Personal Best 2013: Top 2013 Published Titles

personal best 2013 iconWhew! 2013 has come to a close–and I still feel as though it just began! It’s been an exciting and eventful year, especially in reading and writing about reading! Sadly this excitement hasn’t been reflected on this blog for the last few months–balancing a busy beginning to my third year as a full-time librarian and the start of my tenure as a contributor to the amazing YALSA young adult lit blog, The Hub has proved a challenge! However, I hope to improved my balancing act in the new year. But if you’re curious to see where I’ve been focusing all my blogging energy this fall, head over there to check out my posts–and then read all the other wonderful posts written by far more brilliant librarians and writers!

As we enter the new year, many of us try to reflect on the past twelve months.  What important events shaped our lives? What milestones passed? Which resolutions did we keep–or forget?  And for some of us–what did you read? It’s been a good year for book lovers of all ages.  For 2013, I set an ambitious goal to read 150 books.  And amazingly, I actually beat my goal by over 10 books!  Even more importantly, I read a large number of really great books this year.  So I tried to gather together some of my favorites into my own personal best of 2013 list.   For this list, I limited myself to books I read in 2013 that were also published in 2013.  I’m hoping write up an additional post of less recently published titles that I read and loved this year as well.

All annotations are from WorldCat and each title links to Goodreads. 

A Creepy Double Feature

Despite hearing exciting things about her writing, I shamefully didn’t get around to reading any of Holly Black’s fiction until this year.  But it was a great year to start tuning in!  Holly Black published not one but two fabulous novels in 2013–and they were actually two of my favorite reads of the year.  Both novels illustrate Black’s ability to marry interesting–and genuinely creepy–horror fiction with multi-dimensional characters and an emotionally resonant storyline.  Additionally, each novel was excellently suited for its intended audience.

doll-bonesDoll Bones – Holly Black  Zach, Alice, and Poppy, friends from a Pennsylvania middle school who have long enjoyed acting out imaginary adventures with dolls and action figures, embark on a real-life quest to Ohio to bury a doll made from the ashes of a dead girl.

coldest girl in coldtownThe Coldest Girl in Coldtown – Holly Black   When seventeen-year-old Tana wakes up following a party in the aftermath of a violent vampire attack, she travels to Coldtown, a quarantined Massachusetts city full of vampires, with her ex-boyfriend and a mysterious vampire boy in tow.

Do You Believe In Magic?

As many of my recent posts over at the Hub might indicate, I’m a big fantasy fiction reader.  It’s a genre I have followed and adored essentially my entire life.  So I’m always on the hunt for good fantasy fiction–for me and for my demanding fantasy fan students!  This year was a fairly solid year for fantasy fiction, including some fresh voices and exciting contributions from old favorites.  The first title was marketed as adult fiction but have high teen appeal; the later titles are all young adult fiction.

ocean at the end of laneThe Ocean At The End of the Lane- Neil Gaiman  It began for our narrator forty years ago when the family lodger stole their car and committed suicide in it, stirring up ancient powers best left undisturbed. Dark creatures from beyond the world are on the loose, and it will take everything our narrator has just to stay alive: there is primal horror here, and menace unleashed – within his family and from the forces that have gathered to destroy it. His only defense is three women, on a farm at the end of the lane. The youngest of them claims that her duckpond is ocean. The oldest can remember the Big Bang. 

I’m a big Neil Gaiman fan and never more so than after reading this slim but rich gem of a novel.  Ocean was absolutely one of my top reads of the year;  it’s just a perfect jewel of fantasy novel, exploring the darkness and delight of childhood imagination.

SorrowsKnotCoverSorrow’s Knot- Erin Bow  Otter is a girl of the Shadowed People, a tribe of women, and she is born to be a binder, a woman whose power it is to tie the knots that bind the dead–but she is also destined to remake her world.

This incredibly fresh fantasy novel was the last book I read in 2013–and what a way to end the year! I heard about this novel a while ago, possibly on the fabulous Diversity in YA tumblr and I was initially just excited to see an original high fantasy set in a non-European invented world–especially a world inspired by North American indigenous cultures.  I finally got around to reading the e-galley I gained through Netgalley this week and wow, am I glad I did! Bow’s prose is just gorgeous, the world unique and incredibly well-developed, the plot epic yet intimate, and the characters beautifully complex.

bitter-kingdomThe Bitter Kingdom– Rae Carson  Elisa, a fugitive in her own kingdom, faces great challenges to rescue the man she loves from her enemies, prevent a civil war, and take back her throne but as her magic grows, Elisa discovers the shocking truth about her enemy’s ultimate goal.

dream thievesThe Dream Thieves – Maggie Stiefvater  Now that the ley lines around Cabeswater are awake, magic is swirling around Blue and The Raven boys and Ronan Lynch’s ability to pull objects from his dreams is almost out of control but worst of all, the mysterious Gray Man is stalking the Lynch family, looking for something called the Greywaren.

