Ten Best Books for Teens: 2013. Just typing those words makes me cringe. Any book is a triumph in my, well, book. It represents years, sometimes decades, of an author's life. Yes, all that toil has been compressed between two covers and served up for you to polish off in a matter of days, if not hours. But let's not forget: It's an accomplishment worthy of great respect.
That said, having read nearly a hundred books for teens and tweens over the past year, a handful really stayed with me. They represent the best of the bunch, and deserve a place on the reading list of teens...of all ages.
What do Vivian and Molly have in common? Similarly-troubled pasts, for one thing. And a deep yearning for family. When this book opens, they’ve met under slightly contrived circumstances, but their individual journeys, as girls in search of a home, eventually coalesce into a lovely, nearly-perfect ending.
Part mystery, part coming-of-age narrative, Picture Me Gone tells the story of Mila, a precocious 12-year-old who’s traveled from England to the US to help her father track down his missing friend. Things, however, are not what they seem, and as Mila and her father get deeper into the mystery of his friend’s disappearance, Mila learns some surprising lessons about adulthood, and the adults in her life. Not a fast-paced story by any means, but a deeply immersive and thought-provoking reading experience.
Normally, my favorite books of the year are titles that I can imagine myself (or someone else) reading multiple times. The Milk of Birds isn’t one of those stories—not because it’s not good, but because the issues it deals with are heartwrenching in the extreme. There’s nothing about Sudanese refugee Nawra’s experience that’s gratuitous, and the details of her terrible encounters with the Janjaweed are deftly handled. But this book is definitely a wake-up call—and a prayer that every girl like main character Nawra may find strength, hope, and some version of healing.
I am not a vampire fiction fangirl. In fact, if you asked me what sends a book almost straight to the donation bin, it’s when the word “vampires” appears anywhere in the description. So imagine my surprise when I found myself staying up until all hours to read The Coldest Girl in Coldtown. (I might have even kind of, sort of liked the vampire love interest. But mainly I liked the tough-as-nails protagonist, Tana.) The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is 2013’s surprise hit.
By far the lightest book on this list, Boy Nobody offers plenty of action and suspense—but also a surprisingly good dose of metaphor. Benjamin is a teen assassin—a product of The Program, which taught him to kill and disappear. No mess. No questions. Until now. Read this book for the fun and the thrills—or for the coming-of-age narrative, which really resonates. Bonus: The next book in the Boy Nobody franchise is due out in 2014!
In a year of multiple publicized teen bullying deaths, there may be no more important book for parents, teachers—and teens. Sophomore Piddy Sanchez is minding her own business at school one day when she learns that the terrifying Yaqui Delgado has targeted her for a good beating. Why? Piddy’s not sure, and this book doesn’t reveal much more about Yaqui’s motive. What it does reveal are the devastating affects of bullying, and the power that comes from saying, finally, “I need help.”
16-year-old Lucy Beck-Moreau isn’t sure what she wants out of life. After tossing a promising career as a piano prodigy out the window, she thinks she’s ready to be a normal teenager. Unfortunately, her actions seem to indicate otherwise, and this compelling book is the story of Lucy’s reconciliation between her head and her heart. The least plot-heavy of Sara Zarr’s wonderful novels, but definitely still worth a read.
Each year, there’s usually one book that I can’t quite bring myself to read. Too much hype. Too many people gushing about it. It’s not so much that I’m a contrarian; it’s more that I fear the giant let-down. In spite of my misgivings, I’m so glad I finally did read Eleanor & Park, because this story of two quirky outcasts did not disappoint. (Sheepish) video review to come in 2014! In the meantime, if you haven’t read this book already, please do!
If you’ll pardon the pun, this is one of the 2013 titles that I can’t stop evangelizing about. Aaron Hartzler’s superb memoir, about growing up in a strict, fundamentalist Christian family, manages to be both witty and poignant, as he probes his parents’ extreme choices in childrearing and examines how they affected his life. I can’t think of a more perfect book about being an outcast—and still finding a reason for hope—than Rapture Practice.
From the moment I read Out of the Easy at the beginning of 2013, I knew it was going to be one of my top ten books of the year. 50+ books later, I can say that it’s not only one of my top ten books, but my favorite book of 2013. Out of the Easy’s intoxicating setting, combined with its plucky female heroine, Josie—a girl determined to escape her ne’er-do-well mother’s destructive vortex—makes for a story that springs right off the page, and one that you’ll remember into 2014, and beyond.