It's been quite an eventful year for YA, and we're only halfway through the year. As young adult movies took over movie theaters with The Fault in Our Stars and Divergent, authors like John Green also dominated the discussion in literary blogs about the merits of young adult literature. But none of that distracted from the release of several stunning, standout YA novels. In fact, it seems to only have fueled the fire.
It's important to note that John Green did not release a novel this year and, save for any Beyoncé-style surprise drops, he will not. While Rainbow Rowell is releasing an adult novel, she is also not contributing to YA in 2014. Neither did Veronica Roth, Suzanne Collins, or J.K. Rowling (unless you count her alter ego). All of the "big names" literary critics like to drop when discussing YA have stayed out of the fray this year, making way for other names to skyrocket to the top. And if the first six months are any indication, other authors have certainly come out swinging.
In the spirit of these amazing releases, here are our picks for the best YA novels of 2014, so far. While they are mostly in no particular order, our pick for best of the best YA book of the year is included at the very end. Can it hold up over the next six months?
1. Panic by Lauren Oliver (HarperCollins)
Back in March, I had this to say about Lauren Oliver's Panic:
I read Panic in one night, sometimes white-knuckled, and other times lost in thought about the themes Oliver presents. Only a skilled writer would be able to infuse these large questions about fears and poverty into a thriller story about a high school game, and Oliver is that writer.
Now, a few months later, I still think back to my experience reading Panic and the pure joy and emotion I felt throughout. Oliver has crafted a near pitch perfect reading experience; it's thrilling, but it makes you stop and think, too. I still think about the town Carp that she built and how true is reads, no matter the circumstances surrounding it.
2. Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith (Dutton Juvenile)
I included Andrew Smith's unique novel in a list of LGBTQ books everyone should read, but over the course of the year, it has really stood out as defying labels of any kind. Yes, the male protagonist happens to attracted to his male best friend, and yes, it happens to be the apocalypse in the story, but it would be hard to pin it down as just a story about a gay teenager or just a story about the end of the world. In fact, when it came out, Kirkus said it was "about everything that really matters." If your office is doing a mock Printz Award draft for 2015 (and whose office isn't?), be sure you have this one near the top.
3. No One Else Can Have You by Kathleen Hale (HarperTeen)
Though it came out in the very beginning of this year, I'm still thinking about Kathleen Hale's debut novel No One Else Can Have You . If you ever wondered if murder mysteries could be funny, Hale has answered with a resounding "Yes." And mind you, it's not rolling-on-the-floor funny like Clue, but one minute you'll be completely terrified or horrified, and the next you're giggling audibly. It takes a real craftsman to make that juxtaposition work.
4. The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson (Viking Juvenile)
Speaking of a mock Printz, you'd also be smart to add Laurie Halse Anderson's January release to your picks. As Rachel Simon wrote in her Bustle review, "It’s impossible to read a Laurie Halse Anderson novel without comparing it to Speak." Simon is so right, but I also agree that The Impossible Knife of Memory has definitively made a name for itself outside Anderson's other poignant story. Says Simon:
Anderson could add love triangles or proposals, and still, her novels would never be about love. They’d be about faith, and survival, and darkness, and truth — all the things that set Anderson apart as a writer, and make her books last with their readers long after their covers are torn and their words seared into memory.
5. This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki (First Second)
This graphic novel isn't just one of the best YA graphic novels released this year, it's one of the best YA books overall. Cousins Jillian and Mariko Tamaki created not only a stunningly illustrated novel, but one that speaks so honestly and plainly about the process (both wonderful and awful) of growing up that readers will no doubt feel twinges of nostalgia each page they turn. You may be able to read it in an hour, but you won't want it to be over that quickly.
6. Cress by Marissa Meyer (Feiwel & Friends)
Cress may not be a perfect novel, but it's a perfect read. Marissa Meyer builds such a complex, but never confusing, world chock full of fully developed, mostly female characters based on some of your childhood favorites that it's so easy to get lost in her pages and not look up for hours. It's such an incredibly fun sci-fi, twisted fairy tale story, you'll find yourself looking to catch all of the references to the original tales (Captain "Thorne"?!) and get really excited when you do. But Meyer manages not to rely too heavily on the source material, instead using her imagination to build out this entirely unique world that readers will want to stay in for many more pages. (And luckily, with news on Fairest , they will.)
7. She Is Not Invisible by Marcus Sedgwick (Roaring Brook)
Marcus Sedgwick already has a Printz Award under his belt, but he's certainly not ready to rest on his laurels. She Is Not Invisible tells a story leaps and bounds away from his winning Midwinterblood, and in a way it's a much smaller story. On the other hand, however, a story about coincidences is never small to someone who experiences them, as readers learn in the pages of his novel. Sedgwick was inspired by a coincidence of his own, one that makes its way into the novel, but the real success is his incredible portrayal of the heroine, who happens to be blind.
8. Since You've Been Gone by Morgan Matson (Simon & Schuster)
Morgan Matson's thoroughly enjoyable Since You've Been Gone is centered on teenager Emily, whose best friend Sloane disappears. But don't be fooled — this is not a mystery story. Instead Matson talks about what Sloane leaves behind for her best friend, both literal, as in "bucket list" of sorts filled with things to do, and figurative, in her spirit. Where the novel really shines is with the portrayal of the girls, who leap off the pages as if they are your best friends, as well.
9. The Truth About Alice by Jennifer Mathieu (Roaring Brook)
Jennifer Mathieu's debut novel leaves a searing mark in your brain long after you put it down. The Truth About Alice describes high school bullying as if it is only one small, small instance, but that one small instance shows everything that is wrong with how high schools and high school students operate. It's so relevant to today's society that it feels as if it is screaming to be heard, indicting schools across the United States for their behavior in this troubling trend. If you read it, you won't soon forget it.
10. Independent Study & Graduation Day by Joelle Charbonneau (HMH Books for Young Readers)
You have to hand it to Joelle Charbonneau. Even in a landscape that suffers from dystopia fatigue (and okay, sometimes downright dystopia frustration), she managed to make her The Testing series truly stand out. The two sequels, both out this year, are a refreshing change of pace from some of the existing dystopia on the shelves. The novels are truly gripping, and Charbonneau's heroine Cia Vale is not just tough, she is an academic, whose super-smarts often help her out of situations more often than her (or any man's) brawn. The stories are such a thrilling ride, you won't want to put them down.
And our pick for No. 1 YA Book of the Year (so far!) goes to...
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart (Delacorte)
I was only five pages in to E. Lockhart's We Were Liars when I put my e-reader down on my lap and yelled upstairs to my husband, "I found my new favorite book ever!" I may have been exaggerating, but when in the midst of Lockhart's absolutely stunning prose in a summertime novel about secrets, love, family, and best friends, it's really hard to see anything outside of it. It's a nearly perfect story, and it's utterly absorbing. Any novels coming out on the second leg of 2014 have a whole lot to live up to if they want to take critical and reader attention to this dazzling, and surprising, novel.
As is the case of lists such as these, there will be disagreements. Are you so happy to see a pick on this list? Who did I miss? Tweet me at @caitforestell with your thoughts!