There are five books in each category, and I swear to you, they could really go in any order, and their ranking here does not reflect anything but the order I found them on my reading list. Looking at them now, I'm pleased to see what a diverse list this is. My taste usually runs to the Contemporary side, but it just goes to show you never know what's going to rock your world.
So without further ado, I give you...
My Five Favorite Reads of 2011
1. The Name of the Star
Johnson hit this one out of the park. (You can see my full review on Goodreads) I was a little nervous how it would play, since she's one of my favorite contemporary writers. But I am here to tell you, this is now my gold standard for what paranormal must be. The characters still had all the layers and humanity of a contemporary, and their experience with the ghost world fit right in. Fast-paced and compelling. I can't wait for the next one!
The moment I finished this book, I ran to my mom's house and told her she had to put down whatever else she was reading and start it. She finished the next day. This book is straight up addicting from the get-go. It's intense, fascinating, and so unexpected. Everything you think you know about dystopian will be turned on its head. Is INSURGENT out yet?!
I read this book only after reading Mandy Hubbard's blog post about what editors were looking for. When asked, more editors said they wished they'd edited CHIME than any other book. For that reason, and in spite of the cover and the jacket flap, I read it. Oh. My. God. It was NOTHING like I expected. It was brilliant and painful and so different from anything else I've read. I couldn't put it down. If you don't believe me about any other book, please go get CHIME as soon as you possibly can.
4. I Capture the Castle
My friend Johnny recommended this book to me. It's older--written in the 1940s, and first published in 1949. Strangely enough, the author is also the author of ONE HUNDRED AND ONE DALMATIONS. This book is pure magic. Bizarre, and hilarious, and romantic, and wonderful. I can't recommend it highly enough. Another one I forced my mother to read as soon as I finished.
5. Putting Makeup on Dead People
I was excited about this book based solely on the title. Violi delivered an amazingly layered story that pulled me in from the start and made me want to stay longer in her world. It was quirky, and unexpected, and tapped themes I haven't seen handled so delicately in YA. Intricate as lace. You should definitely put it on your to-read list.
The Five Books That Made Me Feel
Like a Hack As a Writer in 2011
Billingsley's story is a master class in world building. The language, the voice, the characters, the setting, the structural devices...there was nothing here that didn't work for me. It was like being miniaturized and settled comfortably in an old-fashioned music box, watching wide-eyed while the mechanisms did their magic. I could die happy if I ever wrote something half this good.
Holy action movie on paper, Batman! This one left me breathless. It was particularly harrowing to read for me since it was set so close to where I live. Bick even referred to local restaurants by name. I loved the realism, and the believability of this awful future. She even gave explanations for her character's survival skills that rang so true I didn't question her for a moment. Amazing.
3. My Invented Life
Bjorkman's use of language left my mind spinning. This book was actually challenging to read at times because of the stream-of-consciousness style (though that's not even really the right description). I felt like I was never given a full hand in a high-stakes poker game. I'm not sure I loved this book, but it certainly gave me a lot to think about. YA is NOT dumbed down, and this book is proof.
4. Imaginary Girls
I have rarely loved to hate a character as much as I hated Ruby in IMAGINARY GIRLS. Suma created a David Lynch-like atmosphere in this book where I never felt like I had both feet on solid ground. This was another one of those books where I was never sure if I was enjoying it or not, but I couldn't help admiring Suma's skill. Characters, voice, setting...everything wove together. And I love that some mysteries were never fully explained. (But I still hate Ruby.)
5. The Replacement
Wow, this book gripped me from the first page. It was like reading a book set in a Tim Burton movie. Like others on this list, I never felt completely at home in this world, but it was so rich and believable I couldn't help turning pages. Only the ending let me down in any way. I'd still highly recommend it.
My Five Favorite Female Characters for 2011
1. Cassandra from I Capture the Castle
I really don't know how to put words to my adoration for Cassandra. She's totally of her own time, yet delightfully madcap and modern. I could easily imagine a teenager from today having the same kind of adventures Cassandra and her family went through. She's a complete delight, and you will never regret reading her story.
2. Ruby Oliver from Real Live Boyfriends: Yes. Boyfriends, Plural. If My Life Weren't Complicated I Wouldn't Be Ruby Oliver
Ruby has been one of my favorites since I read the first installment in her series a couple years ago. She's funny, and smart, and self-centered, and confused, and good-hearted, and quirky without wearing it like a badge of honor, and her footnotes just make me want to be her best friend. Sometimes, I wanted to strangle Ruby for being so stupid, but all her decisions were so human and relatable, in the end I still wanted to hug her.
