Favourite YA Fiction from 2010

Last week my friend Kate was talking about a book that she really loved. As she spoke, she expressed that it was it was significant if she remembered a book or its characters because of how much she reads.  This is exactly how I feel about my list of favourites from 2010. 

The criteria for choosing these books are:

1)   The books were published in 2010.
2)   I think the books contributed something significant YA lit.
3)   The book’s characters and situations stuck with me months after I’ve read them. (Like my friend, how much I have to read and do read, this is not as easy as you might think.)

That means that this list doesn’t include:

1)   Books that I re-read this year. 
2)   Books that were published before 2010. This is why books like Lauren Halse Anderson‘s Speak, John Green’s Looking For Alaska and Stephen Chbosky‘s Perks of Being a Wallflower do not appear on this list.

Putting these in order of “love” was a challenge because I loved each of them for different reasons. So, to keep it fair, I’m going to put it in order that I read them (or at least try.)  Hopefully, it will be sort of like walking through a year in the reading life of Melanie Fishbane.

January 2010

Darklight by Lesley Livingston. Pub Date: January 4, 2010

Why the love: I simply adored the first book in Livingston’s faerie world series, Wondrous Strange in which young actress Kelley Winslow, comes to live in New York City to be an actress. After finding work as an understudy at a Shakspeare company doing A Midsummer Night’s Dream, she discovers that not only is New York’s Central Park is the gateway to the world of faerie, the Otherworld, but that she is actually a faerie herself. Sonny, a Janus guard and Kelley’s love interest, from the Otherworld, is the other narrator of the story.  Livingston, cleverly uses A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream as the framework for her faerie world casting Puck, Titania and Oberon as pivotal players in a war that pull Sonny and Kelley on what appears to be opposing sides. 

Tapping into faerie lore, Livingston creates a world that is both beautiful and terrifying. Kelley and Sonny have irresistibly distinct and authentic voices demonstrating Livingston’s insight and sense of humour. Having met her a few times this past year, her books are a wonderful reflection of her energetic and witty personality.  And I believe that she brings something fresh and exciting to Canada’s YA lit.

Very LeFreak by Rachel Cohn. Pub Date: January 12, 2010

Why the love: Rachel Cohn explores our culture’s obsession on technology without being didactic or heavy handed and probes into the questions about the things that we might truly fear, like not only love, but who we love. When Very’s (or Veronica’s) has a breakdown because of her addiction to technology, she is sent to  ESCAPE (Emergency Services for Computer-Addicted Persons Everywhere.) This book is not about how technology is bad, however, but a book that explores the things we do to avoid our own issues. And I love love love the musical references. Like this chapter heading: “‘Jean Genie’ in the Office of Dean Deanie.” Cohn subtly structures the novel in a way that we see Very’s world with sound and then without. And she somehow manages to merge Ella Fitzgerald with Judy Blume!

February/March 2010:

Getting Revenge of Lauren Wood. by Eileen Cook Pub Date: January 5, 2010

Why the love:  The title is awesome. And I know that you aren’t supposed to judge a book by its cover, but really – a Barbie Doll with the knife in her back on a bright yellow cover? Also, Carrie Jones, author of Need, (who I heart) recommended it and I trusted her opinion.   

The premise will make anyone who was bullied by the Mean Girl cheer. Helen, our anti-hero, was betrayed in Middle School by her BFF Lauren Wood and she vows revenge.And while some of us may only imagine it, it is kind of fun watching someone try and figure out that sometimes revenge isn’t as bitter sweet as we would imagine in a way that doesn’t seem overly moral or “after-school-specialish.” Eileen Cook’s prose is laugh out loud funny, engaging and intelligent. 

Scarlett Fever by Maureen Johnson. Pub Date: February 1, 2010

Why the love: In the follow up to Suite Scarlett about a young woman whose family owns a rundown hotel in New York City, Scarlett’s lonely summer is over and she returns to school with a broken heart and new worries. To help her family make money, Scarlett continues to work for the eccentric ex-actress Mrs. Ambrose, but this time as her assistant as Ambrose has started her own theatrical agency. Scarlett’s tasks includes walking a perpetual peeing toy dog and not spying on her boss’s newest prodigy’s brother Max – who of course (like love interests before him such as Edward in Twilight and Patch in Hush Hush) is her lab partner – although I think Johnson is doing this ironically. This book is like reading about Eloise if she lived in the basement of the Plaza Hotel instead of the Penthouse. With its broken down air conditioning, chairs, leaky faucets and creaky floorboards, the hotel is as quirky as the characters who run it. Johnson’s playful prose pushes us to look beneath the quirkiness and see what is really going on: financial struggle, complicated family dynamics, and what choices one makes because of it.

