Book Love

Three great YA books for giving (or reading yourself)

YA books have come a long way in the last 10 or so years. Yes, you’ll find some cheesy or cookie-cutter stories that don’t seem connected with today’s world (those still surface in every genre). But the young adult book market has become really competitive – which means higher expectations from publishers and better books for us as readers.

The YA titles on today’s shelves cover any genre you might want. And although a glance at their covers in the local bookstore might make it seem like they all tie in with dark topics, there are plenty that can entertain and challenge you without being something you would have hidden from your mom when you were 15.

Here are three I’ve read lately that are clean reads for teens – or anyone else – who want a great story that pulls you in and keeps you guessing on every page.

Book cover of Nine by Rachelle DekkerNine by Rachelle Dekker

Back cover copy: Some secrets can’t stay hidden. Zoe Johnson has spent most of her life living in the shadows, never drawing attention to herself, never investing in people or places. But when a wide-eyed, bedraggled teenager with no memory walks into the diner where Zoe works, everything changes.

Against her better judgment, Zoe, who has been trying to outrun her own painful memories of the past, finds herself attempting to help a girl who doesn’t seem to have any past at all. With little warning, they must follow the only sure thing they know: a woman hundreds of miles away will either save them … or be the last person to see them alive.

This book grabbed me within the first few pages, when the mother figure in Lucy’s life helps her escape from people who have been controlling her from birth. She sends Lucy to find another woman who can help; Lucy meets Zoe along the way and they both know nothing will be the same. The people who have controlled Lucy are hot on her trail and determined to do whatever it takes to keep her from exposing their work. Lucy and Zoe don’t even know each other, but still realize they can trust each other more than anyone else.

Everything about the story is believable and kept me guessing until the end. Even though I expected twists along the way, the story surprised me several times. And kept me up reading way past my bedtime more than one night.

I already have two more of her books on my to-be-read stack, if that tells you anything about how much I enjoyed Nine.

Book coer of Dust by Kara SwansonDust by Kara Swanson

Back cover copy: The truth about Neverland is far more dangerous than a fairy tale. Claire Kenton believes the world is too dark for magic to be real — since her twin brother was stolen away as a child. Now Claire’s desperate search points to London … and a boy who shouldn’t exist.

Peter Pan is having a beastly time getting back to Neverland. Grounded in London and hunted by his own Lost Boys, Peter searches for the last hope of restoring his crumbling island: a lass with magic in her veins.

The girl who fears her own destiny is on a collision course with the boy who never wanted to grow up. The truth behind this fairy tale is about to unravel everything Claire thought she knew about Peter Pan — and herself.

I’ve read quite a few fairytale retellings over the years and must say it’s hard to keep them from being predictable. Dust is different because it isn’t a new take on the all-too-familiar story of Peter Pan. Instead, it’s a modern-day tale of Peter doing whatever he can to get back to Neverland – and he’s not always the sunny, charming Peter you might expect. The book is written from both Claire’s and Peter’s points of view, so it’s fun to get inside both their heads.

Having a cover this gorgeous sets a high bar for the story – you don’t want to open something that striking and read junk! Fortunately, Dust definitely met the mark for me and I’ll be reading the sequel, Shadow, when it’s published in July 2021.

Book cover of Thirst by Jill WilliamsonThirst by Jill Williamson

Back cover copy: A waterborne disease has sprung up in every corner of the globe, decimating the human race. Seventeen-year-old Eli McShane and his friends flee the chaos and violence in Phoenix and journey north toward the rumored location of a safe water source. They add several to their number, including a mysterious girl named Hannah, who, unknown to Eli, is being hunted by a dangerous man. Desperation brings out the worst in many of the travelers, infecting even those closest to Eli. When division comes, will he be able to hold his group together or will each fall victim to their own thirst for survival?

I read a couple other books by Jill Williamson several years ago but missed this one when it came out in 2019. I’m glad I came across it a few weeks ago. It’s a good story with believable teenage characters and good lessons about friendship, leadership and growing in your faith. Not in a preachy way, but woven naturally into the story so that the points are made if you take time to stop and think.

Some people might not want to read Thirst right now since it centers on a pandemic, but that didn’t bother me. The follow-up book Hunger will be published next year and I’ll definitely want to read it to learn what happens to Eli and his friends.

