It’s that time of year again: the posting of the “Best of” book lists. Some decisive people are able to pick only 10 books published in one year, but I find that impossible. So for the next three days, I’ll talk about my favorite fiction titles, nonfiction titles, and picture books.
Today I’ll share my favorite fiction titles of 2013.
Ruby has always been able to figure out what to do, but after the death of her grandmother, she is at a loss. Then she remembers the wish. Town legend says that if you find a quarter from the year you were born, make the wish 90 times, and then toss the quarter through the hole of the doughnut held by the statue of the town’s founder, your wish will come true. And Ruby desperately wants this wish to come true.
After the neighbor’s brand-new Ulysses super suction vacuum cleaner escapes outside and runs over a squirrel, Flora rescues the poor creature—only to realize that the squirrel (now named Ulysses) can not only understand her, but It can also fly and…write poetry? Holy unanticipated consequences! Flora calls herself a cynic; her motto is “Do not hope; instead, observe.” But the little superhero squirrel might have one more super power—providing hope to a lonely and skeptical young girl. (Read full review.)
Chad loves Sugar Man Swamp, where he and his mom run a small café. But unless they come up with a boatload of money, their landlord plans to evict them and build a theme park in the swamp. That isn’t Chad’s only problem, though he doesn’t know it. Wild pigs, having heard about the sugar cane growing in the swamp, are on their way, and their brutish manners will destroy the canes—unless the rattlesnakes in the cane take care of the pigs first. Fortunately, the Sugar Man Scouts are vigilant; but what can two young raccoons do against landlord, pigs, and rattlesnakes?
MIDDLE SCHOOL FICTION
Shad’s loyalties are torn between protecting his school, where he is finally learning to read, and his brother, with whom he has joined a secret organization. Shad lives in post-Civil War Virginia, and the problem is that he is white, his school is secretly teaching black children, and the organization is the Ku Klux Klan. Established to protect Confederate widows, the Klan has started toward the dark side, and Shad is caught in the middle. Where will his loyalties lie?
Willow is a genius, with a keen interest in medical conditions and plants. More than just offbeat, Willow has very few social skills and counts by 7s to comfort and calm herself. Her adoptive parents are a perfect match for her, and when they killed in a car accident, Willow is completely unmoored. Despite this pessimistic beginning, Counting by 7s is a surprisingly up-beat book. Since Willow has no other family, the loss of her parents forces her to turn to others. She draws together a disparate cast of troubled characters who, in helping a sad, lonely, and odd little girl, find their own lives lightening as well.
Though Victor has the best throwing arm in town, it is his tongue that causes him grief. His stuttering embarrasses him and makes him hide from most situations where he might have to talk. But when his best friend leaves for a month to visit relatives in the country, Victor volunteers to take over his friend’s paper route, unaware that this summer of 1959 will change him in many ways—if he lives through it.
HIGH SCHOOL FICTION
By the year 2059, the Scion has taken over London. Scion decreed that soothsayers, mediums, and all other clairvoyants are outlawed; they are forbidden to exist. As a dreamwalker—one of the rarest voyants—Paige works for the underworld, where she scouts for information in the minds of other people. When she is captured, she expects to be executed. Instead, she is taken to the hidden city of Oxford, which is controlled by an otherworldly race called the Rephaim. Assigned to Arcturus, she realizes that she will have to learn more about her captors as well as her psychic abilities if she is to escape.
Though I like to read many types of fiction, retold fairy tales are my favorite—and Far Far Away is well written and complex story about shy and studious Jeremy and the townsfolk of Never Better. Jeremy hears voices, mostly notable that of Jacob Grimm, who is trapped in an existence between life and death and who is the narrator of the story. Jacob’s job is to keep Jeremy safe, which is much harder since Jeremy met the beautiful and mischief-making Ginger. When her high jinks land them in trouble, it is uncertain whether they will have an ending like a Disney movie ending—or with one as grim as many Grimm characters.
Eight months after the events in Code Name Verity, a young American pilot, Rose, helps ferry planes from England to Paris. During one of her missions, she is captured by Germans and shipped to the Ravensbruck concentration camp. There she experiences firsthand the cruelty of the Nazis, as well as the loyalty and friendship of her fellow prisoners. Having already read Code Name Verity, I worried that Elizabeth Wein might not have a happy ending in mind for Rose. An excellent work of historical fiction.
Ryan is a junior at a private boarding school, but since he has skipped a few grades, at 14 he is the youngest, skinniest, and shortest boy in his grade. But he is also quite gutsy—which is not necessarily a good thing when you are rooming with the biggest, burliest bully on the rugby team. And because of a slight indiscretion (he “borrowed” a teacher’s cell phone to make a phone call), he has been assigned to the dorm for troublemakers. And he is in love with his best friend, a girl who treats him like a little boy. By turns funny and exciting—and always edgy—Winger also deals with serious issues: bullying, hazing, sexual tension, and gay friends. (Read Ryan’s full review.)
Check back tomorrow for my favorite nonfiction titles from 2013.
Well, I actually wrote this post a couple weeks ago, relieved that I kept the list to ten titles—and then last week I read Eleanor & Park. Now, I am not a fan of teen romances. And though I’m unwilling to remove any of the above titles, I just have to add it to my list. I am quite serious—and shocked—to say that it might be the best teen book that I have read this year.
Eleanor is the overweight new girl with gaudy clothes; Park is the half-Korean geek in a school of whites. On the first day of school, the only seat on the bus for Eleanor is next to Park. Neither looks at or talks to the other until Park realizes that Eleanor is reading his comics over his shoulder…and he holds the book slightly closer so she can see better. So it begins. The book tackles dysfunctional families, racism, changing friendships, and social awkwardness, but it is mostly a wonderful teen romance. The whole book is about love: the lack of it, the hope for it, and the fear of losing it. (I listened to the audiobook—wonderfully done!—and if I had the book in my hands, I might have broken my unyielding rule and checked the end of the book to see how it turned out.)