Teen girls drown off the coast of your town at unusually regular intervals.

A member of your family has died tragically, but you don’t know much about the circumstances. A brooding boy your age might know more about what happened, but when you ask him about it, he only smolders.

Whenever you ask someone else a question, they gasp, stare at you round-eyed, and whisper, “Don’t you know?

You are practical and intelligent. Your single remaining parent is hopelessly incompetent. You basically parent them, which is difficult if you are, in fact, at boarding school.

The brooding boy seems to show up just absolutely everywhere. You are attracted to him, but also concerned that he might be a murderer.

Everyone is secretive except for you. Everyone is also gorgeous except for you. Which is to say that you do not look like the blonde, gossipy bimbos at your new school. Not that you’re judging. No, you definitely aren’t beautiful, except in the sense of your looks having character, in the sense of being classically beautiful. But in a really self-deprecating way, and you never think about clothes.

You read, but only the classics. You love to read, but not in an openly enthusiastic way. In a mature, boring way.

For a teenager, you sure don’t spend much time in class.

You don’t sleep at night. You wander around, glimpsing things out your windows that are distressing but difficult to interpret.

Seriously, is that brooding boy stalking you?

The brooding boy cannot be stalking you, because someone so handsome and interesting surely couldn’t care less about you. It is a coincidence that every vertical surface you pass within five feet of seems to have him slouching against it. Watching you. With his icy blue eyes.

You cannot stop following in the footsteps of the last person to tragically die here. You spend a lot of time looking out over the ocean, the wind whipping at your hair, which you never bother doing anything with because that would be shallow.

The killer is after you. Maybe if you could just leave well enough alone, you wouldn’t have attracted their attention.

You cannot leave well enough alone.

Happy New Year!

Hope 2015 has been good to you so far!

Writing-wise, I’m in limbo at the moment. The laptop I write on died in December. I knew it was coming – the poor thing had been limping along for awhile – but there’s never a great time for a computer to fail, is there? Anyway, I bought a new laptop, but the little local Mac store didn’t have it in stock and had to order it. It hasn’t arrived yet. I do have my old, faltering fallback laptop for Internet access, but it does not contain up-to-date versions of my writing files. The new one will have all that transferred over from the zombified remains of my dead laptop. Can’t wait!

In the meantime, I’ve been thinking about New Year’s resolutions. Last year, I made a list of fifteen books to read I felt I ought to have read sooner. (Fifteen isn’t a lot for me – according to Goodreads, I read 154 books in 2014. But I do regularly read and review graphic novels for No Flying No Tights, not to mention oodles of other books.) I enjoyed this, and I’ve thought about repeating it in 2015.

The main obstacle, of course, is that while 2014’s list included books I’d guiltily avoided or missed for many years (The Giver, Ender’s Game), there aren’t a lot of those left now. There are still many contemporary books I feel I ought to read. These include influential books I might not pick up without a list to make me do it, generally because they’re sad (If I Stay and Thirteen Reasons Why, I’m looking at you). And there are authors I think I should read (Ellen Hopkins, Chris Crutcher) or read more of (Laurie Halse Anderson, John Green).

Note: When I say I “should” read something, that doesn’t necessarily mean I don’t expect to enjoy it. I loved many of the books on my 2014 Shame Unreads list, when I finally got around to them.

None of the above, however, seem like things I want to make a point of reading this year. You know what does? Diverse books.

By “diverse books,” I mean books written by and/or about people of color, LGBTQ people, people with disabilities, and generally anyone who isn’t already widely represented in the world of books and authors. I’m a big fan of the We Need Diverse Books campaign. I already read diverse books, and when I encounter a good one, I push it in everyone’s face. (I love being a librarian.) A few of my favorites in 2014 were:

  • Amulet graphic novel series by Kazu Kibuishi – Gorgeous and exciting!
  • House of Purple Cedar by Tim Tingle – Check it out, I CAN read adult books!
  • If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth – Fun yet touching realistic YA.
  • Of Metal and Wishes by Sarah Fine – I love me some retold classics.
  • Pointe by Brandy Colbert – Thrillery and well-written.
  • The Selection series by Kiera Cass – Fluffy and fun.

