It's been a great year for children's books (and it's not over yet), and it's always fun to see which of our favorites get recognized during awards season.
Kicking it off is the 2013 National Book Award Longlist for Young People’s Literature, released today:
• Kathi Appelt, The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp
• Kate DiCamillo, Flora & Ulysses
• Lisa Graff, A Tangle of Knots
• Alaya Dawn Johnson, The Summer Prince
• Cynthia Kadohata, The Thing About Luck
• David Levithan, Two Boys Kissing
• Tom McNeal, Far Far Away
• Meg Rosoff, Picture Me Gone (BookPage review coming in October)
• Anne Ursu, The Real Boy
• Gene Luen Yang, Boxers & Saints
Got any favorites out of this bunch?
Stay tuned throughout the rest of the week for National Book Award longlist announcements for nonfiction (Sept 18) and fiction (Sept 19)!
Young adult mysteries and thrillers tap into some really creepy ideas—often with the help of a supernatural element—that keep teen readers burning through the pages. Few characters in YA mysteries are like cops and spies—they're not out looking for trouble, but it finds them anyway, and the pursuit of the truth is impossible to resist. And this year, it's all about the girls.
17 and Gone by Nova Ren Suma
Seventeen-year-old Lauren has visions of girls who have gone missing—always without a trace. As the missing girls reveal their stories to Lauren, she becomes obsessed with one girl in particular: Abby Sinclair, who vanished from summer camp. What happened to her? Is she dead like the other missing girls? A chilling psychological thriller with whispered warnings for young readers.
The Caged Graves by Dianne K. Salerni
It's 1867, and Verity Boone has just moved to Pennsylvania to live with her father and meet her future husband. But when she discovers that her mother and aunt, who both died 15 years before, are buried in unhallowed ground outside the cemetery and are guarded by a cage, she begins to dig into the mystery of the two women's deaths—and the secrets of her father's town. A great historical mystery.
What We Saw at Night by Jacquelyn Mitchard
Three kids with Xeroderma Pigmentosum (or XP, a disease that requires complete avoidance of sunlight) take to the nighttime rooftops, practicing Parkour and slighting their own vulnerability. But one night, they spy through an open window a possible murder in progress. The daredevils begin an investigation, and it seems to be no limit to their ability to risk their own lives.
This Is W.A.R. by Lisa and Laura Roecker
Revenge is sweet for an unlikely alliance between four girls. When popular girl Willa Ames-Rowan is pulled from the lake at Hawthorne Lake Country Club, everyone knows golden boy James Gregory was the last person to see her alive. Willa’s friends Sloane and Lina, Willa’s sister Madge and outsider Rose team up to solve Willa's death and make the killer pay.
The Waking Dark by Robin Wasserman
Coming September 10
The publishers are calling this one an homage to Stephen King, and that's dead on. This horror thriller finds 12 people dead, killed by five murderers who were all friends and family. Only one murderer didn't take her own life, and she has no idea why she did it. It falls to five survivors to stop whatever's happening. A terrifying, thrilling read.
Anyone up for something creepy?
A few years ago, YA lit fans were calling for more sci-fi, and it's safe to say that the genre answered. With YA's built-in fanbase for apocalyptic thrillers, the opportunities were endless: zombies, contagions, aliens, interplanetary romances and doomsdays that can be thwarted only by 16-year-olds.
Characters in high-action teen lit are right at home a hundred years in the future on Mars (Losers in Space, Black Hole Sun), surviving on space stations (Glow, Mothership), waking from stasis to discover a strange new future world (Across the Universe, A Long, Long Sleep) and thwarting dominate species (The Lunar Chronicles).
But this summer, it gets personal.
YA sci-fi comes to the home front as alien invasions sweep this summer's crop of teen lit. Naturally, many are set post-invasion, because honestly, YA dystopia will never die.
Here are a few of the big ones:
The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey (Putnam, 5/7)
Aliens quickly and mercilessly destroy the majority of the human race in attacks called "Waves." The few survivors include Cassie, who runs along an abandoned highway in search of her missing brother, completely unaware that the aliens' most terrifying strike is yet to come. Think The Host, only much better. Read our review from the May issue.
