The highlight of my trip to ALA Midwinter was attending the Best Fiction for Young Adults teen feedback session. A diverse group of teens from the Boston area had the opportunity to share their thoughts about titles nominated for the Best Fiction for Young Adults list. Their uncensored, frank and articulate opinions—both positive and negative—were a delight to hear. Here are the highlights!
Many teens shared gushing, glowing reviews of these books, which I’d say were informally the most popular picks of the teens present.
Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
“Very realistic, reflects how teens actually think/talk.”
Another reading thought it was “perfectly executed” and loved the mystery of Blue’s identity and the “adorable romance.”
Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon
The book left one reader “feeling breathless.” She liked the unexpected ending and that the main character had everyday problems in addition to her peculiar medical condition.
“sweet and romantic.”
Another reader thought it had an engaging plot and deep complex character relationships. She loved diagrams and drawings.
A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas
“An emotional roller coaster.”
“Sarah J. Maas is a genius. Loved. So many plot twists. Action packed.”
All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
“Euphoric, divine reading experience. Tragic and beautiful. Think long and hard, inspired to read and wander.”
“Takes the gold medal for sappy romance.”
Other Positive Feedback
Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman
One teen liked this book because it “focused on what’s important, not fluff.”
The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds
A young man enjoyed this book. He related to the main character’s struggle after losing a mother figure himself, and as a resident of inner-city Boston, he thought the urban setting was familiar and thought that Reynold’s captured the voice of teens with accurate dialogue.
Kissing Ted Callahan (and Other Guys) by Amy Spalding
One teen liked this because unlike some of the other favorites, it wasn’t too deep or heart-wrenching. It was “delightful and full of laughs” and didn’t take itself too seriously.
My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jessie Warga
A reader remarked that this novel “stays with you”, and while they thought it was a great depiction of depression, didn’t like the novel’s unrealistic happy ending of love “curing” a mental illness.
The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B by Teresa Toten
This was one reader’s favorite book. The author really understood Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and portrayed it authentically. They loved the relationships, the love story, and the surprising ending.
Game Seven by Paul Volponi
Two young men offered support for this book, saying it was more than just a sports story.
The Kidney Hypothetical (Or How to Ruin Your Life in Seven Days) by Lisa Yee
A reader enjoyed this book because she thought that teens could relate to the pressure to succeed that many high schoolers feel and liked the book’s message of “do what makes you happy.”
Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgwick
A young woman recommended this book be on the final list. She enjoyed the interconnected stories with the spiral theme and thought the book was “strange, but good.” The characters and world-building felt “real.”
The Winner’s Crime by Marie Rutowski
One reader enjoyed this book because she appreciate that Kestral was “strong without having to fight.” The rich prose, complex characters, and political intrigue make it a solid series.
Little Peach by Peggy Kern
Readers applauded this book for tackling a tough topic. It was descriptive without being overly graphic. They cried, and found the book really emotional and the main characters easy to connect to.
Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty by Christine Hepperman
One reader thought this was really good, even she doesn’t usually read poems. It was nice to see different perspectives on feminist themes.
Playlist for the Dead by Michelle Falkoff
This book got a vote for having a playlist. it was considered an easy quick read.
I’ll Meet You There by Heather Demetrios
This got an enthusiastic thumbs up for an unpredictable plot. The setting added to story, and everything was easy to picture. The book was inspiring with well-developed characters.
Read Between the Lines by Jo Knowles
One teen loved style of interwoven stories and appreciated the theme of how small encounters shaped life.
Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen
One reader thought this title was really moving and captivating and enjoyed the focus on friendship and family. Another teen thought this was a good book, but perhaps not Dessen’s best.
The Doubt Factory by Paolo Bacigalupi
This title was reviewed positively. The reader liked that characters aren’t definitely good or bad and thought it was cool that one character was casually not heterosexual. Another teen thought it had good commentary on society and commercial products that do harm and liked the “realness” of it.
Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough
One young man enjoyed this book, despite be initially skeptical of title and cover. He liked the personification of love and death and thought it should make the list. Another reader found it slow at first, but thought it had a beautiful ending. Another thought it was “beautifully written and great characters.”
The Bunker Diary by Kevin Brooks
Several teens expressed positive feelings about this book, although one cautioned it was not for those looking for a happy ending. One reader thought it was great but that character felt much younger than sixteen. Another reader commended on the great pacing, and described it as equal parts heart racing and calm. He thought it would appeal to fans of the grotesque and mysteries. IT reminded one teen of Lord of the Flies. He found it engaging and it made him think about survival.