In 2015, I intend to read a lot more than fifteen diverse books, and there are many that I would read whether or not I stuck them on a list and guilted myself into it. However, I want not just to read diverse books, but to be loud about reading them! Talk about them! Promote the good ones! Overuse exclamation points! And to that end, my Diverse Books Reading List for 2015!

I might read these in any old order, so I’ll just list them alphabetically. With each one, I’ll include the factor(s) making it a diverse book.

  1. 100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith – protagonist has epilepsy – This author is supposed to be great, and I haven’t read anything of his yet.
  2. A La Carte by Tanita S. Davis – author and protagonist are African-American – The main character wants to become a famous vegetarian chef? I’m in.
  3. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz – author and both protagonists are Chicano, and protagonists are both queer – I’ve heard this is a fantastic, beautiful book.
  4. Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier – author and protagonist are Indian-American – A modern classic that I somehow missed.
  5. Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang – author is Chinese-American; the books are set in China and feature Chinese characters – Technically, this is two graphic novels, but they’re a set, so I’m counting ’em as one. I’ve heard great things.
  6. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson – author (and protagonist, as this is a memoir) is African-American – National Book Award winner, and it’s supposed to be awesome!
  7. The Chaos by Nalo Hopkinson – author is Jamaican; protagonist is mixed-race – A post-apocalyptic novel featuring a PoC! And also volcanoes!
  8. The Girl From the Well by Rin Chupeco – author is Filipina; protagonist is Japanese – I started reading this on a borrowed e-reader and didn’t get to finish it, but it’s creepy, well-written horror with cool Japanese mythology-type elements
  9. Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky – protagonist is transgender – I’m thrilled when I see middle-grade books featuring LGBTQ people, as there’s a frustrating assumption by some that LGBTQ people themselves are somehow PG-13 content. Plus, I read the first page of this when it came across my desk at one point, and I didn’t want to put it down!
  10. How I Became a Ghost by Tim Tingle – author and protagonist are Choctaw – I liked Tingle’s book House of Purple Cedar, so I look forward to trying this one.
  11. How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon – author and, from what I can tell, most of the characters are African-American – Highly topical, and I’ve heard it’s well-written.
  12. I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson – one of the two protagonists is gay – Supposed to be an excellent book.
  13. Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper – author and (I think) protagonist are African-American; protagonist has cerebral palsy – From what I’ve heard, this is a beautiful and important book. Also, have I really not read anything by Sharon Draper? Time to change that!
  14. Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan – author and protagonist are both Iranian-American lesbians – I liked If You Could Be Mine, and this one sounds good, too.
  15. A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin – protagonist is a person of color – HOW HAVE I NOT READ THIS. Alternate-world fantasy is my jam! And PoC protagonists in alternate world fantasy are tragically rare! And this is supposed to be a great book!

Boy, I had trouble narrowing this down to fifteen! Do you have any reading resolutions for 2015?

Shame Vanquished!

You may recall me deciding, back in January, that this year I would read a bunch of the books I was embarrassed not to have read already. I made a list of fifteen “shame unreads” to cross off this year. Most are classic or new-but-wildly-popular YA or middle-grade books. I posted an update in May, at which point I had read six of the books.

Well, as of this afternoon, I have finished the list! Nic: 15, Shame: 0! Huzzah!