Icons by Margaret Stohl (Little, Brown, 5/7)
The aliens in this one barely show their faces—but that's what makes them creepy. The survivors of this post-alien invasion world are so scared of their overlords that they perpetuate the aliens' horrors willfully. Four teens with a special immunity to the aliens are Earth's only hope. Fans of Stohl's Beautiful Creatures series will enjoy this one.
In the After by Demetria Lunetta (HarperTeen, 6/25)
Amy and a toddler she calls "Baby" survive after aliens invade Earth and kill almost all of the population. But when Amy and Baby are miraculously rescued, everything is not as it seems, and she begins to discover the truth behind "Them."
Neptune's Tears by Susan Waggoner (Holt, 6/25)
Call this one an alien invasion of the heart. Set in London in the year 2218, an empath named Zee falls in love with David, a member of a mysterious alien race. Sure, there's some fighting, but it's mostly fighting for their love. An alien invasion tale for the romantic set.
And one more to look forward to: The fourth book in Pittacus Lore's I Am Number Four series, The Fall of Five, comes out on August 27.
Are you a fan of YA sci-fi? Are you excited for the upcoming thrilling alien reads?
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
St. Martin's Griffin • $18.99 • ISBN 9781250012579
Published February 26, 2013
Ages 13 and up
Pretty much every YA novel that comes out these days has at least some element of romance. With all those twitterpated hormones in teen readers, it's practically a requirement for YA characters to find their soulmate at 16. There is no growing up with typical fictional true love: It is eternal and halting, with ever after more a natural progression than a rare gift.
But it rarely works like that, doesn't it? That's what makes young love such an incredible thing. Its intensity is nearly impossible to maintain.
That's why I found Eleanor & Park so special. Neither character really believes in ever after. They do, however, get to experience every surprising moment of young love, every second of anticipation as they fall for each other. Rowell's new book for teens is one of my favorite depictions of teenage love, and adult readers will find it to be a wrenching, wonderful reminder of their own first loves.
Keep an eye out for my interview with the author in the March issue of BookPage! And read on for an excerpt from one of my favorite parts, when Eleanor and Park hold hands for the first time. From Park's perspective:
Holding Eleanor's hand was like holding a butterfly. Or a heartbeat. Like holding something complete, and completely alive.
As soon as he touched her, he wondered how he'd gone this long without doing it. He rubbed his thumb through her palm and up her fingers, and was aware of her every breath.
Park had held hands with girls before. Girls at Skateland. A girl at the ninth-grade dance last year. (They'd kissed while they waited for her dad to pick them up.) He'd even held Tina's hand, back when they "went" together in the sixth grade.
And always before, it had been fine. Not much different from holding Josh's hand when they were little kids crossing the street. Or holding his grandma's hand when she took him to church. Maybe a little sweatier, a little more awkward.
When he'd kissed a girl last year, with his mouth dry and his eyes mostly open, Park had wondered if maybe there was something wrong with him.
He'd even wondered—seriously, while he was kissing her, he'd wondered this—whether he might be gay. Except he didn't feel like kissing any guys either. And if he thought about She-Hulk or Storm (instead of this girl, Dawn) the kissing got a lot better.
Maybe I'm not attracted to real girls, he'd thought at the time. Maybe I'm some sort of perverted cartoon-sexual.
Or maybe, he thought now, he just didn't recognize all those other girls. The way a computer will spit out a disk if it doesn't recognize the formatting.
When he touched Eleanor's hand, he recognized her. He knew.
Do you make room on your TBR list for excellent YA reads? Will you check this one out?
Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys
Philomel • $17.99 • ISBN 9780399256929
On sale February 12, 2013
When we blogged about Sepetys' new book a month ago, BookPage readers were so excited. So, in honor of Teen Read Week (October 14-20), we're reading her upcoming novel, Out of the Easy, set in the French Quarter of New Orleans in 1950.
