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Best Of 2014 Lists: Selected Titles

Thu, 01/08/2015 - 07:00

Happy 2015!  Last year (yup) Geri Diorio posted a fantastic summary of the best young adult books lists from 2014 including Horn Book, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and School Library Journal. My New Year’s resolution was to annotate a title selected from each list and/or category. No, I didn’t hit every single genre (sorry poetry). But it was great fun and I conclude that 2014 was definitely  wonderful year for YA books!

Here are my selections, listed alphabetically by author’s last name.

From: Horn Book, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, Nonfiction, Female Author

The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia

By Candace Fleming

An examination of the Romanovs (Russia’s last imperial family),  the country’s revolutions and political strife in the the years 1905-1917, and (in their own words) brutal accounts of what life was like for the common peasants of this time.   Explores the notion of the “chosen” class,  Russia’s last heir Alexei who was a sickly child affected by hemophilia (a secret closely held from the Russian people), and the mystery surrounding the children’s missing bodies from the grave discovered in Koptyaki Forest. Visual source materials also help portray this gripping account.

From: Kirkus, Realistic Fiction, Debut Female Author (Morris Finalist)

Carnival at Bray

by Jessie Ann Foley

Elephant Rock Productions, Inc

The year is 1993. Maggie is a fish out of water; her freewheeling, hard drinking mother married Colm (an Irish citizen) and moved the family from Chicago to Bray, a small seaside village in Ireland. Little sister Ronnie fits in right away, but Maggie’s only friend is Dan Sean the town’s oldest resident who boasts 99 years and mostly falls asleep during Maggie’s visits. Maggie has a crush on Eoin (a local boy) but can hardly find the courage to mumble a greeting. Uncle Kevin (only ten years her elder) is a mid-twenties lost soul who still lives with his mother and plays in a band; Maggie’s hero for general awesomeness and for introducing the girl to good music (he brought her to a Smashing Pumpkins concert back in Chicago.) When tragedy strikes it comes as no surprise to anyone but Maggie.


From: Kirkus, Fantasy, Female Author

The Devil’s Intern

by Donna Hosie

Holiday House

Mitchell died at seventeen and has been in hell for the last four years. Though actually, hell isn’t so bad; just lots of paperwork and overcrowding. Mitchell even has three awesome friends; Alfarin a Viking Prince who died in battle in 970, Elinor a sweet girl who died saving her brothers in the Great Fire of London 1666, and “Medusa” (Melissa) who died in circumstances unknown in San Francisco during the summer of love. Mitchell is plagued by feelings of unfulfilled potential (he was a musical prodigy “up there”) and with burning questions of why he ran into the street in front of a greyhound bus. So when Mitchell realizes that his boss is stashing away a time-traveling device the gang naturally decide to steal it and go change their deaths.


From: Horn, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, Realistic Fiction, Female Author

We Were Liars

by E. Lockhart

Delacorte Press

Only child Cadence spends her summers frolicking with cousins Johnny and Mirren and family friend Gat with minimal adult supervision. I guess the thought is: what trouble could they get into on a private island? During her fifteenth summer, the three aunts drink white wine (which the cousins pilfer) while newly widowed patriarch (Cadence’s grandfather) presides over all happenings like King Lear. Then a tragic accident leaves Cadence physically damaged– but the mental consequences are far more severe: she cannot remember anything that happened. Two summers later Cadence returns to the island and tried to piece together what happened.

From: Kirkus, Mystery, Female Author, Debut Author

Far From You

by Tess Sharpe


Sophie’s best friend Mina was brutally murdered.  And Sophie was there (she remembers only a gun and ski mask) but escaped untouched but for the vial of Oxycontin slipped into her pocket. Sophie was sent away to rehab.  Set up as a relapsed addict (and also explained away by the police as a drug deal gone wrong), no one believes Sophie and no one else is looking for Mina’s true killer.  Mysteries unfold in the typical who-done-it manner but Sharpe explores deeper mysteries of the heart and of addiction.


From: Kirkus, School Library Journal, Fantasy, Female Author

Blue Lily, Lily Blue
by Maggie Stiefvater.


The highly anticipated third book in the “Raven Cycle” finds the group back to school but still obsessed with finding Glendower’s tomb. Maura’s continued absence worries Blue. Each (living) member of the group battles unique demons. Building upon characters and events known developed in the previous two books in this series (The Raven Boys and Dream Thieves) Stiefvater blends realistic life situations with high fantasy elements. Here the story takes a darker turn with more serious consequences as we ramp up for the conclusion.


