Like in 2021: same old story. I haven’t read nearly as much YA as I wanted to/should have, so here is a leaner, meaner list of my top five best YA reads of 2021. Please note that there has been absolutely no attempt to balance this list by age, gender or genre. These are just my “from-the-gut” favorites of the books I read this year (and some were reviewed other than here). And while I love all my Top Five, I have to say that my tippy top favorite was All My Rage. If you only read one YA book as we pass into 2023, please make it this one! Click on the titles to go right to the reviews.
With candy-colored hues and deconstructed panels, creator Rachel Smythe brings the first part of her popular webtoon Lore Olympus to the full-color print page. In a modern metropolis where the Greek gods run high power businesses, drive cool cars and party in slick nightclubs, young goddess Persephone is a cotton-candy colored country mouse. Sheltered by her protective mom Demeter, she has little understanding of the politics, gossip and corruption of the big city. Luckily she has worldly Artemis to show her around her first grown-up party. It’s there she is spotted by Hades, who’s undone by her otherworldly beauty. After a series of godly misunderstandings, Persephone ends up spending the night on Hades’ Underworld sofa and charming his vicious dog Cerebus. In short order they are both smitten, but unsure how the other deity feels. Complications of both the godly and mortal ensure, ending in an emotional mess of a romantic cliffhanger. If you were one of the many devoted fans of Circe by Madeline Miller or Lore by Alexandra Bracken, then you are sure to fall deeply in love with Lore Olympus! And if you can’t wait to find out what happens next, Vol. 2 & 3 are available now 🙂
Have you ever felt like you woke up in the wrong body? That’s how M feels, except she KNOWS it’s the wrong body: suddenly she exists when only a moment before she felt nothing at all. When she opens her eyes for the first time, she is told by her creator, Dr. Frances Ai, that she is Maura–Frances’s sister, who died in a lab accident. Frances was able to work her scientific magic to bring Maura back from the dead–except, despite being in her body, M doesn’t remember being Maura at all. Luckily, Maura still exists as a ghost, appearing to M through mirrors, instructing her on how to act and what to say, so that M can convince Frances that she has Maura back. But Frances knows something is wrong, and M does too. How can she truly enjoy being alive when her life is not her own? And if she tells Frances the truth, will the doctor make good on her claim to take M apart and start over? This character-driven, Frankenstein-adjacent take on self and sisterhood is moody, broody and deeply felt. M’s painful realization that it isn’t enough to just be somebody, that she must be herself no matter what, will resonate with anyone who’s ever felt like they were stitched up in the wrong skin. Debut author/illustrator Talia Dutton‘s sweeping black, white and deep teal tones and classic comic style effectively portray Frances’s determination, Maura’s verve and M’s shifting sense of self. M might be for monster, but it’s also for marvelous.
Maeve is about to turn 18, and her greatest wish is to attend Furlympia, a furcon where she can finally fully realize her inner fursona–MauveCat, “a cozy warm pink and fuchsia striped” cat “with shining amethyst eyes,” and connect with her dozens of online furry friends IRL. There’s only one thing standing in her way: her compulsive and controlling mom. After her grandmother died of cancer, Maeve’s mom turned her grief into hoarding. And when her dad couldn’t take it anymore and her parents divorced, Maeve decided to stay with her mom to try and keep the unrelenting piles of “Stuff” at bay. But she’s slowly being smothered by her mom’s anxiety and the mounds of laundry, junk mail, shopping bags and dollar store gadgets that seem to multiply daily, no matter how many bags of trash she hauls to the curb. Now her guilty dad has offered her the ultimate graduation present: a fully paid trip to Furlympia, complete with hotel room and spending money. All she has to do is find and ride and figure out a way to convince her mom to let her go. But when her mom says no, Maeve decides to go anyway, never imagining that the fallout might be way more than either she or MauveCat are emotionally equipped to handle.
This deceptively cute looking read is actually a fascinating and informative glimpse into furries and hoarders, two diametrically opposed communities that each have their own sets of rules and norms. One is a healthy communal expression of fandom, inner peace and joy, the other a solitary disorder that causes fear and anxiety. Author Jessica Kara digs into both fearlessly, and the results are furtastic. As a veteran conference goer myself, I absolutely loved the descriptions of the furcon, and connected immediately with the gratifying feeling of being surrounded by many of my own people (in my case, librarians). Do not let this MauveCat get away, pick up a copy of Furry Faux Paw TODAY! (Posted with abject apologies for the puns and bad rhymes:)