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver. Pub Date: February 22, 2010

Why the love: One of the oldest formulas in teen lit is delving into the into the complexities of death and dying. There is the Lurlene Mcdaniel books that are like reading what would happen if you combined an episode of Little House on The Prairie and Ghost Whisperer, and then there are books like Before I Fall and The Sky is Everywhere – two books on this list in which each author has sought to provide a compassionate story about what it means to be alive and the complexities of the grieving process.

In Before I Fall, Samantha Kingston is a “mean girl” who is killed in a car accident one night after a party. Her reward? To live the last day of her life over and over again until she figures out why its happening. A bit weary when I started it as I thought it would play out like a bad episode of Star Trek, Oliver plays with the repetition, giving Sam new insights which allows us to see the same thing, but from a different angle. And although we never figure out exactly the “why” this is possible, at the heart of this novel, is a story or rebirth. We see minor details become major life-changing events. And that it is the choices we make every day, the judgments we make without realizing it, and what we can do to make ourselves and our lives meaningful.

The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson. Pub Date: March 9, 2010

Why the love:   In The Sky is Everywhere, Lennie deals with her sister Baily’s death by hiding in plain sight. A talented musician, has been content to sit in her sister’s shadow. As much as she tries to hide from it in The Sanctum (where her sister’s things remain unmoved,) she is forced back.

We learn about Baily through Lennie’s poetry and notes, which are peppered throughout the novel. As Lennie writes on scraps of paper, park benches and tree barks, she scatters them around town as if she is leaving pieces of herself (and Baily) wherever she goes.

The people who surround Lennie are equally compelling. The new cute boy in town with beautiful black eyelashes, her charismatic and cool best friend (who inspired me to think about a list to do of cool best friends in YA novels,) her gardening gran and pot-smoking uncle. Lennie’s world – the forest, her school, and her Gran’s garden, the story surrounding her Mother’s disappearance – are magical, mystical and real. Her story becomes one of returning back to it. No longer able to hide behind her outgoing sister, she must step into herself, her music, and bring in, as she later says, the “messessentialism” of life.

April 2010:

Will Grayson,Will Grayson by David Levithan and John Green. Pub Date: April 6, 2010 

Why the love:  In the tradition of Rachel Cohn and David Levithan’s books, Levithan and Green each take a turn writing a chapter, in the point of view of Will Grayson. That is, will grayson AND Will Grayson, two “wills” who wish to remain on outside looking in – due to shyness or depression. 

When Tiny, Will Grayson’s best friend, whose personality is as large as his girth,  falls in love with will grayson, the two “wills” worlds intertwine into a compassionate romance and bromance story that will make you believe in the power of the high school musical and “intellectual pop punk.” It is Tiny’s experience and voice we hear through our two narrators and really gives this book its heart. Levithan and Green’s continue to impress me with the authenticity of their character’s voices. For among the pop cultural quips and fake rock band names, is a novel which opens us up to those important questions we continue to ask ourselves and the possibilities of finding an answer.

August 2010

Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare. Pub Date: August 31, 2010

Why the love:  One of the books that I was more excited about this past year because I truly loved Clare’s The Mortal Instruments (TMI) series. Her new trilogy, The Infernal Devices, that takes place within the same world, but a hundred years earlier and focuses on sixteen-year-old Tessa Gray who comes to London via New York to meet her brother Nate. When she takes refuge with the Shadowhunters, she meets James (or Jem) and Will. (Spawning the already-much-blogged and debated about Will/Team Jem camps in cyberland.)

I fell in love with Clare’s version of Victorian London and the fluidity in which she describes the characters and their world. With contemporary book references, the complexities of class and gender seamlessly linked with Institute politics, fast-paced action and dramatic romantic tension, Clare successfully merges the genre of historical fiction with steampunk fantasy. I think she’s the next big thing. If she’s not already half-way there.

Half Brother by Kenneth Oppel. Pub Date: August 16, 2010  

Why the love: Uhm..he’s Kenneth Oppel. As you may recall, I wrote a comparison piece focusing on what motivated the two characters, Ben and Katniss in what were two very different novels. When I met him again this year, (see Mel’s inner book geek jump up and down and squealing “eeee”) he thought that my post was “interesting.”

I’m always impressed with how Oppel focuses on characters that deal with the complexities of their ever-changing world. Part of that process is realizing that what they do will effect who they will become.  Whether that means, leaving the proverbial nest represented by a tree, protecting your crew or going to great lengths to save your brother, it all comes down to the same question: What is my place in this world and who will I be in it?

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins. Pub Date: August 24, 2010

Why the love: This third book in The Hunger Games series was probably, next to Clockwork Angel, the most anticipated YA book of 2010.  Collins’s series has helped dystopian fiction gain popularity this year. Collins dares to go where many fear to tread; into a world where not only children die but also part of the entertainment. 