From: Horn, Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly, School Library Journal, Graphic Fiction, Female Authors

This One Summer

by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tam

First Second

Rose is an only child who spends summers at Lake Awago with her parents. She and her summer friend Windy (a year younger than Rose) swim, ride bikes, talk about boobs, and watch scary movies. This year Rose’s parents are fighting about something that happened last summer, but no one will talk about it. Rose and Windy spend so much time at the convenience store that they overhear some drama; an older teenager whom they call “The Dud” has impregnated a local girl and won’t call her now. Who is in the wrong?  Is the girl, as the boys claim, a “slut”? Charcoal sketches set the scene.


From: Publisher’s Weekly, Science Fiction, Male Author


By John Corey Whaley

Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Travis Coates’ body gave out at age sixteen after he suffered from acute lymphoblastic leukemia.  Miraculously the boy was restored to life four years later; same head (cryogenically frozen) on a newer healthy body (donated). So… now that Travis is back he has to basically accept that his life was on pause while the rest of his loved ones moved on. Amongst other problems (such as attending high school with his friends’ younger siblings) Travis’ best friend came out to him four years ago and is now back in the closet, his parents are being weird, and worst of all he is still in love with Cate (his past girlfriend) who is now four years older and has moved on.

So, what books did you read in 2014?  Any deserving titles not make it on one of the lists mentioned?

– Tara Kehoe, currently Reading: I’ll Give you the Sun by Jandy Nelson

Wordless Picturebooks for All Ages: Shaun Tan’s The Arrival

Thu, 01/08/2015 - 07:00

The following is a guest post from Mary Catherine Miller, a member of YALSA’s Research Committee, and is crossposted today on the YALSAblog. 

I recently worked on a project with three other teacher-researchers who had all used Shaun Tan’s (2006, Lothian Books/Hachette Australia) wordless text The Arrival in our different classrooms. We initially connected due to our shared frustrations trying to have graphic novels approved and celebrated as “quality literature.” I was teaching undergraduate students, some of whom had never even seen a graphic novel before entering my classroom while my peers had trouble getting administrators to approve or purchase graphic novels for their classroom use.

When talking about our favorite comics, we realized that we had all taught The Arrival in various contexts—I had taught The Arrival to my own pre-service teachers and was excited to hear how other teachers had used the same text in their own classrooms. How could one book, particularly a graphic novel, be useful to so many types of students?

We took The Arrival into elementary, middle school, high school, and university classrooms to see how students of various ages and backgrounds responded to the text. These four small case studies became the basis for a larger research project analyzing The Arrival and art education.

The Arrival tells the story of a man’s immigration through visual symbols and images. The reader follows the man as he leaves his family, travels to a fictional foreign land, finds a home, works to survive, and makes connections with the people he meets. All signs and words in the story are represented through indecipherable symbol-texts, displacing the reader and (as we argue) equalizing the reading experience. The sequential art of the story allows readers to imagine their own narratives and envision themselves in the story regardless of their ability to read written English.

In 2008, The Arrival was on the ALA’s Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults, ALA’s Top Ten Great Graphic Novels for Teens, and also was named a Notable Children’s Book (for Older Readers). Graphic novels are not always supported in educational settings and each of our research projects was initially met with hesitation, either from administration or from the students themselves. While some of my students were resistant to the text, others seemed to intuitively recognize the potentialities for the book: “The ambiguity…that exists in having no [words] is what makes it such a unique tool for the classroom. It is completely up to one’s own thought to construct what they feel is happening to the characters.”

A middle school student echoed my college student’s statement: “Anyone’s opinions can be different from others. They can interpret pictures other ways and get a different story. Like, I was saying that they were sad that they were leaving. And I interpreted the supposed dragon’s tail thing as sorrows. But someone else could call it, like, poverty or legal problems.”

Many of us had our students read The Arrival collaboratively—I had my students first read the book in groups, co-creating meaning as they read the text. Our elementary students were shown the text together and then explored the narrative through dramatic inquiry—role-playing and writing letters as though they were characters of the story. In their actions, these elementary students experienced empathy and reflected on the immigrant experience. One of my university students commented “[The Arrival] tells my story” and shared her own immigration experiences, helping the class to develop a multi-cultural perspective. This wordless picturebook helped students across grade-levels and experiences move towards empathy and multicultural lessons about immigration and language.

While many picture books are initially thought of as children’s stories, we found that many high school and university students interacted with the story with the same enthusiasm as children, and that children were capable of the critical thinking skills that we typically expect of older readers.

Mary Catherine Miller is a doctoral candidate at the Ohio State University, where she teaches undergraduate courses in children’s literature and young adult literature. This is her second year as a member of YALSA’s Research Committee.

