As the end of the year rapidly approaches, various media outlets, bloggers, library associations, and book lovers make their lists of the year’s best books. I love these lists because they’re a great way to find new books to read, but also because they are like a scorecard for checking how well I did in reading the titles that are deemed the year’s best.
Two Best Books of 2011 lists came out this past week, Amazon.com’s Young Adult List and Publisher’s Weekly’s Children’s Fiction (including Young Adult) and Full Lists. Both of these are positively brimming with intriguing titles and a wide range of categories beyond our beloved YA.
I was immediately struck by those titles that appeared on both lists, and decided to compare these with the current list of nominees for YALSA’s Best Fiction for Young Adults. Four titles appeared on all three lists. I give you, so far, the intersection of bests:
Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
17-year old Karou is an art student in Prague with a mysterious family life. She finds herself caught in the midst of a war between angels and demons. The lush descriptions in this book reveal characters mundane and fantastic and places both real and imaginary in vivid detail. Personally, I was excited about this one since Book Expo in May. I am glad to see it getting the attention it deserves. Check out a book trailer and an excerpt on the official website.
The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
Set on an island reminiscent of Ireland where brave competitors ride fierce water horses in an annual race, Puck and Sean are riders, who come to rely on each other. Poverty and tradition characterize the island of Thisby, but Sean’s way with horses and Puck’s scrappy courage bring its subtle magic to light. The author herself created this lovely animated book trailer that conveys much of the feeling of the book without giving away any of its plot.
Divergent by Veronica Roth
In Tris’s world there are four factions. The choice of which to join determines the course of your life. The in-born ability to suit more than one faction, and to have to make the choice consciously is a dangerous aberration. As in many dystopias, there is a struggle between the will of the establishment and the will of the individual. With nonstop action and a bit of romance (with no love triangles!), this book is a must-read for Hunger Games fans. Look for the second book in the series, Insurgent, in the spring.
Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
Sepetys draws on her own Baltic heritage to tell the story of Lina, a gifted artist, struggling to survive Stalin’s persecution of Lithuanians during World War II. Her family is deported to a Siberian work camp where they face harsh conditions and cruelty, but manage to hold on to their humanity. Sepety’s reveals much about her research and personal connection to the history behind this story in a detailed video (which might be more accurately called a short documentary).
While fantasy and dystopias continue to rule the media, it is worth noting that excellence in historical fiction gets noticed. More than genre, however, it is the quality of writing that captivates us and makes these books the best of the best. It will be interesting to see if they turn up again as more of this year’s lists are revealed.
Check out YALSA’s Best of the Best for more of the top-tier books; the 2012 lists (which are made up of titles published in 2011) will be available in January.
— Erin Daly, currently reading Blood Red Road by Moira Young