The Teens Are All Right: 2011's Top 5 YA Novels

Teen reads a book
Priscilla Nielsen for NPR

Once known for its problem novels and teen melodrama, young adult fiction has developed into one of the most complex and extensive genres in literature. 2011 brought us a wealth of new reads that continue to twist traditional formulas and take risks that are, by and large, paying off with wholly unique reading experiences. A love story at the heart of a horror novel — why not? Mythical water horses in the modern world — sounds exciting. A theatrical fantasy populated with Shakespearean and fairy tale characters alike — oh, the possibilities! But no matter how varied the young adult genre becomes, today's best teen reads have one thing in common: their emotional depth, believable characters and suspense-filled storylines will keep readers of any age tearing through the pages, as proven by these five exemplary novels.

Anna Dressed in Blood

Anna Dressed In Blood

by Kendare Blake

At once as eerie and terrible as it is sad and romantic, Anna Dressed in Blood is not your normal ghost story. Cas Lowood hunts violent ghosts and forces them to move on from our world, an occupation he inherited after a particularly brutal ghost killed his father. Cas doesn't romanticize his job; having no real idea what happens when the ghosts are "killed," he can't honestly say whether he's doing them any favors, but at least his work puts an end to their murdering sprees. Then Cas receives a tip on the most lethal ghost he has yet to encounter: Anna Dressed in Blood, a teenage girl whose 1958 murder was never solved. But Anna is different in more ways than one, and as Cas delves into her horrifying past, his willingness to destroy her begins to wane ... even as the body count rises. This captivating story pulls no punches, making for a breathless read that lingers in the imagination long after the last page is turned.

Divergent

Divergent

by Veronica Roth

In a market saturated with dystopian worlds, this debut novel stands ahead of the pack. The society of Veronica Roth's futuristic Chicago has been divided into five factions, each representing a different virtue: honesty, selflessness, intelligence, peacefulness and bravery. At the age of 16, each member must choose a faction, and our narrator, Beatrice, faces a near impossible decision from the start: stay with her family or dare to be herself. Her choice lands her in an initiation process that could prove fatal. She is surrounded by friends with questionable loyalty, and under the tutelage of Four, a handsome instructor who proves to be as baffling as he is irresistible. As the initiates are pushed to their breaking points, Beatrice, now called Tris, begins to unravel a plot that could lead to war between the factions, one that she and Four are the only ones capable of stopping. Beneath the surface of this gripping action story, Divergent is a book filled with tough choices, thoughtful relationships and a strong protagonist whose path to self-discovery is anything but stale.

So Silver Bright

So Silver Bright

by Lisa Mantchev

This stunning conclusion to the Théâtre Illuminata trilogy whisks readers away in a whirlwind of enchantment and comedy, the latter mostly at the hands of four pesky fairies that follow the heroine around like a cloud of bad perfume. Bertie, who was raised by the compiled casts of every play ever written, has endured a lot during the two previous books (Eyes Like Stars and Perchance to Dream). Her magical gift with words causes more problems than it solves: She has time and again encountered the wrath of a vengeful sea goddess, and she is perpetually caught between the affections of Nate, a swashbuckling pirate from The Little Mermaid, and Ariel, the seductive air spirit from The Tempest. In her lyrical style, Lisa Mantchev completes the series with the gusto — the final act of this engrossing tale includes revelations and bittersweet choices. Readers will clamor to know if Bertie is able to fulfill her greatest wish — to reunite her family — and which, if either, of her devoted suitors will finally win her heart.

The Scorpio Races

The Scorpio Races

Every autumn on the fictional island of Thisby, powerful water horses emerge from the ocean and are captured for the annual Scorpio Races. Winning the race can bring a rider fortune and renown, but the horses are violent creatures, constantly struggling to return to the water, and every year the races claim at least one rider's life. Maggie Stiefvater's take on a traditional Irish myth follows two heroes: Sean Kendrick, the stoic returning champion of the Scorpio Races who is hoping to win something much more precious than fame, and Puck, a girl who never wanted to race at all, but enters out of desperation — making her the first-ever female competitor. Tactile world-building, an island full of compelling characters, and the budding romance between Sean and Puck all make for an unforgettable book that's quite unlike anything else out there.

Ashfall

Ashfall

by Mike Mullin

This post-apocalyptic tale is one that combines reality with the stuff of nightmares, crawls under your skin, and forces you to question your own courage and survival instincts. After a fight with his mother, 15-year-old Alex is left at home while his parents and sister go to visit his aunt and uncle 140 miles away. Within hours of their leaving, the world changes — a supervolcano in Yellowstone erupts, blackening the sky, disabling the power and water lines and covering the continent in ash. Alex sets out to find his family, but the horrors of the catastrophe escalate as food and shelter become scarce and the ashfall disrupts Earth's natural weather patterns, triggering an early winter. During his journey, Alex faces inevitable evils that are only too believable, but he also glimpses kindness and generosity that offer a hint of hope in a world gone dark.

Marissa Meyer's debut novel, Cinder, which re-imagines Cinderella as a teenage cyborg, comes out in January.

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