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How to Read a Young Adult Novel but Still Hang Out with Adults

SOMEDAY THIS PAIN WILL BE USEFUL TO YOU

Cameron’s meticulously voiced novel begins as a comedy of manners, wittily disarticulating a certain class of New Yorker, so it takes the reader awhile to catch onto the fact that it’s actually a story about the psychological pain that comes from loneliness and the difficulty in making emotional connections. The virtuoso first-person narrative is related by the protagonist, James Sveck, an 18-year-old boy who is as smart as he is alienated. Hiding his fears behind a curtain of disinterested contempt, James, who is gay but unwilling to either discuss or test it, likes only two people in his life, his wise and accepting grandmother and the man who manages his mother’s art gallery. In the course of the story, James comes to realize that he can’t wall himself off forever, finally making a maladroit and unsuccessful attempt to reach out. Cameron’s power is his ability to distill a particular world and social experience with great specificity while still allowing the reader to access the deep well of our shared humanity. (Fiction. YA)

Pub Date: Oct. 9, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-374-30989-3

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Frances Foster/Farrar, Straus & Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2007

An artful, hopeful exploration of a teen boy in intense need.

FORGIVE ME, LEONARD PEACOCK

A teen boy with a World War II pistol in hand is bent on murder and suicide.

Leonard Peacock has big plans for his birthday: He’s cut his longish hair down to the scalp, wrapped some going-away presents for his friends and tucked his grandfather’s souvenir Nazi-issue P-38 pistol into his backpack. He’s off to school, but he plans to make some pit stops along the way to see his friends, including his elderly, Bogart-obsessed neighbor. After he gives his gifts away, he’ll murder Asher Beal, another boy at school. Then he’ll off himself. To say Quick’s latest is dark would be an understatement: Leonard is dealing with some serious issues and comes across as a resolutely heartless killer in the first few pages. As the novel progresses and readers learn more, however, his human side and heart rise to the surface and tug at readers’ heartstrings. The work has its quirks. Footnotes run amok, often telling more story than the actual narrative, and some are so long that readers might forget what’s happening in the story as they read the footnote. Some readers will eat this up, but others will find it endlessly distracting. Other structural oddities include letters written by Leonard to himself from the future; they seem to make no sense at first, but readers find out later that his teacher recommended he write them to cope with his depression. Despite these eccentricities, the novel presents a host of compelling, well-drawn, realistic characters—all of whom want Leonard to make it through the day safe and sound.

An artful, hopeful exploration of a teen boy in intense need. (Fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-316-22133-7

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 22, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2013

THIRTEEN REASONS WHY

“Everything affects everything,” declares Hannah Baker, who killed herself two weeks ago. After her death, Clay Jensen—who had a crush on Hannah—finds seven cassette tapes in a brown paper package on his doorstep. Listening to the tapes, Hannah chronicles her downward spiral and the 13 people who led her to make this horrific choice. Evincing the subtle—and not so subtle—cruelties of teen life, from rumors, to reputations, to rape, Hannah explains to her listeners that, “in the end, everything matters.” Most of the novel quite literally takes place in Clay’s head, as he listens to Hannah’s voice pounding in his ears through his headphones, creating a very intimate feel for the reader as Hannah explains herself. Her pain is gut-wrenchingly palpable, and the reader is thrust face-first into a world where everything is related, an intricate yet brutal tapestry of events, people and places. Asher has created an entrancing character study and a riveting look into the psyche of someone who would make this unfortunate choice. A brilliant and mesmerizing debut from a gifted new author. (Fiction. YA)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2007

ISBN: 978-1-59514-171-2

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Razorbill/Penguin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2007

Junior’s keen cartoons sprinkle the pages as his fluid narration deftly mingles raw feeling with funny, sardonic insight.

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THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN

Alexie nimbly blends sharp wit with unapologetic emotion in his first foray into young-adult literature.

Fourteen-year-old Junior is a cartoonist and bookworm with a violent but protective best friend Rowdy. Soon after they start freshman year, Junior boldly transfers from a school on the Spokane reservation to one in a tiny white town 22 miles away. Despite his parents’ frequent lack of gas money (they’re a “poor-ass family”), racism at school and many crushing deaths at home, he manages the year. Rowdy rejects him, feeling betrayed, and their competing basketball teams take on mammoth symbolic proportions. The reservation’s poverty and desolate alcoholism offer early mortality and broken dreams, but Junior’s knowledge that he must leave is rooted in love and respect for his family and the Spokane tribe. He also realizes how many other tribes he has, from “the tribe of boys who really miss . . . their best friends” to “the tribe of tortilla chips-and-salsa lovers.”

