I both love and hate these lists. I love them because they force me to go back and revisit the books I've loved throughout the year; I hate them because I can never choose just ten books. Or one day these ten are my favorite and the next day those ten are. So keep that in mind as your read this list because, as soon as I post it, I'll remember another book that I loved intensely and deserves to be here too. Also, I only included books that were published in 2014 here - I would have gone crazy trying to fit in the 2015 releases too!
And of course I cheated and tacked some 'honorable mentions' on to the end. You didn't really think I'd stick to just ten, did you?
Best Young Adult Novels of 2014
The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton
Candlewick / March 2014 /More Info
Ava Lavender emerges into the world wrapped in magical wings that extend from her back. Born into a family who's history is fraught with fantastical characters and events, tragic love and loss, Ava's mother keeps the girl close, determined to spare her from the unavoidable heartache and grief of the world. But history has a way of repeating itself and nothing, not even a mother's love, has the power to deter fate.
When I try to talk about this book I struggle string words together into sentences. I've been trying to figure out how to describe this book for weeks, but I just... can't. Instead, I just have all these overwhelming feelings. Awe. Sadness. Hope. Love. So, so much love. Maybe, all I really needs to say is: There are no words to describe how much I love this book, no measurement to describe how much this book made me feel.
I know that what I've written tells you very little about this book, but, for me, isn't a book that I can't pitch to you. Instead, I can only tell you that you should read it. That I want you to read it. That it's one of those books that lives in your heart, stays in your head, that sparks something in you. How can you pitch something like that?
Althea & Oliver Cristina Moracho
Penguin / October 2014 / More Info
Althea and Oliver have been best friends since age six, their very different personalities somehow balancing and combining to form a whole. Life without the other is unimaginable, until Oliver develops a sleeping illness tears them apart for weeks and months at a time. While Oliver loses chunks of his life to the disorder, Althea is adrift. Confused and angry, she makes an irreversible mistake from which their relationship might never recover. Althea and Oliver is one of those dirty, raw, and honest books that it almost hurts to read. Readers will clearly see that the characters are making mistakes, but are, of course, powerless to stop them. At the same time, it's almost cathartic to see Althea and Oliver fail, fail, then begin again. Not everyone will love this novel, with it's messy characters and imperfect conclusion, but those who do will unabashedly champion it. I'm definitely the latter.
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
Random House / May 2014 / More Info
After an extended absence, Cady Sinclair returns to the private island on which she and her cousins have spent the summers of their childhood. A mysterious accident has left Cady prone to illness and confusion... She remembers little of the accident, and her family is far from forthcoming about the details. This summer is different, but there are undeniable constants in the life of a Sinclair: privilege, secrets, and the unbreakable bond of family.
My best advice for the enjoyment of this novel, is to go into it knowing as little as possible and simply immerse yourself in the experience. Then, when you’ve finished it, hand it to the next person you see with explicit instructions to read it and report back because you are going to desperately want someone to discuss it with.
A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman
Penguin / May 2014 / More Info
Jackaby by William Ritter
Algonquin Young Readers / September 2014 / More Info
Abigail Rook defies convention when she flees her stifling home and lands in New England, looking for adventure and in desperate need of a job. R.F. Jackaby is an investigator specializing in cases odd and supernatural and in dire need of an assistant (as his previous assistant was rather unceremoniously transformed into a duck). When a serial killer begins stalking New Fiddleham and the police hit a dead end, Jackaby and Abigail take on the case, convinced there's something supernatural afoot. William Ritter's debut is reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes, but with a delightful paranormal twist. With a fresh cast of characters, a compelling, bloody mystery, and witty banter, Jackaby will leave readers asking for more.
Words and Their Meanings by Kate Bassett
Flux / September 2014 / More Info
Grief and guilt are powerful forces. Powerful enough to transform how you see the world, and, even, how the world sees you. Anna O’ Malley has been transformed by these forces, touched by death and plagued by her belief that it was her doing. Once a talented and promising writer, she now devotes herself to coffin yoga and selecting the perfect Patti Smith quote to inscribe on her skin. It’s Mateo, a boy who sees the real Anna, despite the guilt and grief that consume her, who slowly leads her back to the land of the living. But death isn’t done with Anna yet. When her grandfather’s health begins to fail and she discovers a shocking secret written on an origami crane, she sets out to uncover hard truths about the people she loves. In the process, Anna must learn to accept the past and face the future. Words and Their Meanings is a beautifully told story about family, love, loss, secrets, and, above all, forgiveness and acceptance.