Sepetys made major waves with her first novel, Between Shades of Gray, the story of a teenager named Lina in 1940s Lithuania. Lina and her family are forced by the Soviet secret police to leave their home and travel in a miserable, crammed train car to labor camps in Siberia. In an interview, Sepetys shared why she felt the world needed to learn about the Baltic deportations during Joseph Stalin's regime:
“It’s as if the voice of an entire generation was swallowed. . . . The story sort of went dark and now the people that still have ties to it are in their late 80s. A whisper is left and we’re just about to lose it.”
Sepetys has made a home of edgy historical fiction with Out of the Easy, the story of plucky, resourceful Josie Moraine. She's the daughter of a brothel prostitute, and she dreams of getting out of NOLA for good. However, a murder leaves Josie scrambling for someone to trust. Atmospheric, clever and sharp, Out of the Easy is the rich follow-up we all hoped Sepetys would deliver.
Dive into the first chapter, when Josie flashes back to her first day in New Orleans:
My mother's a prostitute. Not a filthy, streetwalking kind. She's actually quite pretty, fairly well spoken, and has lovely clothes. But she sleeps with men for money or gifts, and according to the dictionary, that makes her a prostitute.
She started working in 1940 when I was seven, the year we moved from Detroit to New Orleans. We took a cab from the train station straight to a fancy hotel on St. Charles Avenue. Mother met a man from Tuscaloosa in the lobby while having a drink. She introduced me as her niece and told the man she was delivering me to her sister. She winked at me constantly and whispered that she'd buy me a doll if I just played along and waited for her. I slept alone in the lobby that night, dreaming of my new doll. The next morning, Mother check us into our own big room with tall windows and small round soaps that smelled like lemon. She received a green velvet box with a strand of pearls from the man from Tuscaloosa.
"Josie, this town is going to treat us just fine," said Mother, standing topless in front of the mirror, admiring her new pearls.
Are you one of the many BookPage readers who look forward to Out of the Easy?
Also, be sure to check out our four favorites for Teen Read Week.
These days, tales of mermaids in young adult fiction are a far cry from The Little Mermaid. Mermaids are more like monsters than princesses, and their stories are some of the most violent and graphic in the teen genre. Nevertheless, it's clear readers love them, because the wave of mermaid YA shows no signs of slowing.
However, I've noticed a slight transition in the sea creature trend, and it might give mermaids a run (swim) for their money—the selkie. Based in Scottish and Irish folklore, selkies appear as seals in water but can also take human form. In some myths, if you hide the selkie's seal skin, it belongs to you and cannot return to seal form.
So as we head into 2013, I'm wondering who will win in this throwdown: Mermaids vs. Selkies.
Below, the contenders.
Fathomless by Jackson Pearce
This re-imagined Little Mermaid introduces Lo, a creature of the sea who still clings to her remaining human life. But in order to be human again, she must convince a boy to love her—and then steal his soul.
Teeth by Hannah Moskowitz
Rudy and his family move to a remote island to save his sick younger brother—an island where the fish have strange healing properties. He spots a merman (well, merboy) off the coast, learns that the fish-kid's name is Teeth and discovers that Teeth has creepy, violent secrets. Look for it in January.
Plus, a few others: Wrecked by Anna Davies, Of Poseidon by Anna Banks, Sarah Porter's Lost Voices series and Tera Lynn Childs' Fins series.
The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan
In this dazzling book (our Children's Top Pick for September), all of the women on Rollrock are seal-women. The witch Misskaella uses her connections with the seals to introduce the men to seal-women. There are few YA books—whether about selkies, mermaids or something else—that better capture the sea than this one from Printz Honor-winning Lanagan. Read our review.
And a quick peek into the children's books coming out in 2013 proved that the selkie myth is no one-hit wonder—and I predict I'll stumble across a few more before its June pub date:
Tides by Betsy Cornwell
This debut from Cornwell tells the story of high school senior Noah and his adopted teenage sister, Lo (probably not the same Lo from Fathomless . . .). Noah tries to save a girl from drowning, and she probably turns out to be a seal-woman, or something like that.
Okay, readers: How do you feel about the new nature of mermaids in teen lit? And in the battle of selkie vs. mermaid, which sea creature wins? What makes the better YA novel?