Junior’s keen cartoons sprinkle the pages as his fluid narration deftly mingles raw feeling with funny, sardonic insight. (Fiction. YA)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-316-01368-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2007

PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ

A harrowing but ultimately redemptive tale of adolescent angst gone awry. Vera and Charlie are lifelong buddies whose relationship is sundered by high school and hormones; by the start of their senior year, the once-inseparable pair is estranged. In the aftermath of Charlie’s sudden death, Vera is set adrift by grief, guilt and the uncomfortable realization that the people closest to her are still, in crucial ways, strangers. As with King’s first novel, The Dust of 100 Dogs (2009), this is chilling and challenging stuff, but her prose here is richly detailed and wryly observant. The story unfolds through authentic dialogue and a nonlinear narrative that shifts fluidly among Vera’s present perspective, flashbacks that illuminate the tragedies she’s endured, brief and often humorous interpolations from “the dead kid,” Vera’s father and even the hilltop pagoda that overlooks their dead-end Pennsylvania town. The author depicts the journey to overcome a legacy of poverty, violence, addiction and ignorance as an arduous one, but Vera’s path glimmers with grace and hope. (Fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: Oct. 12, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-375-86586-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 1, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2010

Guaranteed to fly off the shelves.

DIVERGENT

From the Divergent series , Vol. 1

Cliques writ large take over in the first of a projected dystopian trilogy.

The remnant population of post-apocalyptic Chicago intended to cure civilization’s failures by structuring society into five “factions,” each dedicated to inculcating a specific virtue. When Tris, secretly a forbidden “Divergent,” has to choose her official faction in her 16th year, she rejects her selfless Abnegation upbringing for the Dauntless, admiring their reckless bravery. But the vicious initiation process reveals that her new tribe has fallen from its original ideals, and that same rot seems to be spreading… Aside from the preposterous premise, this gritty, paranoid world is built with careful details and intriguing scope. The plot clips along at an addictive pace, with steady jolts of brutal violence and swoony romance. Despite the constant assurance that Tris is courageous, clever and kind, her own first-person narration displays a blank personality. No matter; all the “good” characters adore her and the “bad” are spiteful and jealous. Fans snared by the ratcheting suspense will be unable to resist speculating on their own factional allegiance; a few may go on to ponder the questions of loyalty and identity beneath the façade of thrilling adventure.

Guaranteed to fly off the shelves. (Science fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: May 3, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-06-202402-2

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: April 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2011

An intricate, masterful page-turner about politics, treachery, religion, love and healing.

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DARK TRIUMPH

From the His Fair Assassin series , Vol. 2

An assassin with a will of steel fights her way through deadly palace deceptions, sickening sexual servitude and baffling assignments from her convent, becoming a major player in Brittany’s 15th-century resistance of French occupation.

Readers last glimpsed Sybella through Ismae’s eyes (Grave Mercy, 2012), serving in the entourage of d’Albret, a bloodthirsty Breton noble. Unknown to Ismae, Sybella is d’Albret’s daughter, raised in a household in which her kindest brother demanded sex from her and their father murdered wife after wife. Now Sybella’s a trained assassin, serving Mortain, the god of Death. In a castle that d’Albret stole from Brittany’s steadfast 13-year-old duchess, Sybella waits to see a marque on d’Albret’s body so she can kill him with Mortain’s grace. Living there requires a soul-breaking dance of flirtation and survival, and she is never safe. Is Mortain her real father, and has he rejected her? When an unexpected assignment arrives—a rescue, shockingly, not an assassination—it requires all of Sybella’s physical and emotional strength and stealth, plus the use of her sterling assassin skills in active battle. LaFevers weaves the “crazed, tangled web” of Sybella’s life (including her tortured past) with force, suspense and subtle tenderness. The prose’s beauty inspires immediate re-reads of many a sentence, but its forward momentum is irresistible.

An intricate, masterful page-turner about politics, treachery, religion, love and healing. (map, list of characters, author’s note) (Historical fantasy. 14 & up)

Pub Date: April 2, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-547-62838-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Feb. 27, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2013

WE WERE HERE

The emotional diary of a teenager, Miguel Castañeda, sentenced to one year in a group home and to keep a journal. Miguel always dreamed of writing a book, so, haunted by the tragic events that changed his family forever at his apartment in a poor neighborhood in Stockton, Calif., he immerses himself in the production of this diary. Using slang language, the soft-spoken Miguel becomes “Mexico” as he speaks out about the depressing atmosphere of his new “home,” the Lighthouse, and the relationships he develops with two juvenile delinquents, Rondell and Mong, who share the house with him. Miguel’s diary recollects their adventurous journey running away along the California coast heading south to Mexico, the beauty and the grief of their homeless days and nights, his encounter with “Flaca,” a Mexican girl he falls for but who betrays him, and the moment that he stands at the border of Mexico and tries to answer his unresolved questions about his own cultural identity as a mixed-race teen. A story of friendship that will appeal to teens and will engage the most reluctant readers. (Fiction. YA)

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-385-73667-1

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2009

Only fellow classic-movie and -television buffs will understand all of the teen’s references, but all readers will...