Six Feet Over It by Jennifer Longo
Random House / August 2014 / More Info
Fourteen-year old Leigh has had quite enough of death. Her older sister, in cancer remission, is focused on living life to the fullest, but Leigh feels like death is constantly lurking around the corner. Reeling from the recent loss of her best friend, the last place she wants to spend her days is a graveyard, but that's exactly where she ends up. After her father makes the ridiculous decision to purchase a graveyard, he proceeds to move the whole family from the ocean to their new home - in the graveyard. Leigh is stuck selling graves, where customers are either pre-need or at need, both pretty depressing. The only person who makes things bearable is Dario, the illegal, slightly older gravedigger who challenges Leigh to rejoin the land of the living.
Wow. The story hidden beneath this cover will knock your socks off. I was completely unprepared for how deep and emotionally powerful this novel would be. The cover and title, though fitting, seem to convey a lighter tone and, while Six Feet Over It is filled with dark humor and snarky banter, it isn't fluffy. There are lots of big, often difficult, questions addressed in this novel. Questions about death, about how we react to death, how we honor those we've lost, how we move on... These questions are hard to anyone to answer, but we all, at some point in our lives, will find ourselves considering them. Leigh, having nearly lost her sister and having actually lost her best friend, is consumed by her need to find meaning in death - to understand how she is supposed to keep living each day like death isn't waiting to descend.
Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith
Penguin / February 2014 / More Info
Austin Szerba has enough to deal with without adding an unstoppable army of six-foot-tall praying mantises to the mix: he's conflicted about his sexuality, thinks about sex constantly, and struggles to find his place in his small, religious Midwestern town. A self-appointed historian, Austin chronicles the present and the past... He's devoted to telling the truth, no matter how messy, confusing, or painful, so, with the likely end of the world approaching, it falls on Austin to find pull the threads of past and present together, recording seemingly random events that, together, lead to the rise of an army of hungry, horny unstoppable six-foot-tall praying mantises and the fall of man.
Grasshopper Jungle is many things: abrasive, real, shocking, entertaining, hopeful, funny, sad. I think though, most of all, it's truthful. Behind the giant praying mantises, scientific experiments, and weird underground cults, there are so many important, very real truths within its pages... Big truths about identity, love, life, sexuality, religion, and science. It's clear, just from the description, that what Andrew Smith has written won't be for every reader, but for some it will be just the book they've been waiting for... the book that changes everything.
The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia by Candace Fleming
Random House / July 2014 / More Info
“Here is the tumultuous, heartrending, true story of the Romanovs—at once an intimate portrait of Russia's last royal family and a gripping account of its undoing. Using captivating photos and compelling first person accounts, award-winning author Candace Fleming deftly maneuvers between the imperial family’s extravagant lives and the plight of Russia's poor masses, making this an utterly mesmerizing read as well as a perfect resource for meeting Common Core standards.”I never thought that a nonfiction book would end up being one of my favorite books, but Candace Fleming truly proves that fact can be stranger - and just as compelling as - fiction.
The Vanishing Season by Jodi Lynn Anderson
Harper Teen / July 2014 / More Info
“For Maggie Larsen, the town of Gill Creek is only a stopgap before college and freedom. Until she meets Pauline and Liam. What starts as an uneventful year suddenly changes. Someone is killing teenage girls, and the town reels from the tragedy. As Maggie's and Pauline's worlds collide and change around them, they will both experience love and loss. And by the end of the book, only one of them will survive.”
I'll be thinking about The Vanishing Season for a very long time. It isn't your normal YA read; it likely won't conform to your expectations. It will leave your with an aching heart and a tear stained face. But, trust me, it's worth it.
Very Honorable Mentions
The Art of Secrets by James Klise
Algonquin Young Readers / April 2014 / More Info
The Midnight Thief by Livia Blackburne
Disney-Hyperion / July 2014 / More Info
I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
Penguin / September 2014 / More Info
Glory O'Brien's History of the Future by A.S. King
Little, Brown BFYR / October 2014 / More Info
Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley
Harlequin Teen / September 2014 / More Info
The Girl from the Well by Rin Chupeco
Sourcebooks Fire / August 2014 / More Info