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  • Dahlia Adler 5:35 pm on 2014/12/23 Permalink
    Tags: , amy finnegan, , , , julie cross, kasie west, liz czukas, , paula stokes, , , , ,   

    The Best Contemporary YA Romance of 2014 

    Stephanie Perkins' Isla and the Happily Ever AfterConfession: contemporary young adult romance has the most special place in my heart of all YA genres. It encompasses so much of what I love about reading (and writing) young adult as a whole—all the experiences of “firsts” and all the ups and downs that come with them. Some of them are sweet, some are steamy, some are intense, and some are hilarious, but what all the good ones have in common is the butterfly-inducing magic that cannot be denied.

    Isla and the Happily Ever After, by Stephanie Perkins
    It was a long wait for the final book in Perkins’ trilogy of romances, but well worth it. Passionate, artsy Isla has had a crush on Josh for years, but it takes a Vicodin-induced semi-stupor to get them together. Once she learns the feelings are mutual, it’s full speed ahead into exactly the kind of all-consuming, enchanting romance no one does better than Perkins. Dramatic, engaging, and surprisingly sexy, this was a most satisfying conclusion to one of contemporary YA’s most popular series.

    Everything Leads to You, by Nina LaCour
    To be honest, LaCour’s grocery lists could probably make any post I write at this point—she’s just that good. This book is full of beauty: in the screenwritten vignettes, in main character Emi’s passion for set design, in the way Emi views enigmatic and struggling love interest Ava, and in LaCour’s writing in general. Those looking for LGBTQ YA romance sans coming-out angst particularly need to put this story about two already-“out” girls falling in love at the top of their shopping lists, but this is an all-around great read for any fan of YA and/or romance and/or books in general, really.

    Open Road Summer, by Emery Lord
    Reagan needs some time away, and there’s no better way to get it than by accompanying her country star BFF, Dee, on a national tour. But she doesn’t expect the perks that come along with it, in the form of the talented and adorable Matt Finch. Matt is that rare YA love interest who places a strong emphasis on friends and family, and makes a fabulous sweetheart counterpoint to Reagan’s thorniness. His songwriting skills don’t hurt one bit, either.

    The Art of Lainey, by Paula Stokes
    Soccer star and general has-it-all girl Lainey Mitchell has a pretty awesome high school life going, until her long-term boyfriend dumps her out of nowhere. Lainey isn’t the type to take it lying down, so armed with Sun Tzu’s The Art of War and an excellent best friend, she sets out with a plan to win him back. In this case, the plan involves mohawk-sporting, similarly-broken-heart-suffering coworker Micah, and a fauxmance intended to win both of their exes back. But it turns out the only romance worth fighting for is the one sparking between them, and watching them figure that out is oh-so-delightful.

    Whatever Life Throws at You, by Julie Cross
    Annie Lucas knows baseball—her father is the brand-new pitching coach for the Kansas City Royals. Jason Brody is baseball—the sexy new Royals’ rookie with a heartbreaker reputation to spare. There are so many reasons they need to keep their distance, but none of those compete with the chemistry they share. There’s something about sports-themed romances that just make them that much more swoon-inducing when done well. Maybe it’s the sheer amount of testosterone around, or maybe it’s just the baseball pants, but when it’s good, it just works, and it’s definitely good here. (Bonus points to Cross for all the frank sex talk, far too rare between partners in YA.)

    Ask Again Later, by Liz Czukas
    Heart LaCoeur has a ridiculous name and a ridiculous problem: two dates for one prom, neither of whom she’s interested in. Alternating timelines show the night playing out with each, but don’t be fooled by the premise—Czukas’ debut otherwise reads completely contemporary, and the romantic ending is beyond satisfying. It’s also charming, funny, and real, and one of my favorite recs for when you just need something to put you in a good mood, ASAP. (Which is also true of Czukas’ unrelated follow-up, Top Ten Clues You’re Clueless.)

    Not in the Script, by Amy Finnegan
    Emma Taylor’s been in Hollywood too long to believe there’s potential for true love there…until she meets her new costar, Jake Elliott. Jake is sweet, thoughtful, hot, and family-oriented, and the slow burn romance in this book is completely and wholly earned in the best way. Those who love the healthy pacing and fully fleshed development in books like My Life Next Door are sure to adore this one, and those looking for Hollywood YA with a heavy emphasis on insider Hollywood would do well to pick this one up, too.

    On the Fence, by Kasie West
    A truly adorable book about a girl named Charlie who’s surrounded by testosterone and starts to find her feminine side while falling for the boy next door. West stole my heart with her first contemporary YA romance, The Distance Between Us, and though this cute, fun summer read feels a little more light and predictable (as the friends-to-lovers trope tends to be), I loved the family dynamics even more. Most importantly, West holds up as one of the queens of romantic YA banter, which ensures I’ll be buying all her contemporary romances from here on out.

  • Dahlia Adler 6:40 pm on 2014/12/08 Permalink
    Tags: #weneeddiversebooks, 2014 titles, , , , laura lam, lgbtq, lindsay ribar, michael barakiva, , , , , susan kuklin, , ,   

    12 Must-Read LGBTQ YAs of 2014 

    Nina LaCour's Everything Leads to YouIt’s been a really great year for young adult lit, and for LGBTQ YA in particular. The category continues to grow in leaps and bounds, and this list includes not only contemporary coming-out narratives, but fantasy, historical, and…however you’d classify Grasshopper Jungle. There’s even realistic fiction in which coming out isn’t part of the narrative at all. What these books do have in common, besides their literary merit, is that they all take a positive step forward in ensuring all teens are able to see themselves represented in YA lit, that they’re all necessary,. I’m hopeful they are a sign of more great things to come.

    Far From You, by Tess Sharpe
    Sophie is a recovering addict whose best friend, Mina, has been murdered. With the killer still on the loose, Sophie sets out to solve the mystery, and reveals her own truth in the process: she and Mina weren’t just best friends, they were in love. Sharpe’s debut is a poignant, heartbreaking look at the pains we go through to hide who we are, and what we risk losing in the process. It’s also probably the most beautiful, on-point depiction of bisexuality I’ve read in YA, period.

    Lies We Tell Ourselves, by Robin Talley
    Set in 1959 Virginia, this story of two girls—one black, one white—who enter each other’s lives as a result of school integration is already fraught with brutal depictions of race relations of the time. But that doesn’t make Talley shy away from taking this book one step further, to an intersectional story featuring a relationship that’s rife with difficulty along both racial and gender lines. That they’re both girls feels secondary to the different color of their skin, and the fluidity with which their connection turns romantic feels so inevitable, it never really competes with the issue at the heart of the book.

    I’ll Give You the Sun, by Jandy Nelson
    I make an active effort to be aware of LGBTQ books for teens, but in all my excitement over learning Nelson’s sophomore novel would be released in 2014, I had no idea one of the two main characters was gay. But in this novel about estranged twins dealing with love, loss, and the struggle to understand what tore them apart, it was a most pleasant surprise that my favorite of the passionate, real, and beautifully done romances in this book was between narrator Noah and the marvelously layered Brian.

    The Summer I Wasn’t Me, by Jessica Verdi
    When an author’s debut features a set of great gay dads, as did Verdi’s My Life After Now, it’s a given that any LGBTQ book by said author will jump to the top of my to-buy list. I got my hands on this one as soon as humanly possible, and fell for it hard, even as I cried my way through. I loved main character Lexi, who wasn’t the easy, obvious choice of a snarky character jumping into de-gayification camp with all the derision readers already possess on her behalf. And I loved her romance with Carolyn, which was sweet and flirty and charming. Though other parts of the book are tougher to take, the chemistry between them is a major pitter-patter-inducing bright spot.

    Shadowplay by Laura Lam
    This series (Shadowplay is a direct sequel to Pantomime) is still on my to-read list, but it’s come so highly recommended from so many trusted friends—and features such severely underrepresented characters—that I felt it needed to be mentioned here. Following the events of Pantomime, Micah is on the run, nursing heartbreak and learning stage magic in greater depth than he ever thought possible. A story of learning to embrace yourself and new beginnings set in the lush world of a steampunk-tinged circus, this promises to be one of YA’s most unique reads.

    Everything Leads to You, by Nina LaCour
    In a subgenre full of heartbreaking coming-out stories, LaCour’s third novel is a soft, light, Hollywood-inspired breath of fresh air. Emi is a set designer, still learning her craft and bleeding passion for a rarely seen aspect of the industry. Ava is the enigmatic, downtrodden aspiring actress who draws her eye, her support, and her heart. LaCour’s writing is dependably beautiful (her previous YA novels, Hold Still and The Disenchantments, are two of my favorites, and both contain queer secondary characters), and the combination of romance and mystery ensure this is not a book to be missed.

    The Fourth Wish, by Lindsay Ribar
    I loved this paranormal romance’s predecessor, The Art of Wishing, but the sequel takes things to the next level. The first book established genie love interest Oliver as bisexual; here we get themes and discussions of gender bending and fluidity, boundaries, and consent. This duology may seem light and sweet—and at times it is—but it’s also raising issues few books are. It also makes me think that if this is what Ribar can do in a paranormal world, I’d love to see what she can do in our own.

    One Man Guy, by Michael Barakiva
    Every now and again you read a book that was pretty much put on earth to make your heart melt. This sweet, charming romance between the 14-year-old son of Armenian immigrants and an older skater boy who shows him the world he’s been missing is all kinds of adorable—the perfect read for those looking for queer kidlit without a lot of angst.

    Otherbound, by Corinne Duyvis
    Sci-fi and fantasy still have a long way to go toward inclusion of diverse characters (though Alex London and Malinda Lo have contributed mightily in that vein), but Duyvis’s debut seamlessly includes them. Nolan is a disabled Latino boy…except when he closes his eyes. Then he’s transported into the body of Amara, a mute servant girl who frequently suffers abuse but also has healing powers. What’s most notable here on the LGBTQ front is that through the course of the book, Amara has relationships with both her male fellow servant and the female princess she is sworn to protect—a rare demonstration of bisexuality in a category that seldom even references it.

    Grasshopper Jungle, by Andrew Smith
    There’s no question that Smith’s novel of a teen boy battling a potentially apocalyptic invasion of gigantic praying mantises alongside his friends is one of the more unusual YA offerings this year. The bisexuality of main character Austin, however, as he battles confusing attractions to both his girlfriend and his male best friend, is a much more universal kind of relatable.

    Afterworlds, by Scott Westerfeld
    Westerfeld’s large tome, which alternates between the contemporary perspective of a YA author ingenue and the paranormal romance that earned her a rather large book deal, was one of the year’s Big Books. But lost in all the talk of the meta structure and enormous size is the fact that Darcy’s POV contained a sweet, mature, well-done relationship between her and a fellow (female) author that had something none of the other romances between girls I read this year did: longevity. It wasn’t about the girls getting together, but about them being together, and that’s noteworthy enough in YA to earn it a spot on this list.

    Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out, by Susan Kuklin
    The only nonfiction title here, Beyond Magenta goes in depth with six transgender teens to discuss their experiences and share their struggles with self-identification. There are photographs, accounts, varying situations, and, most importantly, true-life stories that benefit readers of any age, whether they are trans, know someone who is, or simply want to educate themselves on the gender spectrum.

    What’s your favorite 2014 book featuring diverse characters?

  • Dahlia Adler 7:00 pm on 2014/12/04 Permalink
    Tags: alison cherry, , c. desir, , , complicit, , , , , sophomore superstars, , , , YA novelists,   

    8 Great YA Sophomore Standalones of 2014 

    Jessica Verdi's The Summer I Wasn't MeThe sophomore slump can be one of the greatest curses of any writer, and the stronger your debut, the scarier the expectations. Many an author has been felled by the pressure to write a great second novel, and yet, for whatever reason, when it came to YA standalones, this was The Year of the Sophomore. I don’t think I read a single follow-up this year that I didn’t like as much or better than that author’s already strong first offering, and I dare you to read the following books and disagree.

    I’ll Give You the Sun, by Jandy Nelson
    Probably the most anticipated sophomore novel in the history of ever. I have to admit I was terrified when I opened this one up. Like so many other YA readers, I absolutely loved the gorgeous and poetic The Sky is Everywhere, and three years is a whole lotta time to build up expectations. But Nelson delivers something every bit as beautiful and then some in this nonlinear dual-POV book about familial relationships, art, pain, envy, and love.

    Life by Committee, by Corey Ann Haydu
    Haydu has rapidly become my favorite uncomfortable writer; you know when opening one of her books that it will not be easy on either your mind or your heart. But you also know it won’t simply be a read, but rather a thoughtful experience. Just as Haydu’s phenomenal debut, OCD Love Story, penetrated my brain by putting my anxiety in perspective, her sophomore novel, about a girl who has been isolated by her peers and gets sucked into the questionable online forum she turns to for advice, constantly makes me think about the approval we solicit from strangers, and why. It also kept me up waaaay past my bedtime.

    For Real, by Alison Cherry
    From the very first paragraph of Cherry’s sophomore novel, it’s impossible not to wonder, “Is this even by the same author as Red?” Where Cherry’s 2013 debut was charming satire with a younger-reader bent, For Real reads older, edgier, and straight-up fun. The story of two sisters who embark upon an Amazing Race–type reality show in order to get revenge on one’s boyfriend is sweet, funny, inspiring, and eminently likable. It may not be “unputdownable” in the thriller sense, but it certainly was in the “No desire to do anything else until I’m done reading” sense.

