First things first: After almost nine years here at Kirkus, I’m winding this column down.
As much as I love it—and I do love it—my day job has gotten so busy that I just don’t have the time for freelancing anymore. (In Librarian Language, circulation has shot up 150% over the last few years. In other words, it has become very apparent that, despite still being the only full-time employee at my library, it is no longer a one-person job. Help will be coming soon…I hope!)
2010: Star Crossed, by Elizabeth C. Bunce. Politics and magic and blackmail and absolutely stellar worldbuilding—just thinking about this book makes me want to revisit it! (Appropriately, I’m breaking the rules with my very first pick, in that I’m picking a book covered in my 2010 Favorites column, but not actually one that I wrote about at Kirkus.)
2011: Chime, by Franny Billingsley:
The characters, even the minor characters, are three-dimensional and fully realized. Billingsley’s prose is beautifully lyrical, musical and evocative, yet the story moves quickly and the dialogue snaps. Reinforcing that unusual dichotomy is Briony herself, who is savagely prickly—yet prone to humor and whimsy—and desperate to be loved. Briony is so guarded that she’s almost folded in upon herself, but at the same time, she’s completely vulnerable.
2012: The Blood Keeper, by Tessa Gratton:
It’s romantic—both in the simple two-hearts-beat-as-one way and in the part-of-something-so-much-bigger-sweeping-epic way—and tragic, feels fresh and still classic, and at moments, is just plain breathtaking. Like McKinley, Gratton creates magic without resorting to the woo-woo and conveys a completely earnest—yet matter-of-fact—wonder and appreciation for the natural world.
2013: Conjured, by Sarah Beth Durst:
It’s a dark fairy tale, it’s a carnival of horrors à la Ray Bradbury, it’s a cop story with occasionally hilarious pitch-perfect dialogue, and it features a male romantic lead who is easily as adorably irresistible as Seth Cohen. It’s original, it’s smart, it’s scary, it’s emotionally satisfying on all levels. It’s a thriller and a romance and a mystery and a thoughtful examination of love and humanity and trust and patience.
2014: Gabi: A Girl in Pieces, by Isabel Quintero:
All of that, and I didn’t even touch on how rich the book is in terms of culture and within cultures: teen, American, Mexican-American, secular Catholicism, fundamentalist Christian, generational. Or about how it deals with the fallout of addiction and the mixed and confusing push-pull feelings of hope and despair, love and rage, pity and contempt that family members experience. Or about Gabi’s poetry, which is totally solid, and her eight-page zine, which should be required reading for EVERY HIGH SCHOOLER EVER.
2015: The Jumbies, by Tracey Baptiste:
As an adult reader, I found the idea of the jumbies more scary than the story itself, but another conference attendee told me that her tween daughter got so scared during the audiobook that she made her turn it off: “Mom, this is freaking me out. MOM, I AM SERIOUS.” I suspect that for some readers, that quote would be the best recommendation possible.
Note: 2015 was a banner year for amazing books! See also: This Side of Home, by Renée Watson; Bone Gap, by Laura Ruby; The Truth Commission, by Susan Juby; Daughters Unto Devils, by Amy Lukavics; Out of Darkness, by Ashley Hope Pérez; All the Rage, by Courtney Summers; Infandous, by Elana K. Arnold.
2016: Burn Baby Burn, by Meg Medina:
If you’re not buying the rest of what I’m selling, pick this one up for the various threads about female relationships and friendships, especially the one between Nora and Kathleen. It’s complicated, it’s nuanced, it’s based in history and shared experience and love—but there are also divides, secrets, and long-standing microaggressions. I flail with love for the whole book, but their friendship is so beautifully written that it might be my very favorite part. I GUESS I’LL HAVE TO READ IT AGAIN TO FIND OUT.
2017: A Boy Called Bat, by Elana K. Arnold:
As I said above, though, that’s just a part of what makes this book shine—because it shines in every other way imaginable, too. Due to the simplicity of the words Arnold uses and the straightforwardness of her descriptions, I suspect that some—let’s face it, especially adult—readers might not pick up on how beautifully written it is, how emotionally rich, or even the flat-out gorgeousness of how she uses physical details to convey emotion again and again and again.
2018: The Poet X, by Elizabeth Acevedo:
As you may already know, I usually have a hard time writing about books that I especially love—my heart overrides and short-circuits my brain—and I am reduced to shouting, “JUST READ IT OMG” while throwing copies of it at people. So. Because talking about the book as a whole is TOO MUCH for me to handle, here are a few elements that I especially loved...
My friends, it has been a pleasure! I’ll see you around.
In addition to running a library in rural Maine, Leila Roy blogs at Bookshelves of Doom, is currently serving on the Amelia Bloomer Project committee, hangs out on Twitter a lot—possibly too much—and watches a shocking amount of television. Her cat is a murderer and now she kind of has a pet squirrel?