There are a ton of “best of” lists floating around this year. I have a hard time choosing a best of anything, simply because I haven’t read everything and don’t want to make a decision when I could read something written in 2009 in, oh, 2011, and be disappointed I didn’t add it. Likewise, the reading experience itself changes as you read more and become a better reader.
So instead, I’m just going to give brief shout outs to some of my favorite 2009 reads this year. Many of these were not top-of-the-listers from their respective publishers or didn’t quite get the buzz they deserved. Although many of the other lists I’ve seen lately have had a lot of really great books on them, to me, they’re all the same books (you know I really liked Lips Touch but it’s been on everyone’s top list and it makes me wonder if people really consider their OWN favorites, rather than crowd favorites. Oh, and don’t get me started on Marcelo, which you already know my feelings on. But I digress…). These are all young adult picks; my adult reading this year mostly consisted of a few classics and a lot of non-fiction that either fell far from high opinion (Methland will be the topic of a future post about misinformation and the absolute importance of fact-checking) or was something that no one else would be interested in me gushing about (I love reading books about real estate, business, and finance, ok?).
In no particular order:
How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford really blew me away. It was absolutely original and the writing itself was fluid and gorgeous. I heard someone describe this as an indie hit of books. This is a fantastic story of friendship and of loss, as well as family and how family goes through cycles because each individual does, as well. I love the relationships here, particularly the one Jonah has to Matthew — to the idea of Matthew and what that relationship does to him as a person. I love Bea’s position as a person on the outside and on the inside of both Jonah’s relationship to Matthew and the relationship he has with himself. It’s so pitch perfect and moving.
I felt like this book was just different from so much that’s out there right now. There’s a lot of depth but there’s not necessarily a lesson to be learned: it’s a moment – a year in the life of Bea – that has a lot of meaning and power but at the end the main character realizes that it is indeed one year of many and that that helps shape who she is. She is and is not Robot Girl, just as Jonah is and is not Ghost Boy.
The use of a radio show and characters was beautiful and unique, but not unique enough that teens won’t “get” it. This was something so modern, even though it takes place via radio – we all have these networks outside our physical place and all of these people shape us as we shape them. The ending conversations nearly brought me to tears because they were so powerful. Add to that the notion of the boy behind the camera rather than the boy in front of it also worked really well for me.
What really made this a great read was that it never once felt like Standiford was trying too hard. Sometimes an author or artist just tries to hard to make things work, but in this book, it felt like things just tied together well. It was clearly a well-planned book but it wasn’t oversculpted nor manicured to a point. It was left with enough room to make connections and pull together ties for each reader to take away something personal.
Lovestruck Summer by Melissa Walker. I’ve already reviewed this one in depth. Since that review, I’ve taken every opportunity to talk this bad boy because it never got reviewed in a professional journal, which kills me. Sure it looks girly, but it is so much more. I recently talked this one to a group of 9th graders, and it went out….not only did it go out, but my co-talker said she’d never otherwise pick it up but is now interested. I’ve already mentioned, too, what I think is a turnoff on this one, but if you are able to look past it, you’re in for a real treat here. I’m dying to get my hands on Walker’s Violet on the Runway series, but it’s hard to come by. It’s on my 2010 to-read list for sure.
Ruined by Paula Morris is one I read recently that continues to stick with me. This is a ghost story, set in Lafayette Cemetery in post-Katrina New Orleans. I’m going to be honest, though, and say that it’s not the mystery or the ghost story that appealed to me; it was Morris’s absolutely enthralling descriptions of New Orleans and the history of Mardi Gras. What she weaves into a story that has massive teen appeal is something much deeper and more intriguing for adults. Setting plays such a huge role in this story, and Morris is able to make the city such a vivid character here. This isn’t to say that the entire plot, driven on the idea of spirits wandering the city, particularly after the disaster, isn’t interesting because it sure is. I’m not a mystery, ghost, or supernatural reader, but this one definitely did it for me, and it did it for me in a big way.
An Off Year by Claire Zulkey didn’t really give me a lot of emotions, to be honest, but that’s the point. Cecily and her dad drove from their home in the Chicago area to Ohio, where she’d be beginning her freshman year of college. We all remember those days, right? Well, Cecily decides when she gets there that she’s not actually ready and oh, hey, could she just go back home? Dad agrees to this, and the book follows as Cecily struggles to figure out who she is and why she made that decision.
There is not much action in this book, and frankly, Cecily did a lot of sitting around, whining, and picking fights. But as the book progresses, as a reader you really pull for her to figure herself out. Cecily is a little bit of all of us and I felt that Zulkey did a great job of making her totally human. And the lack of real plot is perfect because it’s realistic — but don’t worry. Cecily kind of figures something out at the end of her year, and it’s not a fabulous trip to Europe taken like many gap year kids.
Destroy All Cars by Blake Nelson is another one I’ve already reviewed, but it fits my bill here. This book is hilarious and spot-on in narration of a teen boy. I’ve read a couple other books trying to fit the voice of a teen boy, and they have just not done it for me (Carter Finally Gets It made Carter a total jerk and I think it was trying far too hard with being funny and Two Parties, One Tux, and a Short Film about the Grapes of Wrath was just a bit too forgettable). But James Hoff? Yep, he’s a teen boy and really, really funny….because he’s not trying to be.
That’s it folks, my five favorites of 2009. I’ve got a couple more 2009er’s in my currently reading pile, too, including Mare’s War by Tanita S. Davis (totally underrated and one that while I enjoy now, I would have absolutely eaten up as a teen, even though I have a contention with some poor editing [articles missing in more than one instance in sentences]) and Beautiful Creatures….and Along for the Ride, which I’ll likely go audio on.
I’m already thinking about the titles I’m excited about for 2010, but I also try not to get myself worked up about forthcoming titles because it’s this hidden gems that need to be uncovered and discovered.
What do you think? Do you agree/disagree or have any other favorites?
Kelly Jensen is a former librarian turned editor for Book Riot. She's the author of IT HAPPENS: A Guide to Contemporary Realistic Fiction for the YA Reader and the forthcoming Feminism For The Real World (Algonquin Young Readers, Spring 2017).