These collaborators use a surprising and inventive premise—teens in 1996 gaining access to their future Facebook pages by way of an AOL disk—to explore the connections between the present and the future, and the consequences of our actions. Underneath the fantastical conceit and the fun is an authentic story that asks important questions.
Billingsley’s sharp-tongued, self-hating Briony is easily one of the year’s most memorable narrators, as she struggles to come to terms with guilt over family tragedies, while living in a town in which new 20th-century technologies threaten supernatural beings of old. It’s a rich and layered fantasy that grabs readers tight—not unlike the bogs of Briony’s Swampsea.
Call them Parvi Pennati, call them Small Persons with Wings, just don’t call them fairies. Booraem’s middle-grade novel, in which an outcast girl comes into her own, is frequently sad, but those moments are perfectly balanced with humor and hope. The result is a deeply believable and human story—one that also has room for vainglorious fairies, talking mannequins, and other wonders.
Few books are as unabashedly outrageous and fun as Bray’s story of a plane full of teenage beauty queen contestants that crashes on a deserted island. But the riotous “Survivor meets Miss America” premise is a vehicle for some sharp observations about our image-obsessed, media-driven culture. Somebody get this book a tiara!
Elise Broach, Antonio Javier Caparo (Holt/Ottaviano)
Bursting with action and (real-life) mystery, Broach’s middle-grade novel updates classic adventure novel and thriller tropes to launch a series with broad appeal. As three brothers investigate mysterious deaths and disappearances in an Arizona mountain range, Broach’s tight storytelling and chilling details will keep readers riveted.
Forman pushes beyond the tragic events of her 2010 novel If I Stay to uncover their broader consequences in this knockout of a sequel, told from the perspective of Adam, the former boyfriend of the first book’s protagonist, Mia. Love, heartache, abandonment, and music intertwine as Adam and Mia try to find their way back to each other, three years after their relationship was ripped apart.
Set in 1962 in Norvelt, Pa., Gantos’s freewheeling, semi-but-thankfully-not-entirely-autobiographical novel is the story of a summer almost beyond belief, filled with geyserlike nosebleeds, the demise of one elderly resident after another, the arrival of the Hells Angels, and a real estate scheme that threatens the town’s existence. Suffice it to say, it’s a roller-coaster ride from start to finish.
Lai’s debut middle-grade novel, written in free-verse poems, draws from her own memories of moving to the U.S. from Vietnam as a child and offers a poignant account of an immigrant’s experience. Ten-year-old Hà’s journey is confidence-shaking and full of hard decisions, yet her strong voice and resilient nature are testament to the human ability to conquer obstacles.
Set in a grim, futuristic Los Angeles, Lu’s debut novel sets up an exciting dichotomy between her protagonists, Day and June, who are both brilliant and capable, but on opposite sides of the law. A gritty and thrilling dystopian novel, with expertly handled character development and world-building.
Meloy’s first book for young readers is a wonderfully imagined alternate history, set as cold war tensions between the U.S. and Russia are reaching critical mass, and a secretive group of apothecaries conspires to protect the planet from all-out destruction. With magic, history, adventure, romance, and smart writing, it’s truly a story with something for everyone.
Building on a foundation laid by the late Siobhan Dowd, Ness delivers a singular story that looks death squarely in the eye, unblinking, as Conor, a boy with an ailing mother, is visited nightly by a primeval monster, which tries to prepare him for the road ahead. Blurring fantasy and reality, Kay’s haunting illustrations fade in and out, guiding readers—and Conor—toward the book’s final, inevitable truth.
Katherine and John Paterson, John Rocco (Candlewick)
The Patersons’ loving adaptation of Eden Philpott’s 1910 novel of the same name is as deliciously whimsical, funny, and, well, original as the original, while streamlining and freshening it for a 21st-century audience. It’s a story of nonstop novelty, with cavemen, a talking water bottle, and imps and fairies aplenty, told in an effervescent narrative voice ideal for fireside family reading.
Roth’s first novel lands near the front of the current crop of dark, action-laden dystopian novels. With a volatile futuristic setting, tight storytelling, heart-stopping action, and tentative romance, it’s a thrill-ride that speaks to teenagers’ desire to determine the course of their own lives.
In a story that’s both cinematic and personal, Selznick builds and improves upon the graphic/prose hybrid narrative style he first used in The Invention of Hugo Cabret with a story about human connections that span miles and decades. The book shines a spotlight on Deaf culture, the theme of silence a brilliant fit with the illustrated sections of the narrative.
Sometimes, sadly, reality proves far more devastating than the latest dystopian premise of the moment. That’s certainly the case with Sepetys’s brutal account of Lithuanians deported to Siberian work camps during WWII. Every step of 15-year-old Lina’s journey is brought vividly to life, with no detail spared or punch pulled. The novel stands as a reminder of humanity’s capacity for cruelty, but also resiliency.
Stiefvater creates a startlingly original mythology in this captivating novel set on an island that has an uneasy relationship with the vicious horses that rule its beaches and waters. Just as these fairy creatures are no ordinary horses, neither is this an ordinary horse novel; rather, it’s an atmospheric fantasy about a girl working to control not just her mount but her family and her life’s direction.
Taylor has a gift for creating spellbinding fantasies that feel wholly novel and utterly real. This one is the story of Karou, a 17-year-old art student in Prague, raised by demons and caught in an escalating war with angels. Taylor takes star-crossed romance, wonderfully complex characters, and a fascinating mythology and spins a magical, heartbreaking story.
Anne Ursu, illus. by Erin McGuire (HarperCollins/Walden Pond)
Fairy tales are an evergreen source of inspiration for authors, and Ursu works some serious magic with “The Snow Queen” in this frequently somber but entirely beautiful story of an adopted fifth-grader from India pursuing her lost friend into a mysterious Minnesota forest. Sly references to other fairy tales and classics of children’s literature only sweeten the deal.
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making
Catherynne M. Valente, illus. by Ana Jua (Feiwel and Friends)
Valente’s glittering fantasy playground began as an offhand mention in one of her other novels, turned into a crowd-funded e-book, and finally became a print book with artwork that matches the wonderfully surreal story of a girl’s journey from Omaha into Fairyland. With literary allusions scattered throughout, the book holds delights for readers of any age.
The Chronicles of Harris Burdick: Fourteen Amazing Authors Tell the Tales
Chris Van Allsburg et al (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Some might dismiss the idea of creating stories for the enigmatic illustrations in Van Allsburg’s The Mysteries of Harris Burdick as literary heresy. But really, that sort of imaginative extrapolation is the whole point of the earlier book, an exercise formalized in this volume with creepy, funny, and provocative entries from the likes of Sherman Alexie, Kate DiCamillo, Gregory Maguire, and Van Allsburg himself.
Wells’s first novel is a blisteringly fast-paced thriller, set at a boarding school where students are trapped, divided into factions, and unable to escape. Wells keeps readers—not to mention his characters—on their toes, engineering twist after twist in a story that brings elements of boarding school and survivalist novels into grim, futuristic territory.
This smart, darkly funny, and multilayered debut novel juxtaposes the disappearance of a 15-year-old boy with the possible reappearance of a woodpecker thought to be extinct. Whaley weaves numerous story lines and themes together with the confidence of a seasoned writer, resulting in a thought-provoking story about media, faith, and family.
An unlikely premise—two homeless teens stumble into a faked kidnapping with major implications—forms the basis for a thrilling yet compassionate story that skillfully explores themes of social, environmental, and racial justice. Blink and Caution are unforgettable characters, working just as hard to find themselves as they do to unravel the ever-widening mystery.
Life and death, grief and joy are closely linked in this story of a family in flux. Deftly handling such emotionally turbulent subjects as the death of a parent, teen pregnancy, abusive relationships, and adoption, Zarr delivers a moving, funny, and emotionally honest story about three women whose understanding of family, and of themselves, shifts in profound ways.