My simple, spoiler-free review of The Ocean at the End of the Lane, a new must-read by Neil Gaiman.
This is not a list of best selling books for teens; a walk down the YA isle at Target could provide that. Instead, this list includes books that are great both in their craft and in their importance. Here you will find novels with heart and depth. This is a list of books that will impact the lives of teens beyond TV remakes and desktop wallpapers. Some of these novels are popular, but all of these novels are great.
10 Great Fiction Books for Teens
10. Jenny Pox
This is the only Indie novel on my list, partly because most of the Indie novels I have read are definitely genre fiction. This novel, Jenny Pox, by JL Bryan, is a fantasy novel, but it is also an important piece of literature about identity, guilt, and the gullible nature of our society.
Jenny Morton is a high school student in rural Georgia who is isolated from her peers by a deadly power. This curse, one that took her mother in childbirth, leaves Jenny lonely and plagued with guilt. When she meets Seth, a popular boy with a similar secret, she connects with another human being in a very special way. It’s the villain, however, that makes this novel impossible to put down. The wicked, manipulative Ashleigh shows a ruthless side of humanity and shines a spotlight on how easily we allow ourselves to be manipulated.
The Paranormals series is fun and addictive, but book one, Jenny Pox, is a work of art.
9. The Perks of Being a Wallflower
In the 11th grade, a friend recommended I read The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. It was the first novel I had ever read that acknowledged the realities of twenty-first century teens and celebrated the outcast.
Charlie is an introvert who writes letters to the reader telling the story of his first year of high school. Several months before, Charlie’s only good friend, Michael, took his own life. Charlie doesn’t think he can rely on his family for support because he believes that they just don’t understand him.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is at times funny, at times sad, and nearly always profound. It tells a story of abuse, drugs, sexuality, coming of age, and simply how awkward it is to be a teenager. The story is packed with references to movies, music, and books, and Charlie’s selections are all great. If for nothing else, read TPOBAW to make an excellent reading list.
Stardust, by Neil Gaiman, is a difficult book to categorize. There is a trade paperback that is simply a novel, but the best edition of this book is the version that includes copious illustrations by Charles Vess.
Stardust, made into a movie in 2007 starring Michelle Pfiefer and Claire Danes, tells the story of Tristan Thorn, a young man with a strange origin who promises to venture over the wall to the world of fairy to fetch a fallen star for a girl he thinks he’s in love with. When he finds the star, however, he learns that she has a seemingly human form. Tristan journeys across the world of fairy with Yvaine, the star, and meets witches, pirates, and magical creatures.
The important part about Stardust isn’t the beautiful art or Neil Gaiman’s wit. Like with every great book on this list, it’s a coming of age tale. Tristan has to strike out on his own to find out what kind of man he ants to be. It also makes an important statement about the adolescent infatuations that we often mistake for love.
7. The Books of Magic
This is a comic book. There, I said it. The Books of Magic is a Neil Gaiman comic book/graphic novel about a young boy who looks like Harry Potter before Harry Potter and has the possibility of becoming a powerful sorcerer. It features four excellent artists (including Charles Vess!) and a whole bunch of DC Universe Cameos (like Zatana and Constantine).
The boy, Timothy Hunter, goes on an almost Christmas-Carol-Like journey to become a well informed participant in his own fate. He is to be shown the world of magic before deciding if he wants to embrace his powers or reject them. It is a powerful story because, though everyone seems to have a strong opinion about what they want for Timothy, the decision is ultimately up to him.
It’s an important statement about our own fates: adults may all have grand plans for us, but when we come of age, the choice is ours. To find out what Timothy choses, you’ll have to read!
6. Ender’s Game
Ender Wiggin lives in a world that has survived an alien invasion. The the “buggers” are gone, the threat of their return little more than a spooky story to sell masks for kids. At the start of this Orson Scott Card masterpiece, Ender is chosen for battle school on a space station. The government needs him, and so Ender is whisked away at age six to train for military service. From the beginning it is clear that Ender is an extremely gifted child.
Whereas most of these novels are more traditional coming of age tales where a character learns what he/she is made of, Ender’s Game is a bit more complicated. Ender Wiggin grows into a leader of men, but his entire education is a manipulation by the military, shaping him into exactly what they need.
Oh. And Harrison Ford is going to be in the movie.
5. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian
Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian tells the story of Junior, a boy who lives in a reservation, surrounded by alcohol-fueled deaths and apathy. When Junior gets his mother’s textbook in class and realizes that his text book is that old, he gets angry and throws the book at his teacher. This action leads to Junior going to a public school off the reservation to receive a better education. As a result, he is an outcast in his white school for being a Native American and an outcast on the reservation for being a deserter.
Junior’s story is both tragic and hilarious. For reluctant readers there are also cartoons to break up the text.
4. Looking for Alaska
Looking for Alaska by John Green is set in Birmingham Alabama. In fact, as I write this post, I am sitting just up the road from the real-life boarding school that Green attended and based his setting for Looking for Alaska on. It is John Green’s first novel, and if you intend to read it, you had better buy some tissues.
Miles “Pudge” Halter lives in Florida, but decides to go to boarding in Alabama. He is a bit of a loner, but his room mate is a trouble-maker who will not let Miles blend into the background. It’s when he meets a girl, Alaska Young, that his life is changed. Alaska is the definition of a free spirit and Miles is in love. Miles and company stumble through school, tangling with drugs, sexuality, practical jokes, and social drama.
And then something bad happens.
If I go any further and explaining why this novel is important, I’ll give it away. Read it and find out what happens.
This is another comic book! Craig Thompson’s autobiographical graphic novel is a story of guilt and growth. Craig Thompson grew up in a conservative Christian home, being told that his art wasn’t important by Sunday School teachers and having guilt drilled into him. With different adults in his life preaching their own interpretations of the bible, Thompson, a child, is confused. A hilarious scene mid-book shows Thompson and his little brother getting into a pee fight (yes, it’s as bad as it sounds) that turns suddenly sad as they end the night washing off their shame.
As a senior in high school, Thompson took a trip to visit a girl he met at church camp, and through the story of these weeks and intermittent flashbacks, we see how Thompson was crippled by guilt, lost his faith, and found it again in more loving, accepting, and moderate terms.
Trigger warning- this book is about rape.
Melinda Sordino is entering high school as a pariah. At an unsupervised summer party, Melinda called the police. Melinda’s friends never stop to ask why, but join the rest of the school and openly shunning her. Over the course of the novel, Melinda slips into depression and self-neglect before clawing her way out of the darkness and coming to terms with her assault.
Speak is a book about very serious matters, but it is not without humor. Melinda’s insights on high school are biting and hilarious.
Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak is an important piece of young adult literature because rape is a very real problem that students need to be taught to approach with compassion. Most importantly, it teaches victims that the only way to take back power is through speaking out about sexual assault.
1. Paper Towns
That’s right, TWO John Green novels! I believe that John Green is perhaps the most important young adult writer since SE Hinton, and he’s loads more talented.
I firmly believe that Paper Towns is the standard of meaningful Young Adult literature. The characters are real and flawed and the high school drama– the stuff we hope to leave behind as adults– only serves the themes.
So much of fiction is filled with the paper girl, the indie head-f*** girl who is only flawed in a good way, and the wooden boy who only becomes a real boy through her off-beat shenanigans. This novel is about that flawed, sometimes dangerous fantasy. We see other people as animals or Gods, but Green wants us to see them as people. We may never be able to walk a mile in their shoes, but we can open our eyes and see.
On Saturday, the Strickland family (the younger) hosted an All Hallow’s Read party. It was a lot of fun and I want to share some of the highlights of the night to get you in the Halloween spirit and convince you that book parties are the new black.
The party featured book-themed costumes, book-themed food, Cards Against Humanity (I know, breaking theme), a candy bar, and a Dirty Santa-style scary book swap.
We dressed up as book characters. My friend Scott came as Little John, my husband was Arthur Dent, I was Jenny “Pox” Morton, and my friend Grady was something for a man-fiction Monster Hunting series. There were a few characters I didn’t know (which started great conversations!) and a few characters that weren’t from books but were accepted and loved anyway. We even dressed up my mutt, Apollo, as Peeta from The Hunger Games.
(Click thumbnails to enlarge images).
Everyone brought a book-themed dish to share. We had Solent Green (Cake), Prim’s Goat Cheese, Elven Lembas Bread, Hogwarts Pumpkin Pie, Parcel Day Apple Sauce, Bran’s “Pigeon” Pies, and more. People were encouraged to bring a variety of foods so that it wasn’t all candy (because the average age at the party was 26, not 19). Every dish had a card with its name. We ate well and nothing was left over at the end of the night.
