Monday, July 30, 2012

Kid Stuff (But Awesome for Adults, Too)

I've listened to some super-good YA books this year. And I have outside proof that the books I'm going to write about are great ones - they all made it onto the "Best-Ever Teen Novels" 100 title short-list that NPR Books came up with this month. So, obviously I'm brilliant, and also you should read these books.

Start with The Fault in our Stars by John Green (which I listened to on audio, read by Kate Rudd. Although it's a great audio - I'm always a fan of Rudd's proficiency with teen voices - the book has some major tear-fest moments, which is mighty inconvenient while driving or trying to get my job done or whatever.) Anyway, TFIOS is a gorgeous, emotion-packed, wry, deep, fun book. About kids with cancer. Our narrator, Hazel, is a terminal teen, which, okay, isn't really a laugh-riot. But she's also just a teen, and a pretty engaging one. Smart and funny and, of course, sarcastic (as all the best teens are.) (Note to my teens: I love your sarcasm. Guess whether or not I am being straightforward.) Anyway, there's a boy - the beautiful Augustus - and books and video games and a Cancer Kids Support Group and hospitals and tulips and, all in all, I want to insist you read it without totally giving away the plot. Lots of people insisted I read it before I got around to it, and I now formally apologize to all of them for taking too long.

So when you've dried your eyes, move on to The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart. Frankie is another bright teen, and her intelligence lands her in some serious hot water when she uses it for nefarious purposes. As a student at the formerly all-male prep school that her father attended, she led a fairly shadowy existence until she decides that the still all-male secret society her dad belonged to ought to be infiltrated. Specifically, by her. She can't break into the ranks, but she does manage to wrest control of their actions, directing an escalating series of campus pranks that - well, these things never end up quite textbook. The novel is her detailed confession after things go wrong, and Frankie's voice has tons of wit, brash charm, and more than a smidgen of social commentary. Tanya Eby's narration of the Frankie's journey into herself is fun, smart, and perfectly gauged to the text. I keep pushing this book on people, and so far no one has pushed me back, so I think I can safely say that you, too, will adore reading it.

Not yet sick of exceptionally smart teen girls? Good. Because Robin Wasserman's The Book of Blood and Shadow is next on my list for you. This is a quest, complete with academic puzzles, strange prophetic Eastern Europeans, and murdered friends. Nora and her best friends and her perfect new boyfriend have a lovely time translating ancient letters and manuscripts for a Latin professor, until the professor is the first in a string of murders that sets her on a journey to Prague, beset by secret societies (I do love a secret society) and chased by police. The worlds here are exquisitely drawn, and Wasserman draws you so deeply and steadily into her web that you are captivated before you realize it. Narrator Emily Janice Card's voice is fluid and graceful, despite the plethora of languages in the book, and her pacing and tone during the many tense scenes is, frankly, just a little too chilling at times.

And before we leave Prague, let's settle in with Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke and Bone, audiobook read by Khristine Hvam. Did I mention that this is another book about a teenage girl who doesn't quite fit into her world and finds herself on a quest full of danger and self-discovery? This girl is Karou, who, as it turns out, maybe isn't all that human, despite her almost-normal student life in Prague. Her blue hair, inability to tell lies, access to wish-granting charms, and the fact that she was raised by a demon who frequently sends her through doors in his shop into other cities so she can collect teeth for him all point to a certain otherness about her. But she doesn't know who - or what - she is, and when those doors from her demon families' domain all start bearing the same black-handed mark, she has more questions than ever. Hvam's bright, edgy voice mirrors Karou's emotions and adds depth to Hvam's multi-faceted, imaginative, fascinating world. This is one of those audiobooks that kept me up nights listening, and I am eagerly awaiting the second book in the series, out in November. Read this, so you can tap your foot impatiently along with me, won't you?

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