A few weeks, back, I shared my picks for some of my favorite books of the year (LJ Best Books: YA Lit for Adults; 35 Going On 13: Best Teen Books for Adults, 2013; Extended List). In the interest of featuring a broad range of great new books for teens (and we adults who read like them), I neglected to include some of what I enjoyed most this past year: next installments in beloved series and unexpected sequels to favorites from years past. Here are some that surprised and delighted, as they continued—or improved on—stories already begun.
Bick, Ilsa. Monsters. Egmont. (Ashes Trilogy, Bk. 3). 2013. 680p. ISBN 9781606841778. $18.99.
When we last saw Alex—in the concluding pages of Shadows (Egmont. 2012)—all hope seemed lost; she was falling down a mineshaft in the winter lair of the Changed. In Bick’s brutal post-apocalyptic United States, most of humanity was wiped out in one blinding electromagnetic pulse. Those that remain fight to survive among the Changed, the part of the population that transformed into blood-thirsty pack animals. Now our heroine must endure a cold, cold winter and somehow reunite with Tom, her true love from the series’ riveting opener, Ashes (Egmont. 2011). Fans of the series”The Walking Dead” will find much that is familiar in the pace, themes, and body county of this gripping trilogy (although here the enemy has begun to evolve and use weapons), yet Bick’s subtle exploration of the psychology of survival sets it apart from a crowded field of end-of-the-world teen fiction.
Gantos, Jack. From Norvelt to Nowhere. Farrar. (Norvelt, Bk. 2). 2013. 278p. ISBN 9780374379940. $16.99.
Since Gantos has already won the Newbery for the hilarious Dead End in Norvelt (Farrar, 2011), one might think that he would be content to leave his fictional self and the wholly original Miss Volker to the confines of near history. Not so fast. The elusive Mr. Spizz seems to have claimed another victim, and Jackie and his arthritic friend are hot on his trail in a madcap cross-country adventure. Their travels take them from the grave of Norvelt’s founder, Eleanor Roosevelt, to Florida’s Fountain of Youth, with nods to Moby-Dick as they track their old lady–killing quarry. The assertive pace and broad comedy of this follow-up will be most enjoyed by those with a good recollection for the finer details of Dead End.
Kontis, Alethea. Hero. Harcourt. (Woodcutter Sisters, Bk. 2). 2013. 282p. ISBN 9780544056770. $17.99.
In Enchanted (Harcourt. 2012) readers met the Woodcutters, a hardscrabble magical family living in the kingdom of Arilland. In that charming debut, Sunday—youngest in the line of seven daughters, likewise named for the days of the week—befriended and kissed a frog near a well, only to have him turn into Rumbold, the crown prince. Now, it is her older sister Saturday’s turn for adventure. Saturday considers herself the least lovely among her sisters, preferring to chop wood and practice swordplay over spellwork and palaces. Her fighting spirit is put to good use when she is taken prisoner by a blind witch in a cavern at the very top of the world. There she befriends her fellow prisoner, Peregrine, a young man of noble birth who has donned a skirt and poses as the witch’s daughter as his own method of survival, and together they attempt to keep their captor from opening a hole in the fabric of the world. Kontis’s clever play on gender roles flavors a delicious mix of fairy tales that feels both fresh and familiar. Would that there were another week’s worth of unmatched Woodcutters!
LaFevers, Robin. Dark Triumph. Houghton Harcourt. (His Fair Assassin Trilogy, Bk. 2). 2013. 400p. ISBN 9780547628387. $17.99.
In Grave Talent (Houghton Harcourt. 2012), readers were introduced to the convent of St. Mortain, where assassin nuns train young ladies in service to the god of death. There, Lady Sybella was an angry fellow-acolyte and loyal friend of Ismae, who was then sent from the convent to protect a young countess from the nobles who would control her. Unknown to Ismae, chief among these evildoers is Sybella’s own father, d’Albret. Sybella wants nothing more than to kill him and her brothers for the abuse she has suffered at their hands, but her dark master has other plans involving a key prisoner who must be rescued from d’Albret’s dungeon and delivered to the countess’s defenders. True to its title, this second book is darker than its predecessor, baring the heart of a young woman hardened by her incestuous family. For that, her journey from fear to love is all the sweeter.
Meyer, Marissa. Cress (Lunar Chronicles, Bk. 3). Feiwel & Friends. Feb. 2014. 550p. ISBN 9780312642976. $18.99.
In Cinder (Feiwel & Friends. 2012), a cyborg Cinderella attempts to save her prince from an evil Lunar queen and ends up a fugitive for her trouble. In Scarlet (Feiwel & Friends, 2013), a feisty redhead enlists the help of a streetfighter named Wolf when her beloved grand-mère goes missing. Together they join Cinder in the quest to rescue humanity (and her love). Now, in Cress, the tangle-haired prisoner of a Lunar noble seeks the renegade band as Queen Levana’s wedding to Prince Kai draws ever nearer. Trapped in a lonely satellite, Crescent Moon has been crushing on the infamous Carswell Thorne (a roguish fellow-prisoner friend of Cinder’s), not knowing that he is among the very gaggle of renegades she has been tasked to find. In a botched rescue attempt, Thorne and Cress fall to Earth in the middle of the Sahara, and the scoundrel captain—think Han Solo meets Indiana Jones—must now protect the innocent Lunar and somehow reunite with his friends. Meyer, like Kontis, uses a familiar tale to launch a story like no other.
Stiefvater, Maggie. The Dream Thieves. Scholastic. (Raven Cycle, Bk. 2). 2013. 439p. ISBN 9780545424943. $18.99.
In last year’s The Raven Boys, readers met Blue, the hard-working, mostly ordinary daughter of a family of psychics, living near the exclusive Aglionby Academy. Her whole life, Blue has heard that after she kisses her true love, he will die, which makes her (very) determined not to fall for Gansey, the charismatic leader of a gang of four prep school boys who in their off hours follow ley lines in search of a legendary king. In this worthy sequel, we learn more about Gansey’s friends—Adam, Noah, and especially Ronan—as they face a new threat, the enigmatic and determined Grey Man. Just what is he seeking? And are his intentions regarding Blue’s mother honorable? Blue’s longing for Gansey is all the more bittersweet for their class differences, which are more of a barrier than any cursed prophecy. Stiefvater holds this multilayered story together with a mastery painstakingly forged in her Shiver trilogy and the Printz Honor–winning Scorpio Races (Scholastic. 2011).