Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Best of 2010: Chapter books and YA

The "Best Of.." wrap up: it's a staple of late December, whether it be radio countdowns, newspaper bestseller lists, or in our modern age, the blogosphere's top picks. I doubt I could ever come close to the humor and scope of Fuse #8's Golden Fuse Awards, but I will bend the rules a bit to list a few of our favorite books or authors we've discovered this year - no matter their published date. I'm sure frequent shoppers and blog readers have noticed trends in my staff picks or blog posts ("You love Robin McKinley and Terry Pratchett? I didn't quite hear that the first 20 mentions..."), so I will try to stretch beyond what you usually hear from me. (Sick Day for Amos McGee! Sick Day for Amos McGee! OK, it's out of my system for the day...but parentheses are not).

A few days ago I rediscovered Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan on my shelf and gleefully flipped through for some of my favorite scenes. These two authors have excellent solo novels as well as other co-author conspirings, but this joint effort combines and transcends the strengths and humors of both. The characters are well-developed, imperfectly lovable and have some of the funniest, sharpest repartee in contemporary fiction. I have a weakness for books with alternating voices, and that narrating tool is an impressive and sturdy vessel for the meeting of these two Will Graysons. Their worlds will collide, realign, and neither of them, or you, will be the same afterward. (Especially if you're like my roommate, who fell off the couch laughing at it). (ages 15 & up).

My latest contemporary fiction choice is one I mentioned in my holiday gift guide, but it is too good to be left off this list! Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins has a bit of everything for various readers: the fierce ache of first love where the slightest touch sets off sparks; a developed, likable girl character who makes mistakes and comes into her own, and is now on my list of all-time favorite girl characters (which includes DJ Schwenk of Dairy Queen and Cimorene of Dealing with Dragons); and such effortless prose and love of Paris that fills me with a desire to pack my suitcase and throw myself headlong into an European adventure. My bottom line selling point is that Anna discovers Paris, and thus comes out of her shell, through touring the city's tiny cinemas on her mission to become a respected female film critic. (ages 14 & up).

Ah, dystopia. I have not neglected you! This year my loyalties are divided between Catherine Fisher's Incarceron and Ally Condie's Matched. Since I reviewed Matched in a holiday gift guide last month, I will focus on Incarceron here. This steampunk style British import alternates between two narrators (I know! I have a weakness): Finn, an epileptic prisoner of the vast, cognizant eponymous prison, and Claudia, the privileged but thoughtful daughter of Incarceron's warden. This is what all great fantasy adventures should be: a suspenseful blend of chase scenes, mysterious keys, lost memories and a just-complex-enough dissection of crime and punishment, class hierarchy, and social philosophy. The sequel Sapphique, named after the only man to have ever escaped the prison, has just hit shelves. (ages 12 & up).

Our book buyer Donna and I stand by the Alice series by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. There are few books that can delve into an array of friendship troubles, body issues, boy drama, et cetera, through middle to high school, with the humor, tact, and respect for the reader as these. This year, along with the 21st installment Intensely Alice, Simon & Schuster has reprinted collections of Alice's freshman and sophomore years, I Like Him, He Likes Her and Not Like I Planned It This Way. The new covers and Twilight/Harry Potter-size heft will attract new readers as well as bring back familiar friends. Alice and her pals Elizabeth and Pamela remind me of why I like Steve Kluger's My Most Excellent Year so much: these interesting, "improbably wonderful" (thank you for the quote, former staffer Bethany!) individuals are the kind of people I would love to count as friends. (ages 12 & up).

When I was in middle school, I could not read enough historical fiction and adventure. I read bucket loads of Ann Rinaldi (Just saying the name of An Acquaintance with Darkness still gives me shivers) and I pined to be on board the Seahawk, too, in The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi. I know I would have loved Diane Lee Wilson's I Rode a Horse of Milk White Jade, then, too. Oyuna is overprotected and warned about bringing bad luck on her nomadic village ever since her foot was crushed by a horse. When Kublai Khan's soldiers commandeer her beautiful white horse, Oyuna disguises herself as a boy to stay with her. Alone in 14th century Mongolia, Oyuna must find her own path and her own luck. This adventure tale will appeal to fans of courageous heroines, horse stories, and underdog victories, all while breaking out of more familiar American-European historical fiction settings. (ages 9 & up).

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