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Best Fiction for Young Adults (#BFYA2021) Nominees Round Up, April 24 Edition

Click here to see all of the current Best Fiction for Young Adults nominees along with more information about the list and past years’ selections.

The How and the Why by Cynthia Hand
HarperTeen / HarperCollins
Publication Date: November 5, 2019
ISBN: 978-0062693167

Senior Cass McMurtrey loves her life with her adoptive parents. As she nears her 18th birthday and contemplates her dreams for the future, she wonders about her birth parents. With encouragement from her parents, Cass begins the journey to find her birth parents. Cass’s story is interwoven with letters from S, a 16 year old who is searching for the perfect parents for her unborn baby. As the two stories blend together, readers connect with both Cass and S and become invested in their journeys to discover who they are and how they arrived at the decisions they made.

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Adult Genre Readers: Break out of a Reading Rut with YA


Adults reading young adult  books has been discussed here, and here and here, and let’s keep talking about it!  YA  has clearly been established as a force as we continue to see titles fly off the shelves at libraries and book stores (not to mention those virtually flying onto smart phones, kindles, and nooks.)  Clearly it’s not only teens reading YA anymore.

Speaking of adults reading YA… do you know any adults stuck in a reading rut who might appreciate some suggestions?  Two of the most widely-read adult fiction genres today are horror and romance.   There are some truly wonderful YA alternatives out there — and it can be argued that YA authors take greater risks than their mainstream adult genre counterparts do– resulting in diverse, exciting, and ground-breaking books.  Exclusively reading genre selections which follow an established and familiar formula (even when the formula works)  can become tedious. Here are some suggestions to help a genre reader shake things up.

Horror/Serial Killers

i hunt killers barry lyga coverJames Patterson fans will enjoy Barry Lyga’s I Hunt Killers series: a nail-bittingly suspenseful serial killer manhunt trilogy with a flawed hero.  Lyga explores issues of identity, parenthood, nature vs nurture, race, and attraction.

rottersStephen King readers will like Daniel Kraus’s terrifying Rotters (2012 Odyssey Award winner) and Scowler (2014 Odyssey Award winner) Grave digging, monstrous fathers, rat kings, gruesome imagery… Kraus is truly a master of literary horror; nothing run of the mill here!

Dean Koontz lovers will enjoy The Girl From the Well by Rin Chupeco: a terrifying tale of vengeful ghost named Okiko. This spooky tale was inspired by Japanese folklore.

Edgar Allen Poe fans can’t help but enjoy Bethany Griffin’s The Fall and Masque of the Red Death couplet. These atmospheric tales were inspired by Poe’s short stories.   It’s also a refreshing change of pace to find quality literary horror featuring strong female characters.


YA Lit Symposium: Something Wicked This Way Comes of Age: Horror Tackles the Real Issues

I don’t read as much horror as I probably should, since it’s very popular with a lot of teen readers.  So, I was very happy YALSA_LitSymposium2014to attend this YA Literature Symposium session presented by the two Paulas (Paula Willey and Paula Gallagher) both from Baltimore (MD) County Public Library. Not only did I hear about some horror books I wasn’t familiar with, I also won a scary shark t-shirt! Thanks to their generosity, lots of us in the audience got prizes of galleys of YA books, and everyone got creepy body part shaped candy and packets of Old Bay Seasoning (Why? Because it’s made in Baltimore).

I can’t describe their presentation any better than they did:

“Teens of all types gravitate to horror fiction – perfectly nice kids with perfectly comfortable lives (as well as perfectly nice kids with difficult lives) seek out books by Darren Shan, Alexander Gordon Smith, Jeyn Roberts and the like. In our presentation, we will make the link between the psychological developments that characterize coming of age and the metaphors of horror, and argue that just because it’s all in your head, that doesn’t mean it’s not real.”

Photo Nov 19, 12 11 17 PM
Paula Gallagher (standing) and Paula Willey (sitting)

They mentioned that teens who like horror are nostalgic for series they read as kids like the Goosebumps series, Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories, or David Lubar’s Weenies series. Teens today are cutting their teeth on new horror TV shows, and films, even foreign ones like Let the Right One In and are big consumers of media, especially horror series like The Vampire Diaries.

Paula Willey explained why it’s important that we understand why teens like horror:
1. We may need to overcome our own revulsion; people who don’t like it don’t understand the appeal.
2. Horror is unusually good at shining a light on concerns of adolescents in ways other types of fiction do not. Horror is a window into their worries.

They also said that issues of morality can be explored in horror. Alexander Gordon Smith can talk abut good vs. evil in his Escape the Furnace series and get away with it. I had to laugh when they showed a slide from their PowerPoint stating that adolescent development is characterized by poor decision making; risk-taking; and a changing sense of identity and the image on screen was a photo of Bella and Edward from the Twilight movie.