First, let’s see what I thought of Books 7 through 15.

matchedMatched by Ally Condie
Reaction: A little unimpressed, honestly. I’m glad I read it, because the trilogy is super-popular with teens, but I found the world and characters a bit bland.
I Hadn’t Already Read It Because: Just hadn’t gotten around to it.

sabrielpbSabriel by Garth Nix
Reaction: YES. THIS. Why had I not read this already? This book was lyrical, exciting, well-thought-out, even funny.
I Hadn’t Already Read It Because: I have no idea. Maybe I was afraid it wouldn’t live up to my expectations? I’d heard a lot of good stuff, and I’m already a fan of Garth Nix.

the giver The Giver by Lois Lowry
Reaction: Impressed. I’ve heard people insinuate that Matched ripped off The Giver, and I can see that angle, though Matched is different in that it focuses on romance. The Giver has spare, strong writing and an interesting concept. Not a big fan of the ending, though.
I Hadn’t Already Read It Because: I saw it as a “school assignment” book. I’d never been assigned it, but knew lots of people who had. Also, I feared Newbery Award books as having dead dogs and no dragons.

ender's game Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
Reaction: I see why so many people are into this book. It’s fascinating and exciting. I believe the twist had been spoiled for me at some point, but honestly, I’m not actually sure to what extent I’d been spoiled versus to what extent I was just able to guess the twist. It didn’t surprise me much. Still, cool book.
I Hadn’t Already Read It Because: Mostly superficial reasons – it’s an older book, and most of the covers are terrible. Plus, I’m not usually a sci-fi person. And I’m totally skeeved by what I’ve heard about Card’s views on homosexuality. But the book is important enough to enough people that I felt I ought to read it.

hugo cabret The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
Reaction: Beautiful, touching book. I like the historical tie-in. I also like that the copy I read was a beautiful object in itself – not just illustrated, but printed on heavy paper and giving every impression of quality.
I Hadn’t Already Read It Because: Just hadn’t gotten around to it.

When_you_reach_me When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
Reaction: Whoooah, trippy! I like a time-travel story that’s well-planned. Plus, the quirky story and poignant character development makes for good reading all on its own.
I Hadn’t Already Read It Because: Again, just hadn’t gotten around to it.

Daughter-of-Smoke-and-Bone-Book-Cover Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
Reaction: Beautifully written. I like the characters, the world, and the plotting. It’s a quadruple-threat!
I Hadn’t Already Read It Because: I thought it might be just another paranormal romance, a genre in which I’ve had poor luck finding books I like, though I do keep trying.

ruins of gorlan The Ruins of Gorlan by John Flanagan
Reaction: Underwhelmed. I found the writing uninspired, the plot cliché, and the glaring near-absence of female characters unnerving. Had to force myself to finish it.
I Hadn’t Already Read It Because: Honestly, based on its plot description and its massive following, I’d been nervous I would really like it, and would then find myself caught up in the Ranger’s Apprentice series, which is at least twelve books long, not counting spin-offs.

The_Knife_of_Never_Letting_Go_by_Patrick_Ness The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
Reaction: WOW. This blew me away. It should be called The Book of Never Letting Go, because I couldn’t put it down. The thing’s close to five hundred pages long, but I zoomed through it. Touching, scary, smart, sad, action-packed . . . this book is amazing.
I Hadn’t Already Read It Because: I’d heard it was intense. Which is a phenomenally accurate description. I’d also heard about one sad thing that happens. It happened, and it was sad. But the book was still fantastic.

Whew! Finished reading those just in time, didn’t I?

My favorites: Sabriel, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, The Knife of Never Letting Go. All of these have me psyched to come back for more. I’ll definitely be continuing with these three series.

I’m not sure whether I’ll do a similar list next year. After all, I’ve now read many of the books I’d been embarrassed not to have read (*coughEnder’sGamecoughTheGivercough*). I’m thinking that maybe next year I’ll do a Diversity Read. Of course, I want to be reading diverse books every year, but maybe making a big point out of it one year would help me cement the habit. What do you think?

Your Last-Minute YA Book Holiday Gift Guide

Holiday season is here, ready or not! And in case you’re not ready, and your state of unreadiness involves indecision over what to get someone as a gift, and that person reads YA books, your friendly neighborhood Teen Services Librarian is here to help! I have personally read all of these in the past year, and recommend them all whole-heartedly.

(Course, you could always buy these books for yourself, too. You deserve it. Yeah, yeah you do.)