These last two fantasy titles are both volumes in existing series by two of my favorite current YA fantasy writers.  The Bitter Kingdom concluded Rae Carson’s break out trilogy begun in The Girl of Fire and Thorns and it was a worthy finale for one of my new favorite high fantasy series.  The Dream Thieves is the second novel in Maggie Stiefvater’s exciting and elegant new Raven Boys series and it was just as thrilling to read as the opening novel–I can’t wait for the next!

The Future Is Now

the-bone-season-cover1The Bone Season– Samantha Shannon  In the mid-21st century major world cities are controlled by a formidable security force and clairvoyant underworld cell member Paige commits acts of psychic treason before being captured by an otherworldly race that would make her a part of their supernatural army.

This futuristic supernatural thriller is already set up for a massive series and possibly a film adaption–and after reading it, I understood why.  It’s definitely a complex and unusual adrenaline-rush of a novel.  The world and story straddle the line between fantasy and science fiction and its futuristic setting might lead one to slot this debut in with the many other dystopian tale filling the shelves.  However, while this novel to be as mind-blowing as hyped, I was intrigued–and I’m excited to see the series continue.

summer princeThe Summer Prince- Alaya Dawn Johnson  In a Brazil of the distant future, June Costa falls in love with Enki, a fellow artist and rebel against the strict limits of the legendary pyramid city of Palmares Três’ matriarchal government, knowing that, like all Summer Kings before him, Enki is destined to die.

I was intrigued by this unusual piece of speculative fiction from the start, at first mainly from a diversity/multicultural perspective.  Then I learned that the author graduated from the school where I work–and I was extra intrigued.  It’s been a few months but I think I’m actually still mulling this one over; there’s just so much going on in here–but the more I think about it, the more I like it.  If I had time, I would love to give this the reread it deserves.  But I can say it’s an exciting book and Johnson is doing some really different and thrilling things here.

Rising From The Ashes

I grouped these next few realistic contemporary novels together because all three focus on girls and young women struggling to deal traumatic pasts and forge a fresh place in the world.  Additionally all three deal with familial relationships in complex ways.  Despite these common themes, these novels are very different but equally highly compelling.

counting by 7sCounting By 7s– Holly Goldberg Sloan Twelve-year-old genius and outsider Willow Chance must figure out how to connect with other people and find a surrogate family for herself after her parents are killed in a car accident.

all the truth that's in meAll The Truth That’s In Me- Julie Berry  Judith can’t speak. But when her close-knit community of Roswell Station is attacked by enemies, Judith is forced to choose: continue to live in silence, or recover her voice.

where the stars still shineWhere The Stars Still Shine- Trish Doller  Abducted at age five, Callie, now seventeen, has spent her life on the run but when her mother is finally arrested and she is returned to her father in small-town Florida, Callie must find a way to leave her past behind, become part of a family again, and learn that love is more than just a possibility.

Another Kind of Survival Story

I am also a lover of historical fiction and two of my recent favorite writers of historical fiction, Elizabeth C. Wein and Ruta Sepetys both published new and very exciting novels this year.  Both deal with young heroines in very different but incredibly difficult situations.  Both young women are determined to survive and each finds a sense of resilience in the unexpected connections she forges with others.

rose under fireRose Under Fire– Elizabeth C. Wein  When young American pilot Rose Justice is captured by Nazis and sent to Ravensbrück, the notorious women’s concentration camp, she finds hope in the impossible through the loyalty, bravery, and friendship of her fellow prisoners.

out-of-the-easyOut of the Easy- Ruta Sepetys  Josie, the seventeen-year-old daughter of a French Quarter prostitute, is striving to escape 1950 New Orleans and enroll at prestigious Smith College when she becomes entangled in a murder investigation.

Love Is A Battlefield

eleanor & parkEleanor & Park- Rainbow Rowell  Set over the course of one school year in 1986, this is the story of two star-crossed misfits–smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try.

Rainbow Rowell’s debut novel for teens has been both a popular and critical darling since its publication earlier this year.  And I can’t deny that I’m among its many fans.  I consumed this book in a single sitting during a train ride; I absolutely couldn’t put it down.  It’s one of those novels that reaches into your chest and grabs you by the heart.  It makes your chest ache, your stomach swoop, and your throat constrict–it packs a very special kind of emotional punch to the gut.  And while I found much to like about her second YA title this year (Fangirl), I found Eleanor and Park a bit more focused and compelling.

Learning To Listen To Your Drummer

I read a lot of really great contemporary YA fiction this year–so many, in fact, that I’ve divided them into multiple groups on this list.  Here are four strong and distinct coming of age tales with complex, lovable (if not always likable) protagonists and equally complex supporting teen and adult characters.  By chance, this group of novels also happen to share another common theme: the intense role the arts (especially music, poetry, and theatre) can play in our lives.

the lucy variationsThe Lucy Variations– Sara Zarr  Sixteen-year-old San Franciscan Lucy Beck-Moreau once had a promising future as a concert pianist. Her chance at a career has passed, and she decides to help her ten-year-old piano prodigy brother, Gus, map out his own future, even as she explores why she enjoyed piano in the first place.

sweet revengeThe Sweet Revenge of Celia Door- Karen Finneyfrock  Fourteen-year-old Celia, hurt by her parents’ separation, the loss of her only friend, and a classmate’s cruelty, has only her poetry for solace until newcomer Drake Berlin befriends her, comes out to her, and seeks her help in connecting with the boy he left behind.

this song wil save your lifeThis Song Will Save Your Life- Leila Sales  Nearly a year after a failed suicide attempt, sixteen-year-old Elise discovers that she has the passion, and the talent, to be a disc jockey.

just one dayJust One Day- Gayle Forman Sparks fly when American good girl Allyson encounters laid-back Dutch actor Willem, so she follows him on a whirlwind trip to Paris, upending her life in just one day and prompting a year of self-discovery and the search for true love.

