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Favorite Young Adult Series and Titles

The next installment of The Best of EatReadSleep’s 10th Anniversary series!

For about fifteen years, I either worked with teens in a library or, later, selected teen books for the library system, and I really enjoyed this collection. Young adult literature is a thriving subculture. At conferences, these authors are rock stars, and their fans are not only teenagers, but plenty of adults, especially librarians and teachers. Young adult books are where all of the latest headlines go to live through stories, and there is some great and undervalued writing going on in this space. Some of my selections are a few years old, but definitely stand the test of time.

Beloved Series

If you’ve read EatReadSleep for any number of years, you know that I have covered some YA series every time a new volume comes out. Here are some of my favorites, although I am sure that I’m leaving out something fantastic. Click on the titles for the full reviews, and search the authors for more reviews in the series.

Megan Whalen Turner’s “Queen’s Thief” series starts with a teen-appropriate The Thief and then moves into complex and subtle intrigue with a hint of fantasy.
I will read anything by Maggie Stiefvater, but her “Raven Cycle” is a favorite fantasy series. It starts with The Raven Boys.
Another winning series is “The Lumaterre Chronicles,” by Melina Marchetta, which starts with Finnikin of the Rock, but I reviewed the second volume, Quintana of Charyn. High fantasy with some adult content. The writing is exquisite.  
My Plain Jane and others by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows are hilariously reimagined classics. These are delightful audiobooks, too, narrated by Fiona Hardingham.

Favorite Authors and Single Titles

Jason Reynolds has been the author of many of my favorite kids’ books. The first teen title I read by Jason was the stunning Long Way Down.
John Green had a lot of hits, such as Turtles All the Way Down, although his last work, The Anthropocene Reviewed, was for adults. His teens were always precocious and witty, like the kids I worked with in our library book groups.
Ruta Sepetys is another author who is consistently a winner, especially her first, Between Shades of Gray, and my favorite, The Fountains of Silence.
The Downstairs Girl, by Stacey Lee. A young Chinese woman in reconstruction Atlanta is determined to make it as a writer.
Everything Sad Is Untrue, by Daniel Nayeri. A true story about the Christian author’s family fleeing Iran, humorously told in the style of Scheherazade.
Eleanor and Park, by Rainbow Rowell. A brilliant teen romance made agonizing by family secrets and the helplessness of the young and dependent.

There are some excellent LGBTQ+ writers in teen literature, and they’ve been winning awards for decades. A few of my favorites include:

Darius the Great Is Not Okay, by Adib Khorram. Take a trip to Persia—Iran—with this vulnerable and sweet young man and his family. It won the Morris Award for debut novels.
I’ll Give You the Sun, by Jandy Nelson. A brother and sister work through dark secrets to live into the meaning of art. A Printz and Stonewall winner.
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, by Benjamin Alire Saenz. In 2013, it was the first LGBTQ romance I ever read. This beautiful and heartbreaking book won the Stonewall Award, a Printz honor, and the Pura Belpré Award.
I read the mind-bending We Are the Ants on my way to a Baker & Taylor conference in Orlando, where I met the kind author, Shaun David Hutchinson, and we wept together over the loved ones we had lost to Alzheimer’s.

In our next installment, we will venture into favorite children’s titles from the last ten years!

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We Are the Ants, by Shaun David Hutchinson

We Are the AntsHenry Denton’s boyfriend committed suicide last year, and he cannot heal his heart. Nothing else in his life is sunshiny, either. His single mother, a talented cook, is working slavishly as a waitress while smoking herself to death. His older brother never even finished high school, but he has just announced that his pregnant girlfriend is moving into their crowded house, and his beloved Nana is being slowly unwound by Alzheimer’s.

So, when the aliens pick Henry up and give him the power to save the earth from assured destruction, he just can’t think of a good reason to push the red button. They continue to abduct him randomly, dumping him back on earth in nothing but his underwear after yet another unsuccessful attempt to spare the planet. If this continues, the earth will be destroyed on January 29, 2016. Every few chapters, another possible scenario plays out before our eyes.

Henry made the painful mistake of telling one of the boys at school about the aliens, and ever since then, he is taunted with “Space Boy” in the halls, beaten up, and worse. Diego Vega, the new kid, is the only one who believes Henry—or at least he pretends to. Diego has just broken up with his girlfriend, and he lives alone with his sister. He is gorgeous, friendly, artistic, ultra-cool, and obviously hiding something about his past.

I was heading to a convention last week when a sponsor told me that Shaun David Hutchinson would be one of the authors speaking at the luncheon. I grabbed my galley of We Are the Ants and started reading on the plane. I was about halfway through when I met Shaun, and we shared our sorrow over the effects of Alzheimer’s on the people we loved: my father, his grandmother. Nana in the book is his real Nana, and I told him how one passage in particular had moved me to tears. He is a fine writer but completely unpretentious and friendly, and the book reflects some of his life experiences in high school as a gay teen. Probably not the alien abductions, though. We Are the Ants has garnered five starred critical reviews, which is very rare. You can look for this one to show up in the buzz again next year when the awards are given out.

Moving, gut-wrenching, and fun, this novel will keep your attention right up to the excellent ending. I’m not tellin’. The language is fairly dreadful, as is typical for YA boy stories, and other cautions for sensitive readers are obvious and well-deserved. There is nothing delicate about this story. There is nothing predictable about the plot, either. You’ll just have to come along for the ride to find out what Henry does about that red button.


Disclaimer: I read an advance reader copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else. The brilliant phrase describing dementia as “being slowly unwound” is Mr. Hutchinson’s, not mine.

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