For the fan of drama, darkness, and stories of healing: Pointe by Brandy Colbert. Theo is a mega-talented ballet dancer. She’s also recovering from anorexia. Then her best friend, Donovan, who was kidnapped four years ago, is found, and his kidnapper caught. That’s when Theo discovers that she knew Donovan’s kidnapper. What she could say in court might make all the difference, both to the case and to Donovan and Theo’s lives.

of metal and wishes





For the fan of smart, atmospheric reboots of classics: Of Metal and Wishes by Sarah Fine. It’s Phantom of the Opera, but in a reimagined industrial Asia. Instead of an operahouse, it’s set in a slaughterhouse. Grim yet beautiful, and you’ll root for capable and empathetic protagonist Wen.






For the fan of rapid-fire action and stuff that makes you go “coooool!”: Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson. A strange new star appears in the sky, and suddenly people are developing superpowers – and turning evil. These superpowered “Epics” quickly come to control the world. The Reckoners are a group of humans with the mission of assassinating Epics. David wants to join the group to avenge his father, but it’s not easy to get in. Good thing he has a bargaining chip – he might hold the secret to taking down one of the most powerful Epics in the world.

the living





For the fan of nail-biting disaster stories: The Living by Matt de la Peña. Shy is spending his summer working on a cruise ship, making a little money and goofing off with his friends on the crew. Then a massive earthquake strikes. Their training didn’t prepare Shy and friends to deal with tsunamis hitting the ship. Or with what comes afterward.






For the fan of rollicking fantasy adventure: The Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi. Maybe a little more middle-grade than YA, but this gorgeous ongoing graphic novel series appeals to everyone. Seriously, everyone.

if you could be mine





For the fan of realism with an unusual viewpoint: If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan. In modern-day Iran, homosexuality is a crime, so girls in love, like Sahar and Nasrin, have to be careful. And they certainly can’t get married. But being transgender is not a crime – in fact, the government will help you get sex-reassignment surgery. Sahar is a girl, and she knows it. But if she could be a boy, then maybe Nasrin wouldn’t have to marry someone else. Maybe they could be together.


I’d also like to recommend this Holiday Shopping Guide by Diversity in YA. (They also sing the praises of The Living.)

Don’t Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before

You know a story has made it into cultural canon when it’s getting repackaged and updated in different versions. This has been especially common in YA fiction lately – Epic Reads came up with a spectacular chart of examples.

When you update a tale that lots of people know, it gives you a framework on which to construct your story. You can choose how closely to follow it, but readers do tend to have expectations based on what you’re retelling. Some stories require only one or two elements for their inspirations to be identified: an all-too-human monster brought to life by a scientist, ill-fated young lovers from warring families, a death-like sleep dispelled by a kiss. If, on the other hand, you’re retelling Jane Austen, readers are going to be looking for a much closer adherence to the original plot.

As a rule, the more high-concept the story – the more easily its appeal could be summed up by one snappy sentence – the looser your retelling can be without losing its connection to the original. Note that I say “its appeal” rather than “its plot.” You could sum up Alice in Wonderland by saying “young girl finds herself in a strange world of whimsical characters and nonsensical logic.” That’s accurate as regards the plot, but does little to describe the appeal of the story, which lies in the specific characters and weirdnesses of Wonderland. If you’re adapting Alice in Wonderland, readers will want to see your take on the Cheshire Cat and the Red Queen.

Retelling a fairy tale, myth, or classic story has plenty of perks . . . and a few pitfalls. And if you know me, you know that a sentence like that is a lead-up to LIST-MAKING FUN TIME!