The Diviners by Libba Bray
Little, Brown • $19.99 • ISBN 9780316126113
On sale September 18, 2012
Ages 15 and up
With the recent news that Baz Luhrmann's take on The Great Gatsby (Fitz, help us) has been pushed back to Summer 2013, you'll need something to tide you over until then. I know you've already purchased your flapper dress and bedazzled your dancing shoes, but you can still go crazy about the Roaring Twenties with the help of Printz Award-winning author Libba Bray's newest, The Diviners.
This atmospheric novel is technically for teens, but it'll fit right in on your TBR list with Laura Moriarty's The Chaperone and Emma Straub's upcoming Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures (9/4).
Evie O'Neill comes to glamorous NYC in 1926, where she's thrilled to explore speakeasies, shopping, Broadway and more. The only downside is she has to live with her uncle, curator of the Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult. Not to mention, Evie has a supernatural secret of her own: She can uncover details about people by holding any object that belongs to them. When a girl is found murdered and branded with a cryptic symbol, Evie might be able to use that power to find a killer.
And that's only the beginning! Check out an excerpt from the opening gin party, where Bray draws you in with her pitch-perfect '20s flair:
The hostess, a pretty and spoiled young thing, notes her guests' restlessness with a sense of alarm. It is her eighteenth birthday, and if she doesn't do something to raise this party from the dead, it will be the talk for days to come that her gathering was as dull as a church social.
Raising from the dead.
The weekend before, she'd been forced to go antiquing upstate with her mother—an absolutely hideous chore, until they came upon an old Ouija board. Ouija boards were all the rage; psychics have claimed to receive messages and warnings from the other side using Mr. Fuld's "talking board." The antiques dealer fed her mother a line about how it had come to him under mysterious circumstances.
"They say it's still haunted by restless spirits. But perhaps you and your sister could tame it?" he'd said with over-the-top flattery; naturally, her mother lapped it up, which resulted in her paying too much for the thing. Well, she'd make her mother's mistake pay off for her now.
The hostess races for the hall closet and signals to the maid. "Do be a darling and get that down for me."
The maid retrieves the board with a shake of her head. "You oughtn't to be messing with this board, Miss."
"Don't be silly. That's primitive."
With a zippy twirl worthy of Clara Bow, the hostess bursts into the formal living room holding the Ouija board. "Who wants to commune with the spirits?" She giggles to show that she doesn't take it seriously in the least. After all, she's a thoroughly modern girl—a flapper, through and through.
The wilted girls spring up from their club chairs. "What've you got there? Is that a wee-gee board?" one of them asks.
"Isn't it darling? Mother bought it for me. It's supposed to be haunted," the hostess says and laughs. "Well, I don't believe that, naturally." The hostess places the heart-shaped planchette in the middle of the board. "Let's conjure up some fun, shall we?"
Everyone gathers 'round. George angles himself into the spot beside her. He's a Yale man and a junior. Many nights, she's lain awake in her bedroom, imagining her future with him. "Who wants to start?" she asks, positioning her fingers close to his.
"I will," a boy in a ridiculous fez announces. She can't remember his name, but she's heard he has a habit of inviting girls into his rumble seat for a petting party. He closes his eyes and places his fingers on the scryer. "A question for the ages: Is the lady to my right madly in love with me?"
The girls squeal and the boys laugh as the planchette slowly spells out Y-E-S.
"Liar!" the lady in question scolds the heart-shaped scrying piece with its clear glass oracle.
"Don't fight it, darling. I could be yours on the cheap," the boy says.
Now spirits are high; the questions grow bolder. They're drunk on gin and good times and the silly distraction of the fortune-telling. Every mornin', every evenin', ain't we got fun?
"Say, let's summon a real spirit," George challenges.
Be sure to check out some of the other great crossover YA novels from this year!
I had to smile when I noticed a deal for a book called Hold Me Closer Necromancer in a recent edition of Publisher's Lunch. Lish McBride, you have set the bar high for the title of the sequel, which was also sold to Henry Holt for Young Readers.
Since the book won't be appearing until fall, there's no cover art to share, but here's a plot summary from McBride's agent's website:
A Seattle fast-food worker discovers that he is a necromancer, exposing a supernatural world of harbingers, werewolves and satyrs and sets off a showdown with a local necromancer who makes his living raising dead celebrities and politician for cash.