 

There are lots of other great YA books I’ve enjoyed and recommend, but they’ll have to wait for another post. Nine, Dust and Thirst are from different categories of YA fiction, but trust me when I say any middle- or high school reader would probably like all three. And any adult, too – because even though they’re labeled as YA fiction, they’re so well written that they prove YA often is not just for kids anymore.

Book Love

Book Review: Swept Away

In a publishing world where Christian fiction is trying to be more realistic for teens while still maintaining a Christian worldview, author Nicole O’Dell walks the fine line quite well. The books in her Scenarios for Girls series offer something I’ve not seen in other Christian YA novels – the chance for readers to truly see the story from both sides of the spectrum.

The books tackle many of the issues facing teens today – cheating, purity, taking dares, dealing with parents or teachers, and more. Each story has you firmly “along for the ride” with the main character until she reaches the point of needing to make an important, life-changing decision. The main story stops, and readers are asked to decide how they would handle the situation in the exact same circumstances. Then you continue the story, depending on how you answer. Better yet, you can read both endings to see how things might play out in the real world for both options. It’s a great way to help girls think through situations and the potential outcomes before they find themselves in the same predicament. Once a girl finishes reading the book, she has the chance to make a written commitment to implement the lessons she’s learned from the story. A parent or other trusted adult can witness her commitment and help her with accountability.

The stories I read were from Swept Away, which includes two of the Scenarios books – High Stakes and Essence of Lilly. I haven’t read others in the series, but love the whole concept. The stories themselves are interesting and right on target for today’s girls. Letting them become a part of how the story ends will hopefully help girls remember the story and its message, long after the book goes back on the shelf. I applaud O’Dell for writing for these girls in such a real way, and I’ll be passing Swept Away onto some of the girls at church. With Christmas shopping time right around the corner, you might want to look for Swept Away or the other Scenarios for Girls books for a special middle or high school girl in your life.

For more info on Nicole O’Dell and her books and Teen Talk radio program, visit her online.

Book Love

Some Favorite Reads of 2010

Although I always try to read a lot of books, I don’t usually think to stop and decide which were my favorites. Actually, if you asked me for a list right now I probably couldn’t even tell you all of the books I read in 2010! I’d like to do better with that in 2011 so I can have a “real” favorites list by the end of the year.

In the meantime, though, here are a few that I really enjoyed in 2010.

The Prayers of Agnes Sparrow, by Joyce Magnin. I met Joyce at the Greater Philadelphia Christian Writers Conference in August; she taught the “Not yet published novelist” clinic I was able to participate in. I love reading a book when I’ve met the author because everything comes even more alive than usual. Joyce is open, honest, and has a quirky sense of humor – just like her book. Agnes and the other characters had some of the funniest lines and characteristics I’ve read lately. Small rural town – people who love each other but don’t spare the punches – yummy pies and other home cooking – rumors that fly quicker than a transatlantic jet. I heard Joyce’s voice throughout the story and thought it all came together in a very entertaining read. The follow-up book, Charlotte Figg Takes Over Paradise, was part of my Christmas goodies so I’m laughing over it now!

Tour de Force, by Elizabeth White. This story intrigued me from the get-go because it’s about professional ballet dancers. And, even though my dance class days are far behind me, I’ve always been a softie for things related to ballet. I loved how the story tackled the issue of being a Christian in a corner of the world where lots of other lifestyles are “the norm.” I loved how the story handled things realistically but also with respect. I fell in love with Gillian and Jacob and could tell that Elizabeth had spent hours of real-world research time around dancers to help keep things realistic. Tour de Force took me along for a wonderful adventure that I didn’t want to put down.

So Over It, by Stephanie Morrill. This was the final installment in the “Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt” series for teen girls and didn’t disappoint. Skylar’s over all the games and politics of high school so jumps at the chance to spend time with her grandparents in Hawaii after graduation. Maybe she’ll even get a job and stay there instead of heading back home. But Skylar learns some important lessons in Hawaii – like running away to hide doesn’t fix the issues, and sometimes even the most wonderful seeming places aren’t so great. The battles she has with herself and her family are so common to teenage girls, and I loved how Stephanie showed her working through things and making her own decisions. I’ve passed the series along to a couple of girls in my Wednesday night group at church – they have some great lessons without being preachy. I hope she has some new books coming soon!

 

I have several others to mention, but this blog post is getting too long! I’ll save the other 3 faves for next week. Happy new year!