Archives for posts with tag: young adult

Here we are again at the end of December! I’ve been bookmarking 2014 best-of book lists for weeks now. I still love the sources that I mentioned last year, but you’ll also see some new ones amongst the links below.

NPR’s Book Concierge offers 250 titles that you can browse by genre. While great if you’re stumped for your next read, I find that number overwhelming. To make it bite size, I filter for the Staff Picks. That’s a nice list.

This year I loved Ron Charles’s piece “2014: A Good Year for Book Lovers” in the Washington Post. Instead of listing favorite titles (WP did that elsewhere), Charles gives a chronology of literary milestones for the year, from the award of the Newbery Medal to Kate DiCamillo on January 27 to Ursula LeGuin’s receipt of the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters on November 19 (not all of the news was about awards, though!).

I’ve also gathered lists from various genres this year. It seems some of the more controversial titles were nonfiction (Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century, for example), but of course the most highly praised titles were fiction (although maybe it just seemed that way to me because I’m more plugged into the literary world). Titles I saw most often were The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (actually published in 2013), The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell, Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters, and of course, Redeployment by Phil Klay. Various lists are linked below, in no particular order.

Christopher Atamian, in the Huffington Post. Six Books of the Year for 2014

Brad Stulberg, in the Huffington Post. The 10 Best Health Books in 2014

Leigh Buchanan, in Inc. 10 Books That Will Make You Smarter in 2015

Maria Popova, Brain Pickings. The Definitive Reading List of the 14 Best Books of 2014 Overall

Tracy Sherlock, in the Vancouver Sun. Ten Great Novels of 2014

The Editors, Atlantic Monthly. The Best Book I Read This Year

the New York Times. The 10 Best Books of 2014

the New York Times. 100 Notable Books of 2014

the Guardian. Writers Pick the Best Books of 2014: Part One

the Guardian. Writers Pick the Best Books of 2014: Part Two

the Telegraph. The 45 best young adult books of 2014

School Library Journal. Best Books 2014: Young Adult



I picked up Divergent a couple of months ago after a friend told me she’d read it and liked it. “If you liked The Hunger Games,” she said, “you’ll like it.” Well, I had consumed The Hunger Games trilogy in less than a week when I discovered it a few years ago, so this new trilogy sounded like fun. And with Allegiant, the final piece of the Divergent trilogy, releasing in October, I figured it was an excellent candidate for some binge reading.

Some people are probably over dystopian fiction at this point given the upsurge in titles in recent years, but ever since reading Alas, Babylon as a kid, I’ve been drawn to post-apocalyptic and dystopian stories. My risk-planning mind even dreams dystopian: After the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, I dreamed that I was in a city that had been destroyed and I had to forage in the city for food and water to take back to the family I’d left hiding in a safe place. In other dreams there were catastrophic floods, bombings that destroyed my city, and even paratroopers landing in my neighborhood and running amok through the streets while I cowered under a neighbor’s porch. Such things  happen often around the world (well, maybe not the tons of paratroopers part), so it’s easy to see why my mind might want to play the “what-would-I-do-if” game. It’s about preparation. Dystopian fiction, although more outlandish on the face of things, taps into that same instinct, which is why I think it often works for me. When it’s good, it activates a primal response. You have to know how the characters are going to get out of the mess they’re in. The reader’s subconscious desire is to know what could be done were he or she ever in a similar situation.

Or maybe that’s just this reader. Ahem.

Divergent is cool because it’s set in Chicago. I love Chicago. And the premise is interesting. The society is split into multiple factions, each of which trains its members to think and operate according to a specific virtue: truthfulness, selflessness, courage, pursuit of knowledge, or kindness. Following a school-administered aptitude test, teenagers must choose which faction to commit their life to. After choosing, initiates must train in order to become full members of their chosen faction. We follow the main character, Tris, as she makes this choice and goes through the initiation process. What begins as a coming-of-age story (albeit it in a dystopian world) morphs into mystery as clues of plotting and resistance surface.

I don’t want to discuss the plot too much because that would mean introducing spoilers. There are certainly some interesting plot twists in the story. But the first and second parts of the novel–the part where Beatrice is training and going through initiation–really dragged. Some of the training seemed really pointless.  Also, the construct of the society had some holes. While it was clear that a couple of factions had a specific role in the society, it seemed that others did not. They were just there, being truthful, or just there, being friendly. And, a couple of factions really only seemed to exist in order to be functional in the plot; their “usual” role in this dystopian society was unclear.

Another problem was the style of the writing itself. It was difficult for me to engage with it.  There was far too much use of the pronoun I. Passages such as the following were not uncommon.

I WAKE TO sweaty palms and a pang of guilt in my chest. I am lying in the chair in the mirrored room. When I tilt my head back, I see Tori behind me. She pinches her lips together and removes electrodes from our heads. I wait for her to say something about the test—that it’s over, or that I did well, although how could I do poorly on a test like this?—but she says nothing, just pulls the wires from my forehead.

The novel is written in first person, of course, so how else could the author have done it? I get that. Still, it was somehow distracting for me, and I found myself getting a little tired of Tris and wondering whether the story would’ve been more compelling had we been able to get outside of her head.

A couple of weeks ago I attended the Austin Teen Book Fair, where I picked up Rats Saw God after hearing the author speak on a panel. Set in the mid-1990s in Houston and San Diego, the story follows a high-school senior, Steve York, a smart young man who’s busy smoking weed and destroying his academic career. He’s headed for summer school and late graduation until the school’s academic counselor offers him a break: Write a 100-page paper, to be turned in directly to the counselor, and Steve could get the extra credit needed to finish on time.

Not surprisingly, Steve accepts the offer. Steve’s paper is the story of himself—how he got to the place where he was when the counselor found him. The book alternates between the narrative of Steve’s life in Houston, where he spent his first three years of high school, and his senior year in San Diego. The parallel plots show us, in lockstep, how he got into a state of deep self-neglect and how he manages to resurface.

The book is full of the sharp sarcasm and whatever attitude that society often associates with teenage boys. But Steve isn’t just a flawed, hostile kid. He’s a complex character with struggles the reader can relate to. In the course of his paper, he exposes his vulnerabilities and explores his mistakes, which makes the assignment exactly the exercise in learning that the academic counselor was hoping for.

NOTE: The back cover of my edition says that this book is for ages 12 and up, but there is a lot about underage drinking and use of marijuana. There is also an explicit sex scene.