I Am Still Alive is an incredible YA pick for the reader who loves tense action and adventure. The novel fits in the tradition of other classic survival writers like Jack London and Gary Paulsen, but with a whole new, fiercer twist. The 16-year-old heroine–who becomes stranded in the far northern Canadian wilderness on her own–is complicated and realistic, both naive and badass in believable ways. The things she has to learn and push through to try to survive evoke very visceral reactions. I was gasping! Marshall is absolutely brutal when it comes to envisioning the scenarios that can and do happen when humans are pitted against the physical and emotional trauma of survival situations. My heart was both broken and strengthened by the end. If you’re looking for a riveting read to tear through in a couple days, this is it.
Emily X.R. Pan’s debut is a lovely, complex addition to modern young adult fiction. It’s rare and special in so many ways–in the fact that it’s magical realism, in its honest and multifaceted sorrow, in its brave statements on family, blame, and the realities of depression. This book changed the way I saw the world while I was reading it. The main character’s visions are immersive to that extent, and her way of understanding emotions through color is cool. The novel is a love song to Leigh’s mother, and all mothers who have left the earth to take a different form.
To Be Honest is a charming, of-the-moment young adult read. Martin creates a narrative voice around her main character, Savannah, that is realistic and lovably imperfect. It is refreshing to find a teenage heroine who is body positive and romantically confident in her larger figure. Savannah very much owns her own story. Just seeing the cover–with that big, gorgeous girl on the front–is going to mean so much to so many readers who have been waiting forever for a fictional leading lady to identify with. Her body, while such an important aspect of the book from a representation perspective, really isn’t the main focus–we see her struggle through relationships, form her identity, and cope with family tension and dysfunction. I was cheering Savannah on the whole time. As is typical in YA, there are definitely moments where characters or aspects of plot are oversimplified, but the romantic tension and family toxicity feels real and will please young readers. Candy-sweet in a good way.
Trouble is an edgy, gossipy, twisting and turning young adult read. There a real beating heart here, especially in Pratt’s beautiful and frustrating female protagonist, Hannah. I enjoyed the novel’s play on the expectations we hold others to based on reputation and appearance, much of which can be so wrong. There’s also a unique element in this book exploring how teenagers and the elderly have things in common and can be good company for each other; I LOVED the characterization of old, crotchety Neville. While the drama in this novel is notched up to ten and the believability of the plot is probably pushing it, the emotion isn’t overdone. Rather, it feels awfully real. Set in England, the story has some British slang that’s confusing at first for an American reader, but it’s nothing too hard to figure out. Some parents may be uncomfortable with how explicit the text is for a young adult book–reader be warned–but I found its portrayal of the teenage being to be honest and compassionate.
Mosquitoland is one of the most solid, playful, surprising young adult novels I’ve read in a long time. David Arnold creates a Holden Caulfield for the 2010’s in the capricious Mim Malone, a narrator whose voice reminded me acutely of my own high school journals. As Mim rides a Greyhound Bus nearly a thousand miles north, she encounters oddball characters and situations that help her piece together her view of the world, and–allowing for the wholly unbelievable mostly because I’ve ridden a Greyhound bus and know what it’s like AND because romance deserves a shot–this book pretty close to perfect. This is such a new, refreshing story and will make you laugh and cheer for Mim Malone, who defines herself as “not okay,” but ends up being so much more.
Nicola Yoon’s Everything Everything is compulsively readable candy for lovers of the young adult literature love story genre. And while its characters are a generally too witty beyond their years to be believable, and things work out a bit too cleanly to be called realistic, anyone who has ever been young and fallen disastrously in love won’t be able to resist this quick read. There is tension, intrigue, and humor here, too. Yoon’s writing is extremely enjoyable, and makes this book the perfect sugary reading snack. I read it and swooned by accident before I even knew what happened. Also: loved seeing a multiracial heroine! We need more of this.