Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Best YA Fantasy of the Year

Angela Mann organizes the youth events at Kepler's Books, a 56-year-old independent bookstore in Menlo Park, California. She is passionate about books, an enthusiastic champion of new authors, and the person I turn to when I need a recommendation for recent fantasy YA literature. The following seven books are her picks for the best fantasy books for the young adult set this year. And while the first two are not technically aimed at young adults, Angela thinks they fit perfectly into the category of "crossover" titles, meaning books that chameleon nicely between the world of adults and the world of almost-adults.

If you have a chance to visit Kepler's, make sure to pick Angela's brain for more titles you may have missed. You can also read more of her thoughts and get in touch with her by way of the BookBind, the blog she runs for Kepler's about teen literature.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

by: Ransom Riggs

Jacob grew up with his grandfather’s stories of monsters and an orphanage that saved him. And when his grandfather dies, Jacob thinks he sees a monster in the woods. With his dying breath, his grandfather tells Jacob to find the bird, in the loop, get to the island, tell them what happened, and there he will be safe. But it turns out that a bomb hit the orphanage in 1940 and all that remains is a shell. So how did his grandfather have a letter from them sent just 15 years ago? This is a haunting, thoroughly disturbing read that is also achingly beautiful. And the unforgettable vintage photos work with the text, making this book stand out in a sea of look-alikes.

The Magician King

by: Lev Grossman

Quentin, Julia, Elliot, and Janet are now the kings and queens of Fillory. But Quentin is listless--he wants more than a perfect, but dull, royal life. He wants an adventure, the chance to be a hero, a quest. A search for a hare leads to him sailing to an island at the edge of the world with Julia, and ultimately trying to stop magic from disappearing. I loved Julia's story the most. It's a dark, twisted account, and she takes center stage in this sequel: angry, brilliant, bitter. The Magician King is smart, funny, dark, terrifying, and provocative--a tale of the making of a hero and of magic itself that should not be missed.

Anna Dressed in Blood

by: Kendare Blake

Cassio Lowood hunts and kills the dead, as his father did before him. Anna should have been no different. She has viciously killed anyone who has tried to step inside her house--except Cas. Why did she spare him? Will he be able to kill her? I could not put this book down. At times downright scary, this is a tale full of haunting images, witches, curses, and voodoo (oh my!). This is a story to savor… but with the lights on!

Daughter of Smoke and Bone

by: Laini Taylor

Karou is a blue-haired art student in Prague who fills notebooks with drawings of fantastical creatures. She can pass through hidden doorways to an office where these creatures not only exist, but also brought her up. But after Karou sneaks through a door she shouldn’t have touched and meets a seraph in Marrakesh, handprints appear etched in all the doorways. The doors burn down and Karou no longer has a way through.

Once in a while, you read a book that stands out, that is different, and that you can’t stop thinking about. I loved this book. I couldn’t put it down. It is dark and edgy, powerful and imaginative, unsettling and different. Full of mystery and sizzle, this vivid, beautiful book should not be missed.

Luka and the Fire of Life

by: Salman Rushdie

When Luka’s father falls into a sleep so deep no one can wake him, an insubstantial version of his father, Nobodaddy, tells Luka he must steal the Fire of Life, something that has never been done before, to save him. With his dog named Bear and his bear named Dog, Luka doesn’t hesitate, making allies along the way and ultimately living through his father’s stories.

Hard to compare to anything, this is an adventure, an ode to inter-generational love, a place where the magical and the real worlds collide. It includes mythological creatures from almost every culture. It touches on truth and freedom, talks about the power of storytelling, the importance of the imagination and family, the nature of time, and, as you’d expect, it is beautifully written.


by: Caragh O'Brien 

Birth Marked was one of my favorite reads of last year. The harsh environment of the Enclave stayed with me for a long time, as did Gaia, the girl who stood against the authorities. In Prized, she flees into the wasteland with her sister, looking for the village her grandmother was rumored to have found. But she is captured and taken to Sylum, a matriarchal community with a strict set of rules where fewer and fewer girls are being born and no one knows why or what to do about it. Gaia is such a wonderful heroine, strong and stubborn with a profound sense of justice. You know she will do the right thing, whatever the consequences. I liked Prized every bit much as Birth Marked. The world building is just as complex and the storyline just as intense. And O'Brien, like Gaia, never takes the easy path. In this year of dystopian novels, this one stands out for me.

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer

by: Michelle Hodkin

It starts with a birthday, an Ouija board, and a risky night spent in an abandoned asylum. Then Mara wakes up from a coma, her friends are dead, and she has no memory of anything that happened that night. She has flashbacks, hallucinations, and nightmares, and ultimately her family moves to Miami to help her move on. But she's falling apart. How do you move on when you keep seeing your dead best friend in the mirror? What is wrong with Mara? She has no explanation, no one to turn to, and disaster seems to follow her. This is a thrilling, keep you on the edge of your seat kind of book, more horror story than anything else. It twists and turns and although you can guess at much of it, it still takes you by surprise. This is by turns edgy, scary, and curl your toes romantic. And oh, the ending. I can't tell you more but you need to read this.