    Perfectly Good White Boy, by Carrie Mesrobian
    Mesrobian’s debut, Sex & Violence, was a Morris Award nominee, and her followup just as seamlessly nails not only a teen male voice, but a teen male experience. This thoughtful, honest, fearless depiction of a boy in his final year of high school, who’s sitting on his decision to join the marines upon graduation, is a rare character-driven novel with deeply quiet power.

    Bleed Like Me, by C. Desir
    Desir is that most divisive sort of YA author, the kind who writes about the sort of things you wish teens didn’t experience, but must acknowledge they do. What struck me the most when reading Bleed Like Me was that while adult me could clearly see the toxicity of the central couple, and the way they fed each other’s self-destructiveness, I also felt how teen me would’ve experienced that exact same pull. It is simultaneously terrifying and a relief that books like this exist. They are necessary.

    Complicit, by Stephanie Kuehn
    Creep. Tastic. It’s hard to top the second-book pressure of an author who literally won the award for best debut (Kuehn’s Charm & Strange took home the 2013 Morris Award), but man, does she deliver. It’s hard to say much about this dark, twisty psychological thriller without spoiling, but I will say this: no matter what you figure out along the way and when, the ending is still going to rip your heart out.

    My Best Friend, Maybe, by Caela Carter
    In a year when conversation about diversity was at the forefront of the YA conversation, this is a book it pained me to see get lost in the shuffle. Yes, the main character herself is a straight, cisgender white girl, but this is the story of how she reunites with the best friend she didn’t know was a lesbian, falls for that friend’s adopted Haitian brother, and examines her Christian faith in the process. There’s so much character nuance here, it was the first time I remember reading a book feeling like I had to keep turning the pages just to observe the character development.

    The Summer I Wasn’t Me, by Jessica Verdi
    When I saw the premise for Verdi’s debut, My Life After Now, was about a girl contracting HIV, I immediately feared that no future premises would live up to it. Then I saw that her sophomore novel was about a girl going to de-gayification camp, and I felt a strange rush of relief. For me, this actually exceeded the debut (though I definitely recommend both), and had me in tears both happy and sad the whole way through.

    What’s your favorite amazing sophomore novel?

  • Dahlia Adler 4:25 pm on 2014/12/02 Permalink
    Tags: , , , ,   

    Exclusive Cover Reveal: Delicate Monsters, by Stephanie Kuehn 

    Stephanie Kuehn's Delicate MonstersThis is such an exciting book for me to help reveal, because I’m a huge fan of Kuehn’s first two books—the Morris Award–winning (absolutely deservedly so) Charm & Strange and this year’s soul-shattering Complicit—and her upcoming release is one of my most anticipated of 2015. I love psychological thrillers, I love sibling stories, I love gritty darkness, and more than anything, I absolutely love the way Kuehn writes all three. I also think this is a beautiful cover. Here’s Stephanie Kuehn herself to tell you why she agrees.

    Delicate Monsters is my third book, and I suppose it’s similar to the others in that the narrative is dark and psychologically layered and deals with truths that no one ever wants to own. But it’s also different. This book is less about the self and more about relationships. It’s about the fine line between love and cruelty, and how sometimes it’s hard to tell the two apart.

    Or how sometimes we don’t want to.

    When it came to the cover design, I didn’t have any preconceived ideas. That’s a good thing. I’m not a very visual person. But I did hope the tone of the book could be conveyed, a bit of the sweet and the sorrow. Fortunately, I knew early on that the wonderfully talented Kerri Resnick—the artist who designed the covers for my first two books—would be working on Delicate Monsters. That meant my book was in good hands, and when I saw the cover, I knew it was perfect.

    The bird is symbolic, of course, but I love the image contained within it. This is the story of a girl who leads and the boys who follow, and that’s what I see. The fact that the two figures are separated captures that dynamic. It captures a bit of sadness, too. Longing isn’t love, and love can’t exist in the absence of kindness, but these are lessons usually learned the hard way.

    The one element I find really special is the treatment of the title font and the smudged edges. There’s a brief, very brief, mention in the book about a charcoal drawing that one of the characters drew as a young child. It’s a small moment, but an important one, and I am so pleased that Kerri not only picked up on it, but was able to incorporate it into the design in such a meaningful way.

