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  • Dahlia Adler 5:35 pm on 2014/12/23 Permalink
    Tags: , amy finnegan, , contemporary YA, , 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 5:45 pm on 2014/11/20 Permalink
    Tags: , antiheroes, contemporary YA, , 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.

  • Dahlia Adler 7:30 pm on 2014/11/17 Permalink
    Tags: , , contemporary YA, , , , ,   

    4 Mistresses of Dark Contemporary YA 

    Lauren Strasnick's Then You Were GoneThere’s no one way to experience adolescence, and no one way to write about it. What’s fantastic about young adult lit is the way it documents all kinds of teenhood, from the more traditional high school paths to the less so; the cheerleaders to the misfits; the haves and the have-nots; and the ones who only seem to have. Those who have more difficult upbringings know that the hardest part of simply existing can be the feeling that you’re suffering alone. Here are four authors who’ve proven time and time again that you aren’t, and that you’ll never have to.

    Courtney Summers was my personal intro to contemporary YA as we know it: I fell head over heels for her debut, Cracked Up to Be, and never looked back. Having grown up on The Baby-Sitters Club, my favorite books were the ones where the girls fought; I loved seeing them show some teeth. But every Summers character has teeth, from outwardly invulnerable Parker Fadley to Some Girls Are‘s ousted mean girl, Regina Afton. (For a great “starter kit,” check out What Goes Around, which contains both of those fantastic titles.) After a brief detour from contemporary with her zombie Breakfast Club-esque This is Not a Test, Summers returns to her roots next year with All the Rage, probably my most anticipated 2015 title. When the queen of compelling “unlikeable” characters tells you these are her most vicious ones yet, and comparisons like “Veronica Mars meets Brick” are thrown around, you pre-order that baby, and you do it now.

    Amy Reed came so highly recommended to me by trusted friends who love dark contemporary that I bought three of her books before even reading one. I did, of course, proceed to read them all, and man, did they bring out a maternal, caretaking side of me I didn’t even know existed. If I could hug—and feed—all of Reed’s characters, I’d do it in a heartbeat. Part of her rare skill comes in discussing issues without the kind of heavy-handed moralizing we tend to associate with “issue books,” and part is in the way she breaks your heart with the realization that she’s describing very real people, the kind of teens we might want to think don’t exist because acknowledging that they do is too painful. My personal Reed favorite is Over You, which is, to date, the best “toxic friendship” book I’ve read in YA, but start anywhere you like with her books—you can’t go wrong.

    Lauren Strasnick is one of those gems I thought was utterly hidden…until I mentioned reading one of her books, and got a billion “Isn’t she the best??” responses. What’s fascinating about Strasnick’s catalog is that every fan I know has a completely different favorite, which tells you she writes books with the potential to hook on to something in your soul. (Mine is Then You Were Gone, in case you’re wondering.) Her writing style is so concise her books can feel a little more like novellas—which is just as well, since you’ll never want to put them down in the middle anyway.

    Laura Wiess is the master of writing The Forgotten Girl. The one no one’s even pretending to pay any attention to. The one who’s been abandoned by a poor system, an apathetic culture, a damaging selfishness on the part of her caretakers. I fell in love with Leftovers back in 2008, for its well-constructed dual point of view, fascinating toxic friendship, and perfect last line. It was only later, when incidents like Steubenville were all over the news, that I realized it was also my introduction to the power of rape culture, and an incredibly relevant read more than five years later. Though it remains my favorite of her books, she’s been an instabuy author for me ever since.

  • Dahlia Adler 7:00 pm on 2014/08/21 Permalink
    Tags: , contemporary YA, , jen calonita, louise rennison, meganmccafferty, , , ,   

    5 Contemporary YA Series You Don’t Want to Miss 

    E. Lockhart's The Boyfriend ListIn genres like fantasy or sci-fi, it seems like every book out there is one in a set. Not so in contemporary, where the standalone is king, and sometimes the best you can do for more of your favorite characters is log on to a fanfic forum. However, there are exceptions to that rule, and they’re some of my favorite contemporary titles in YA. So next time you’re headed out for a weeklong vacation and don’t know what beach books to pack, any one of these series will have you covered.

    Ruby Oliver Quartet Series, by E. Lockhart

    Lockhart is probably best known for either her Printz-nominated feminist YA par excellence, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, or her recent New York Times best seller We Were Liars. But as much as I loved both, this four-book series will always hold the most special place in my heart. It’s a fantastic and nuanced exploration of teenage feelings, behavior, and mental health (complete with therapy sessions throughout), as well as a realistic and healthy look at relationships and sexuality.

     Jessica Darling Series, by Megan McCafferty

    Okay, I am admittedly cheating here, because technically this series was published as adult and lasts into the main character’s twenties, but disregard that. Because the first two books, both set in high school, are such a wonderful, insightful, layered peek at adolescent best friendship, confusing romance, the pain of missing, and the feeling of not fitting into your own skin that they’re essentially YA staples. Jessica Darling was the first character I ever read who made me think, “That’s me. In a book. There I am.” And that’s a magical thing.

    Secrets of My Hollywood Life Series, by Jen Calonita

    A particularly great series for younger YA readers, the six books follow actress Kaitlin Burke as she struggles with life in the public eye. While she does love acting, she also craves all those things that come along with being a teenager, from a real school experience to an even realer romance. The series presents a nice balance of both sides of celebrity, as well as different areas of the trade (a later book has Kaitlin doing a Broadway show), and does so with plenty of insider info.

    Confessions of Georgia Nicolson Series, by Louise Rennison

    Not to date myself or anything, but when I was in high school, the amazing collection of books we now categorize as YA wasn’t quite as huge a Thing. I did, however, absolutely love British chick lit, and I love this series for being YA’s closest approximation to it. Georgia’s voice is warm, funny, and at times utterly absurd, and you get plenty of it over the course of these 10 great books.

    Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants Series, by Ann Brashares

    The first book in this series might be over 10 years old, but the stories of friends with different lives, loves, and paths still hold up plenty well (and the recent cover rebranding doesn’t hurt). Whether you’ve already read them or have just seen the movies, there’s never a bad time to check in again with this foursome and their magical denim.

    What’s your favorite YA series?

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