The Modern Teen’s (and Adult’s!) American Library

Industrious, precocious teens once had to raid their parents’ bookshelves to find stories that satisfied their need for complex characters, challenging ideas, and riveting plot lines. That was, of course, back in the days before this amazing teen-lit breakthrough. Now, my friends, it is quite the opposite. Not only are Young Adult dystopian books like The Hunger Games, Cinder, and Divergent shooting up to the top of the bestseller lists, but there are even MFA writing programs now geared toward writing for teens and children. First teachers and parents, and now the rest of us have gotten our hands on this burgeoning genre and we won’t give it back! Well, lucky for us all, there’s plenty to go around. The following are some of my favorite new crossovers you might have missed.

Where Things Come Back, by John Corey Whaley
Even before it won the Printz Award, I’d been hearing a quiet, excited buzz about this book, and for good reason, too. A story about grief and second chances, Where Things Come Back is as powerful as it is surprisingly hilarious. In Cullen Witter’s small Arkansas hometown, the summer before his senior year, strange things are happening. The town has become obsessed by the alleged reappearance of an extinct woodpecker, while a missionary has lost his faith and Cullen’s cousin has overdosed. But it seems to Cullen that nobody cares or really notices that his gifted brother has disappeared.

Grave Mercy, by Robin LaFevers
In the 1400s, Brittany was still its own country, constantly fighting off France’s relentless advances. In Robin LaFevers’s historical fantasy, all that stands between Brittany’s freedom and its subjugation is a bunch of nuns at a very strange convent. The God of Death’s sworn handmaidens, these women are highly trained assassins. On her first mission, seventeen-year-old Ismae is sent to bring a traitor to justice, but what seems a simple kill is just the first snowfall of an avalanche of betrayal, treachery, and unexpected love.

Jasper Jones, by Craig Silvey
I can safely say that Jasper Jones was my favorite YA book of 2011, and now that it’s just come out in paperback, I can raise it up over my head and crow about it some more. It’s a creepy whodunit reminiscent of To Kill a Mockingbird, a witty homage to Harper Lee with some Mark Twain for humor, a sweet and wise first-love story…and it all begins with a stone’s throw and a desperate favor from the town’s favorite scapegoat, Jasper Jones.

Revolution, by Jennifer Donnelly
Andi hasn’t been able to cope with her little brother’s death and, truth be told, neither can her parents. Her mom has zoned out; her dad has thrown himself into his work; but when Andi is on the verge of failing out of school, her father, as a last resort, drags her along on his business trip to Paris. There, Andi discovers a diary from the days of the French Revolution written by a young woman named Alexandrine. The diary begins just before the revolution when actress Alex performs for the royal family for the first time and becomes tied to the fate of the doomed dauphin. Switching back and forth between these two perspectives, this beautiful historical novel has enough thrills and romance to keep you breathlessly flipping pages, but is so well-researched that you end up accidentally learning all about the French Revolution.

Chime, by Franny Billingsley
Briony feels responsible for the terrible things that have happened to her family and as a penance, and to protect those around her, she has vowed to keep her powers secret and to hate herself always. When change comes to her small village in the form of an engineer who wants to drain the marsh, the ancient ones send an illness out to the children of the village. When her sister succumbs, Briony knows she will do whatever it takes to make her sister well again. “Exploring the powers of guilt and redemption, Billingsley has crafted a dark, chilling yet stunning world. Exquisite to the final word,” said Booklist.

Pink Smog, by Francesca Lia Block
The Weetzie Bat series are some the strangest and most vividly written books I’ve read, but while Block is whimsy incarnate, her bubblegum style belies the intensity of her stories. This is the original urban fantasy where the characters themselves, by sheer personality alone, create whirls of magic in their own lives. Pink Smog is a prequel to the entire series, so if you don’t know who Weetzie Bat is, get in on Block’s unique mythology at the very beginning of it all.

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