Friday, January 11, 2013

State of the YA Union

On this the 11th day of January 2013, having survived past the end of the Mayan calendar, guilty over the fact that I haven't posted in over a month, and gleefully obligated to share an annual wrap-up of the old year with predictions for the new, I hereby submit the following:

First of all, look at this map of teen lit according to the states in which the books are set. It is one of the most fabulous thing to have emerged from the Internet in 2012, thanks to the good folks at Epic Reads. As you can see, teen fiction is all over the map, and much of it was released this year. In fact, I'm delighted to say I'll always remember 2012 for the sheer magnitude of incredible YA books published, more than any year of my career thus far. And I haven't even read them all yet! Here are some of the stand outs (in my humble experience) of this year in literature and beyond:

Best in fiction: This year I fell in love not only with books, but with characters. The great Nancy Pearl says that most readers' tastes fall into one of four categories (although of course they will borrow from each); People read primarily for Plot, Character, Setting or Language. Most of the time, I'm a character reader. I love stories starring people who are fully fleshed, with abundant indiosynchrasies. I like the people in my books to feel real, even if they are mythical beings, aliens and immortals, even if I don't like them much. That's not to say I don't also love a fast-faced plot, a strong sense of place, or beautiful language, but if the characters don't come to life for me, most likely the book won't either. Here are the characters that became my best fictional friends/frenemies this year, in no particular order.:

  • Seraphina from Seraphina.- Oh how I adore this half dragon/half human musical genius. Seraphina has hid herself away her whole life, and this story catches her at a point when she must release her light into the world. Author Rachel Hartman writes her character's blossoming as a complex, risky, gorgeous and believable process. 
  • Quark the Quarkbeast from The Last Dragonslayer.- There's a lot of characters to love in this quirky tale of a teenage foundling suddenly obligated to run a failing wizarding agency and also protect and/or kill the last surviving dragon. However, no one grabbed my heart and gnawed on it quite as much as the Quarkbeast. The characteristics of this fiercely loyal magical pet are slowly revealed by the author, more by the way people react to it than by physical description. By the end of the book, I could almost picture Quark in the room with me, with all its noble odors and disgusting dietary habits.
  • Summer from Wonder. - I'd like to give everyone in Wonder a hug, but I'd like to give Summer a hug, a college scholarship, an opal necklace, two puppies and a kitten. In a book that gives almost every character a voice through sections of first-person narration, Summer's portion is the shortest yet the sanest. With so many characters feeling conflicted over their relationship with Auggie, whose face is dramatically different than anyone else's due to his disabilities, Summer doesn't see any complications. She likes Auggie; why not be his friend?
  • Fwuffy from Losers in Space.- Not many authors can pull off a genetically engineered pink elephant with a speech impediment trapped in space with a bunch of resentful teens, but John Barnes does it with class, creating a character with vast mental capacities that allow him to grow past some of his pre-programmed limitations while dealing with the practical and emotional consequences of others.
  • Astrid from Ask the Passengers.- Oh Astrid, even if you're not totally sure who you are, you know there's no label fit to describe you and you're not afraid to say so. Eventually. And how do you respond when people suck? You telepathically send them love. Well, girl, I send you love right back. Oodles of it. Thank you for being you.
  • Sunday from Enchanted.- Sunday, Sunday, Sunday. This girl can recognize a soul-mate in a frog, bargain for black magic, wield enchanted swords, sweep princes off their feet, subvert the rule of evil witches, and she can do it all while barefoot. 
  • Misskaella from Brides of Rollrock Island.- Misskaella is the one constant throughout this strange tale of seal women in human form held captive on dry land. In the beginning she is a little girl, used unkindly by a family that calls her ugly and takes her for granted. We watch her become a hording, spiteful, powerful witch, seaweed nets draped over her shoulder, practically reeking off the page. You can't really call her a villain; She is a creature of such complexity she defies definition. And though she does awful things and she knows it, I can't help loving her.
  • Absolutely everybody in The Fault in Our Stars.- Can't type. Fingers swollen from emotion. 
Best library moments: As always, too numerous to hold in one brain. Luckily I have my spare right here. One of my favorite moments happens relatively frequently and it goes like this: New teen walks into YA room. Teen looks at books on new book display. Teen looks confused. I ask if teen knows there is a whole section of YA books beyond the ones they are looking at. Teen's face lights up as she/he goes exploring the shelves. What else? Clever cosplay at Anime Fest. 50 shades of grey frosting consumed at the gingerbread house BookTRON meeting. The slideshow at the Teen Library Council graduation party. The incredible altars at the Day of the Dead celebration. The guy who became a target for foam light bulbs at the ACT workshop. Thanks for being a good victim sport during our impromptu game of light bulb dodgeball, guy.

Sigh, nostalgia sweeping over me. Y'all are my very favorite characters. What were your favorite moments of the last year?

And, what's coming in 2013? Look forward to open mics, movie nights, random crafts in the teen room and more steampunk! 

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