Monday, June 24, 2013

The Books That Define Me as a YA Reader

[edit] - obviously, this list will change over time so I have made a Goodreads shelf to cover this topic, and you'll find many more books there.

What should you do when the reviewers who you trust are split on whether they like/dislike a book you're interested in, and you're not sure whether to trust community reviews? Sometimes you look at negative reviews, see whether some of the issues raised are those which would bother you... but sometimes you're simply surprised by one portrayal of something you generally like.

One way I've found to lessen the instances in which that happens is to compare the books that define me as a YA reader to those of my favorite reviewers. This is the closest I've ever gotten to matching my reading tastes with those of other reviewers/readers/etc. And it's helped me refine the recommendations I give to my friends and other readers.

Books that define you as a (YA) reader are not necessarily your favorites. There are books on my favorites shelves that are not included here because once upon a time, I liked those books... but not anymore. Plus, a book can make your favorite list without it actually having most of your typically liked features. On the other hand, books that define you as a (YA) reader are the books that you wish you could have written, that you wish you could hold onto forever and ever and ever, that if you're a writer, you strive to match. They have the elements that you look for in every book you read. Have I made you curious yet?

In no particular order...

1. The Daughter of Smoke and Bone Trilogy by Laini Taylor
Daughter of Smoke and Bone, book 1
Days of Blood and Starlight, book 2
Dreams of Gods and Monsters, book 3
  • Whenever I think of Laini Taylor's trilogy, I think of gorgeous, atmospheric, lush, other-worldly writing that matches an other-worldly premise. Taylor takes the typical paranormal romance tropes and transforms them into a truly epic star-crossed romance that, in itself, is riddled with the horrors of war... yet brimming with undisguised hope for a better future. It's the perfect combination of angst and humor, of hope and death, of beauty and destruction. Karou is a strong, smart, wily heroine, and the supporting cast of characters helps carry this fantasy world and writing into a tale of epic proportions that I am sure I will always love. It has a beautiful message and is well-written on all counts. I am envious of Taylor's talent and cannot wait to read more of her work!

The Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo
Shadow and Bone, book 1
Siege and Storm, book 2
Ruin and Rising, book 3
  • Whenever I think of the Grisha trilogy, I think of the first time I read Shadow and Bone. Junior year, spring break. Walker dorms. I was supposed to be cooking with one of my good friends. I was supposed to be writing. I was supposed to do a lot of things, but what I ended up doing was reading and rereading Shadow and Bone. I was in a complete stupor after having read Ms. Bardugo's debut novel. As much as I love the writing in the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy, this was the book that had recaptured the feeling I had when I read Harry Potter. When I was so completely immersed that I had forgotten about my life outside of this sphere of reading. This book is high fantasy rendered for a modern audience. Set in a lavish Russian czarist-inspired world where nothing is quite what it seems, Shadow and Bone tells the tale of the chosen girl learning to embrace herself and her inner beauty so that her power will shine at its brightest. Siege and Storm only ups the magic, power, politics, drama, and court intrigue that S&B introduced.

The Graceling Realm Trilogy by Kristin Cashore
(in order of events) Fire, book 1
Graceling, book 2
Bitterblue, book 3
  • KRISTIN CASHORE. I have the utmost respect for her and her writing. All of her books--anything she writes--I will read and love for all time. Her books are not like what you'd typically find in the young adult section. For one, the pacing of her stories is a bit slower, and the character casts so much LARGER (usually I think they cut down on the characters because it's assumed teens have a shorter attention span/can't keep up with too many etc.)... but for that reason, her stories are wonderful, and her character casts are absolutely lovely. Characterization is one of her strengths, and that comes from her writing, which is simplistic but beautiful in its simplicity (Some professional review magazine calls this textured. This is also true). There are a lot of scenes with each character to show you his/her different facets. Put simply, her books are populated with people who are both familiar and unique all at once, and somehow they are also modern and timeless at all once. Beautiful writing, characters, world-building (all the politics and court intrigue and fantasy explorations of power dynamics, internal and external), CHARACTER GROWTH... Her heroines are wily and strong, and wonderful for the budding feminist in me. The running theme that her protagonists have to face is what to do with the power that they have. "With great power comes great responsibility." -- yes, but rendered in a graceful, classic kind of light. If you haven't read her books... what are you waiting for?

The Raven Boys Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater
The Raven Boys, book 1
The Dream Thieves, book 2
books 3 and 4
  • The Raven Boys is my favorite to date of Maggie Stiefvater's because I think that she's been getting only progressively better. While I liked The Scorpio Races and its unique feel with the island of Thisby, the general feel of this book fits my tastes more. I love the connection between the four boys, and how Blue fits within that group. The adventure, the unique spin on mythology, the atmospheric feel of her writing, the slow build of the romance (friends first!). I like the way all of Maggie Stiefvater's characters interact, and the prologue of The Dream Thieves? Excellent. I loved reading her post on writing and revisions, and how she puts the feeling into her writing. My initial impressions of this series: it is the kind of character-driven fantasy with beautiful, atmospheric writing that I love to read. 

The Vampire Academy Series by Richelle Mead
Vampire Academy, book 1
  • You might have noticed a trend from the last four - all character-driven fantasy. The Vampire Academy series is not character-driven in the same way. Sure, the characters grow and change over the course of the series, but Richelle Mead is more known for her ever growing plotlines within the political, dramatic, and romantic spheres of the story. I've included this series because for one, it's impossible for me to say I dislike it when I own all 6 books and the 3 spin-off series books. Secondly, Rose is the kind of young adult heroine who I keep saying I want to see more of. She is bold, brash, and in charge of her own sexuality and decisions (she has that take charge personality). In short, she is usually the romantic interest in young adult novels, not the protagonist, and I loved that about her. (Note: Shadow Kiss is featured because it is the best book of the series in this humble reader's opinion.) Although she makes some questionable choices in the series, I would say that this series still makes the list because of the character relationships.

One thing you won't find on this list is a dystopian read. While I like dystopian books, I've often found that a lot of young adult dystopian novels are so harsh that it's hard to find the beauty and the lightness in the world. What made Harry Potter (which, by the way, is definitely also on my list; that's a given no matter what) so popular was its humor even in its exploration of dark themes and topics. For this reason, I generally enjoy and revisit fantasy and contemporary reads much more frequently.

And on the contemporary end:
smaller because I'm more of a fantasy than contemporary girl

6. The Truth about Forever by Sarah Dessen
  • I own almost all of Sarah Dessen's books, but this is the book of hers that I think will forever remain my favorite. Sarah Dessen is a staple in contemporary, the quintessential author to read if you are looking for a young adult contemporary about finding yourself set in a small town with a summer feel. She does a great job with characterization, slow building romance that fits in with the MC's own growth, and her books are paced rather well. (Her books are kind of formulaic in this.) The Truth about Forever is my favorite of hers because I thought the Macy/Wes relationship was portrayed particularly well in addition to the theme of handling grief and learning when to let go (particularly, for Macy: letting go of her own perfectionism).

  • I love Stephanie Perkins' work, but particularly I love Lola and the Boy Next Door because Cricket Bell is probably my number one young adult literary crush. The boy next door is a sweet nerd with good intentions but who also needs to find his own path before he and Lola are together. Lola loves fashion and costume and these factor heavily in her own character growth as well. Perkins is WONDERFUL with creating unique character voices. I love the tension and slow building romance between Lola and Cricket, I love the humor of her books from her protagonist's voices, I love the character growth, I love the setting and the familial relationships that Perkins explores. If you're looking for a contemporary romance, look no further than this book. (Seriously, don't go out for a "chick flick"; read this instead.)
8. If I Stay by Gayle Forman
  • If I Stay is probably the heaviest of the three contemporary reads that I've chosen, but I love it all the same. It deals with grief, love, loss, and life in a unique way, presenting Mia, the protagonist, with an impossible choice that is the ultimate representation of the coming of age tale. I love the way Gayle Forman handles her contemporary work, the way her writing seems to embed truths about life into the narrative itself. This book really made me want to listen to all the classical music references... and the lovely familial and romantic relationships in addition to the friendships made the book that much more powerful. (Checklist: excellent writing, character growth, world/concept, character cast, and romance.)

So there you have it! What books define you as a (YA) reader? Do we share any? How well do our tastes align? 

Comment with the word SCARLET somewhere in your post, and let me know what you think of my list for a chance to win a Lunar Chronicles sweatshirt, scarlet lipstick, and a bookmark for Scarlet by Marissa Meyer. (I won the swag from Ms. Meyer, but I am not a huge book swag person, so let me give it to someone who will appreciate it more than I will.) After a week, I will randomly choose a winner from among the comments, so give it a go :). [Make sure to leave some way of contacting you!]


  1. Not a fan of Fire or Lola, or just enjoy Graceling and Anna more than the other two? Shadow Kiss seems to be the widely agreed fan favorite, and if I'm not mistaken, I'd read somewhere that it was Ms. Mead's favorite as well. I loved The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight and seriously considered putting Crown of Midnight on the list (if you love Throne of Glass, you'll LOVE the sequel). Hahaha, I definitely spend way too much money on books too. A sign of us bookies :). Yay to the Lunar Chronicles!!

  2. She does. All of the authors above do. Even though Kristin Cashore does not have comments enabled on her blog, I always feel like I'm reading something really inspirational when she posts on writing. Or something that's telling me a truth I hadn't realized until then. Also, DoSaB is hard to categorize, especially with the way the series has gone. Seemed to be PNR, but highly redesigned and unique, then went urban/high(?) fantasy, and her writing style makes it fairy tale esque as well.

  3. What do you mean by the Truth about Forever didn't get you? The book itself didn't grab you, the characters? It's funny you refer to the Lunar Chronicles as fantasy, because I definitely consider it more fantasy than sci-fi, but I've seen it classified as sci-fi more frequently (futuristic automatic classification as sci-fi?). I have yet to read Parallel, Before I Fall, and Aristotle and the Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, but there's always more space on my TBR list :).

  4. Sarah (Escaping Through Books)June 25, 2013 at 4:57 AM

    I enjoyed Lola, but just not nearly as much as I enjoyed Anna. Fire actually kind of confused and bored me, but I've found that I have to be in the right mood to read fantasy. I'm actually planning on re-reading Fire sometime to see if I just was not in the right mood for the story at the time.

    I'm so, so glad to hear that Crown of Midnight was a great sequel! I am counting down the days until it comes out. I recently attended an author signing with Sarah J. Maas (one of the Young Authors Give Back tour stops), and I just love her!

  5. I definitely get the sci-fi elements of the Lunar Chronicles, but I think the fairy-tale retelling and overall atmosphere of the book makes it feel more like fantasy to me, with sci-fi elements thrown in. I really liked the characters in The Truth About Forever, but something just didn't GRAB me the way I thought the story would. I think I was less emotionally attached than I wanted to be.

  6. I love it when you write such posts Christina. They really make you think . Hmm I think Harry potter series is one I wish I had written and the elemental series by Brigid kemmerer

  7. I've heard the same about Anna/Lola & Fire. Fire definitely starts out slower than the other two, and has a lot of internal struggle, but I loved that! And I know what you mean re: being in the right mood for fantasy. Especially high fantasy. If you're going to escape into another world with all these terms and different meanings, you need to be open for that.

    YES, seriously so good. If I rated things by stars, CoM would be five stars. ToG was more of a ... 3/3.5 for me. Sarah J. Maas is also such a wonderful, funny, personable author! She came to my college for a world-building workshop. It's cool that you got to go to a YAGB tour stop :). Did you like any of the other authors?

  8. Definitely agree re: Lunar Chronicles. Sad about the Truth about Forever--I suppose that sometimes just happens, can't do anything about it. Is there another book of hers that grabbed you more than TTAF?

  9. Yessss, I hope you get to read Siege and Storm (and Scarlet) soon then :). If I Stay was rendered so beautifully....

  10. Thanks, Krazzyme! Yeah, the Harry Potter series is always included, even if I don't mention it. Whenever I read analyses of it (particularly by this guy named Granger) or revisit it myself, I am in awe of everything she did. The Elemental series is a very fun read too :).

  11. Sarah (Escaping Through Books)June 25, 2013 at 12:31 PM

    You are getting me more and more excited for CoM! I hope there's lots of Chaol in it (though I did like Dorian as well).

    All of the authors on the tour were really cool, but I haven't read any of the other authors' books yet. I bought them all at the event, though, so I'll read them soon.

    I thought Susan Dennard was especially sweet and hilarious... I can definitely see why she and Sarah J. Maas are best friends! I'm very excited to read Something Strange and Deadly now, but I know that I also really have to be in the right mood to enjoy a steampunk novel. In the summer i tend to reach for contemporary books instead, but maybe on a rainy day I'll fit it in.

  12. SCARLET SCARLET, haha, A sweeeeeeeeatshirt, oh boy oh boy! I loooove me some Scarlet :D But that is not connecting, uhmm. Let me try. I really like how you mentioned Harry Potter, because this always have a special place in my heart. I think I really like Scarlet, because it gives me the same as HP; a great new world to discover and amazing characters that feel like persons I could be friends with. (See, I tried :p) Connection can be found on my blog :)

    I think we are quite the same when it comes to fantasy. I love Daughter of smoke and bone and I'm a huuuuuge Shadow and bone fan. I can't wait to continue in both series. I have Graceling and the VA series waiting on the shelves and I really want to read The raven boys :) I'm not much of a contemporary girl, but one book I absolutely devoured was The fault in our stars. I'm also interested in Forman's work.

    Other books that define me as a YA reader are definitely in the category fantasy, Paranormal, fairytales & retellings and a small amount of Dystopian books. The girl of fire and thorns (Rae Carson), Daughter of the seven forest (one of my favorites <3 Marillier is a genius), Heart's blood (also Marillier), to name some.

  13. Such a terrific post, Christina! You already know how I adore The Raven Boys and how much I enjoyed Daughter of Smoke & Bone and Shadow and I'm going to have to check out the Graceling trilogy since you like it so much. Oh, and Harry Potter...'nuff said! #HP4eva

  14. Daughter of Smoke & Bone is one of the best YA novels I've read in recent years (and every time I see it mentioned, I'm reminded that I have yet to read the other two books in the series). Others that I absolutely love are A Certain Slant of Light by Laura Whitcomb (because the writing is beautiful), The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner (because the voice of the protagonist is unforgettably charming), Tiger Moon by Antonia Michaelis (because its setting was so well written that India came alive in my mind as I read it), I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (because it's about first love and a girl who lives in a castle), Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver (because it conveys its message without being preachy), Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion (because how can you not love a zombie with the heart of a poet?), and Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones (because fairy tale retellings are awesome when they're done well). (I know you could argue that a couple of those are not YA -- but rather MG or NA -- but I think there's enough overlap that I'm going to count them.)


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