As you may have noticed, there hasn’t been all that much activity on this blog since my burst of energy last October. And that’s because I had many life changes that upended, well everything! My husband and I moved, I started a new job as a high school librarian (long time readers will know I was a middle school librarian for most of my career) and there have also been some medical issues in my family. Plus, you know, COVID! So my beloved blog fell down on my list of priorities, and while I read just as many books as ever, I didn’t always find the time to write about them all. I will go ahead and post my top five titles for 2021, but they may not have appeared on this page, or they may have been reviewed elsewhere. I appreciate the patience of everyone who still reads and enjoys Reading Rants, and I hope to be more productive for you in 2022! Peace and love to all as we head into this hopeful new year.
Dear Teen Peeps, some of you may have noticed that I haven’t posted to RRÂ AT ALLÂ since, like, September. That’s because of a little thing called Hybrid Teaching in the Time of COVID (which I know you all know about, since you are on the other side of the screen) AND because I was working on this sick short list of outstanding YA debut novels. These first time authors have really brought it with these unique tales of identity, love, fame and heartbreak. Take a look and see what you think–it’s not too late to add these to your holiday wish lists!
Though I have not posted nearly as much as I hoped to this year, I simply cannot miss the opportunity to wax poetic about what my RR Top Ten Titles from 2010-2019 are. For those of you keeping score at home, this is my SECOND decade post, I also posted my top ten books from 2000-2009. (THAT’S how long Reading Rants has been around–this blog is about a million in dog years.) Last time, I focused on what I thought were the most under appreciated titles, but this time I want to explore how these 10 books have earned their shelf space in the YA canon, are relevant to teens today and possess the staying power to stick around well into the next decade.
With climate change reform at the top of our list of national and global priorities, Ship Breaker is more relevant than ever. Both a riveting adventure and a grim environmental warning, this story of a orphan scavenger trying to survive in a future world decimated by hurricane and flood has grit and hope in equal measure. A perfect companion to Greta Thunberg’s TED Talk.
Though it suffers from headless girl cover syndrome, Libba Bray’s outstanding satire of teenage pageant contestants stranded on a island after their plan crashes en route to the Miss Teen Dream contest, was way ahead of it’s time. As I wrote back in 2011: “…as the days go by and no plane or ship appears, the girls…start to ask each other questions like, why do girls always seem to say â€œsorryâ€ whenever they happen to express a strong emotion or feeling? And what does â€œact like a ladyâ€ mean anyway? They begin to think, â€œMaybe girls need an island to find themselves. Maybe they need a place where no oneâ€™s watching them so they can be who they really are.â€ Beauty Queens brilliantly foreshadowed the current #MeToo movement that has all of us questioning long standing gender stereotypes, the male gaze and outmoded beauty norms.
Monument 14 makes my list because it is simply my best, never-fail recommendation. I have never had a student return this story of 14 kids trapped in a Wal-mart store in Colorado while the apocalypse rages outside, without them raving about it and demanding the sequel (of which there are two more) It has fast-paced action, unrequited romance, non-stop suspense, and zombies of course. It’s just a perfect, all-around package for any one looking for an immersive, satisfying read about the collapse of modern civilization. I haven’t stopped hand selling and replacing worn out copies of it since I read it back in 2012, and I don’t think I ever will. How this has not been made into a Netflix our limited HBO series, I DON’T KNOW.
Honestly, I can’t say it better now than I did in 2013: “While this exceptional work will no doubt help gazillions of readers understand the complexity behind religious wars and personal freedoms, it can also be appreciated as a swiftly paced adventure peopled with men, women and gods who bring this fascinating period of Chinese history to bloody life. I was blown away by both the richly illustrated package and the timeless message. Read them in the order the title suggests, (first Boxers, then Saints) and then pass them along to everyone you know.” Arguments over religious freedoms and differences are still tearing us apart in 2020, so we need Yang’s GN masterpiece now more than ever.
I’ll Give You the Sun still feels fresh as it is one of the only YA novels I’ve ever read that perfectly encapsulates what it means to be an artist, live an artistic life and what it feels like when that artistic passion is lost. Plus the writing is just so, so lovely. In 2014 I wrote: “Iâ€™ll Give You the SunÂ is the most delicious, word-juicy tome I have ever read. I underlined so many gorgeous sentences and passages that the pages of my copy are practically phosphorescent with highlighter. Youâ€™ll want to squeeze it like an orange in order to get every golden effervescent drop into your brain.”Â and I still stand by that!
All American Boys is the powerful collaboration between authors Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely that provides profound perspective around a situation that has become terribly familiar to anyone reading current headlines: the beating (or shooting) of an African American man by a white police officer. Looking at the situation from all angles and taking into account many nuances that the news often fails to address, Reynolds and Kiely created a novel that has given schools, families and students a way to discuss and process America’s complicated racial issues. While we’re not much closer to solving the problem, this book continues to help us try.
