Here are our featured holiday recommendations for teens for 2014! If you’ve been following us for a while, you’ll notice that the list is quite a bit longer than last year’s. This is because a) I have no self-control when it comes to awesome books, b) Colleague A was vociferous in support of her favorites, c) Other Colleague A was also vociferous in support of her favorites, and d) Other Other Colleague A supported Other Colleague A and e) I have no resistance in the face of All Colleagues A telling me to recommend awesome books (see a)).
Without further ado or alphabet soup, I give you: The Recs!
100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith (Simon & Schuster, $17.99). After the first girl he’s ever loved moves away, a heartbroken Finn Easton embarks on a road trip with his best friend Cade Hernandez to visit their college of choice in Oklahoma. When an unexpected accident happens and the boys become unlikely heroes, they take an eye-opening detour and learn how to write their own destiny. Everyday human behaviors and growing pains meet the improbable-but-true; the most memorable beats of the story occur at the intersection of the tragic, even the grotesque, with the absurd. Smith’s writing is funny and sad and emotionally true at all once. Five starred reviews! Ages 14+.
Blue Lily, Lily Blue (Book 3 of The Raven Cycle) by Maggie Stiefvater (Scholastic, $18.99). Blue Sargent has found things. For the first time in her life, she has friends she can trust, a group to which she can belong. The Raven Boys have taken her in as one of their own. Their problems have become hers, and her problems have become theirs. The trick with found things though, is how easily they can be lost. The third installment of the projected Raven Cycle quartet proves that Maggie Stiefvater just keeps getting better and better. Start with The Raven Boys, follow that up with The Dream Thieves, and then dive into Blue Lily, Lily Blue! Though we’re waiting impatiently for the final book, each of the three so far is a breathless, intensely satisfying reading experience. “One unexpected and wonderful surprise after another . . . a marvel of imagination.” —Booklist, starred review. Five starred reviews total! Ages 14+. Click for our review of The Dream Thieves!
Complicit by Stephanie Kuehn (Macmillan, $19.99). Jamie Henry lives with his wealthy adoptive parents in affluent Danville. He’s a talented pianist and honors student, with a bright future and even romance on the horizon. He sees a therapist regularly to deal with lingering amnesia and trauma surrounding his birth mother’s violent, tragic death. But Jamie’s sister, Cate, didn’t cope so well: she’s just been released from juvenile detention. Now that Cate is free again, Jamie fears that she’ll return and destroy his peaceful life. Something in their shared buried past still festers beneath the surface: something that drives the story through to an unputdownable conclusion. A masterful suspense novel by Morris Award-winning local author Stephanie Kuehn! Three starred reviews. Ages 14+. Click for our full review!
Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge (HarperCollins, $17.99). Betrothed to the Gentle Lord, the demon who rules her country, seventeen-year-old Nyx Triskelion must now fulfill her destiny and move to the castle to be his wife–and to kill him. Nothing goes according to plan: Nyx is not the good, dutiful youngest daughter we know from fairy tales, and the Gentle Lord actually has a sense of humor about being a hated demon tyrant. Working together, they might actually be able to save the realm from the sinister forces that hold it isolated from the rest of the world. This is an unusual take on “Beauty and the Beast,” with creative mythology, a shivery romance, and luscious prose. Ages 14+. Click for our full review!
The Family Romanov by Candace Fleming (Random House, $18.99). *Nonfiction Pick!* From the acclaimed author of Amelia Lost comes the riveting story of the Russian Revolution as it unfolded. Figures familiar to the historical imagination come to life: Russia’s last tsar, Nicholas; his beautiful, reclusive wife Alexandria; the compelling Rasputin; the hemophiliac Romanov heir, Alexei; and the elusive Anastasia. Deftly maneuvering between the lives of the Romanovs and the plight of Russia’s peasants–and their eventual uprising–Fleming presents a fascinating portrait, complete with inserts of period photographs and primary-source material. “A heartbreaking page-turner for YAs who prefer their nonfiction to read like a novel.” —Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, starred review. Six starred reviews total! Nonfiction. Ages 12+.
I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson (Penguin, $17.99). A gorgeously written story of first love, family, loss, and betrayal for fans of John Green, David Levithan, and Rainbow Rowell. Jude and her twin brother, Noah, are incredibly close. At thirteen, isolated Noah draws constantly and is falling in love with the charismatic boy next door, while daredevil Jude cliff-dives and wears red-red lipstick. But three years later, something has happened to wreck the twins in different and dramatic ways. Only by finding their way back to each other can they begin to heal. “Noah’s narration is dizzyingly visual, conjuring the surreal images that make up his ‘invisible museum’; Jude’s is visceral, conveying her emotions with startling physicality… Here’s a narrative experience readers won’t soon forget.” —Kirkus. Three starred reviews. Ages 14+.
In Real Life by Cory Doctorow & Jen Wang (First Second, $17.99). *Graphic Novel Pick!* From acclaimed teen author Cory Doctorow and rising star cartoonist Jen Wang, In Real Life is a sensitive, thoughtful look at adolescence, gaming, poverty, and culture-clash. Anda loves playing Coarsegold Online, but her perfect fantasy world gets complicated when she befriends a “gold farmer”–a poor kid whose avatar illegally collects and sells objects within the game. Anda is forced to examine the real-world cost of a virtual reality. Though gamers will love the world of Coarsegold, you don’t have to be a gamer to love In Real Life, which combines Doctorow’s signature technological activism with Wang’s beautiful, impeccably paced art. A starred review from Booklist! Ages 12+. Click for our full review!
Prince of Shadows by Rachel Caine (Penguin, $17.99). This book is exquisitely crafted, a balancing act between swashbuckling romp and nuanced, moving take on Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet starring Benvolio Montague and Rosaline Capulet. “Beginning with the premise that friend Mercutio is gay and in love with Tomasso, a shy scholar, the book sets up a series of events that will result in Mercutio’s famous dying words, ‘a plague on both your houses.’ Benvolio…has a new talent: He’s a cat burglar known as ‘The Prince of Shadows,’ using his skills to exact revenge on those who have done him wrong… Simply superb.” —Kirkus, starred review. Highly recommended to anyone looking for a high-quality romantic adventure–or to anyone who knows that Romeo & Juliet is full of dirty jokes. Pair with Rosamund Hodge’s Cruel Beauty for a double dose of gorgeous historical-fantasy romantic adventure! Ages 14+.
The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang & Sonny Liew (First Second, $17.99). *Graphic Novel Pick!* Hank Chu’s dream is to be a grocer, like his father. Alas, his mother–a “tiger mom” if ever there was one–has other ideas. She’s determined that he become a superhero. And thus is the legendary Green Turtle born. Yang puts his own spin on the 1940s comic book hero in this fresh, incisively smart origin story. Sonny Liew’s lively illustrations complement the story’s humor and bring the characters vividly to life. Three starred reviews! Ages 12+.
The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim by E.K. Johnston (Carolrhoda, $17.95). A Morris Award Finalist! In an alternate world where industrialization has caused many species of carbon-eating dragons to thrive, sixteen-year-old Owen Thorskard is all that stands between small-town Canada and a deadly dragon infestation. Owen and his faithful bard-slash-friend Siobhan McQuaid, that is. Can Owen become the hero the world expects him to be? Can Siobhan’s songs detailing Owen’s deeds get any airtime on national radio? With training taking over their lives, can either of them survive high school? The cleverly developed world with its carbon-hungry dragons and celebrity slayer culture provides the backdrop for a quirky, refreshingly original tale of great friendship, heroism, and algebra tutoring. “Humor, pathos and wry social commentary unite in a cleverly drawn, marvelously diverse world.” —Kirkus, starred review. Three starred reviews total! Ages 12+.