Decorations were simple. I replaced a few pieces of art in my living room with silhouettes on metallic painted canvas (Sherlock Holmes and Frankenstein). Candles and pumpkins (traditional Halloween) littered tables and shelves. The pile of books for the swap served as their own decoration and flying keys hung over the table with the food. When the AC kicked on, they fluttered in the current and “flew.”
The Book Swap:
We played our book swap like a Dirty Santa (wrapped gifts, stealing, etc.) Some friends took the Dirty Santa bit to hear. Along with copies of Jenny Pox, John Dies @ the End, and The Call of Cthulu, were a book of “real” UFO sightings and Twilight. Nobody stole Twilight, but we did enjoy flipping to random pages and reading out loud (for Lols.)
This brings me to my conclusion. The book swap was cheap (the gifts ranged from 99¢ thrift store books to $12 Amazon finds) and tons of fun. It lead to lots of laughs, great conversation, and everyone got something new to read. I recommend adding a book swap to your next Halloween party. Heck, I recommend adding a book swap to your next Christmas party. Why get a cheap candle set that doesn’t even smell nice while burning, when you can get a book? Even terrible books can be amusing to the right audience.
So, Mr. Gaiman, I tried your new tradition. I like it. Happy Halloween.
The Tuesday before Christmas, this was exactly the topic on NPR as I drove to work. “Who had a good year in 2011?” They were looking for general answers for people, places, companies, and things. I realized that every answer I wanted to call in with was tied to the literary world, so I decided to borrow their topic and make a list.
Here are 11 people who had a great year in 2011. We’ll count down from ten (if you do the math, that means there’s a tie somewhere).
10. Jeff Bezos– Amazon.com had a fantastic year and so must have Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon. The Kindle picked up more steam than ever before and made it onto the threat radar of The Big 5 publishers. They launched the Kindle Fire, Amazon’s first color Kindle, as well as the Kindle Lending Library. At least $6 Million has been set aside for the lending library next year, giving great benefits for Indie Authors who give the Kindle an exclusive for at least 90 days (this is where you’ll first find my NaNoWriMo novel, tentatively titled Perish). The Kindle Fire’s exclusive grab of certain classic digital comics prompted Barnes & Noble, in an unwise move, to try and boycott certain printed comics in protest. By doing that, they obviously drove those sales to Amazon.com. Even the hate they received from other book sellers meant good things for Amazon. It meant that the competitions is scared.
9. Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman– We were excited over the 2010/2011 transition to hear that film adaptation of The Hobbit had been green-lit and that Peter Jackson was set to direct. The announcement that Martin Freeman would portray Bilbo Baggins was met with cheers and almost no criticism. Then it was announced that Benedict Cumberbatch, who broke out in Sherlock last year, won the role of the voice of Smaug (as well as the voice of the Necromancer). These two men have been filming in paradise (New Zealand) all year and finally, in the last weeks of 2011, we got a peek at the fruits of their labour. Tolkien fans have nothing but hope for these two films and nothing but praise for the casting choices. Congratulations, boys!
8. Bob Harras– Bob, the editor of DC Comics, took a BIG risk in 2011. What could be worse than a stagnant pool of fans? Pissing-off that pool. When DC comics announced a complete universe relaunch this summer, there were skeptics. Marketers worried that DC fans would see the move as a big middle finger. After all, who wants to see the comics they’ve followed for years start over from square one? What enthusiast wants to start over with stories that are taking it slow and spelling it out to drawn in newbs? Luckily, DC’s move went well. They saw a huge surge of sales from old and new fans and the surge has kept up through the fall and early winter. They had the chance to anger a lot of people (like my husband, who is not OK with grey-area Superman), but they won more fans than they lost.
7. Neil Gaiman– Neil Gaiman got married this year. Twitter nerds rejoiced at the nuptials of Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer, singer of the Dresden Dolls. On top of matrimonial happiness, Neil saw some great career highs in 2011. The American Gods 10th anniversary audio book was recorded and released. A pilot for a series based on the hit book is in pre-production for HBO. There are too many other wins for Gaiman this year, so I’ll just point out one that Gaiman will surely remember for the rest of his life– Neil got to write an episode of Doctor Who. Mind you, he originally wrote it for Season 5 (2010). It was bumped to Season 6 and Gaiman was given the opportunity to work with a new character, Rory Williams, who Gaiman’s script ironically dubbed “the pretty one.” Neil’s episode, “The Doctor’s Wife”, is a fan favorite that aired May, 2011 and featured a personified version of the Tardis, called “Sexy.”
