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

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