The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black
A couple of readers expressed a range of opinions about this book. One reader thought it was easy to fall into world, couldn’t figure out what would happen, loved the details in description and all the secrets the characters keep from one another. However, another reader found it hard to relate to Hazel. She liked the fantasy elements in a real world setting but thought it had too much focus on small details. Another reader appreciated the romance.
Rook by Sharon Cameron
Adventure, mystery, romance! One reader felt immediately pulled into story and found it hard to put down. She loved how the relationship between the main characters evolved. Another reader really liked the writing style, and loved the cover and the title.
Mosquitoland by David Arnold
One reader enjoyed the witty play on words, and enjoyed it as she typically likes “deep books about self discovery and travel.”
Denton Little’s Deathdate by Lance Rubin
A teen thought this book was going to be depressing, but it was laugh out loud funny. Not only was it engaging and plot driven, but the concept was thought provoking.
The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore
A teen liked the Romeo and Juliet retellings and thought it had beautiful writing. She appreciated that the characters were diverse. Overall, it was a sweet, dramatic story and she gave it an “A+”.
Illuminae by Amie Kaufmann and Jay Kristoff
One reader loved the format! She enjoyed getting the story from the machine’s point of view. However, another reader didn’t get to know characters because of format. Couldn’t tell what characters were doing and thought it was boring.
Dime by E.R. Frank
One reader loved the suspenseful plot, liked the structure, and found the story compelling and engaging.
Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson
A teen liked the message to see the best in people and trust despite betrayal. She loved the strong, independent main character who faced many challenges but persevered. The blend of historical and fantasy genres was good.
Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
One reader loved how characters have back stories and enjoyed the complicated plot. Another loved the cover and black pages and thought title sets tone. Liked tie-in to Grisha without having to read other series.
A Song for Ella Grey by David Almond
This reader doesn’t usually go for romance, but loved the mythology and the friendship and thought the plot was well-balanced.
The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow
One teen loved the unique dystopian world, and loved sarcastic AI Talis. She thought the characters had great personalities and the world-building was very detailed.
The Wrath and the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh
A reader liked the plot, but thought it was poorly executed because sometimes she didn’t know what was going on and the actions were not always realistic.
Critical Analysis of Books
All the Rage by Courtney Summers
One reader said: “yeeeessshh!” The main character of All the Rage was hard to relate to and unlikable, and one reader thought it sent the wrong message because it took her so long to come forward and disclose what happened to her.
All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
A teen thought this was a good topic, but thought the plot was hard to follow. The style was overly simplistic and bland.
Eden West by Pete Hautman
One reader argued that this title shouldn’t make list. The story didn’t go anywhere different than other cult books. Plot and characters were vague and underdeveloped.
Infandous by Elana K. Arnold
Several readers had strong feelings about this book, and did not think it should make the list. They found the jacket copy misleading and the story “traumatizing.” Another reader said there was not enough development, and the story was rushed.
Alex as Well by Alyssa Brugman
A few teens had issues with this book and found it ” rushed and hard to picture” and “confusing.” One reader thought it was a good idea for a book, but not well developed. The writing was too simplistic for the topic.
Breakaway by Kat Spears
This book did not resonate with one reader. They didn’t feel like the relationships were developed, and didn’t care about the characters. They found the blurb misleading and were left feeling unfulfilled after reading.
The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes
One reader liked the premise and thought it started well but ultimately fell flat because she wanted more details. The author waited to long to incorporate the past through flashbacks.
The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness
A teen liked the concept but thought the execution fell flat.
I Crawl Through It by A.S. King
One reader thought this was “weirdly abstract.” Another thought it was “too bizarre for me” and couldn’t tell what was real/not real. It was just too “out there” but did make the reader think.
The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle
One reader was so intrigued by description and thought it was a ghost story but it wasn’t. She thought there were too many tangents and couldn’t relate to characters. Another reader didn’t like that the main character falls in love with her stepbrother who she thought was her twin. “Ew.” But another reader thought it was intriguing and beautiful. She enjoyed the suspenseful cliffhangers at end of chapters and liked how it highlights teen’s struggles.
Do you know teens who have had strong opinions about any of the nominated titles? Are you a teen who loved or hated one of the books? Share in the comments!
— Molly Wetta, currently reading The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin