This year I participated in the Goodreads annual reading challenge – as I’ve done so for the past two years. In 2013, I completed the challenge of reading 45 books, and in 2014 I raised the bar a little higher to 50 books. Thankfully, due to some binge-reading over the summer and my 45-minute train commute to and from work, I met my goal a few weeks before the end of 2014. Out of the 50 books I read this year, here are my picks for the best of the best.
(Note: I haven’t included comic books and will try to write a separate top 5 list for those later on.)
These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman
Following the success of series like The Hunger Games, Divergent, and The Maze Runner, the YA dystopian genre exploded with every post-apocalyptic scenario that could possibly be imagined. Although some have been rather lackluster, Amie Kaufman’s These Broken Stars was a surprising hit for me. The novel tells the story of Lilac, the daughter of the richest and most powerful man in the universe, and Tarver, a young war hero. After the spaceliner they’re aboard crashes on an alien planet, the two opposites must work together to save themselves — and find love along the way.
Sure, the setup for These Broken Stars is one that’s been seen plenty of times before, especially in the YA genre, but what sets the book apart is the characters. Told simultaneously through both Tarver and Lilac’s points of view — as well as with flash forwards — the novel allows readers into both characters’ heads and plays with conventional storytelling enough to keep the novel interesting. The result is a fantastic story of love and survival, with some really great sci-fi components woven throughout. Of all the futuristic dystopian YA novels I read this year, These Broken Stars was not my favorite (that will come later), but it was certainly memorable since I couldn’t put the book down.
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han
Although sci-fi dystopias seem to currently rule the YA genre, a good realistic novel can still be appreciated. Jenny Han’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before follows Lara Jean, a high school hopeless romantic, whose secret crushes are revealed in the worst way possible. Instead of confessing her crushes, Lara Jean writes letters to the boys, seals them, and puts them in a box. But somehow the letters end up being mailed to the boys, which causes some complications as one of them is her older sister’s ex-boyfriend.
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is equally about Lara Jean’s love life and dealing with her older sister going off to college, which leaves her to fend for her younger sister, Kitty, and their father. It’s a sweet coming of age story to which most girls will relate. And for those of us who have been out of high school for some time, it will make you reflect back on those years. It’s a quick and charming read that’s totally worth it for those looking for something more realistic in the YA genre.
Although I came across Gemma Burgess late in 2013 (and featured one of her standalone novels on my Best of 2013 list), I didn’t start the author’s Brooklyn Girls series until 2014. Set in brownstone residing in current day Brooklyn, New York, the series follows a group of five girls: Pia, Angie, Julia, Coco, and Madeleine. Brooklyn Girls tells Pia’s story as she flounders for a bit in New York City before figuring out what she’s truly passionate about: her healthy food truck. The followup book, Love and Chaos, however, focuses on Angie who makes some mistakes on her way to finding a fashion career in the Big Apple.
As I’ve previously written about Burgess, her novels are consistently filled with funny, smart, and relatable lead characters as well as realistic stories. For those same reasons, the first two installments of Burgess’s Brooklyn Girls series were definite stand outs this year. However, I’d like to add that this series is also perfect for anyone who has recently graduated from college and is attempting to create a “semi-adult” life for themselves. The struggles of Pia and Angie, though they can verge on the unrealistic, are full of heart and you’ll find yourself having trouble putting these books down.
What would happen if Dorothy returned to Oz? What would happen if Dorothy became the worst thing that ever happened to Oz?
Danielle Paige attempts to answer those questions (if you were so inclined to ask them) in her series Dorothy Must Die. The prequel novella No Place Like Oz explains how Dorothy Gale returned to Oz and was corrupted by its magic, while the first full installment tells the story of Amy Gumm, who is transported the land and expected to save it.
Early in 2014 I went on a Wizard of Oz kick — or, rather, a Wizard of Oz adaptation kick. After rewatching Syfy’s Tin Man mini-series, I came across Paige’s series that only included No Place Like Oz at the time. I was hooked by the new take on the classic story. I became fully invested in how the author had reimagined such famous characters (into horrifying monstrosities in some cases) and included a modern twist in the form of the series’ lead, Amy. For anyone who thought the Wizard of Oz was a little too upbeat or happy, loves science fiction, and likes YA, Dorothy Must Die is a fantastic read.
Of all the YA dystopian series I’ve ever read (including Divergent and The Hunger Games, which I wholly enjoyed), Rick Yancey’s novel, The 5th Wave, and its followup, The Infinite Sea, are by far the best I’ve ever read. The series is set in a world that has been plagued by four waves of alien invasion: an electromagnetic pulse that shut down all electronics, a giant wave that wiped out the coasts, a plague, and human-lookalike assassins embedded in the population. The first novel focuses on Cassie Sullivan, who is saved by the mysterious Evan Walker while searching for her little brother.
I first set my mind to reading The 5th Wave because Columbia Pictures is producing a film based on the novel, but I was not prepared to love these books as much as I did. Told from the points of view of many child/teen survivors of the invasion, The 5th Wave series is equal parts fantastic characters and amazing writing. It took me a little while to become immersed in Yancey’s writing style — which shifts depending on the character who’s in focus — but it was well worth it. It’s rare to find a dystopian YA novel with such beautiful and complicated prose as this series, but I’m glad I did. Now, if only the movie is as good.