Jukebooks: Life in the Fat Lane by Cherie Bennett

Wed, 01/07/2015 - 07:00

Lara is the envy of the girls at Forest Hill High School, and why not? She’s beautiful, her family has money, and she can eat whatever she likes without gaining a pound. She glows as homecoming queen. But when Lara breaks out in hives, she takes a medication that causes her to gain weight. Horrified that she has gained ten pounds in a month, Lara stops taking her medicine. The hives come back. Lara’s perfect life turns into a nightmare as her weight soars over two hundred pounds. Everything changes.

Life in the Fat Lane was published in 1998, but it’s message of thin-is-in is even more true today. In 1998, no one was worrying about a “thigh gap.” But Lara’s feelings as she goes from pretty/popular to lonely  and laughed at still ring true today.

The title of the book is a play on “Life in the Fast Lane,” a song by the rock group Eagles. It’s included in their 1976 album, Hotel California. Add that title song plus another track, “New Kid in Town,” and a timeworn theme emerges: Not all that glitters in LA is gold.

The connection between a book that examines the fragile allure of body shape and a song that peels away the glamour of Hollywood  is stronger than it first appears. Here’s the music:

-Diane Colson, currently reading The Girl With All the Gifts by M. R. Carey.

On Agent Carter’s Nightstand

Tue, 01/06/2015 - 07:00

I’m a huge fan of the Marvel Universe, so I’m really excited to learn more about Agent Carter in the mini-series that premiers tonight. Here are some books I imagine might be on her nightstand should the occasion arise when she’s in need of a good read. They are all about feisty heroines, just like herself.

The Girl is Murder by Kathryn Miller Haines (2012 Readers’ Choice List)
After her father lost his leg at Pearl Harbor, the Andersons had to move. Now he’s a private investigator. His daughter, Iris, stumbles across his latest case and realizes that she could be of some help. Secretly, she attempts to gather clues on her own.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein (2013 Teens’ Top Ten, 2014 Popular Paperbacks, 2013 Printz Honor Book)
A British spy plane crashes over Nazi territory in France leaving two girls in very grave danger.

Women Heroes of Word War II by Kathryn J. Atwood
Twenty six stories of espionage, sabotage, resistance, and rescue from women who all risked their life to help stop the Nazis. From a housewife to a law student to a radio operator in Europe and America, these women made a difference.

Spy in the House by Y.S. Lee
Mary Quinn’s rescued from a life as a thief in Victorian England. Years later after schooling, she discovers that the school for young ladies is simply a cover for an all female spy agency. When she’s asked to join, Mary agrees, eager for her first assignment. Posing as a lady’s maid, she must search the house for proof of the missing cargo ships without getting caught. She’ll need all her new skills to uncover the truth and get out alive.

Maid of Secrets by Jennifer McGowan
Meg Fellowes, great a picking pockets, steals from the wrong man. Now instead of touring with a theater group, she’s given the choice between the dungeon or becoming a Maid of Honor (a spy for the young Queen Elizabeth). For her first assignment, she’s given the job of observing the Spanish delegation – a job that her predecessor failed. Can Meg keep her head while discovering the truth?

At the House of the Magician by Mary Hooper
As a runaway, Lucy’s future doesn’t have many options. Her luck turns when she becomes maid in the house of John Dee. When she overhears an assassination plot against Queen Elizabeth, Lucy must warn the Queen.

~ Jennifer Rummel currently reading Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future by A.S. King

The Twelfth Day of YA

Mon, 01/05/2015 - 07:00

This year on the Hub we are celebrating the Twelve Days of YA with a series of posts loosely based on the traditional Twelve Days of Christmas gifts. We have converted each gift into a related theme common to YA and paired it with a list of relevant titles. You may use the Twelve Days of YA tag to read all of the posts in the series.

Special thanks goes to Carli Spina, Faythe Arredondo, Sharon Rawlins, Geri Diorio, Becky O’Neil, Carla Land, Katie Yu, Laura Perenic, Jennifer Rummel, Libby Gorman, Carly Pansulla, Anna Dalin, and Allison Tran for their help creating the booklists and organizing this series.

On the twelfth day of YA, my true love gave to me twelve drummers drumming.

For our final day of YA we are returning to a musical theme. Day four included a wider variety of music themes, but today we are focused entirely on YA lit that includes musicians. We’ve gone a little bit country and a little bit rock-n-roll, so there should be something in here for everyone. We hope you enjoy the rock stars that we picked and encourage you to share your favorites in the comments!





- Jessica Lind, currently reading The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman