There are a lot of benefits to being friends with a librarian. She can show you the insane(ly awesome) Excel spreadsheet she keeps of all the books she wants to read in her lifetime, which she updates constantly and color-codes according to how much she likes a given book! She can explain to you how the Dewey Decimal system works! And when you ask her to recommend some of the best young adult books of 2012, she can send out her librarian bat signal to a ginormous listserv and compile the votes of over 70 different young adult librarians.
Big thanks to my pal Samantha for her help, and to the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) book group in particular. Y’all are amazing.
And so, without further ado, here are the 2012 young adult books that garnered the most votes from librarians who Know What They’re Talking About. Whether you’re in the mood for a World War II spy novel mind-bender, a funny-sad-smart tale about teenagers living with cancer, or a story about coming of age and coming out, there’s a YA book here for you (or for your favorite young’un). Let us know your own picks in the comments!
From The New York Times: “The Fault in Our Stars” is all the more heart-rending for its bluntness about the medical realities of cancer. There are harrowing descriptions of pain, shame, anger and bodily fluids of every type. It is a narrative without rainbows or flamingoes; there are no magical summer snowstorms. Instead, Hazel has to lug a portable oxygen tank with her wherever she goes, and Gus has a prosthetic leg. Their friend Isaac is missing an eye and later goes blind. These unpleasant details do nothing to diminish the romance; in Green’s hands, they only make it more moving. He shows us true love — two teenagers helping and accepting each other through the most humiliating physical and emotional ordeals — and it is far more romantic than any sunset on the beach.
From The Plain Dealer: Pity poor 17-year-old Evie O’Neill. It’s 1926 and she’s stuck in Zenith, Ohio, a thudding bore of a town where her mother is secretary of the Women’s Temperance Society. Pretty Evie has a taste for giggle water and adventure. She’s also got a talent for divining other people’s secrets.
This girl is bound for trouble.
From The New York Times: “Code Name Verity,” by Elizabeth Wein, is a fiendishly plotted mind game of a novel, the kind you have to read twice. The first time you just devour the story of girl-pilot-and-girl-spy friendship and the thrill of flying a plane and the horrors of Nazi torture and the bravery of French Resistance fighters and you force yourself to slow down, but you don’t want to, because you’re terrified these beautiful, vibrant characters are doomed. The second time, you read more slowly, proving to yourself that yes, the clues were there all along for you to solve the giant puzzle you weren’t even aware was constructed around you, and it takes focus and attention to catch all the little references to the fact that nothing is what you thought. Especially while you’re bawling your eyes out.
From Feminist Fiction: The Raven Boys is a story of many things. It’s the tale of a screwed-up bunch of friends and the rich boy who struggles to keep them all together. It’s the tale of that rich boy’s obsessive quest to find the body a mythical Welsh king, who is said to give a wish to anyone who finds him. And it’s the tale of a mundane girl in a family of psychic who sees a spirit for the first time, and sets out to discover what it might mean (the hints, from her psychic relatives? Either he’s her true love, or the man she kills. Or, more likely, both). The result is a great paranormal mystery/adventure, with incredibly compelling characters and real emotional depth. I didn’t always like all of the characters, but I certainly wanted to stay with them and see what would happen.
From Publishers Weekly: Astrid isn’t comfortable labeling herself gay (“I’m not in this to be a member of some club. I’m not going through this so I can lock myself in the one of them box”), and the community’s homophobia and aggressive rumor mill weigh heavily on her. When several secrets become public, Astrid’s relationships are further strained, and she copes by silently sending love to the passengers of airplanes flying overhead (whose brief stories indicate they can sense Astrid’s questions and feel the love she unleashes) and carrying on imaginary conversations with Socrates.
From The Boston Globe: In “Boy21,” our teen heroes are Finley and Russ – a.k.a Boy21. The nearly mute Finley, who also narrates, is the only white player on his high school basketball team. He’s called White Rabbit by his friends — a nod to both “8 Mile” and John Updike. Finley lives with his paraplegic grandfather and troubled dad in a neighborhood ruled by mob violence.
The action begins when Finley’s coach demands that he befriend a new kid at school, a teen who Coach says was ready to turn pro until he suffered a family tragedy. Now the would-be basketball star calls himself Boy21 and claims he’s an extraterrestrial whose parents will soon beam him up to space. Coach wants Finley to get Boy21’s head back in the game so that he can resume his playing career.
From the L.A. Times: Cameron Post is just 12 when she kisses her best girl friend on a dare — ostensibly as practice for future liaisons with boys. “No one had ever told me, specifically, not to kiss a girl before, [but] nobody had to,” Cameron writes in a novel penned from her perspective. “It was guys and girls who kissed in our grade, on TV, in the movies, in the world. That’s how it worked.”
Yet Cameron not only kissed a girl. She liked it.
That realization is followed a few hours later by the news Cameron’s parents were killed in a car crash, but the sorrow she feels at her parents’ death is tempered with even greater relief that no one knew about her more-than-friendly lip lock in a hay loft — and guilt that the crash may have been God’s punishment. That juxtaposition of emotions speaks volumes about shame and the societal taboo of lesbianism, especially in a small Christian community. It also forms the emotional core of this powerful novel exploring the nature of sexual identity and whether it’s a choice.