    I could not be happier with this cover. I’m so grateful to Kerri and everyone at St. Martin’s Griffin who get this book and who have worked to bring Delicate Monsters alive.

    Delicate Monsters is out June 9, and is available for pre-order now.

  • Dahlia Adler 5:45 pm on 2014/11/20 Permalink
    Tags: , antiheroes, , , dangerous boys, , david iserson, , , , kat spears, ,   

    6 YA Antiheroes We Love 

    YA antihero covers
    In young adult lit, as in life, there are a whole lot of good guys, a whole lot of bad guys…and all those special gray-area characters in between. The ones I’m fangirling over here are the “good” guys who actually aren’t so great at that whole morality thing; the ones who rob from the rich to give to the poor and also maybe spend a little on movie tickets; the ones who stretch the truth to get the guy…or girl…or both. So here’s to you, antiheroes of YA—may you never let the rules of polite society stop you from achieving your dreams.

    Astrid Krieger (Firecracker, by David Iserson)
    Astrid has money—a lot of it—so she’s never really had trouble getting exactly what she wants. Until someone squeals on her at her fancy boarding school, and she’s forced to attend public school. Suddenly, there are a lot more things Astrid wants, like getting back into her old school, discovering who ratted her out, and getting revenge. To achieve her new goals, Astrid will have to push herself to do some good deeds for the first time in her life. Her methods aren’t exactly orthodox, and her definition of “good” may not match everyone else’s, and I wouldn’t say she evolves into a sweetheart…what was I saying again? Oh, yeah, Astrid’s hilarious.

    Alice (Side Effects May Vary, by Julie Murphy)
    This dual narrative is sort of like an angel-devil shoulder pairing. On the angel side, you have Harvey, a sweet guy whose best friend has been diagnosed with leukemia and given a terminal prognosis. On the devil side, you have Alice, who’s dying, well aware Harvey is in love with her, and determined to have him help her make everyone who ever hurt her pay before she dies. Only Alice doesn’t die; she goes into remission. And that’s when things hit a whole other level of complicated. Alice has to face the consequences of not only having been a total witch, but of the way she treated the good guy who was at her side through it all. Just because Alice is gonna live doesn’t mean she’s gonna do it painlessly…

    Jesse Alderman (Sway, by Kat Spears)
    Don’t call him Sway, but know that he has it. It. That indefinable quality that enables him to do and get away with whatever he wants. Jesse Alderman’s brain works in a way that could run a small country, but his heart doesn’t quite work at all. And that’s what enables him to be the guy you can hire to do pretty much anything, including make a pretty girl fall for you. Just don’t pick the one girl capable of working her way beneath Jesse’s skin, because then you might see him befriend her disabled brother, make her friend homecoming queen, and just generally find he’s got a soul in there after all.

    Micah Wilkins (Liar, by Justine Larbalestier)
    Micah will be the first to tell you she’s got the lying gene. And then she’ll tell you it was a lie. So goes this novel of a girl(?) whose boyfriend(?) was killed in Central Park and who’s trying to maintain her innocence as she makes sense of the events surrounding it. She’ll tell you of her condition, of the people who were closest to Zach, of how close she was to Zach. She’ll tell you of her family, her abilities, her school. She’ll tell you all this, and then she’ll tell you when she’s lying, and you’ll believe her, or you won’t, but you won’t stop reading.

    Parker Fadley (Cracked Up to Be, by Courtney Summers)
    This book was pretty much my gateway into my love for the modern incarnation of YA, and more than five years later, Parker is still one of my favorite characters. Once upon a time, she was a popular and powerful cheerleader, and an utterly adored girlfriend and best friend. Now she’s…well, not much of anything, or at least that’s what she’s going for. But just because she’s trying to detach herself from everyone these days doesn’t mean they’ll let her, no matter how cruel she is. (And she is hilariously cruel, and cruelly hilarious.)

    Chloe (Dangerous Boys, by Abigail Haas)
    Haas’s Dangerous Girls was one of my favorite YA reads of 2013, and though I knew these books were standalones, I expected this one would at least be filled with the same kinds of twists and turns as the first. But Haas’s follow-up is a lot more straightforward. Chloe is, for the most part, exactly who she appears to be—a girl suffering the kind of neglect that’ll make her do desperate things, especially when she meets a boy who brings out her latent dark side, and draws her into things she never imagined she’d be capable of. Effectively, reading Dangerous Boys is like studying the evolution of a sociopath, and wondering why on earth she seems so strangely relatable. And wondering if maybe that makes you a sociopath too. It’s…oddly not a bad feeling at all.

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