Under the Stars: 10 Favorite YA Novels

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It’s time to wrap up this Under the Stars series on great books for kids, so let’s highlight some awesome young adult titles for teens (as well as adults who love YA). We asked our manager of books for young readers, Stephanie Appell, to tell us about her favorites. This is what she said:

“What are your favorite YA books?” is kind of an agonizing question for me to answer. As a bookseller, I typically want to recommend new books. One of the great things about being an indie bookseller is that I get to champion emerging authors and books that haven’t found an audience yet, and being in a position to do that is something I take pretty seriously. But at the same time, I’m always skeptical of considering something a “favorite” if it’s new. How can something be my “favorite” if I’ve only just read it? What if I like it now, but on further consideration, it falls in my esteem in favor of books I’ve loved longer, books that have stood the test of time and multiple readings? When you’re someone who reads a lot, it’s also just difficult to have favorites without any kind of qualification. If I tell you my favorite book is a fantasy novel, but you only like to read mysteries, you might think we don’t have anything in common as readers, when I might have just read a great mystery I could have told you about, if only you’d asked me for my favorite mystery novel, and not just my favorite book. Oh, the pressure!

So with some super-specific qualifiers, these are some favorites I’ve read recently. – Stephanie

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My Favorite Book About the Highs and Lows of Summer Vacation

Since You’ve Been Gone 

When Emily’s best friend Sloane leaves town without a trace, Emily’s plans for their summer together evaporate. Sloane was the exciting, confident, risk-taker, and everyone knows Emily as “that girl who’s always with Sloane.” But when Sloane mails Emily a list of thirteen cryptic tasks, Emily’s summer begins to go in a very unexpected direction. Matson writes some of the most dimensional teen characters out there, and even the bit players here shine. I can’t think of book that better captures the intensity of friendship, or the way one summer can change everything.

My Favorite Book about Death That Isn’t The Book Thief

The Game of Love and Death

Love and Death have been playing a game for centuries, manipulating human hearts to gain advantage for their side. Their players this time are Henry and Flora, two young people in 1930s Seattle. Martha Brockenbrough tells their story in beautifully measured prose, and the ending took my breath away.

My Favorite Book Told Entirely In Letters

Because You’ll Never Meet Me 

Ollie, deathly allergic to electricity, lives in a cabin in upstate Michigan with only his mother for company. Moritz, blinded in a mysterious accident that left him with his other senses unusually heightened, lives in Germany, but feels adrift in the world. Their doctor suggests they write to each other, and in doing so, gives them the key to understanding themselves. Ollie and Moritz’s voices, in the letters that comprise the book, sparkle with life. In Code Name Verity, Elizabeth Wein’s protagonist observed, “It’s like falling in love, finding your best friend.” This book is like that.

My Favorite Book That Made Me Laugh So Hard I Couldn’t Breathe

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl 

I don’t want to call this the anti-Fault in Our Stars, because that does a disservice to both books. But both are stories about young people dealing with mortality, and where The Fault in Our Stars goes for big emotions, witty dialogue, and the meaning of life, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl takes a more cinema verite approach, often to self-aware and hilarious ends. I mean, when’s the last time you read a book with chapter titles such as “I Put the ‘Ass’ in ‘Casanova,” “Drugs are the Worst,” or “Let’s Just Get This Embarrassing Chapter Out of the Way?” Profane and profound, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is like nothing I’ve ever read, and I couldn’t put it down.

My Favorite Quietly Wonderful Book

Emmy & Oliver 

Emmy and Oliver lived next door to each other their whole lives, but on the last day of second grade, Oliver’s dad kidnapped him, and Oliver vanished without a trace. Now it’s the summer before their senior year, and Oliver has been found. Everyone, including Emmy, is so excited to see their Oliver returned home, but they struggle to understand why Oliver doesn’t seem as excited to be back with them. Robin Benway writes with such warmth, and her entire cast of characters — Emmy, Oliver, their families and friends — shine. The small-town beachside setting is like the icing on the cake.

My Favorite Use of Graphic Novel Elements Not In A Graphic Novel

I Am Princess X 

By Cherie Priest, Kali Ciesemier (Illustrator)
When they were little, best friends Libby and May wrote and illustrated stories about the magical warrior Princess X and her adventures. Then Libby and her mom died in a tragic accident, and the stories, hidden in the back of Libby’s closet, were lost forever. So when May is walking around downtown Seattle and spots a Princess X sticker in the corner of a shop window, she begins to wonder the impossible: What if Libby is still alive, and trying to find her way back to her best friend? Cherie Priest absolutely nails May’s online and IRL hunt for Libby through the wilds of the internet and the streets of Seattle, but the beating heart of I Am Princess X is May, who never wavers in her search to find her best friend.

The Book I Can’t Stop Thinking About And All Other Books Keep Paling In Comparison

Bone Gap 

I can’t stop thinking about this book. I know I recommended it earlier this summer, but I still can’t stop thinking about it! And I’m no closer to being able to talk about why, either. It’s ultimately a story about how the world we see is not the only world that could be, and it slips the possibility of that other world into our world in such a masterful way. It’s magical, but not in a wands and wizards way. If you’ve ever watched fireflies bloom over a cornfield at dusk, you have an idea of what this book is like. Just read it, so that I’m not alone in not being able to stop thinking about it.

The Series I Am Completely Obsessed With And Can’t Believe I Have To Wait Six Months To Finish

The Raven Cycle (The Raven BoysThe Dream ThievesBlue Lily, Lily Blue)

There’s a moment in the third book of this will-be-four-books series where Maggie Stiefvater observes of her heroine, 16-year-old Blue Sargent, “Blue was perfectly aware that it was possible to have a friendship that wasn’t all-encompassing, that wasn’t blinding, deafening, maddening, quickening. It was just that now that she’d had this kind, she didn’t want the other.” I am perfectly aware that it is possible to read books that aren’t about a small town in the Blue Ridge Mountains that may or may not house a centuries-old not-dead-just-sleeping Welsh King, four terrifically flawed and wonderfully human boys on a quest to find him, each for his own reason, and the psychically ungifted daughter of a psychic who’s a little bit in love with all of them and they, in return, with her, and all the nefarious powers trying to stop them. It is just that now that I have, I don’t want to read anything else.

My New Favorite Romantic Comedy With A Heart of Pure Gold

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda 

There are just some books that get it, that absolutely nail the perfect mix of angst and wit and snark with which we all wish we could narrate our lives and the glory and agony of the first time we fall in love. Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda gets it. This is a you’ll-laugh-if-you-read-it-in-public, sigh-as-you-fall-for-the-characters-as-they-fall-for-each-other, quote-it-with-your-friends fantastic book, and I want every teenager who walks in the store to walk out with a copy.

One of My All-Time Favorite Books I Wish Just About Everyone Would Read

Jellicoe Road

Remember how I mentioned books that stand the test of time and multiple readings? Every single book Melina Marchetta has written is one of those, but out of all of them, this one is closest to my heart. This is a book that defies the easy synopsis, a book with prose so incredible any descriptors simply fall short. I read it for the first time in one delirious haze, and I’ve read it about once a year since. It is a book that asks much and rewards much, and it will always be among my favorites.

What are YOUR favorites? Tweet and tell us (@parnassusbooks1) or add to the list on Tumblr!