Genre: YA Speculative Fiction
Why I Loved It: Because it was dark and magical, but sparingly so. The narrative voice was sharp and subtle, deftly crafted in a way that pulled me in completely without getting in its own way. I'm not sure if that will make sense to anyone but me, but that's how this book read for me. I'm not always a lover of stories about angels and demons, but this one felt fresh and accessible: this was less about religious exploration and more about what it is to be an outsider in your own life. I also happen to LOVE books that utilize dramatic irony well, especially when it comes to two love interests heading towards each other and NOT EVEN knowing it.
The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
Genre: YA Speculative Fiction
Why I Loved It: I love this author so, so much that I find it difficult to imagine disliking anything she writes. In fact, I love her so much that I read this book for the second time over Christmas, and loved it even more than I had the first time. Maggie's writing is so distinctive, and so beautifully and lyrically crafted. Her characters in this book felt incredibly real, exhibiting tragic flaws and beautiful vulnerabilities that made them a pleasure to follow around even when they were pissing me off. The premise (I don't want to spoil it--just read the prologue, would you?) is one of the most unique I've come across in a while. It has all of the crucial ingredients that make me fall in love with a book: great writing, a compelling voice, dark edges, unique characters, and angst. It it has real twists and mysteries, too. I was sad both times when I turned the last page.
Nightwoods by Charles Frazier
Genre: Adult Literary Fiction
Why I Loved It: I was afraid that, after Cold Mountain, I could never love another book of his as much. To my surprise, though, this book worked a kind of spell on me. It has all of Frazier's characteristic hallmarks of style: a lush, detailed setting, a calm and beautiful voice, and an atmospheric pull that makes it incredibly satisfying to read slowly and savor. He deals with issues of abuse and brokenness in a way that is beautiful, but never gratuitous. It isn't often that I read a book that makes me believe in literary magic, but this one certainly did.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Genre: I'm stumped...let's say YA Historical Fiction with a speculative twist?
Why I Loved It: I had the pleasure of finishing this book while sitting on a bench in Switzerland. I also had the pleasure to teach this book to 9th graders, and watching them fall in love with the strange and devastating world of this story. I don't know that I have ever read something so carefully--or uniquely--crafted. You fall in love with the characters and the place they inhabit, and you can't look away from them even when horrible things are happening in their lives. It creates a commentary around the Holocaust that feels new, and devastating, and also filled with hope. I feel lucky to have had the change to read it so closely and talk about it with my students.
Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn
Genre: YA Contemporary
Why I Loved It: This short novel felt so incredibly stylized--the way teens talked and moved and felt--while managing, at the same time, to feel incredibly real. I loved following the two characters around as they stumbled their way through their feelings. I read most of this book out loud to a friend as we drove through the South, which brought home what an incredible job these writers did at creating two very distinct voices for their characters that still managed to meld and flow together.