I judge books by their covers.That’s a slight exaggeration. It isn’t so much that I judge books with less-than-compelling covers—it’s that I just put off reading them. They languish in my To Be Read pile, constantly getting passed over for shinier, prettier books. Which, of course, is a terrible failing on my part.

But that’s one of the great things about Cybils Season: it forces me to read books that I’d otherwise miss out on, and oftentimes, they turn out be fantastic. Here are two of my recent favorites:

Adios, Nirvana by Conrad Wesselhoeft. Admittedly, the clipart snoozefest of a cover does represent a scene from the book. But I had no way of knowing that before reading it, now did I? 

When he was 15, Jonathan became the youngest winner ever of the Quatch, the most prestigious poetry award in Washington State. Now, a year later, he’s still reeling from the death of his twin brother, Telly. He’s skipped so much school that he’s given an ultimatum: Either, going forward, his attendance record will be spotless, he will do all of his classwork AND he’ll complete a special assignment...OR he’ll be forced to repeat his junior year.

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There’s a lot going on in Adios, Nirvana. It’s beautifully written, full of music and poetry; anguish, guilt and anger; the rekindling of faith in one’s self and the determination of true friendship. Jonathan and his friends—his Thicks—are a whole lot like the guys from Freaks and Geeks, if Daniel Desario & Co. lived in Seattle and idolized Bukowski, Kerouac and Eddie Vedder. They represent a type of guy who doesn’t appear all that often in YA lit. I would love to see that change. 

okay for now Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt. Does anything about this cover suggest 1968 to you? Does anything about this cover suggest Vietnam? A move to a small town? A beyond-dysfunctional home life? An interest in Audubon, art and horseshoes? A job delivering groceries? Broadway? Combating prejudice? First love? Above all, does this cover even remotely convey the indelible fabulousity of this voice?:

So he wasn’t arrested but word got around anyway. That’s how it is in a small town like stupid Marysville. All you have to do is spit on the sidewalk and the whole town figures you’re the kind of guy who might commit homicide, and everyone in your family is likely just the same. You could see it in the eyes of the mailman, the eyes of the guy who came to collect our rent, the eyes of Mrs. Merriam—who was sure now that I was no longer in training—even the eyes of the priest at St. Ignatius, who asked my mother her name when we went for our first Mass in stupid Marysville and then right away looked down at me like I was the one with the twisted criminal mind and not my brother.

Also, he wants to punch Percy Bysshe Shelley in the face. Which is an attractive quality in any person.

In another book, in another voice, I’d have to say, “HOLY COW, there are just too many things going on here!” But Doug Swieteck’s life could have taken 50 more turns, and I’d have been completely happy to read about all 50 of them. I highly, highly recommend this one to any Steve Kluger fan.

In fact, I’m going to have to go a step further and DEMAND that Kluger fans read it. Like, right now.

I’ll be waiting to hear what you think.

If she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or doing her librarian thing, Leila Roy is probably maniacally organizing all of her music into far-too-specific Spotify playlists.