6. Kathryn Stockett– Back in 2009 Kathryn Stockett finally published The Help. It was one of those stories that got pitched to countless agents and editors before finally being accepted. In 2011 the film, starring Emma Stone (Zombie Land, Easy A, and upcoming The Amazing Spider-Man), received a 75% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. That may not be a stellar rating when compared to films like Toy Story 3, but the critics who liked it must have been the ones who mattered. The critics who didn’t like it seemed to share the pointless complaint that the people who would benefit most from seeing this film (racists) wouldn’t see it. It preaches to the choir. So what? It’s still important. Despite the 25% of naysayers, The Help wrangled the most SAG award nominations (four) this year and made the short list of predictions for most of the other major awards shows this upcoming season. This is great for Stockett, who gets to rub elbows with the Hollywood elite and benefit from a book-sale bump. The Help, with a little help from the #1 film release, became the #1 New York Times best seller as well as the best seller on Amazon and Barnes & Noble for both eBook and Paperback. Cha-ching!
5. Rooney Mara– This uncommon actress started off 2011 at the Academy Awards. You may remember her as the girl that got away in the best picture nominee, The Social Network. She gives Mark Zuckerberg a severe tongue-lashing in the opening scene. If you’ve ever had to reject an arrogant nerd who is claiming that you’re dumping him because of the nerd part and not the arrogant part, you will love this speech. This year Rooney Mara stars in the American adaptation of Stieg Larrson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. The early reviews for David Fincher’s film are incredibly positive for both Mara’s performance and for the film as a whole. It’s the self-proclaimed feel-bad movie of the year. Even if it doesn’t yield any awards this winter, I would guess it was worth it to snog Daniel Craig on camera.
4. Harry Potter Fans– I cheated here by choosing a group instead of an individual. I could proclaim that JK Rowling had a great year, but I think the fans reaped the biggest benefits. Early this summer we were teased about a thing called Pottermore, and this July the beta opened. I still have not gotten in, but friends who have entered, thoroughly enjoyed the experience. True fans always jump at the chance for more Rowling-created content. On top of the Pottermore news, fans got news of a West-Coast theme park and got the final movie in the 8-film series. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 was the best film yet. Ralph Fiennes and Alan Rickman earned oscar buzz and 96% approval on Rotten Tomatoes from critics. Fans were a bit tougher on it, giving it a 92%. The 3D conversion was the first example of good 3D I’ve seen in cinema and Alan Rickman kept breaking my heart. It was beautiful, well-paced, and aside from angering me with implications of uncanon Luna/Neville love, it was perfect.
3. Terry Strickland– Artist, Terry Strickland, is the CEO of Matter Deep Publishing and shot the cover photos for the Olympia Heights series. She is an amazing artist and will be launching her first art book in 2012. 2011 has been a good year for Terry Strickland. She was featured in 8 magazine and news articles, including American Art Collector and Poets and Artists. She was a finalist in multiple art competitions and won the cover contest for the March 2011 issue of Professional Artist Magazine with her portrait “Voice of the Tiger” (seen below). She showed at a number of galleries, finding great success at the Women Painting Women show in Charleston. She already has a number of shows lined up for 2012. Terry Strickland blogs about her art at http://terrystricklandart.blogspot.com
2. Amanda Hocking– At Christmas 2010, sales exploded for Amanda Hocking, who reached the estimated $2 Million mark in sales in April of this year. She joined the Kindle Millionaire club and became an idol to independent authors. Hocking drew some criticism for signing on with an established publisher, but she maintains that she did it so that she could focus on writing more and less on marketing. How did she do it? She put out a ton of books that people (teen girls) want to read and made herself super available on social networks. You can follow Hocking on Twitter, where her witty tweets entertain nearly 10,000 followers. Amanda Hocking is a name of hope in my house. She proved that you don’t need a Big 5 publisher to make it big.
1. Blake Northcott– In 2011 Blake Northcott put out her first book as a Kindle Exclusive. Vs. Reality is a comic-book style novella. It’s the first of a series that has been put on hold because of even more success. Northcott’s 20,000 follower Twitter army helped to boost her sales and made Vs. Reality one of the top Kindle books. For a few shining hours, Vs. Reality was ranked higher than Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets on the Kindle charts. In England it is in the top 10 for comic/superhero books. Even better, Blake’s success through social media wraps up 2011 with a book deal for a werewolf series that promises to be nothing like Twilight. Luna will accompany a TV pilot that is being pitched to the major broadcast networks. Blake is another inspiring example of a self-made author. And she’s hilarious, too.