Monday, January 17, 2011

Top 5 teen reads of 2010

List by Danielle
"I don't know about you, but I'm kind of fed up with realism. After all, there's enough reality already; why make more of it? Why not leave realism for the memoirs of drug addicts, the histories of salt, the biographies of porn stars? Why must we continue to read about the travails of divorced people or mildly depressed Canadians when we could be contemplating the shopping habits of zombies, or the difficulties that ensue when living and dead people marry each other? We should be demanding more stories about faery handbags and pyjamas inscribed with the diaries of strange women. We should not rest until someone writes about a television show that features the Free People's World-Tree Library, with its elaborate waterfalls and Forbidden Books and Pirate-Magicians. We should be pining for a house haunted by rabbits."
~ Kelly Link

In 2010, I found out that one of the easier ways to keep reading in the cracks and crannies of time left while raising two pre-schoolers was to a) read short stories and b) read teen fiction. It's no hardship - teen fiction is a treasure trove of smart, insightful writing, memorable characters and twisty-turny plots. When I'm reading adult fiction, I'm a big fan of fantasy, horror and paranormal, and it's no news that teen lit is going through a mighty big supernatural phase right now, so there's plenty to love.

Hand in hand with this rediscovery of the goodness of teen fiction goes my dependence on the Teen NextReads eNewsletter, which delivers a smorgasbord of tempting titles to my inbox every month. Every month! TOO MUCH. But too much of a good, good thing.

Just FYI, not all of these were published recently; two were great older titles by authors that I read for the first time last year.

Also enjoyed in 2010:
Marcelo in the real world by Francisco X. Stork
Calamity Jack by Shannon Hale & Dean Hale; illustrated by Nathan Hale
Inkheart by Cornelia Funke

When you reach me / Rebecca Stead (2009)
As her mother prepares to be a contestant on the 1980s television game show, "The $20,000 Pyramid," a twelve-year-old New York City girl tries to make sense of a series of mysterious notes received from an anonymous source that seems to defy the laws of time and space.
I found this unusual tale through Publishers Weekly, where it was a big favourite amongst booksellers, who found it was practically selling itself by word-of-mouth. Smart and funny, with a fair amount of sadness mixed in, 'When you reach me' reminds me of the whimsical, bittersweet sci-fi stories I read as a kid. For younger teens.

High tide / Anna Mackenzie (2003)
A group of high school students sign up for a tramp led by a teacher they all respect. The tramp is long and hard and tests the mettle of some of them, but it is what happens once they reach their destination that provides the breaking point for some and shows the strength of others.

The first book I'd read by Kiwi author Mackenzie, who was a speaker at the 2010 Writers and Readers Festival. A wilderness survival story that just rockets along at a good pace, with a likeable schoolgirl narrator whom I found it easy to identify with, and a nice sense for the coastal NZ setting. I really enjoyed this, and hunted up the rest of Mackenzie's novels after this, but 'High tide' remained my favourite.

Last night I sang to the monster / Benjamin Alire Sáenz (2009)
Zach is 18. He is bright and articulate. He's also an alcoholic and in rehab instead of high school, but he doesn't remember how he got there. He's not sure he wants to remember. Something bad must have happened. Something really, really bad.

Nothing like what I usually read, a friend recommended this highly after picking it from a NextReads newsletter. It really got to me emotionally, both the situation of the narrator, and the poetic way the author describes the internal life of a boy in rehab. Zach's middle-aged room-mate, Rafael, is a vivid presence in the story and offers a great deal of the story's hope for change.

The ghosts of Ashbury High / Jaclyn Moriarty (2010)
Student essays, scholarship committee members' notes, and other writings reveal interactions between a group of modern-day students at an exclusive New South Wales high school and their strange connection to a young Irishman transported to Australia in the early 1800s.

This was one of my 'trolley-finds', foraged from the trolleys in the cataloguing department, with a striking cover and an intriguing premise - a novel pieced together from student essays on gothic fiction? It was my first brush with Jaclyn Moriarty, too, and though I've now read her Ashbury High books in almost perfect reverse order, this is my favourite. Funny and ultimately very moving, I adored the character of Em; it's like reading essays written by a cross between Clueless' 'Cher' and Legally Blonde's 'Elle'.

Pretty monsters : stories / Kelly Link (2008)
Kelly Link has lit up adult literary publishing and Viking is honored to publish her first young adult story collection. Through the lens of Link's vivid imagination, nothing is what it seems, and everything deserves a second look. From the multiple award-winning 'The Faery Handbag', in which a teenager's grandmother carries an entire village (or is it a man-eating dog?) in her handbag, to the near-future of 'The Surfer', whose narrator (a soccer-playing skeptic) waits with a planeload of refugees for the aliens to arrive, Link's stories are funny and full of unexpected insights and skewed perspectives on the world.

Wow, Kelly Link! Why did I take so long to read your fabulous stories! Weird and funny and scary and smart and yes, sometimes a bit slow-moving for those with little patience... I loved them all. Creepy and SUPER WONDERFUL.

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