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Laura Amy Schlitz

Ten Best Books for Teens: 2014

Ten Best Books for Teens: 2014

Picking the ten best books for teens in 2014, or any year, is never an easy proposition. For one thing, it’s subjective. There are books that my bookish friends raved about this year, which failed to capture my imagination. There are titles—perhaps real winners—that simply never made it through my mail slot.

But out of the 200 or so Young Adult novels that did come my way this year—thanks to the generosity of publishers and authors—these are the ten that rose to the tippy top. With the rare exception, almost any book I feature on 60second Recap is one I’m happy to get behind. But on this list, you’ll find a collection of offerings that shouldn’t just go on your must-read pile, but also on your list for sharing and gift-giving. Read on!

The Tyrant's Daughter | 60second Book Review10. The Tyrant’s Daughter by J.C. Carleson.

Laila’s father wasn’t a dictator…was he? It’s a truth Laila has trouble reconciling—just like so many other disconcerting realities from her new existence as a refugee in the United States. But there is nothing for Laila back “home”—home being the unnamed Middle Eastern country where her uncle now holds court after a coup that killed Laila’s father and left Laila and her mother and brother to flee for their lives. This book does double-duty: It’s at once the story of being an outsider, and a peek inside a little-known world. Both stories make The Tyrant’s Daughter a compelling read—and a book for teens and adults alike.

9. Threatened by Eliot Schrefer.

Should Threatened really be on my top ten list? Well, of course—because as stories go, this was certainly among the ten best I read this year. Unfortunately, it’s also a book I’ll never be able to read again. So in that respect, perhaps it’s a slightly unusual choice. No matter. On the first go-round, you’re sure to be captivated, as I was, by the story of orphan Luc, and his mysterious benefactor, Prof, who head into the wilds of the jungle to study the elusive and unpredictable chimpanzees. Facing danger around every corner—from the Prof’s shadowy past, to the violence of the chimps themselves—Luc’s narrative is as much a tale of survival as it is a coming-of-age story. Like I said: Thoroughly captivating. But the brutality of the jungle—and my difficulty with animal stories in general—make this a novel I was glad to read only once.

scandalous sisterhood cover8. The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place by Julie Berry.

By far the funniest and most light-hearted book on this list (if you can count an opening featuring two murders as being light-hearted), The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place is equal parts hilarity, (mild) suspense, and feminism. When their headmistress most inconveniently drops dead over dinner, the young ladies of St. Etheldreda's School for Girls must fend off nosy neighbors—and the possibility of a school closing—all while trying to solve the murder, and perhaps woo an eligible young bachelor or two. Berry’s book definitely requires some suspension of disbelief, but it’s all in good fun in this romp of a tale.

7. Sway by Kat Spears.

You won’t find anything else like Sway on this year’s list. That’s because its main character’s sharp edges have turned many readers off to what’s actually a really fine piece of storytelling. Sure, high school senior Jesse Alderman is an unpleasant, manipulative, self-serving conniver when we first meet him. And this book has its fair share not just of drugs and drinking, but of foul language and bad attitudes as well. What Sway also has is a surprising amount of heart, along with the best, most honest character transformation I read in 2014. If you can get past Jesse’s initially-repellent personality, you’re in for a memorable redemption story.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart | 60second Book Review6. We Were Liars by E. Lockhart.

The buzziest of 2014’s most buzzed-about books, We Were Liars certainly deserved the hype. To say it’s a tale of romance, betrayal, manipulation, and greed is to characterize it correctly—though that description hardly begins to convey what makes this book so juicy. Here’s the top-line synopsis: Teenager Cadence, a self-proclaimed liar, has been spending summers on the Cape with her wealthy family for as long as she can remember. But now something’s wrong. Headaches. Memories she can’t quite piece together. And a family that’s splitting at the seams. Nothing heartwarming about this tale, for sure. But shock and awe? There’s plenty of that.

5. The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney.

I’ve read several books about the humanitarian crisis in Sudan, but none so powerful as Pinkney’s The Red Pencil. Written in free-verse poetry, the book opens with vivid descriptions of main character Amira’s warm family and the sometimes-onerous, sometimes-pleasant, daily tasks of their agrarian life. After a devastating attack by the Janjaweed, however, Amira must adjust to the new reality of a shattered family, life in a refugee camp, and emotions she can’t process or even release. What will allow this soulful girl’s spirit to rise and soar again? Pinkney indicates that for refugees like Amira, there are no easy answers. But education can give Amira, and so many others like her, both hope and wings. (Review to come in early 2015.)

The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson: 60second Book Review4. The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson.

Back in the very beginning of 2014, when I was trapped in a wasteland of “meh” books from 2013 and waiting for the new wave of spring releases, The Impossible Knife of Memory landed in my mailbox, and I became a Laurie Halse Anderson fangirl all over again. Not that this is a warm and happy story. Hayley’s father is dealing with PTSD, and her life revolves around his illness, and its ups and (mostly) downs. But Hayley’s story also has tenderness and humor, which keep it from veering into the territory of truly unbearable. I always feel bad for books that are released early in the year; they’re too often forgotten by year’s end. Not this book. Hayley’s story and struggles—but mostly her smart, sarcastic voice—have stayed with me, and will continue to.

3. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson.

Jacqueline Woodson’s books are the kind that land on “best of” lists all the time. And for good reason. Her storytelling is compelling, her characters vivid and alive, and her writing…well, the writer in me swoons. In Brown Girl Dreaming, Woodson chronicles her path to award-winning author, though it’s a more meandering journey than you might imagine. In fact, though Woodson always had a gift for words, she often wondered where she fit into her family of brilliant siblings, and into the world at large—convulsed, as it was during her growing-up years, with the Civil Rights Movement. I highly recommend Brown Girl Dreaming—not just as a history lesson, but also as a vibrant and lovely autobiography.

2. Say What You Will by Cammie McGovern.

Say What You Will holds the special designation of being one of the few books this year that I sat down to read…and didn’t get up until I finished. Amy’s story of living with cerebral palsy, and Matthew’s of becoming one of Amy’s student helpers (which in turn leads him to confront his own demons), isn’t the kind of book I’d usually seek out. (It sounds kind of maudlin/cheesy, doesn’t it?) Instead, this proved to be the sweetest, most relatable, and most touching book I read in 2014.

Poisoned Apples by Christine HeppermannTold in dual perspective, Say What You Will chronicles both Amy’s and Matthew’s journeys in figuring out who they are, facing self-doubt, and ultimately finding a surprising friendship (and maybe more) in a fellow outsider. If you want a book that will make you feel all the feels, this is it. (Review to come in early 2015.)

1. Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty by Christine Heppermann.

Thank you, Christine Heppermann, for writing the book that I’ve gifted to nearly every teenage girl—and many adult women—in my life. And not just because Poisoned Apples brings to light the challenges of being a young woman in a superficial, beauty-obsessed society. Because this book is smart. And Heppermann’s choice to use fairy tales as a way of conveying her feminist message feels utterly fresh, sly, and enlightened. Don’t worry about the fact that this is a book of poetry. In Heppermann’s deft hands, these poems offer all the surprise and delight of good poetry, without any pretentiousness whatsoever. I really can’t say enough good things about Poisoned Apples, so just do yourself a favor and go read it.

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