Benefits of Writing a Retelling:

  • People familiar with the original story have reason to be invested in your story before they even pick it up. They may wonder what your version of the Beast looks like, or be curious about how you handle the darkness of a Wuthering Heights-inspired tale. If your version has a twist of setting or circumstance, this can also make readers wonder: “How will The Little Mermaid be different if it’s gender-swapped?” “What kind of wolfish nemesis will Little Red Riding Hood encounter in space?”
  • Some people will pick up your book just because they love the source material SO MUCH. (I may or may not read pretty much anything that’s based on Alice in Wonderland.)
  • If you make it clear that this is a retelling, people are less likely to grouse that you’re being unoriginal. Of course, you should still be original. If your adaptation doesn’t bring anything new to the table – new and significant – then why should people want to read it?
  • You get to play around with your own version of a setting and characters you already have feelings about. Naturally, any writer has feelings about her/his own characters, but this is different. Change an element that always bothered you in the original story, or play up and expand on your favorite parts. Explore the themes the story deals with, or push its message in a new direction.

Of course, there are also Risks of Writing a Retelling:

  • While Reader A may love Peter Pan so much that she’ll devour anything based on it, Reader B may hate Peter Pan and refuse to even try any adaptation of it. (Plus, some readers may simply get tired of an oft-retold tale.)
  • And if Reader A does love Peter Pan that much, she may balk at of the changes you’ve made. After all, whatever you tweaked could be the thing she liked best about the original.
  • You’re setting yourself up to be compared not only with other retellings of the source material, but with the original work. If you can’t write swoon and snark, for example, tackling Pride and Prejudice may be ill-advised.

What are your favorite retellings? What story would you like to see adapted more often?

Shame Levels Falling!

Time for an update on my Shame Unreads List of 2014! Here are six books that I will never again have to sheepishly admit I haven’t read. The books are listed in the order in which I read them.

  1. TFioS
    The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
    Reaction: Quality! Though I may have sprained a tear duct.
    I Hadn’t Already Read It Because: I don’t like crying. I don’t know how I’m going to handle the movie.
  2. delirium
    Delirium by Lauren Oliver
    Reaction: Really drew me in. I’m especially impressed by how well Oliver made a premise that I feel is highly unlikely (a future world in which love is seen as a terrible disease and people get “cured” with dangerous procedures to prevent it) seem more plausible.
    I Hadn’t Already Read It Because: I just hadn’t gotten around to it.
  3. wild magic
    Wild Magic by Tamora Pierce
    Reaction: I like the world and all the cool, powerful women. Some of the writing just fell a little flat for me, though, especially in terms of emotional content. Would probably have loved it as a kid, but I found it hard to identify with the protagonist. Also, there are a lot (a LOT) of characters.
    I Hadn’t Already Read It Because: Somehow I missed out on Tamora Pierce as a kid/teen, when I think a lot of fantasy fans get into her. Maybe my library didn’t have her books? Dunno.
  4. disreputable
    The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart
    Reaction: Holy Awesome and Accessible Feminism, Batmanwoman! Plus, this is a really smart and funny book.
    I Hadn’t Already Read It Because: I only heard of it fairly recently. It came very highly recommended, though, so I put it on the list.
  5. curious
    The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
    Reaction: Smart and entertaining, and also the kind of book that makes me feel like I might become a more empathetic person because I’ve read it.
    I Hadn’t Already Read It Because: As with Delirium, I just hadn’t gotten around to it. I was pretty sure it would be good, though.
  6. outsiders
    (That little image cuts off in a weird way, doesn’t it?)
    The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton
    Reaction: I’m surprised by how much I liked this! It’s universal and heartfelt, and Ponyboy is easy to empathize with. He makes even his gang – some of whom, let’s face it, are kind of thugs, stealing and getting into fights for fun – seem sympathetic and decent.
    I Hadn’t Already Read It Because: I was never assigned to read it, and I saw it as the kind of book you read because you’re assigned to. Also, I was afraid it would rub me the wrong way, like The Catcher in the Rye did, but it didn’t. Maybe because Ponyboy is less jaded than Holden. I don’t know.

I’ll have to pick up my pace on these, since there are nine more in the list! It’ll be fine, though. The reason I haven’t made more headway is that I’ve been reading lots and lots of other books in between, which is also a pretty great use of my time. Books forever!