Jackie’s Favorite YA Books

Ahhh, YA lit!  So near and dear to my heart!  There are so many books I could recommend, but let’s start with these:

Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
This book is seriously one of the best-written young adult books I have ever read.  In my life.  Period.  I love so many things about this book: the language, the characters, the structure, the humor.  It gets a 10 out of 10 from me.
Must-read: anyone who loves YA or a clever, quirky romance that is not at all cliche

Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta
Okay, I suppose I should just be upfront and say that everything Melina Marchetta writes is fantastic.  She’s definitely my favorite YA author right now.  Saving Francesca is about Frankie Spinelli the year she and a handful of other girls (none of them her friends) begin attending a previously all-boys school.  She’s trying to navigate a school of boys who don’t want the girls there, girls she doesn’t want to become friends with, and her mother’s mental breakdown.  The characters are incredible.
Must-read: anyone who loves character-driven stories, fans of nerdy-but-hot Italian boys (i.e. the Will Trombal Experience/Extravaganza)
Bonus: this book has a sequel– The Piper’s Son— set five years down the road!

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
TIME’s 2012 book of the year!  This YA book will make you laugh and cry and think.  It’s a cancer book– but not one of those cancer books.
Must-read: people who love YA, philosophy, and incredible characters

The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson
Prior to the start of this book, Lennie’s sister Bailey has died unexpectedly.  Now Lennie is trying to navigate her grief all while falling in love for the first time.  This book is full of Lennie’s short poems, and they– along with the rest of the novel– are startling beautiful.
Must-read: people who are aching for a literary-quality YA novel, anyone with a beloved sister

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
A Printz honor book narrated by Death himself, this is “just a small story really, about, among other things: a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist fighter, and quite a lot of thievery.”  I love books that are about the joy of words– and it’s even better when you mix in unforgettable characters and gorgeous writing full of incredible imagery.
Must-read: YA lovers, people who love words, anyone interested in Nazi Germany and the Holocaust

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
The story of Puck and Sean, both set to ride the bloodthirsty water horses in the Scorpio Races.  I’m not sure I’ve read anything quite like this before; it is laced with an incredible raw savagery, making it an instant favorite for me.
Must-read: anyone who loves horses, readers ready for wild, tribal-drum-pounding YA

Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
This is the very first book that made me cry.  The classic book of a boy and his two hunting dogs.
Must-read: animal lovers, anyone who loves a tear-jerker

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
A delicious tale of first love between the two titular characters, the writing in this book has an outstanding and unique voice.  I love the characters of Eleanor and Park, and I love the way that Rowell can make your brain about explode when they hold each other’s hand.
Must-read: fans of the contemporary genre, readers who love great imagery, quirky characters, and a sweet romance

Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling
Like so many others, the hype around this series intimidated me into not reading them for years.  I’m so glad that I finally did!  This is one of my favorite series– seven separate stories that really tell just one about a boy wizard fighting against evil.
Must-read: fans of epic fantasy, anyone who wants to have their mind blown by creativity

Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
A story about a homeschooler joining public school for the first time, this book is full of quirkiness and whimsy.  A brilliant novel about being different.
Must-read: misfits, anyone who loves a misfit
Bonus: This book also has a sequel!

Also, here a couple middle grade (MG) suggestions!

Bridge to Terabithia by Kathleen Patterson
The story of two young friends who create their own make-believe world.  This book is a classic, and unless you have a heart made of cement and broken glass, you will cry.

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
I can’t say too much about this story because I don’t want to give anything away, but it is brilliant, one of those books that ties up all loose ends so perfectly in such a satsifying way.  I highly recommend this book– I read it when I was 30 and loved it!  Great voice.

The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis|
These are classics!  I seriously cannot get enough of them– I read them over and over and over and love them every single time.  I am just finishing up the series for the first time this year, and– no joke– after book 7 is over, I will start again on book 1.

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
Classic tale of a pet pig and his spider friend who is trying to save him from slaughter.  Lovely.

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YA reading list

It was time for me to re-evaluate my top 10 young adult books.  So, without your seeing my raging internal debate*, I very cleanly present to you the following:

1) The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
2) Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
3) The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
4) Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
5) The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
6) Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
7) Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta
8) Fire by Kristin Cashore
9) Unwind by Neil Shusterman
10) Every Day by David Levithan

*Ugh, I hate making top 10 lists of books– it’s so hard for me.  Even now, I see that I’ve favored books I’ve read more recently over some of the “classics.”  Tuck Everlasting.  Bridge to Terabithia.  The Secret Garden.  It seems like a crime to leave these off the list.  The Pigman.  When You Reach Me.  A Monster Calls.  

Oh gosh.  Anne of Green Gables.  How could I leave Anne off this list– especially when I’ve included other books much more controversial?  Or The Sky is Everywhere, which is better written than several books on the list?

Next time I do this, I need to be more specific with the name of my list.  Top 10 YA Books I’d Never Want to Live Without … if that were the list title, it would be different than the list above.  Top 10 YA Books That Made Me Think.  There!  That more accurately fits the list above.

Okay, it is time to quit obsessing over this list, which only 100 people are even going to see anyway.

What I’d rather do is give you a must-read book list personalized to your reading tastes.  I LOVE doing this, so let me know if you’re interested.

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what I call good writing

There are essentially three reasons I will like a book:

1) The writing is beautiful.  If the writing is lyrical, or the prose almost reads as poetry, or if the writer has great diction and uses sounds to her advantage, I’m captured.  When an author does a dance with words and creates images that burst like berries on the tongue, I’m sold.

2) The plot is fascinating.  I love books that have twists and turns and surprises.  I don’t need them to be action-packed, just interesting, with interesting scenes and a great storyline.

3) The message is profound.  When the story tugs at my heart or opens up my mind to new ways of understanding something, the book touches (and sometimes changes) my life.

Some books fall under one of these categories, and it is enough to make me love it.  For example, Annie Dillard’s book For the Time Being is beautifully written (for that matter, pretty much anything she writes is!), but there is not really a plot to it, nor did its message truly change my life.  Harry Potter has a thrilling storyline that completely pulled me in, and the series also has a wonderful theme of good versus evil, but I wouldn’t say that Rowling (in those books) is a lyrical writer, although she does have her moments!  Hinds’ Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard is an allegory, and as such, the plot is pretty obvious, but the message deeply touched me and wrenched tears from me left and right.  As you know, The Chronicles of Narnia are my absolute favorite for their fun plots and the deep truths in them, but the writing is not as beautiful as some other things Jack Lewis has written.

To me, some of the best writers are those who combine all three of these elements.  Some of the best examples I have of this are The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (gorgeous writing, super fun storyline, excellent message), C.S. Lewis’s space trilogy (the writing is so masterful it makes me want to curl up inside of it, the plot is riveting, and the takeaways are tremendous), Peace Like a River by Leif Enger (literary writing at its very finest, interesting characters and storyline, an underlying message that is like a rock to stand on), and The Last Unicorn by Peter Beagle (breathtaking writing, intriguing fantasy plot, message that lingers long).

Your turn.  What makes you like a book?  Are you drawn to one of these three reasons over the others?  What are your best examples of books that fit these categories?