Books that Spooked Us!

It’s that spooky time of year when ghoulies and ghosties are everywhere you look, so I thought it might be fun to see which books and stories memorably freaked out the Hub bloggers. Below are some of the stories that stuck with us because of the sheer terror they evoked when we read them. Some of them are straight up horror, some of them purely psychological, but all of them memorable! While Stephen King naturally gets mentioned a lot, it’s Lois Duncan’s Stranger with My Face and Daniel Kraus’ 2012 Odyssey Award winner, Rotters, that got the most mentions.  Many thanks to the Hub Bloggers who shared their scares! Read them this Halloween if you dare!


rot ruinLibby Gorman

I read Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry for a course, and while I loved it, I also made my husband take out the trash for a few weeks afterward in case of zombie attack (because, of course, zombies can get you in the backyard when it’s dark, but they can’t make their way into a lighted house!). I also remember that Roald Dahl’s The Witches freaked me out quite a bit as a kid.



ALA Annual 2014: Odyssey Awards Presentation

alaac14_logoThe seventh annual Odyssey award presentation was held at the ALA Annual Conference on Monday, June 30, 2014.

The Odyssey Awards are the awards for the best audiobook of the year produced for children and/or teens in English and available in the United States.  It is a joint award presented by ALSC and YALSA.

The room was packed full of librarians and audiobook fans.  It was definitely exciting to see all the honorees that were able to make the presentation of awards.  Here is a slightly blurry photo of the awards winners that were present:

Odyssey 2014 winners present

From left to right:

  • Booklist consultant, Rebecca Vnuk
  • 2014 Odyssey Chair, Ellen Rix Spring
  • Daniel Kraus (author of Scowler, 2014 Odyssey Winner)
  • Timothy Federle (author/narrator of Better Nate Than Never, 2014 Odyssey Honor Audiobook)
  • Kirby Heyborne (narrator of Scowler, 2014 Odyssey Winner)
  • Kelly Gildea (producer of Scowler, 2014 Odyssey Winner)
  • Sunil Malhotra (narrator of Eleanor & Park, 2014 Odyssey Honor Audiobook)
  • Rebecca Lowman (narrator of Eleanor & Park, 2014 Odyssey Honor Audiobook) 

Audiobooks for Reluctant Listeners

By RCA Records (Billboard, page 29, 18 November 1972) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By RCA Records (Billboard, page 29, 18 November 1972) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
June is Audiobook Month!  Many of us have fond memories of being read to as a child, but did you know that you can still be read to?  That is the value of audiobooks! The story comes alive and, with the right narrator, you can hear a story much more differently than you would reading it.  Accents are perfected, exclamations are understood, and even words or names you may not know or have never heard before make sense to you.  This is my second year evaluating audiobooks for YALSA’s Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults committee.  As chair of this year’s committee, I am so excited for all the great audiobook-related things happening this month.  Articles are being written about the importance and resurgence of audiobooks, you can get in “Sync” this summer and download free audios, and the audiobook circulation at my Library sees a nice increase starting in June with many people going on road trips and vacations.

To give you an idea of what makes an audiobook a good listen, here are some of the criteria that gets an audiobook on the Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults selection list:

  • The narration has to expand or compliment the original text.  In other words, when you listen to a narrator tell the story, it comes alive and allows the you to experience the text in a different way.
  • Character voice variation is key!  We must have a sense of who the character is by the different qualities in the voices that the narrator uses.  For example, it is a lot more enjoyable when you are listening to a narrated conversation and can tell which character is talking without the text cues letting you know.  Accents, exclamations, and sound effects also are considered.  If done well, they really make an audiobook amazing!
  • There is also the importance of a match between the text and the narrator.  You know when it is right; your ear picks it up.  The narrator embodies the main character and sometimes even all the characters in the books.
  • The technical production on an audiobook is also a criteria for the Amazing Audiobooks list.  We want to make sure the editing is done well, the sound quality is even, and that there are no issues with extra sounds or mike pickups. Additionally, we do consider the music that you hear at the beginning, end, or in between the tracks–does it match the story?  Is it effective in heightening the story? If it is, then it just adds more quality to the production.

So, where should you start if you have never listened to an audiobook before?  Well, some great awards and lists are put out every year: the Odyssey Award, the Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults annual list, and the Audies are a few places to start.  Below I have compiled some of my favorites, that I think will be a great first listen for all of you who are new to audiobooks and want to give them a try.