Most Likely To Encourage Snacking While Reading

relishRelish: My Life In the Kitchen- Lucy Knisley  Lucy Knisley loves food. The daughter of a chef and a gourmet, this talented young cartoonist comes by her obsession honestly. In her forthright, thoughtful, and funny memoir, Lucy traces key episodes in her life thus far, framed by what she was eating at the time and lessons learned about food, cooking, and life. Each chapter is bookended with an illustrated recipe– many of them treasured family dishes, and a few of them Lucy’s original inventions.

Graphic memoirs seems to be on the rise and I couldn’t be happier, especially if they’re as delicious as Relish!  As an amateur baker & cook (and a passionate eater), I found Lucy Knisley’s memoir to be a totally delightful reading experience and the perfect blend of popular sub-genres, food memoirs and graphic nonfiction.

A Girl On Fire

i am malala I Am Malala- Malala Yousafzai & Christina Lamb  When the Taliban took control of the Swat Valley, one girl spoke out. Malala Yousafzai refused to be silenced and fought for her right to an education. On Tuesday October 9, 2012, she almost paid the ultimate price.

Living in DC is consistently interesting in unexpected ways but it can be especially exciting for a reader.  We have a wealth of great libraries, universities, and bookstores bringing in great authors and speakers constantly.  I was lucky enough to snag a ticket earlier this fall to hear Malala Yousafzai and her father speak at a event hosted by our wonderful independent bookstore Politics and Prose.  It was an inspiring and fascinating evening and I found the book equally compelling.

Then And Now

twoboyskissingcoverTwo Boys Kissing– David Levithan  A chorus of men who died of AIDS observes and yearns to help a cross-section of today’s gay teens who navigate new love, long-term relationships, coming out, self-acceptance, and more in a society that has changed in many ways.

I’m an unabashedly huge David Levithan fan.  I waited in a significant line at the American Library Association conference this summer to grab an advanced readers’ copy of his newest novel and I was not disappointed.  I know that others have found the unusual narration choices and the large cast of characters distracting or difficult to connect with as a reader.  And while I completely understand this concerns, I found the book very emotionally compelling and I found that the unusual narration (especially the Greek chorus of men who died of AIDS) fascinating and quite poetic (in a classic Levithan fashion). It also feels like an appropriate spiritual successor to Levithan’s debut Boy Meets Boy, which celebrated its 10th anniversary this past year.

For a quite different but also delightfully fresh LGBTQ-themed coming of age tale, I also very much liked Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg this year.

Let’s Hear It For The Boy!

This list has been a little female-heavy in its protagonists, a bit inevitable when working at a girls’ school.  But this year was a great year for male characters, especially in middle grade fiction.  I read a few wonderful novels with lovable, unconventional heroes with a lot of heart.  I especially enjoyed seeing young male-identified characters who don’t fit neatly into masculine stereotypes.  Nate in Tim Federle’s delightful debut also happens to be one of those incredibly funny narrators who can make me giggle and snort out loud when reading on public transportation.

better-nate-than-everBetter Nate Than Ever- Tim Federle  An eighth-grader who dreams of performing in a Broadway musical concocts a plan to run away to New York and audition for the role of Elliot in the musical version of “E.T.”

Texting The Underworld by Ellen Booream and Doll Bones by Holly Black also feature complex, brave boys who break many masculine stereotypes (and some equally complex, brave girls!).

No Words Needed

Journey_by_Aaron_BeckerJourney- Aaron Becker  Using a red marker, a young girl draws a door on her bedroom wall and through it enters another world where she experiences many adventures, including being captured by an evil emperor.

While I absolutely love my job working with middle and high schoolers, I sometimes miss my time working with infants, toddlers, and younger elementary kids.  I miss creating storytimes and singing silly song.  But I especially miss the chance to keep up with picture books.  However, I managed to check out at least one of the new standouts this year and if you only look at one picture book this year, make it Aaron Becker’s Journey.  Picture book creation is a unique art and wordless picture books are a special subset.  This is a gorgeous, delightful narrative told entirely in Becker’s beautiful paintings.  As a believer in the power of art and imagination, I found this book especially lovely.    

So those were a few of my favorite 2013 books.  I have a whole other list of favorite reads that don’t fit the ‘published in 2013’ rule and yet another list of 2013 books that I didn’t get a chance to read yet.  But those will have to wait for another post or two later this week.

Which books made your personal 2013 best lists?

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