Author (and double Gemini!) Bonnie Hearn Hill launches a new young adult series, Star Crossed, this month. In a guest post, she explains how astrology can help a writer get to know her characters. Share your thoughts on her post in the comments by Friday, April 2, and you'll be entered to win a copy of the first book in the series, Aries Rising.
When I first started trying to write fiction many years ago, I was told by a well meaning teacher that I needed to decide if I was writing action-driven fiction (thrillers), voice-driven fiction (literary) or character-driven fiction. That didn't make sense to me even then. Isn't all memorable fiction character-driven? An intriguing character can save a mediocre plot, but the best plot in the world can't rescue a mediocre character.
Can using astrology help you create memorable characters? I think so. It's helped me, but then I haven't relied on it alone. So you need a proactive protagonist, and you say, "Okay, Aries is the Ram, a Fire sign. That's proactive enough." True, but Aries is not always a finisher. Or you say, "I want an emotional sign, so I'll choose a Water sign like Scorpio." But many Scorpios are too secretive to be proactive. You need to know more about your character than her Sun sign. Much more. That information should come from her.
Some of my writer friends believe in the character charts that ask everything from hair color to family history. Those lists make me feel as if I am taking a multiple-choice test. "Eyes? Blue! Hair? Black!" Although they request all of the pertinent information, the quizzes seem too left-brain to let me create organic characters.
When I began my Star Crossed young adult series, I had to hear the voice of Logan, my protagonist. I asked her to write me a letter. I've done this before when characters elude me. I ask them to write something like: "Dear Bonnie, My name is Logan McRae, and I was born . . . I live in . . . I have no siblings, and my mom spends most of her time on a golf tour. I miss her, but I'm happy she's living her dream. At least that's what my dad and I tell each other. My problem now is . . ."
These letters from my characters are usually five or more pages. Of course, I resist this exercise because I want to do the "real writing," but I know the writing won't be real until I truly know my character. Once I do it, and once I hear my character telling me about her life, I can say, "She's not an Aries. This character is an Earth sign who is willing to work hard for what she wants. She sounds like a Capricorn."
Use all of the tools you have. Start with the character's voice, and then you'll be ready to shade in the rest with astrology. Here's the down and dirty on the different signs. Don't let it limit you, though. As Logan learns in the Star Crossed series, the Sun sign is not the sum of a person's personality.
Fire signs: Aries, Leo, Sagittarius
They get things done. Aries rams. Leo likes attention. Sadge travels and talks.
Earth signs: Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn
They keep things stable. Taurus is stubborn but loyal. Virgo is detail-oriented and sometimes critical. Capricorn works really hard and may worry about money when young.
Air signs: Gemini, Libra, Aquarius
They are the communicators. Gemini spreads the news, often without filtering it. Libra speaks frequently of self as if trying to understand what to do. Aquarius speaks from an intellectual plane and with a desire to do well for all.
Water signs: Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces
These are the emotional signs. Frequently they have difficulty breaking from the past. They can also be supportive friends. Cancer is loyal to family and will destroy anyone who challenges or threatens family members. Scorpio is secretive with unfinished business, and loyal to the end. Pisces is a dreamer who has earned the doormat reputation. He's also one of the most spiritual and creative signs.
Young adult author Barry Lyga recently signed a deal with Little, Brown for a book that Publisher's Marketplace described as "'Dexter' meets 'The Silence of the Lambs' for teens, about a teen boy who uses his killer instinct, inherited from his serial killer father, to help solve a series of gruesome murders." The book, I HUNT KILLERS, will be published in spring 2012.
Lyga is a rising star in the field of teen fiction, with four YA novels under his belt, all set in the town of South Brook, Maryland. I wonder if I HUNT KILLERS will take place in South Brook as well — and if so, should fans of his earlier books fear for the lives of their favorite characters? But even if the place and people are all new, Lyga's ability to create fully realized and believable characters will no doubt have me hiding under the covers with a flashlight, frantically turning the pages to find out who survives.
Related in BookPage: A Q&A with Lyga about his most recent book, Goth Girl Rising.
And a question for readers: What was the scariest book you read as a teenager?