Top 10 Books I Read in 2013 (in no particular order)
Jennifer Nielsen’s Ascendance Trilogy books are so much fun. They read quick, have cliffhangers at the end of most chapters (I don’t care what anyone else says – that is a selling point for me!), and the protagonist is smart and sarcastic. Nielsen also writes a good plot twist. 😉
Note for use with students: My middle school students love these books, too: reluctant readers to avid readers, alike. I don’t know if the appeal would go much beyond 8th grade (sadly, I think most of the problem is the juvenile-looking cover art), and I’ve heard these used as read-alouds in elementary classrooms.
I’m a big fan of narrative nonfiction, and, frankly, I just don’t read it enough. The Good Soldiers, about the war in Iraq, is an excellent example of narrative nonfiction. And that is a gross understatement, but I can’t think of any other adjectives right now to describe how outstanding it is. However, here are a few others one could use to describe Finkel’s book: Sad. Eye-opening. Graphic. Hopeful. Inspiring. Real.
Note for use with students: This is an adult book, obviously, but students interested in learning more about war, especially the Iraq war, military, etc. would really appreciate Finkel’s reporting on his observations with one battalion. There is a lot of cussing (duh?) and a lot of really disturbing violence. But it is nonfiction, after all – that’s what really happened.
If you haven’t already heard about Eleanor & Park, you might be living under a rock. Or you’re one of those teachers who scoffs at anything not in the classical literary canon. Either way, shame on you. Go check this title out and be whisked back to that magical and painful first time you fell in love. Because Rowell captures it perfectly.
Notes for use with students: Shortly after I finished reading Eleanor & Park, and I was still wandering around in my book hangover, this news story came out about Rowell’s book being banned. (I found out through this blog post I stumbled upon.) It made me really sad, and actually kind of outraged. It’s one thing to protest a book because of profanity (and Eleanor & Park does have a lot of it) or sex (Eleanor & Park does not have that, despite the group’s claims) or whatever, and I get that. But I honestly think, sometimes, that people pick up a book and read with metaphorical blinders on and miss the author’s whole point. Which is what happened in this case. Anyway, don’t self-sensor because of this one sad case: high school teachers should offer this to their students as choice reading, and feel good about doing so.
So, I’d picked this book up back in 2012, read a few pages, and tossed it aside because I wasn’t interested. Yep: that happened. Thankfully, I was assigned the book for grad school this year and it became a case where an assigned book resulted in a wonderful reading experience. 🙂 You guys, the characters! And the setting! Give this one a try and if, like me, you’d originally passed The Scorpio Races up, forgive your initial lapse in judgment and give it another go.
Note for use with students: In two years, I’ve had one student check out The Scorpio Races, and he finished it but said it was boring. Sigh. This novel takes a patient reader, and one who loves a character-driven story. I don’t recommend it to all of my students, but I think some would love it as much as I did..
So Joyland is not even Stephen King’s best work. He’s just that good that his coming-of-age thriller is still brilliant. And by the way, more authors should write coming-of-age thrillers; that is an under-represented genre. 🙂 Anyway, loved the characters of this book and loved the retro amusement park setting.
Note for use with students: I read this during grad school, specifically as an adult book that may have teen appeal. Unfortunately, I don’t know if that’s the case. As far as content goes, I think high school librarians and teachers could stock this without too much worry. However, the protagonist is telling this story as an older man looking back, and I don’t know if that nostalgic approach would resonate with many teens.
This has been the grittiest, most horrifying, downright evil book I have ever read in the YA category. I think it was marketed as being a good pick for fans of Stephen King, and I couldn’t agree more. I think Wasserman’s premise is genius: a town gone completely bat-sh** mad. I only wish she would have expanded on the causes of that more.
Note for use with students: I told my students about this when I first started reading it…and then I didn’t really mention it again. Guys and gals, it is bru-tal. I think I had nightmares. 🙂 Not only is it scary and violent, but Wasserman incorporates some other conflicts that are ‘adult’. Not gonna offer it to my eighth graders but that does not mean it would not appeal to some. .
It seems like readers either love The Spectacular Now or they hate it. I am in the former category, but I will admit that I was, at times, frustrated, heartbroken, and depressed by the decisions Tharp made about the plot and his main characters. I will say, though, that since I read this book over the summer, I still have not been able to stop thinking about the alcoholic protagonist Sutter Keely and his charity case/girlfriend/enabler, Aimee Finecky. It takes a pretty incredible author to accomplish this (especially with a reader like me who jumps from book to book without stopping for much reflection)…despite the frustrations, heartbreak, and depression. 🙂
Note for use with students: The Spectacular Now is a painful read, and due to a lack of the right kind of maturity, I will not have this in my eighth-grade library. I can’t say much else without spoiling the book, but the depiction of alcoholism is all-too-real, and I don’t think younger, immature readers would be able to grasp what Tharp was getting at. Teachers and school librarians, definitely read this one before offering it to your students. (And also read it because it’s just really, really good.)
Animal lovers, reluctant readers, teens, adults…I can’t imagine a reading audience that would not become absorbed by Schrefer’s story of bonobos and war in Congo. This title belongs in any middle grade or high school library.
Note for use with students: Do any other teachers and librarians out there struggle to get your students to read books featuring other cultures and/or set in other countries (not counting fictional countries/worlds)? I do, and it frustrates me to no end, but I think this book will sell itself. I don’t have it for my classroom yet (I get cheap about buying hardcovers sometimes), but I think the intense action and bonobos will draw readers in once I do buy it.
I just recently read This Song Will Save Your Life and, people – believe the hype! It is so good! Like, every contemporary YA writer needs to take a lesson from Leila Sales because this book has everything but feels like it was written effortlessly. It made me laugh, cry, laugh some more, swear audibly… Just outstanding.
Note for use with students: Some language and sexual references are used, but this book is so good (have I said that yet?) and the message is such a great one for middle and high school students. Bullying is depicted in a pretty realistic way, and the things the main character does to cope with it, both good and bad, are true to life, too. Of course I can only speculate, but I think a lot of teens who read this would feel not so alone and also, maybe, think about how they treat others. High school classrooms and libraries should definitely stock this book, and mature upper middle school readers would like this one, too.
I didn’t think it would be right to have more than one Sara Zarr book in my top 10, so I’m kind of cheating and calling Story of a Girl, which was actually a reread for me, and How to Save a Life a draw. I love the accessibility of protagonist Deanna Lambert from Story and the painfully realistic problems she faces. But I think Zarr really hit her writing stride in How to Save a Life, and the dual perspectives in that book quicken the pace more than was done in Story.
Note for use with students: I haven’t put How to Save a Life out in my classroom yet. I was a little hesitant because of, you know, the whole ‘teen pregnancy’ thing. When deciding age appropriateness, I always try to weigh the questionable content against the quality of writing, development and message of the theme, and authentic nature of the content (i.e. Does it reflect real teens’ experiences? Or is it a shock tactic?). I think that formula, unscientific as it is, tells me that book should be made available to eighth graders. Story of a Girl also contains conflicts that stem from teen sex, but Zarr handles them so realistically and gracefully. Quite a few of my female students have read this one and adored it.