The OF Blog: 2009 in Review: YA Fiction

Monday, December 28, 2009

2009 in Review: YA Fiction

Last year when I wrote my review of my reads of 2008 YA titles, I remarked that this was a category in which I needed to explore more in the coming years.  Sadly, there were only four YA titles released in 2009 that I read.  While there were several other YA titles that I read which were released in prior years, I just flat-out failed to discover much that interested me in the way that D.M. Cornish's Monster Blood Tattoo trilogy, for example, did.  However, out of the four authors whose 2009 YA releases I did read, I found an almost uniform level of high quality despite none of the stories having much in common in terms of structure or plot.

Dave Eggers, The Wild Things

Dave Eggers over the past few years has become one of my favorite writers for the immediacy of his prose and the vivid portrayals of people, both real and imagined, thrust into some very uncomfortable positions.  The Wild Things, a novelization of the movie adaptation of Maurice Sendak's classic Where the Wild Things Are, is the first of two Eggers releases this year that made my 2009 in Review lists.  It is at its core a fleshing out of the story of wild Max and what might possess him to don a wolf suit and to flee from his mother.  Eggers achieved something that I thought might be almost impossible:  He sets up a narrative warp and weave that threads his story around Sendak's tale in such a way that Max becomes an even more interesting character than the adventuresome and frightened little boy that I remember from my earliest reading days.  By grounding the tale in a broken family where Max's antics reminded me of what several of my students at my current residential treatment center teaching job have experienced, Eggers allows the reader to make sometimes-profound conclusions from the overactive and sometimes searching imagination of young Max.

Kristin Cashore, Fire

Fire is the second novel by Cashore.  The first, Graceling, appeared in last year's review of 2008 YA fiction read.  Loosely set in the same setting as her first novel, albeit with an almost-totally different cast and occurring several years before the events of Graceling, Fire was in many senses a natural development from Cashore's strong debut novel.

Instead of gracelings starring in this novel, Fire's main character is a "monster," a young female who has the ability (when she so chooses it) of penetrating another's mind and controlling it to some extent.  Cashore explores the possibilities, good and bad alike, of having such abilities and she does it without resorting to narrative shortcuts or easy cop-outs.  The characterizations here are strong and the narrative flow is smoother here compared to her first novel.  For those looking to see what some of the best, the brightest, and the youngest are producing in the YA market, Kristin Cashore would be one of the first authors that I would suggest to readers.

Nnedi Okorafor, Long Juju Man

Nnedi Okorafor is perhaps one of the more talented young writers today that does not get the recognition from certain audiences that she perhaps deserve.  After the success of her first two, Nigerian-influenced YA novels, Zahrah the Windseeker and The Shadow Speaker, her third published book, The Long Juju Man (actually, it's a novella in length), perhaps is the favorite of mine.

Tricksters, in human or spirit form, are often found in West African stories.  From Anansi (most recently explored by Neil Gaiman in American Gods and Anansi Boys) to Ghanian myths involving the monkey, there is a rich tradition of stories involving wisdom learned at the expense of the tricks played by these playful spirits.  In Long Juju Man, Okorafor renders this storytale form into a narrative that is engaging, amusing, and ultimately rewarding for the reader.

Patrick Ness, The Ask and the Answer

Earlier this year, at the urging of Martin Lewis, I read and enjoyed Ness's first novel in the Chaos Walking trilogy, The Knife of Never Letting Go.  I found it to be fast-paced and yet profound at times in its explorations of the confusions of male adolescence.  Didn't hurt that all this was taking place while Todd, the protagonist, is fleeing from Mayor Prentiss and the men of Prentisstown.

Unfortunately, its sequel, The Ask and the Answer, does not carry as much magic in its narrative as did the first volume.  The book does suffer in places from a sense that things are only deepening and not broadening at the same time. Yet for the most part, Ness's narrative does manage to drive the plot forward nicely, creating interest in the finale while leaving the reader to wonder what will Todd and Viola discover about the origins of things, not to mention about themselves.

So while I have not yet managed to get around to reading the Suzanne Collins of the world, perhaps there are other YA novels that I have missed that were released this year which might be of as high or even higher quality than the ones I have mentioned above?  If so, which books released this year would you laud as being among the best?


Brian Lindenmuth said...

The only one that jumps out at me is Liar by Justine Larbalestier. A well done tricky first person narrative with multiple interpretations.

Aishwarya said...

Margo Lanagan's Tender Morsels was published in the UK this year (I think it was available in the US in 2008) and is definitely worth reading if you haven't already. I also really enjoyed Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan and am currently reading (and very impressed with) Francisco X. Stork's Marcelo in the Real World. I still haven't read Liar, but I'm told it's really good.

Lsrry said...


Been meaning to check out her YA works for a while now. Might place an order in a few weeks.


I read and loved Tender Morsels last year (it was featured in that year's best YA novels). Have heard good things about Leviathan as well and might investigate the Stork as well.

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