YA Fiction

AN ABUNDANCE OF KATHERINES by John Green

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Most people have a “type.”  “Types” are often superficial, based on a few physical characteristics, or a particular type of personality.  Former child prodigy Colin Singleton’s type is linguistic: girls with the name “Katherine.”  He has dated and been dumped by nineteen of them.  And Katherine XIX truly broke his heart.

Colin and his friend Hassan decide that a roadtrip is just what Colin needs to forget his troubles and his Katherines.  They wind up in a rural town which is like a different world from their Chicago homes.  They also meet Lindsay, a girl their age who challenges all of Colin’s preconceived notions about the type of person who reads “Celebrity Living” magazine.  As Colin and Hassan join Lindsay in interviewing the locals about their personal histories and participating in local cultural activities (like hunting wild Satanic pigs), Colin tries to analyze his love life the only way he knows how: mathematically.  Who knows; if he gets this particular Theorem right, he might be able to predict the future, or maybe find a way to get K-19 back.

(If you like John Green, check out the vlog he keeps with his brother, Hank:  http://www.youtube.com/user/vlogbrothers.)

UGLIES by Scott Westerfeld

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Every since she was a Littlie, Tally Youngblood has dreamed of her sixteenth birthday–the day she will become Pretty.  Since the government started providing the Operation to everyone at age sixteen, the social hierarchies surrounding physical attractiveness have dissolved–everyone is equally Pretty.  But until she turns sixteen, Tally is an Ugly, and so long as she’s Ugly, she’s going to have fun riding her hoverboard, playing pranks, dodging the government Wardens, and sneaking into forbidden places, like the Rusty Ruins, the remnants of civilization from before.

But on her sixteenth birthday, everything changes.  Tally’s friend Shay runs away to join an underground community of Ugly rebels in a hidden city called the Smoke.  The agents at Special Circumstances want to catch Shay and destroy the Smoke, and they need Tally.  The Specials give Tally an ultimatum: help them find the Smoke, or stay Ugly forever. Unwilling to face a life of Ugliness, Tally takes the tracking device from Special Circumstances and embarks on a dangerous journey across the wilderness, following a set of cryptic clues that Shay left behind.

Uglies is the first book in a trilogy.  It was a lot of fun to read, especially if you like dystopian/sci-fi books (as I do).  The other two books in the trilogy fell a little flat for me, but they’re still worth reading.  Or you could just read the first one.  (It kind of reminds me of The Matrix: it might be better just to watch the first one because it’s excellent, and assume that the following two involve some serious action and a major overhaul of society. . . . )

If you liked Uglies, you might also like The Bar Code Tattoo by Suzanne Weyn.

THE DIARY OF A WIMPY KID by Jeff Kinney

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Greg’s parents always have brilliant ideas about how to make him a better person.  Like his dad making him play outside instead (forcing him to sneak over to Rowley’s house in order to play his video games!) and like his mom buying him this diary (it even says diary on the front of it).  But don’t worry.  He’s not going to get all mushy gushy and talk about his feelings or anything like that.  He’s just going to tell you what it’s like to be in sixth grade, dodging bullies and boredom and trying very hard to move up on the popularity scale.  Or at least, not to move down. . . .

The Wimpy Kid books are favorites among upper elementary schoolers (as well as certain librarians . . . ) and book six will be coming out this fall!

If you liked Diary of a Wimpy Kid, you may also be interested in How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida CowellThe Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger, and the Big Nate books by Lincoln Peirce.

REVOLUTION by Jennifer Donnelly

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The death of Andi’s little brother Truman has torn her family apart.  With her father in Paris with his new girlfriend and her mother slowly losing her grip on reality, all Andi has to comfort her is her music.  But when her father unexpectedly returns and discovers the state of his ex-wife’s mental health and Andi’s grades, he checks Andi’s mom into a mental hospital and whisks Andi away to Paris where she can work on her senior thesis “without distraction.”

Andi does not want to go to Paris, but once she arrives, she discovers new distractions she didn’t anticipate.   First she stumbles upon the diary of a young girl from the French Revolution who had a personal connection with the lost prince Louis-Charles.  She also meets another musician, an attractive man named Virgil who quickly becomes a friend–or perhaps something more.  As Andi gets deeper into the diary and deeper into Paris’ underground music scene, her life begins to become intertwined with the girl from the diary and the subject of her thesis, almost to the point that they become one.