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green, read by Jeff Woodman.  Brilliance Audio: 7 hours. (2008 Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults)


What Should They Read? The Walking Dead TV Edition

Zombie reading. Photo by Flickr user Steve Rhodes
A zombie enjoying some light reading. Photo by Flickr user Steve Rhodes

I love all things zombie and The Walking Dead TV series on AMC certainly gives me my fill every week. Even when I think I can’t watch any more because I’ll get too scared, I’m sucked in and then I’m talking about it with a friend the next day. A lot of the teens at the library where I work watch the show and read the graphic novels. In recent episodes one of the characters, Carl, asks for more comic books when other go out on a raid, and Carol reads to kids at a story time… before she also teaches them some crucial defensive knife skills! This got me to thinking about reading in the time of a zombie apocalypse. What do you do: read as many zombie novels as you can find because that’s how your life is now? Or read to escape your horrifying world?

The Walking Dead TV series, and comics to a certain extent, exist in a world that requires a bit of stretching of the imagination. There are zombies, after all. In keeping with that imaginations, here’s my hypothetical episode for this week: the gang goes on a raid into town looking for food and supplies when they stumble across a public library! Rick decides they should all get some reading material to get them through their brief downtimes when the zombies aren’t trying make dinner out of their brains. Fighting their way through a crowd of zombie librarians, they get to a safe space to hole up for a while: the YA section! Here are my recommendations for what each character should read.


Genre Guide: Horror for Teens

The definition of horror is not as clean cut as some other genres.  In its simplest definition, horror is a genre that delivers the emotion of fear to a reader.  So… what scares you?  The answer to this question is different for everyone!

For the purpose of this genre guide for teens, I am working with the loose definition of horror in which the author set out to scare the teen reader.  This could occur through a monster, excessive gore, or the unknown.   Unlike other genres written for teens, horror allows authors to push the boundaries of content–violent deaths, disturbing creatures, gruesome gore, and even the evils of reality are all acceptable scare tactics in horror novels written for teens.  These horror novels can be set in any time period–past, present, or future.  They often involve a single teen protagonist or groups including teens overcoming great odds to survive the unsurvivable.

Authors to Know

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YA Apologia: There’s Great Literature Here

When I tell people that I’m a young adult librarian and that I get to read teen books all the time, I get one of the two responses: The first is excited: “Oh, cool! You get to read YA books! Awesome!” The other is skeptical at best and dismayed-and-eyeing-the-door-for-a-quick-exit at worst: “Oh. So, do you have to read Twilight all the time?”

I want to answer: “Yes. Twilight is the only book we’re allowed to read, stock, and recommend. Edward and Bella FOREVER!”

Don't be snobby - these are for everyone! (Photo by Abby Dansinger for Flickr user sjsualasc)
Don’t be snobby — these are for everyone! (Photo by Abby Dansinger for Flickr user sjsualasc)

Ok, so I don’t usually say that — especially because I don’t like Twilight — but I try to explain to them why YA books are awesome. Here’s what I actually say:

Well, dear friend, YA books are a lot like adult books: they come in all different shapes, sizes, genres (you thought YA was a genre? Mistaken!), interest levels, reading levels, level of quality, etc. They basically have everything you have in other age distinctions like “Adults” or “Children’s.” Some of them are amazing and feature some of the best writing I’ve ever read. Some are good but they leave you wanting a bit more substance or there are some plot holes in the story. Some are terrible and probably should have never existed. Some carry you to new and different worlds and allow you to think outside of your own experience. Some contain the true words you need to hear precisely at that exact moment and it’s the most comforting feeling in the world. Some are forgettable.

Basically they’re just like all the other books and I don’t mean that in a bad way.

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Romance in YA: Take It or Leave It?

While I defended romance as a valid and vital part of YA fiction last month, I find myself agreeing with a recent Huffington Post article that takes a critical look at some trends in YA romance. Author Elizabeth Vail says:

…looking at the last couple of years of YA novels, it seems that romance has shifted from being a genre trend to a genre requirement — and the genre has suffered for it.

I’ve since come to treat the YA romantic subplot as the pit in the center of the narrative peach — an awkwardly placed and inevitable annoyance to be endured and avoided while enjoying the otherwise interesting plot.

Hearts on our mantel.
Photo by PV KS

She has a point. Not every romance is a great one, and not every book needs it.

So what makes a good literary romance? Everyone has a different opinion, but for me, it’s gradual development — the slow build. I want to see the roller coaster of emotions play out on the pages as two people fall in love. I also want witty banter and well-developed characters. When both parties in a romance stand on their own as believable individuals, it’s all the more satisfying when they get together.

Vail herself gives some examples of YA fiction with solid romance, and you’ll find more suggestions in article’s comments. Here are some titles that came to my mind while considering Vail’s take on YA romance: