My Favorite YA Books Of 2013

What a year this has been for us here in Young Adult Education. By us, of course, I mean me and you, the reader. It’s not like there’s a team of people writing this column. Just me, guys! We’ve been through a lot together, though. We’ve laughed. We’ve cried. We’ve talked about all the inappropriate books we read as children (just as a reminder, mine included a Tim Allen book—I’ve always been cool).

And now that 2013 is wrapping up, it’s time to put together a list of my favorite books from the year. I’m pretty sure a year-end list is legally required if you write on the internet…I can try to fight it, but what’s the use? Either way, I’m excited to talk more about some books I loved this year. I can’t speak to which books were necessarily the best by everyone else’s standards, or the ones that had the most cultural relevance. I can only tell you which books had the biggest impact on me, and the ones I recommend to everyone over and over again. I love everything I write about in this column, but these are the ones that stood out the most to me (which, honestly, probably means they had the most kissing).

The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth LaBan

I could not put this book down. It’s suspenseful, exciting and extremely emotional. Also, it’s the perfect book to read during winter, since the story is filled with snow. Here’s the summary I wrote back when it came out:

“At the beginning of the book we meet Duncan, who’s just starting his senior year at the way-fancy Irving School. At the same time, we also learn the story of Tim Macbeth, a senior from last year whom Duncan clearly has some issues with. We don’t know what those issues are at the beginning, but luckily Tim recorded his whole story on CDs that he left behind in Duncan’s room. Gradually, as Duncan listens to the CDs, we learn about Tim’s senior year and all the fantastic and terrible things that happened. Throughout all of this, Duncan and Tim worry about the Tragedy Paper, a huge term paper that starts to take over their lives.

Although Duncan is interesting, Tim takes center stage most of the time. An albino who left his old school because he didn’t have any friends, Tim is used to staying out of the spotlight. But when he falls head over heels for Vanessa, his life gets a lot more interesting. I wouldn’t call this book a mystery, but it is very suspenseful. As Duncan hints early on, some bad things happen in this book, and the unsettling foreshadowing was what had me flipping frantically through the pages.”

September Girls by Bennett Madison

When I first wrote about September Girls, I said it was like “being in a dream, but one of those dreams where you’re in your house with your mom but it’s not really your house and also your mom is played by RuPaul.” I stand by that description that may or may not make sense to you. September Girls is weird and wonderful, full of confused adolescent feelings, girls with strange names, and Prince karaoke. I can’t wait to read what Bennett Madison writes next. Here’s my original summary of September Girls:

“SG‘s protagonist Sam is spending his summer at the beach with his dad and his brother…and a town full of girls. They’re all blonde, they’re all beautiful and they all have crazy names (like Taffany, which is now burned in my brain forever). Also, they’re all inexplicably obsessed with Sam, who isn’t exactly used to being a heartthrob. As Sam gets to know one of the girls, DeeDee, he starts to notice that some things are a little off with her and her friends. All of this is interspersed with chapters told from the girls’ point of view, and it adds up to be one of the most compelling narratives I’ve read in awhile.”

Famous Last Words by Jennifer Salvato Doktorski

Do you love romance? If you’re reading this column right now and trusting my advice, you probably do, right? Go get this book! There’s a ton of other awesome stuff going on in Famous Last Words (Obituary writing! John Hughes movies! Friendship drama!), but I loved it for being one of the best romances I read all year. Here’s my original summary:

Famous Last Words follows Sam D’Angelo, a soon-to-be-senior who gets an internship at the local paper. She’s stuck writing obituaries, which sounds alternately awesome (what a great opportunity to learn about people’s lives!) and terrifying (the PRESSURE!). While Sam mostly loves her job, she has to balance it with her family and her BFF Shelby.

Things at the paper get even more interesting when Sam uncovers a mystery involving the mayor. She enlists fellow intern AJ to go on some stakeouts with her. In the process, she gets to know AJ better…and I’m not going to give too much away, but I will say that these stakeouts lead to political AND romantic intrigue.”

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell.

Duh. Do you know anyone who didn’t love this book? Here’s my summary from my original post:

“Cath just started college, and it’s not really going so well. Her twin sister Wren never wants to hang out, even though they go to the same school. Her roommate Reagan is intimidatingly cool. And she’s too nervous to find or figure out the intricacies of the dining hall, so she’s subsisting on protein bars that she stashes under her bed.

But while she might not be a social butterfly in college, she’s sort of famous online–for writing fan fiction. Cath writes about Simon Snow, a very Harry Potter-esque boy wizard. Instead of going out, Cath prefers to escape into the world of Simon.

But real life keeps intruding on Cath’s fictional world. She actually starts to become friends with tough girl Reagan, as well as Regan’s friend Levi.”

LEVI! Fangirl is such a fantastic book because it deals with very real family dilemmas, the excitement/scariness of going away to college and Kanye West dance parties. But Rainbow Rowell really outdid herself when she created Levi. What a babe.

The Distance Between Us by Kasie West

If I was giving out awards to each of these books, The Distance Between Us would win “Book That Reminded Me of My Favorite Movie, Pretty in Pink.” Seriously, this is a basically perfect romance and I loved it. The dialogue is so witty and real, and the entire book is funny while still being sweet. Here’s my initial summary:

“Our girl Caymen works at her mom’s doll store, where she has to deal with being stared at by the creepy lifeless eyes of porcelain dolls all day. She doesn’t have much of a social life to speak of, other than hanging out with her punky BFF Skye. Her life might be boring, but she knows her mom needs her there to help out.

But one day, Xander (yes, Xander) walks in, looking for a doll for his grandmother. Xander’s obviously a total richie, but he’s also pretty cute…and totally into Caymen. Soon they’re hanging out all the time and taking each other on “career days” to explore jobs they might want in the future. Also, Xander brings Caymen a hot chocolate every morning, so it’s gotta be love, right?

Well, maybe. Falling for a rich guy is actually harder than it sounds; Caymen’s worried that Xander’s lifestyle is just too different from hers. Not to mention that Xander is just one of her problems. She’s also worried about her mom, the future of the store, and the few details she knows about her family. And then there’s Mason, the lead singer of a band who might be more her speed. Will Caymen be able to figure out her future and give Xander a chance?”

Rapture Practice by Aaron Hartzler

I just read Aaron Hartzler’s memoir a few weeks ago and it immediately found its way onto my list. It’s the funny-but-emotional story of growing up in a very religious family and coming to terms with his own beliefs. It’s incredibly interesting while never being judgmental, and here’s part of my explanation of why I loved the book so much:

“Throughout the book, even when Aaron is filled with rage at his parents for smashing his Peter Cetera tapes and basically ruining his attempts at teenage rebellion, it’s always clear that he really and truly loves them. Yeah, okay, so some of his parents’ ideas might be a little out there, but it doesn’t mean they’re bad people, and it doesn’t mean that they aren’t loving him and trying to protect him the best that they know how. It’s that challenge of growing up that I think the book does such a great job of highlighting–yes, it’s hard to get older and figure out what you believe, but it’s even harder to learn how to love and accept the people in your life even though they’re flawed.”

So those are my favorite YA books of the year…what are yours? Please share in the comments!

If I can get a little cheesy for a second, I just want to say thank you SO MUCH to all of you who read Young Adult Education. I said this last year too, but writing for HelloGiggles is one of the most fun and rewarding things I get to do! I love reading and writing about YA and shining some light on the books I love. Even more importantly, I love interacting with you guys! I really appreciate each and every one of your emails, tweets and comments. It’s the best feeling to get an email from someone who read and loved a book I wrote about here in YA Education.

As always, I love to hear your suggestions for books to feature in Young Adult Education! Leave a comment, email me at [email protected] or find me on Twitter @KerryAnn.