This story is written for teenagers and would be of interest to anyone who enjoys books about dysfunctional families, overcoming grief, or the French Revolution.

THE LOOKING GLASS WARS by Frank Beddor

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When Princess Alyss Heart was seven years old, her life changed forever.  Her evil Aunt Redd gathered an army of card soldiers and murdered Alyss’ mother and father, securing the Wonderland throne for herself.  Alyss barely escaped through the Pool of Tears into a parallel world, where for years she was trapped in a strange land called England.  Her magical powers of Imagination failed her in this new world, and eventually the memories of her childhood faded into seeming fairytales (tales which the Reverend Dodgeson would later record and publish in a work of “nonsense” entitled Alice in Wonderland).

But Alyss cannot stay lost in England forever.  Wonderland has suffered under Redd’s totalitarian regime, and people live in darkness and fear–their only hope being the return of the child queen Alyss and her powerful Imagination.  When Hatter Madigan, the deadly milliner bodyguard, whisks Alyss back to Wonderland, she, her childhood love Dodge Anders, and a rag-tag group of rebels must find a way to free their home from Redd’s tyranny.  This book is the first in a trilogy, followed by Seeing Redd and ArchEnemy.  

The trilogy is an incredibly clever, engaging, but dark re-imagining of Wonderland (think Alice in Wonderland meets 1984). Although it is sometimes shelved with juvenile fiction, I would recommend this book more to teens and adults.

If you liked The Looking Glass Wars, you might like Cinder by Marissa Meyer or Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta.

PAPER TOWNS by John Green

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Quentin grew up next door to Margo Roth Spiegleman–the girl of everyone’s dreams. One night, near the end of their senior year of high school, Margo shows up at his bedroom window dressed like a ninja and takes him on an adventure around the town to exact revenge on her cheating boyfriend and various other offenders. The next morning, Margo has disappeared, and Quentin and his best friends, Ben and Radar, begin a quest to find her. Along the way, he discovers the real “Margo” behind the super-human image that he and the rest of the school have attached to her. He discovers her human fears and insecurities and her human flaws. He also discovers a new confidence in himself along the way.

This book is hilarious and poignant, with a wonderful mix of witty, bathroom, and slapstick humor.  The intended audience is high school age teens, but it resonates with many adults as well.

Additionally, if you are not familiar with John Green and you are a nerd, you should check out the Vlogbrothers on Youtube (John and his brother, Hank) who post several times weekly on a variety of nerdy topics.  Here’s the link: http://www.youtube.com/user/vlogbrothers.  To all of you nerdfighters out there, DFTBA.

THE TRUE MEANING OF SMEKDAY by Adam Rex

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What is the true meaning of Smekday–the day formerly known as Christmas, the day that the Boovish aliens arrived to colonize Earth, and the day the Boov left one year later?  This is the essay question that Gratuity “Tip” Tucci must answer.  The winning essay will be put in a time capsule that will be opened in 100 years. In her three attempts at writing the essay, Tip gradually reveals the story of the Boov’s arrival and the events that followed.

While trying to reach the human reservation in Florida by car, Tip and her cat, Pig, met up with a Boov criminal, who has taken as his Earth name J.Lo. (a name that he believes is a popular Earth name due to its frequent appearance in media publications).  Together they travel across the country searching for Tip’s mom, who was abducted toward the beginning of the invasion. Then Tip, J.Lo, and Pig join forces with a gang of boys who have been hiding in a secret tunnel system under Disney World, and together, they drive the Gorg (another set of invading aliens–much more evil than the Boov) out of Earth.  Throughout her story, Tip includes illustrations and pages of comics drawn by J.Lo who can’t write in English.

This book is both hilarious and poignant, a nice blend of hard- and soft-science fiction, approaching issues of race and prejudice through the blunt, sarcastic, witty voice of 11 yr. old Tip.  The book is written for an upper elementary/middle school reading level.  It is one of my all-time favorites.