3. Clio from Girl at Sea
Clio is everything I love about Maureen Johnson's writing. She's smart, unsure of herself, wise beyond her years, but somehow naive. Best of all, she was dropped into the middle of a story that screams out to be made into an action/comedy, like, now. Are you listening, Hollywood? Clio's observations of her world, and the other characters were laugh-out-loud funny. Yay for girls in action roles!
4. Rory in The Name of the Star
And oh look, another Maureen Johnson character! Feel free to take the reasons above and apply them to Rory. Her near-death experience by humiliating choking episode, love of processed cheese-food-product, and willingness to use her paranormal abilities to get her homework done make Rory a character you can absolutely get behind. Trust me, you'll love her.
5. Donna from Putting Makeup on Dead People
Donna is definitely the quiet one on this list. I loved her introspection, and the way she dedicated herself to her interests, whatever they were and however outside the norm. She made me root for her so hard, right from the beginning. She reminds me of a friend of mine, so of course I want to climb inside the pages and squeeze her to bits.
My Five Favorite Male Characters for 2011
1. Roger from Amy and Roger's Epic Detour
Roger is fun, and self-assured, but totally broken at the same time. I loved the way he didn't question Amy's fear of driving, and went along with every strange twist in their journey. I also loved the restraint he showed, and of course, his awesome taste in music (By the way, if you search some of the songs on his playlist on YouTube, you'll find a ton of the others suggested in the side bar. How cool is that?).
2. Eldric from Chime
Eldric was like a small sun dragged down to earth. I could just picture him vibrating with energy and bubbling with laughter. I loved his bad boy side, and his humor, and the way he "played" with Briony when she needed him to. Such an amazing, rich character.
3. Cricket from Lola and the Boy Next Door
Cricket was unique and weird, and adorable. I am a sucker for a smart boy, and Cricket fit that bill to a T. I loved the way he dove into anything that came up, from pie-making, to pizza box sliding. A great, romantic lead that would have any girl with a thing for nerdboys swooning. Loved him.
4. Tobin from "The Cheertastic Christmas Miracle"
Let It Snow
Tobin is everything I like about John Green's writing. Funny and sarcastic without delving into snarky, full of joy at the wonderment of life, and not even completely embarrassed about it. Totally willing to dive straight into a bad plan and ride it out, no matter what. Green writes about the kind of kids I knew in high school, and Tobin was no exception. A lovable delight.
5. Shakespeare Shapiro from Spanking Shakespeare
Rarely have I read a character who could pull off self-pity as successfully as Shakespeare. He made me care about what happened to him, even though he saw himself as a victim of circumstance. Hilariously honest and self-depricating to a fault. I loved his relationship with his parents, and the way he was so utterly inept with the girls in his life. Hilarious and adorable. Hidorable.
Best Love Stories of 2011
1. Tris & Four from Divergent
Oh, the understated sexual tension! Oh, the forbidden aspect of the student-teacher attraction! Oh, I am so going to kick Veronica Roth's ass if anything bad happens to Four, I swear to God!
2. Briony & Eldric from Chime
Mmmmm, animal magnetism in a repressive historical time period! Eldric and Briony simmer together and you just want them to finally let it happen! So good. Romantic without being sappy, obstacles you can actually believe, only a little bit wanting to clock one of them over the head with something heavy and scream, "Can't you see he/she loves you?! AG!!" So so so so good.
3. Anna & Will from Sixteenth Summer
This book is everything sweet and wonderful about that first real love. All that wrapped up in a spectacular oceanside setting that made me want to move to Georgia. And if you know me at all, that is REALLY saying something. Love how this one ended. And I won't spoil it for you, so there.
4. Mia & Adam from Where She Went
Adam and Mia have made my heart ache since IF I STAY. I was going buggy for most of this book, so desperate was I to know everything would work out okay. Amazing character development from the first book, and I bought every word of it. It will fill you with longing and ennui, but in a good way.
5. Lola & Cricket from Lola and the Boy Next Door
Okay, who doesn't love Stephanie Perkins? If you haven't read ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS you have obviously got to get your priorities straightened out. I didn't love Lola as much as I loved Anna (the characters, not the book), but still the romance was so honest and realistic I couldn't help putting this book on my list. Plus...Cricket. I mean, yum, right? As much as I wanted to thump Lola over her head with a book a few times, I suppose it would have been dishonest of her to see the light too soon, right? Even when that light is Cricket. If you love romance, this is the one for you, trust me.
So, there you have it! For more Year-End goodness, may I recommend checking out YAHighway?
Leave your favorites in the comments! My To-Read list can never be long enough.