This was a big year for Young Adult novels. Some big series came to and end and some new ones exploded onto the scene. Scandals broke out, articles were written. Dystopian stories finally began to fade away and stand alone contemporaries were all the rage. So it’s no wonder that it took three Women Write About Comics contributors to compile the list of the top ten YA novels of 2014.
Here they are in no particular order.
The third and penultimate book in the Raven Cycle series, is yet another breathtaking novel from bestselling author, Maggie Stiefvater. Written in gorgeous prose, the story picks up after the disappearance of Blue’s mother Maura. The closer Blue and the boys get to their long lost Welsh king, the more obstacles arise. What they’re doing is dangerous but it is also thrilling. Which is exactly how I feel when reading this book — the story is haunting, the characters are complex and you will hold your breath every time Blue calls Gansey in the middle of the night. It’s hard to imagine how Stiefvater will top Blue Lily, Lily Blue, but I have no doubt that she will.
You don’t often have a series that starts strong and continues that way until the end. I Hunt Killers made me question my loyalties to the protagonist and then made me question my questions. Game upped the stakes in fear that can only be compared to a truly chilling episode of Criminal Minds. The third and final installment, Blood of My Blood, brings with it a fitting ending to a series that, at its heart, explores the inner struggles and outer debates regarding nature vs. nurture. Barry Lyga does a fantastic job at discussing issues such as race and sexual abuse while including diversity through a disabled character and a woman of colour. I’m sad to see it end but damn was it worth the ride.
Pointe is one of those books that delivers an uppercut when you’re expecting a straight punch to the face. You don’t see it coming, and, if you’re lucky, you leave feeling dizzy and in need of a moment or two to recalibrate. It’s more likely you’ll get knocked out completely, like I was this past February with the runniest nose and the ugliest of cries. Ever since, I’ve been pushing this book into people’s hands like a traveling saleswoman. The fact that the book stars a woman of colour, and is written by one, is just the icing on an already incredible cake. Colbert’s debut is visceral in its prose and in its tale of a ballerina dealing with the return of her kidnapped childhood friend. It’s about trauma, survival, and the truth. It leaves an impression which is why it still remains my number one book of 2014 months later. It’s a book I won’t ask you to read. I’ll demand it.
Ava Lavender makes its home in old-school magic realism, a gorgeously rendered tribute to “the marvelous reality” of Latin American fiction. Leslye Walton’s prose is precise and lyrical, and the story itself is driven by familiar themes of family bonds, the terrors of adolescence, and the discovery of sexuality. The Lavender women are the focal points of the novel, and their heartbreaking history with love is a curse far sadder than any magical power they could have been given.
Sinner by Maggie Stiefvater (Scholastic)
You don’t need to be familiar with the Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy to fall hard for Sinner—it’s a standalone novel strong enough to start a series of its own. The spark between musician Cole St. Clair and Isabel Culpeper could light up a stadium before they even touch each other, and when they do? Delicious, delicious tension. Neither of them are easy to get to know, and I loved seeing how even the smallest encounter with each other would strip away a little more of those layers. Maggie Stiefvater’s L.A. is a character in itself, its streets pulsing with possibilities. The writing style Stiefvater employs is weighted with unspoken words, and the conversations within conversations will reward readers who return for a second and third visit.
One night Glory, and her best friend, find a petrified bat and, for no good reason, they decide to drink it. But this decision has some unexpected side effects. When Glory wakes up the next morning she is able to see into everyone’s past and future just by looking at them. And what she see’s in the future isn’t pleasant. In fact it’s downright horrifying. Women’s rights are eroded away, a second civil war breaks out, and young girls vanish on a daily basis. It’s a terrifying vision of the future because it feels like something that could happen and it forces you to think about the decisions we make today and how they may affect the future. Dark and poignant, Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future is an important reflection on feminism, equality, and friendship that readers of all ages should experience.
Avalon by Mindee Arnett (Balzer & Bray)
This was the year we saw a real increase in (non-dystopian) YA science fiction and Avalon led the charge. It’s a bold and complex adventure novel about a ragtag group of teenage mercenaries thousands of light years from Earth, and their adventures stealing metatech from an outlying crime boss. And it’s the midst of all the adventure there’s a strong focus on family and teamwork, that really makes you appreciate the cast of characters as a whole. Fans of Star Trek and Firefly will find a lot to love about this book.
This book is a contemporary that sneakily reminds us throughout that it’s also a thriller. It tackles major issues of race and class in a city that has a growing divide regarding both, but also explores the very relevant topics in our politics today. What all of my picks have in common is great storytelling and a strong prose that elevates it. Love is the Drug is no different. It’s no accident that a book constantly going back to the subject of chemistry does so well at showcasing the chemistry between its characters. Most importantly, it gives us a heroine who peels back social and familial expectations to get to the person she wants to be. I can go on and on about the brilliance of Johnson but I suggest reading her book instead to find out for yourself.
It takes a lot to get me to commit to a series these days, but when I first picked up Daughter of Smoke and Bone three years ago, I knew I was going to be a fan for life. Laini Taylor guides her epic trilogy to a satisfying and rich conclusion, with several different points of view laying the groundwork for each encounter between Karou and Akiva. Though their love story (or lack thereof) is the beating heart of the series, Taylor’s other characters do not suffer, and indeed become beacons of possibility and potential for each of their worlds.
Despite it receiving numerous starred reviews, I did not hear enough people talk about Like No Other this year. The story of Jaxon, a nerdy kid from a West Indian neighbourhood, and Devorah, a sweet girl who values her Hasidic traditions, is a whirlwind of a novel. Their relationship may be forbidden, but against all odds they’re determined to be together. You can’t help but fall for this couple and hope that love will find a way–which may sound cheesy, but trust me, this book is so much more than your average romance. This modern interpretation of West Side Story, is a heart wrenching tale of first love, religious identity and family values.