Much has been said about this novel this year. Many didn’t like the ending. Others loved it. For me, I was left feeling a little numb and still have a hard time grasping exactly how I feel about it. 

Katniss’s confusion and desire to check out as if she was both a participant and observer of her experience was a new way of bringing us back into the games. I think that I still prefer the first novel in the series, but Collins’s willingness to go where she needed to, to give this story its closure is to be commended. 

October 2010:

Rilla of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery (edited by Benjamin Lefebvre) Pub Date: October 26, 2010

Why the love:  Given that the book included new material, I’m not calling this a re-read. I know that I’m bending the rules a little, but I figure that I’ve made them up so I can change them to suit my needs.

I’ve written many times in this blog about why I loved this book. But, this year, I read it around Remembrance Day. I took it out and read Walter’s letter to Rilla on the 11th of November and found such wisdom and solace. Montgomery shifts in form throughout the novel: Rilla’s diary/journal, letters from the front and the omniscient narrator giving us keen insight into how the world around Rilla perceived her and how she saw them. Perhaps by saying that this is a new book, we can begin to see it in a new way. Even as possibly one of the first YA novels in Canada?

November, 2010:

Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn. Pub Date: October 26, 2010

Why the love: If you haven’t quite noticed yet, I have a bit of a book crush on David Levithan and Rachel Cohn because they are doing something I hope to master even a little in the coming months – the ability to write witty, intelligent and authentic prose that assumes that their reader will just get the references. 

The premise, with only a few days left before Christmas, Dash finds a red Moleskine notebook full of dares that is left by Lily in the stacks of one of New York City’s largest bookstores The Strand. (As a person who has not been to this bookstore, reading about it has inspired me to plot an extravagant trip to NYC.) Dash answers the invitation and then dares Lily right back.   

As they notebook travels, so do they. To places they’ve never been in a city they believed to know so well and eventually deciding if they want to keep their relationship as is, or, tempt fate and meet in person.  Like in their previous novel, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, Levithan and Cohn have that delicate balance of comedic pop cultural references with the romantic awkwardness of Dash and Lily’s feelings. You will read this in one sitting.

December, 2010:

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly. Pub Date: October 12, 2010

Why the love: This book had everything. Music theory. The French Revolution. Angsty teen girl. Tragic death. Hot cutie foreign boy with musical talent and a rhythmic soul. Modern day tragedy is mixed with the historical mystery of the heart of Louis Charles (the son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.) Andi, lost in grief, stumbles around only finding solace in her music until she finds a diary written by Alex – a player who becomes the aid of Louis Charles. 

Additionally layered into this novel is the musical montage. Like Cohn and Levithan, Donnelly expertly weaves music into the soul of this novel, not only giving the novel its tone, but the thing that connects its characters. Complex and heartbreaking, this novel speaks to the realities of pain, what we do to avoid it and what we need to do to connect with the past and live in the present. 

Honorable mentions: Susin Nielsen’s Dear George Clooney, Please Marry My Mother, E. Lockhart’s Real Live Boyfriends.

These authors have not only contributed something to the YA genre, but, they have inspired me to dive more deeply into my own fiction, how I want to construct my own characters, what I want their world to look like, and to simply tell a good story. I can only hope that in 2011, when I continue to climb as Montgomery put it, the alpine path, that I can be worthy enough to walk among them.

About Melanie J. Fishbane

My novel, MAUD: A Novel Inspired by the Life of L.M. Montgomery was published in 2017 through Penguin Random House on April 25, 2017. I hold an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Here I talk about my writing process, things I love, and creative people who inspire me.
This entry was posted in Authors, Blogging, Book Reviews, Children's Literature, Teen lit, Writing. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Favourite YA Fiction from 2010

  1. Melissa says:

    I've only read one of these books – Mockingjay! Wow…there are so many great YA novels to read.Did you have the chance to check out Rhythm and Blues by Jill Murray or Wildthorn by Jane Eagland?

  2. Indeed, there are. There were many books that I didn't get to, those two were unfortunately on that list. I was pondering making a list of books from last year that I will read in 2011.

  3. Lizamo says:

    I've read 5/10 and have some of the other 5 on my to-read list. My top 10 list included anything I read this year – I didn't care when it was published. I think you cheated with Rilla! But hey you gave good runners up!Great list Melanie!

  4. Thanks Liza! I saw your list this afternoon and saw that you included everything. It was a good list. Had a few things on the "to read" list as well… And, yes, I know it appears that I was cheating…but hey, they are my rules. 🙂

  5. Eileen says:

    wow. This is great company to be in. Thank you

  6. Mimi says:

    I'm also a huge fan of Rachel Cohn. Great list!

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