“This beautiful, devastating novel may have been published for an adult audience, but the powerful, precise prose reads like a timeless classic that should be experienced by everyone over the age of 14. I have no doubt that this book will find itâ€™s way onto hundreds of high school reading lists and college syllabi by the end of next year, alongside theÂ writings ofÂ Toni Morrison,Â Flannery Oâ€™ConnorÂ andÂ Shirley Jackson.” (2016) Plus, Pulitzer Prize Winner. So, ’nuff said.
I said in 2017, “This innovative thriller that starts at the end, and ends at the beginning, is exquisitely executed. Each meticulously plotted detail leads the reader deeper and deeper into a dizzying labyrinth of truth, lies and shocking consequences.” Fraud scored 5 starred reviews, and I think it’s hire-wire plotting and complicated antiheroine will continue to find friends, especially when recommended to mystery and thriller fans. Plus it’s homage to the classic The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith doesn’t hurt!Â
Take a look at all the gold on that cover–that tells you that The Poet X is going to be in print for a long, long time. It is hands down one of the best books I’ve ever read, and pretty much everyone else in the world agrees. This “arresting portrait of a young poet coming into her own” won every major (and minor) award out there, including the Prinz Award, the National Book Award and the Carnegie Medal. And I’m pretty proud of the fact that one of it’s many starred professional reviews (for The Horn Book) was mine!
Dear Frankly in Love, while I can’t predict the future, I’m pretty sure that your subtle, funny, compassionate portrayal of Â “inter-generational race relations, privilege, and the deeply uncomfortable and often untenable situation of being stuck between two cultures” is going to speak to readers for years to come. While you are in some ways an of-the-moment book, being published during a #weneeddiversebooks period of growing representation of authors of color, you also have all the hallmarks of a classic. You are both popular and literary, are serious but don’t take yourself too seriously, and packed with fully rounded characters that embody universal themes that anyone can relate to. In short, you are the perfect book to round out this decade, and to set the bar high for the next one!
Some of you may have noticed that I did not post to RRÂ AT ALLÂ the whole month of January. No, it wasnâ€™t because I was hibernating or binging Russian Doll while the slush piled up and the temperatures flip-flopped. It was because I was working on this tidy round up of some of the latestÂ YA fantasy for the New York Times.Â Bickering gods, assassin nuns, passionate freedom fighters and aristocratic spies await within the pages of these epic alternate histories! We call it “crossover” because these books have appeal for both teen AND adult reader. So take a peek at the reviews and let me know–do you think these titles fit the bill? All four fantastical tales can be snatched up NOW at your local library or bookstore.
Some of you may have noticed that I did not post to RR AT ALL the whole month of February. No, it wasn’t because I was hibernating or binging Netflix shows while the snow flew and the temperatures dropped. It was because I was working on this super-sized round up of some of the latest YA books being written by women of color for the New York Times! Atia Abawi, Tomi Adeyemi, Dhonielle Clayton, Mary H.K. Choi and Sara Saedi have penned vibrant, diverse, thought provoking stories with something for every reader. Here you will find fighters, gods, immigrants, lovers, refugees, royalty, survivors and warriors, in settings both fantastical and utterly realistic, from backgrounds both global and right in your backyard. So take a look and then snag these not-to-missed titles from your library or bookstore soon!
Dear teen peeps, I was recently given the opportunity to review some fabulous up and coming YA fiction titles for the New York Times that are considered “crossover” books–that is, books that both you AND the adults in your life might enjoy reading. The print review appeared in the May 31 issue of the NYT Sunday Book review, but you can read it online here. Any of these titles would make outstanding summer reading choices and maybe even give you and your parents something to talk about while sunning at the beach or grilling the ‘dogs. Want more suggestions for laid back vacation prose? Then check out the entire 2015 NYT super-sized Summer Reading Book Review!
The highly anticipated movie version of Gayle Forman’s heartbreaking novel IF I STAY opened this weekend and yours truly was there to feel all the feels and cry all the tears. I knew what to expect. I read and reviewed thisÂ tragically romantic tome back in 2008 and had no illusions about how much the movie was going to break my heart. But what I didn’t anticipate was just how hard I was going to crush on actor Jamie Blackely who played Adam. Oh my stars, talk about feeling all the feels–Jamie brought Gayle’s emotionally wounded rocker to nuanced and stunningly handsome life on the big screen in a way that felt entirely authentic. I’m still swooning over the way the tears gathered in his big brown eyes. That’s not to say that everyone else, including the talented Chloe Grace Moretz, aren’t also amazing, it’s just that I was distracted. So if you’re ready to swoon, weep, and swoon again, waste no time in securing a ticket to this sorrow-and-hope-filled film. Here are some additional IF I STAY vids & links to whip your tear ducts into shape.
