Last month amidst all of the “best of 2011” lists being published, Suzanne highlighted some great books that weren’t necessarily making those lists. Now that the year is nearly over, the rest of The Hub bloggers are ready to share our own list of books from 2011 that we don’t want you to miss.
The Auslander by Paul Dowswell tells the story of Piotr, an ethnically “Aryan” Polish boy, who is inducted into the Hitler Youth. It does an amazing job of portraying Piotr’s psychological struggle as he weighs the very real attractions of the Nazis, both as a party and as individuals, with his loyalty to his family and homeland.
— Mark Flowers
I’ve got three books I read this year, loved, and feel have been overlooked quite a bit. First–and perhaps my favorite read all year–is CK Kelly Martin’s My Beating Teenage Heart. Told from the perspective of Ashlyn, who is dead, we get to watch as Breckon’s life falls apart. But as readers, we don’t know why she’s following him from the other world. He’s sad and broken but why does Ashlyn care so much? The buildup to the reveal is heart-wrenching, but I spent the last two chapters of the book crying my eyes out because of how important Ashlyn and Breckon were to one another’s stories. It’s somewhat reminiscent of Amy Huntley’s The Everafter but wholly original.
The other two books both feature football in them, but they’re about as different as they come. First is Josh Cohen’s Leverage, which follows two boys. Danny is a gymnast and Kurt is a hulking football player. They couldn’t be more opposite–except they’ve both been witness to something horrific and now they’re more connected than they ever thought they could be. It’s a raw, graphic, and powerful read about bullying. For a debut novel, it was a complete knockout. Think Mean Girls meets the male locker room.
The third book is Geoff Herbach’s Stupid Fast. Felton was always a little guy but suddenly, he hits a magical growth spurt and now he’s wanted by the school’s football team because he’s so “stupid fast.” The thing is, there’s a lot more to Felton than his speed, and he confesses it all through the story. It’s a book about friendship, navigating relationships (bonus that it’s an interracial relationship handled very, very well), and family issues. Felton is the real deal voice of a 15-year-old boy. The book kind of reminded me a bit of Dairy Queen and will appeal to fans of Murdock’s series, while also appealing heavily to male readers looking for a guy just like them.
A couple other books that were under the radar this year I loved were Amy Reed’s Clean (think The Breakfast Club in rehab with huge appeal to Ellen Hopkins fans), Han Nolan’s Pregnant Pause (which had one of the best voices in YA this year, tackling teen pregnancy without falling into the “teen pregnancy book” tropes), and Susan Vaught’s Going Underground (a teen sexting story that’s not about the sexting but about the horrible implications of a sexting charge to one of the most likable protagonists I’ve ever read who never even knew he was sexting in the first place).
— Kelly Jensen
Sean Griswold’s Head by Lindsey Leavitt came out in March 2011, and it’s one of the most memorable titles of 2011 for me. The title is a little vague and leaves you wondering just what Sean Griswold’s head has to do with anything. Well, for Payton, it has to do with a lot. When her father is diagnosed with MS, Payton starts to freak out. And what ensues is humorous and poignant. There are definitely some deeper issues raised but Lindsey Leavitt doesn’t let up on the laughs either and it proves to be a great balance. It’s just a fabulous, warmhearted story that any reader will find accessible. And hey, it resurrects that ever so cutting mean girl taunt of lamebrain! Intrigued? Well you should be able to find it on most library shelves now so don’t pass it by!
— Sarah Werthen
Small Town Sinners by Melissa Walker: Ty and Lacey are perfect foils for each other and their constant debates about the goings on of their small town of West River reflect the sort of honest discusses that should be had with teens to help them learn to think for themselves and not to just mimic what adults tell them. Lacey has grown up in West River and is now 16. Ty moved away in the first grade and is suddenly back in her life. The two are drawn together which means when they argue they care enough for each other not to be hurtful. Author Melissa Walker urges the reader to set aside judgment and feel what all the characters are going through. Walker uncovers many awkward truths about allowing idealism and faith to guide our actions. Though she provides no concrete answers, Walker is careful not to point fingers at parents, religion or politics. Instead she counsels her characters to ask questions and think about the answers.
Do you remember the moment you realized your parents weren’t right about everything? Or that their right wasn’t yours and that you would always think differently from that point on? Small Town Sinners really captures that moment of transition to from young adult to adult.
— Laura Perenic
Ghetto Cowboy by G. Neri: What happens when your mom finds out you haven’t been going to school for the last month? If you are twelve-year-old Cole, you end up getting dumped in Philadelphia to live with your father–who you’ve never met.bThings get especially weird when Cole realizes that everything in his father’s life, and the neighborhood he lives in, revolves around a makeshift group of stables and the rescued horses that live there. Feeling angry and abandoned, Cole wants nothing more than to get home to Detroit but, as he begins to get used to both his father and the daily rhythms of the stables, he starts to settle in to his new life. It isn’t until the city threatens to shut down the stables that Cole truly understands just how much he has come to think of this new place, and the people in it, as home.
While the 6th grade girl in me squealed just a little bit over the horse storyline in Ghetto Cowboy, the librarian in me just loved the realistic portrayals of inner city life and the difficulty Cole had with school and his family. Jesse Watson’s black and white illustrations are beautifully done and bring the reader right into the story, yet somehow manage to avoid making the book seem too childish. Admittedly, I was a little skeptical about how this might go over, but I needn’t have worried; this has been a clear favorite with younger teens (even if they laugh at the title). Be sure to check out this video for some insight into G. Neri’s inspiration for the story.
— Summer Hayes
Putting Makeup on Dead People by Jen Violi is a funny, moving novel about seventeen-year-old Donna, who hasn’t come to terms with her father’s death four years earlier. She finds comfort in an unusual place: the funeral home. Instead of making plans for college like the rest of her peers, Donna decides to study mortuary science, which involves, among other things, putting makeup on dead people. A complex, likable protagonist, a realistic supporting cast, and some lovely meditations on death and dying make this a fantastic addition to YA contemporary fiction. Recommended for fans of last year’s The Sky Is Everywhere.
— Emily Calkins
The FitzOsbornes in Exile by Michelle Cooper, a sequel to A Brief History of Montmaray, is a historical fiction book that takes place right before WWII after Princess Sophie and her impoverished royal family have been exiled to England after the Nazis bombed their tiny island kingdom. Sophie’s diary entries tell the story of how they are struggling to adjust to living in upper-class society with their aunt and deal with the politics of the time. I like it because it’s a nice mixture of coming out in high society and WWII history. I’m a fan of PBS’s “Downton Abbey” with Maggie Smith and it has a similar feel to it as the TV series, even though the series is set in WWI, not II.
— Sharon Rawlins
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