ALL of these books were stellar. I had a hard time deciding whether to write about them all or pick a few to showcase. I chose the latter for the sake of post length. They were all wonderful examples of the best parts of YA literature today, painting portraits of diverse characters and experiences.
The Serpent King by Jeff Zenter
Dill Early's father has been arrested for child pornography. This sounds bad, but what's worse is that he's a Pentecostal, snake-handling preacher in the deep south. His arrest makes Dill an outcast in his community. His two friends, Travis, a superfan of the fantasy series Bloodfall, and Lydia, an up-and-coming fashion blogger, do their best to help Dill through his senior year of high school without succumbing to the stereotypes about his family's "crazy streak" and the challenges of extreme poverty. The novel is told in third person limited point of view, alternating between focusing on the three friends.
Teachers should know: I'd say this book is okay for some 7th graders, and above. Likelihood of sobbing like a baby: extremely high. I read this in public at the pool and instantly regretted that decision.
Unbecoming by Jenny Downham
This novel has something for every reader. It's set in present day Britain, but jumps back to the 1940's and 50's as well. Unbecoming is the story of 3 generations of women who all have their own secrets. It begins when Katie's estranged grandmother, Mary, is at the hospital with no family, unable to care for herself due to advanced Alzheimer's disease. Caroline, Katie's mother, hates Mary for abandoning her when she was young, but is forced to take her home. Katie doesn't know how to feel, she's involved in drama at her school, and in her outcast state, she escapes into caring for her grandmother and trying to solve the mystery of her past using the clues revealed by her Alzheimer's.
Teachers should know: 1. THIS BOOK IS AMAZING. It's a YA book that adults will definitely enjoy. The writing is wonderful, the main character just happens to be a teenager. LGBT themes. Some sex is discussed, but nothing graphic.
The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh
A twist on Arabian Nights, this novel follows main character Shahrzad's quest to marry Khalid, the king who has killed each of his previous brides after only one night of marriage. Her mission is to survive long enough to kill him and avenge her best friend, who met the noose as one of his former wives. While she plots his death and returning to her hometown love Tariq, she finds herself at the center of a country in turmoil. Things get even more complicated when she realizes Khalid may not be the monster she expected.
Teachers should know: Again, sex is mentioned as a thing that happens. Again, it's not graphic. Shahrzad is a badass female protagonist a-la Katniss, but perhaps more likable.
Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes
This book tackles a difficult topic that is very popular in new middle grade and YA books of 2016: September 11. Main character Deja lives in a homeless shelter in Brooklyn with her family. She starts 5th grade at a new school, where all the teachers are beginning a thematic unit about 9/11. Deja knows nothing about the attacks, and learns bits and pieces through her teachers and her friends Ben and Sabeen as the book progresses.
Teachers should know: It's pretty easy for an adult reader to figure out that her father is suffering from PTSD right away, but it takes Deja most of the book to understand why he's sick but not in body, and why he can't manage to go to work or ride the subway. It will probably take students longer to figure this out as well, so they will likely find the end of the book very emotional. Additionally, there some really good lesson ideas in this book if you want to study 9/11 in your classroom. Very delicate handling of a difficult topic, and still a compelling read.
One by Sarah Crossan
This novel in verse is told from the point of view of Grace, one sister in a pair of conjoined twins. This novel is an excellent example of portraying without exploiting characters of non-standard abilities. Though there are certainly moments where the reader pities Grace and her sister Tippi, for the majority of the book, the girls are relatable for any teenager. Their friends are examples of how others can act around people who are different from them. I have never read a book like this one- so if you have a reader who is looking for something different, avoiding the common tropes of YA literature, this would be a good pick.
Teachers should know: Tears are likely here. I would also prepare to have a conversation about empathy with any student who may have an inappropriate, mocking reaction to Grace and Tippi.
"Wait, you said 11 novels, and there are only 10 in the picture!" This is true. One I listened to on Audible.
Set in the late 1980's, Aristotle (Ari) is a loner who finally makes a true friend in Dante, the new kid in town. Ari is frustrated about many aspects of his life, especially his emotionally absent father, his brother in prison, and his lack of connection with his Mexican heritage. While Ari is still desperately trying to figure out who he is, Dante becomes confident in his identity very quickly, which only serves to further confuse Ari. I can't say anything else about this book without spoilers... except it has become one of my absolute favorites and everyone should read it.
This audible listen was my favorite reading experience of the summer. If you are able to listen to this book, please do it. Lin Manuel Miranda tells the story of Ari and Dante perfectly. I'm not sure I would have enjoyed it as much had I read it for myself.
That's a wrap! What great YA books should I add to my ever-growing to-read list? Do you have additional thoughts about the books discussed in this post, or the ones I left out? Post in the comments! Happy reading!