It’s finally here! The long-awaited movie version of John Green’s bittersweet novel about life, love and cancer comes out this week–June 6 to be exact. Just like all the rest of you Nerdfighters and raving fans, my butt will be in the stadium seat of the closest theater that is playing TFiOS this weekend. I have been a John Green fan since WAAAAAYYY back and am thrilled to see some of his whip smart teen characters come to life on the big screen. To keep your excitement levels high (like you even need any help with that) check out the links below to all things John Green and TFiOS related.
Holy moly, is there anything more difficult than waiting for a new book to come out?! I don’t think so. So for those of you who hate to wait as much as I do, (especially for THIS ONE TO THE RIGHT) here are some good sites for cyber-stalking your favorite up and coming titles.
Reading Rants will be giving up Marley’s ghost until January 15th so that I can enjoy the holidaze and work on some other pressing writing projects. Until then, enjoy my 2013 Top Ten list and check out some of these other great end of year booklists, which are in absolutely no particular order.
Reading Rants will be off the air for the month of May while I keep chipping away at my super sekrit writing project and work on some other big review assignments. When we return, I hope to have some fabulous suggestions of hot summer reads that will set your beach bags and e-readers on FIRE. (Only in the metaphorical sense. No one wants bag smelling of scorched canvas or a melted Kindle.) And maybe, just maybe a redesigned RR logo as well. Until then, check out these other great writing sites where you can share what you’re creating and let me know what fantastic titles you’re reading right now or looking forward to reading this summer in the comments. I’m always looking for the next good book, please feel free to steer me in the right direction!
Just a reminder that the absolutely stunning Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell that I reviewed waaaay back in October of 2012 is NOW AVAILABLE and you should run, not walk to your nearest library, bookstore or e-reader and secure a copy ASAP. I am absolutely gaga (and I don’t mean Lady) over this book and I’m not the only one. While you’re standing in line waiting to check out or buy your copy, you can take a gander at all the other folks (like John Green) who are as nuts about this terrific contemporary teen relationship novel as I am.
Here in waterlogged NYC, we are pumping, dumping and trying to towel off after Hurricane Sandy. I hope all my East Coast readers are warm, dry and with power. While my family was extremely lucky in that we weathered the storm unscathed, my heart goes out to those who lost loved ones or suffered damage to their homes or property. To find out more about how you can help those who were hit hard by Sandy, check out these websites:
In other not-so-big-news, Reading Rants will be taking a break during the month of November so that I can give some much needed attention to a big writing project I’ve been trying to finish since the summer. And speaking of big writing projects, did you know that November is National Novel Writing Month? Maybe you have a long form story inside that you’re just dying to get on the page. Well, here’s your chance! For more information on how to kick start your novel, visit these websites for encouragement and inspiration:
Finally, don’t forget to check back with me in December, where I will post some reviews of hot titles to look forward to in 2013 and my 2012 Top Ten Books List. Hang tight, stay safe and happy reading & writing until then, friends.
I havenâ€™t done this before, but since I review many titles before they come out, sometimes Iâ€™m afraid that you will forget about them by the time they are actually published. So I just wanted to take a moment to remind you of two books that I reviewed waaaay back in February and May 2012 that I already know are going to be among my Top Ten of the year:The Brides of Rollrock Island by Â Margo Lanagan and The Diviners by Libba Bray. Both books are available NOW and you should get them from your school or public library POST HASTE. (Tell them Reading Rants sent ya, and maybe, JUST maybe theyâ€™ll bump your name up on the hold list:) I promise that if you like magic, mayhem, ouiji boards or selkies (and seriously, who doesn’t love selkies for goodness sakes?), you will not want to miss these two lovelies. I canâ€™t say enough grandiose good things about them, so Iâ€™ll stop there and only ask this: why are you still staring at this screen? Go forth, find these terrifyingly terrific tomes and GET LOST IN A GREAT BOOK!
Oh, I love lists! I love making my end of year book lists, and I love reading everyone else’s! But when a decade comes to a close, you have the opportunity of a lifetime to make an extra-special, super-significant (if only to me:) BIG book list. So I decided to compile a list of the 10 most under-the-radar, deserving-of-more-love-than-they-got YA books of the decade, IMHO.Â (And if any of these look familiar, it’s because they were each plucked from the RR Top Ten list of their respective year.) I do hope this inspires you to go back and dig these lovelies up, and also to think about what books would end up not just on your end of year list, but on your fav books of the DECADE. Or even OF ALL TIME. (It’s just fun giving your list a name in ALL CAPS. That means it’s even MORE AWESOME:)