Alright, readers; we’ve made it to the final 6 nominees for this year’s coveted Teens’ Top Ten list! If you missed them you can go back to check out Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 for info on all the titles. Voting is underway now, so encourage the teens you serve to throw in their opinions and help inform the wider world what they really loved reading this year. I’m excited to see what the final list looks like, and although I have not managed to read every nominee (yet!), working my way through these posts has offered up a eclectic mix of titles, and it was fascinating to me to see where my (ahem…mature) tastes met up with or diverged from teen readers.
Some fun tidbits about the nominees as a group: A whopping 19 of the 24 nominees are written as first-person narratives. Only 1 is told from multiple first-person perspectives. There are 3 LGBTQ protagonist, and 3 protagonists are explicitly described as characters of color. Of 24 total nominated titles, just over half (13) are fantasy/sci-fi/dystopian novels, although I’m using these genre terms loosely, since many of the titles resist being put in a clear category (yet with all that otherworldliness, only 4 main protagonists have supernatural powers themselves!). Of the 11 other titles, 1 is historical fiction, and 2 are thrillers. The rest are a mix of contemporary dramas and romantic comedies. Romance is a key component across genres, as fully 75% of the nominees had a love story as a main or major component of the plot. All have found a place in the hearts of teen readers excited to honor their favorite books of the year, which makes them, to me, 24 of the most interesting books currently available.
I Become Shadow by Joe Shine – A conspiracy-theory thriller with a strong female lead who, according to reviews, can hold her own against the now-standard Katniss comparisons. I’ve been promised stellar training scenes by more than one review, which makes this a much-anticipated title for me personally. I love a good training montage, and I know I’m not alone there! A debut novel from Shine, this is movie-ready reading (movie rights already sold, natch), driven by truly snappy dialogue and an action-packed plot. Shine is on Twitter, and Goodreads, and he wrote his teen self a letter on DearTeenMe.com. Shine has stated that he hopes a sequel to I Become Shadow will be forthcoming, so that will have to be our hope too, since the premise (secret training ground for desensitized body guards unleashes essentially weaponized people with killer sarcasm and also actual deadly skills) seems ripe for further installments.
Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith – Already recognized (by adults) as a Printz Honor book, Grasshopper Jungle is a genre-busting coming-of-age tale incorporating giant man-eating insects, the end of the world, an underground bunker, and a love triangle that explores issues of sexual orientation with bare, matter-of-fact honesty. Smith has been on a publishing tear recently, and each book is totally different; the boarding school/lacrosse team drama Winger was a Teens Top Ten nominee last year, and a 2014 Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults pick, and he’s got two books published since Grasshopper Jungle—100 Sideways Miles (a good bet for readers anxious for a slim page count), The Alex Crow, and a follow-up to Winger (yay!), Stand Off. Smith is online at his author page, as well as on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. He also (sporadically) blogs.
The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith – With a devoted reader following, second-time nominated author Jennifer E. Smith (for the 2014 Teens’ Top Ten list, with This is What Happy Looks Like) gives romance enthusiasts another straight-up love story, this one sparked by a captive elevator encounter during a blackout in NYC (if that’s not a classic meet-cute, I’m not sure what is). A great author for readers who like to latch onto a style and then devour everything available to them, Smith has a healthy backlist for new fans to check out, and her works have been recognized by YALSA before; The Geography of You and Me is also a 2015 Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers. Committed readers can get her very latest, Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between, just out last week! Smith keeps an author page, and is also on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and Tumblr.
Boys Like You by Juliana Stone – Another love story, this one a slow-burn, will-they/won’t-they journey through back and forth chapters by the two protagonists. Readers who enjoy seeing watching a romance unfurl from both perspectives (think: Eleanor & Park) should find plenty to enjoy here. Reader’s Advisory note: Stone’s got a back catalog full of adult romance titles, which the teens in your library may or may not wish to encounter if they want more from her. Stone has a YA-focused author page, and is on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.
We Should Hang Out Sometime by Josh Sundquist – The only non-novel title nominated this year, We Should Hang Out Sometime is a memoir about the (many) pitfalls of the romance-challenged author, who is driven by the desire to know why, at 25, he has never had a girlfriend. So he tracks down all his almost-girlfriends and wishful-thinking girlfriends in a pseudo-scientific search for answers. Hilarity ensues. A welcome (and well-circulating, in my library), lighthearted – but earnest – male perspective on the perennially popular theme of why romance can be so hard, from a nationally bestselling memoirist (Just Don’t Fail, about his career as a Paralympian). Sundquist has a (very popular) YouTube channel, an author page, and is on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley – An emotionally resonant story about the desegregation of a Virginia high school in the late 1950s, told in alternating chapters by two girls, one black, the other white, whose intensely different experiences of the same turbulent time are thrown into stark relief by their growing chemistry, and each girl’s method(s) for coming to terms (or not) with her awakening sexuality. This is one I’ll be sharing with the classroom educators I know, as it offers up a compelling narrative point of entry to a very important piece of American history. Talley is a debut author, and judging from the next two books she’s got slated for publication (What We Left Behind due out in October, the other, As I Descended, a queer YA Macbeth – sign me up for that! – due Summer 2016), Talley is going to be making high-quality contributions that serve to diversify YA for the foreseeable future. See what she’s up to at her author page, or follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, or Tumblr.
So that concludes our brief look at all 24 nominated titles for the 2015 Teens’ Top Ten list; I hope these breakdowns helped to give you a better sense of what teen readers are gravitating towards this year! Let us know any fun facts we left out of our overview in the comments!
-Carly Pansulla, currently reading The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey