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From the fantastic world building of top-notch fantasies to historical dramas and gritty realistic fiction that left me stunned, 2016 was a fantastic year for young adult literature. I’ve laughed at clever repartee (Highly Illogical Behavior), I’ve been mesmerized by gorgeous storytelling (The Sun Is Also a Star), and I’ve been completely engrossed by not one but two stories featuring teenage killers (Scythe and The Female of the Species).
And those are just some of the YA books I’ve read and loved over the past year. Our Best of 2016 list is a joint effort and includes a wide variety of fiction and a few standout nonfiction titles.
I say: Well-developed, authentic characters and a unique setting make Burn Baby Burn one of my most memorable reads of 2016. The juxtaposition of the fear that permeated New York City during the Summer of Sam with Nora’s own troubled home life creates a sense of edgy urgency that pulled me into the story completely.
Crystal says: I loved the premise of this story from the beginning, and it was a very engaging read. The author’s ability to take such a dark topic like murder and shape the story in a way that demonstrates the characters’ maturity was quite fascinating for me.
I say: A teenage killer who volunteers at an animal shelter, a preacher’s kid with her own secret rebellions, and a player who struggles with the fear that he really is a douchebag may seem like an unlikely trio of narrators, but Mindy McGinnis gives readers a gift with each of these characters. This is an unsettling, brutal book in many respects, but it’s also complex, riveting, and completely brilliant.
I say: I can’t say enough good things about this book! Unlike some of the other “award worthy” books of the year, Highly Illogical Behavior doesn’t feel like it’s actually trying to win an award, if you know what I mean. Instead, there’s an unselfconscious ease and wit, creating a highly readable story about mental illness, friendship, and taking chances. The characters are quirky and immensely likable despite their flaws, and Whaley has done a remarkable job of making the thoughts and fears of a teenage agoraphobe relatable. Even better, he has created a fully rounded character with Sol that is so much more than the fear others use to define him.
Crystal says: Intriguing and enlightening from start to finish, this book taught me a lot about a time in world history that I knew very little about. It was the kind of book that kept me guessing, and that definitely makes for a great reading experience.
Crystal says: I listened to the audiobook and was instantly drawn back into the world of Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle, thanks to her brilliant use of description and her enigmatic characters. This book perfectly completes the story that began in the first book and kept my interest from start to finish.
Stephanie says: A good storyteller effortlessly compels you to experience the spectrum of emotion; I laughed, I cried, etc. This is true of Stiefvater, and especially true in The Raven King. The book grips you from the first sentence and doesn’t let you go. You will be on the edge of your seat until the end, and what an ending it will be.
I say: I loved the different points of view and the fact that readers were given the perspectives of characters who are seldom represented in literature about World War II. Here we get a young Lithuanian nurse traveling with a group of refugees, a Prussian apprentice on a self-appointed mission, a determined fifteen-year-old Polish girl with a sad past, and a young Nazi who is staunchly loyal to Hitler’s propaganda, all on a journey to a doomed ship without knowing the greater danger that awaits. Sepetys does a remarkable job of bringing to life a historical event that deserves to be much better known.
Elizabeth says: The story flowed easily and never lost my interest. I loved all the different points of view!
I say: Set in a world where humans are virtually immortal and ordained killers known as Scythes are used to keep overpopulation in check, this is a gripping sci-fi thriller that raises thought-provoking questions about morality and human nature. I can’t wait for the next two books in the planned trilogy!
I say: Nicola Yoon’s follow-up to Everything, Everything is an an intensely moving and thought-provoking journey from beginning to end. What is on the surface a meet-cute romance becomes so much more as questions of destiny and chance arise and underlying connections are unraveled.
I say: With fluid prose and the occasional snarky aside, this epic warrior tale reads like a novel while creating a fascinating (and often violent) picture of 12th century Japan and a man who became a legend.
I say: So much of World War II history focuses on the war itself, Hitler, and the European experience, but I have been fascinated by the Japanese-American experience during that time ever since I read John Okada’s No-No Boy as a college undergrad. With Uprooted, Marrin presents a well-researched, accessible account of a dark moment of American history that might also serve as a cautionary tale.