DEAR LIFE, YOU SUCK

Dear story, you rock.

Seventeen-year-old Cricket Cherpin (yes, his real name) has lived in a Catholic orphanage in Maine since he was 8 and his little brother died. He has a deep facial scar, the legacy of a prostitute mother and a drug-dealing father, and he hides an even deeper, internal scar through constant fighting and irreverence for authority (he’s not afraid to tell it like it is), religion (he hates Jesus), language (f-bombs land) and sex (he thinks about it a lot). Although Cricket is deemed a bully, his punches keep younger boys and school nerds safe. In this debut, his first-person narration, loaded with biting sarcasm and never-ending nicknames for his oppressors, reveals the push and pull of his soul. Cricket loves old movies, feels comfortable with his feminine side and relishes telling stories to the younger orphans, yet emotions surrounding a potential romance, guilt over his brother’s death and an uncertain future make him ready to jump off the local cliffs. While a slow build of hints to Cricket’s past helps explain his current state, a sudden chain of events forces him to confront his violence, relationships and the direction of his life.

Only fellow classic-movie and -television buffs will understand all of the teen’s references, but all readers will appreciate Cricket’s complex, lovable character and the strong adults who nourish it. (Fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: March 26, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-547-90431-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Jan. 28, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2013

Though this novel begs inevitable thematic comparisons to John Green's The Fault in Our Stars (2012), it stands on its own...

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ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL

A frequently hysterical confessional from a teen narrator who won't be able to convince readers he's as unlikable as he wants them to believe.

"I have no idea how to write this stupid book," narrator Greg begins. Without answering the obvious question—just why is he writing "this stupid book"?—Greg lets readers in on plenty else. His filmmaking ambitions. His unlikely friendship with the unfortunately short, chain-smoking, foulmouthed, African-American Earl of the title. And his unlikelier friendship with Rachel, the titular "dying girl." Punctuating his aggressively self-hating account with film scripts and digressions, he chronicles his senior year, in which his mother guilt-trips him into hanging out with Rachel, who has acute myelogenous leukemia. Almost professionally socially awkward, Greg navigates his unwanted relationship with Rachel by showing her the films he's made with Earl, an oeuvre begun in fifth grade with their remake of Aguirre, Wrath of God. Greg's uber-snarky narration is self-conscious in the extreme, resulting in lines like, "This entire paragraph is a moron." Debut novelist Andrews succeeds brilliantly in painting a portrait of a kid whose responses to emotional duress are entirely believable and sympathetic, however fiercely he professes his essential crappiness as a human being.

Though this novel begs inevitable thematic comparisons to John Green's The Fault in Our Stars (2012), it stands on its own in inventiveness, humor and heart. (Fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: March 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4197-0176-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Amulet/Abrams

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2012

An unlikely love story set in an unusual time and place; there are no happy endings or easy resolutions here.

THE BOY ON THE BRIDGE

A young woman studying abroad in Leningrad in the early 1980s falls for a young man she meets there in this uniquely suspenseful romance.

Nineteen-year-old university student Laura is warned repeatedly about young Soviets so desperate to escape to the United States that they’ll do anything—even con American students into marrying them. However, when Laura meets Alyosha, she is electrified. He is the exact opposite of the sarcastic and emotionally distant guy who’s been messing with her head back home. Alyosha earnestly quotes poetry and brings flowers, and soon she’s convinced herself that their relationship is an exception to the rule. While many will need to spend some time familiarizing themselves with an era unfamiliar to contemporary teens, Standiford balances just the right elements to make this story work. Readers will see that Laura’s insecurities, which will endear some to her and likely frustrate others, play into her willingness to believe Alyosha is her true love, but there is such a surplus of mystery created around his background and circumstances that anything seems possible. The mood of Leningrad through Laura’s eyes shifts throughout the novel, the city described in a simple, often elegant style.

An unlikely love story set in an unusual time and place; there are no happy endings or easy resolutions here. (Romance. 14 & up)

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-545-33481-5

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 29, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2013

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