And, of course, because YA is awesome, I had two favorites in this category. Enjoy.
My review | Goodreads
YA, Contemporary, 240 pages, Candlewick Press
Travis is missing his old home in the country, and he’s missing his old hound, Rosco. Now there’s just the cramped place he shares with his alcoholic grandpa, a new school, and the dreaded routine of school. But that’s before Travis meets Mr. McQueen, who doesn’t take "pass" for an answer—a rare teacher whose savvy persistence has Travis slowly unlocking a book on the natural world. And it’s before Travis is noticed by Velveeta, a girl whose wry banter and colorful scarves belie some hard secrets of her own. With sympathy, humor, and disarming honesty, Pat Schmatz brings to life a cast of utterly believable characters—and captures the moments of trust and connection that make all the difference.Why it's the best:
This is the only book I've read this year that made me think of classic middle grade and YA greats like Jerry Spinelli, Louis Sachar, Judy Blume, and Beverly Cleary. It's that good, and I laughed and cried right along with Travis and Velveeta the whole way through. It's hard to imagine a better book to give to any kid who feels like they don't fit in, and especially for those kids just discovering that reading is fun. (The cover's beautiful, too.)
Who will love it:
Any kid who's ever been lonely, OR grown-ups looking for a nostalgia kick.
My review | Goodreads
YA, Contemporary, 211 pages, Atheneum
Janie Gorman wants to be normal. The problem with that: she’s not. She’s smart and creative and a little bit funky. She’s also an unwilling player in her parents’ modern-hippy, let’s-live-on-a-goat-farm experiment (regretfully, instigated by a younger, much more enthusiastic Janie). This, to put it simply, is not helping Janie reach that “normal target.” She has to milk goats every day…and endure her mother’s pseudo celebrity in the homemade-life, crunchy mom blogosphere. Goodbye the days of frozen lasagna and suburban living, hello crazy long bus ride to high school and total isolation—and hovering embarrassments of all kinds. The fresh baked bread is good…the threat of homemade jeans, not so much.Why it's the best:
It would be nice to go back to that old suburban life…or some grown up, high school version of it, complete with nice, normal boyfriends who wear crew neck sweaters and like social studies. So, what’s wrong with normal? Well, kind of everything. She knows that, of course, why else would she learn bass and join Jam Band, how else would she know to idolize infamous wild-child and high school senior Emma (her best friend Sarah’s older sister), why else would she get arrested while doing a school project on a local freedom school (jail was not part of the assignment). And, why else would she kind of be falling in "like" with a boy named Monster—yes, that is his real name. Janie was going for normal, but she missed her mark by about ten miles…and we mean that as a compliment.
Frances O’Roark Dowell’s fierce humor and keen eye make her YA debut literary and wise. In the spirit of John Green and E. Lockhart, Dowell’s relatable, quirky characters and clever, fluid writing prove that growing up gets complicated…and normal is WAY overrated.
Because Janie lives on a goat farm, of course! This book has two of my insta-love factors: farm life and great music. In addition, Janie's heartfelt journey towards growing up was sweet and the perfect thing to share with a middle grade sister smack in the middle of her awkward phase. Dowell walks the fine line between "fluff" and "fun," and walks it well. There's just enough grit and spice here to keep older readers interested, but it's fun and fast-paced and has nothing too dark or scary. (Ellie and I even got to interview Frances O'Roark Dowell back in October, and needless to say, the author is as wonderful as her book!)
Who will love it:
Older middle graders figuring themselves (and high school) out, OR farm kids and farm-kid-wannabes.
Tomorrow's category? Best sequel! Stay tuned.