Favorite Kids Books of 2014
I read mostly kids books—not because I feel any social obligation, or because I want to know what my children are reading, but because I like them. This often leaves me on the sidelines of book discussions. (“The latest Murakami? Um, no. Unless he’s collaborating with John Green or Mo Willems.”) It also gets me the occasional eye-roll, dismissive shrug and/or quick change of subject. Sometimes the person will even ask me why a grown man would want to read about adolescent problems, the subtext of which is “Do you sit around and suck your thumb, too?”
There are a lot of pluses to reading mostly middle-grade and young adult books, though. For one thing, I often know what the popular books will be before my kids have even heard of them. Percy Jackson, Hunger Games, Alex Rider, Divergent, The Fault In Our Stars, Ranger’s Apprentice—I introduced my kids to all of these, and more.
Second, and much more relevant to this post, I can sometimes help other people find good books to read. And seeing as there are some major gift-giving holidays coming up, I thought this might be a good time to throw out some recommendations.
So, here are a few of my favorite Young Adult and Middle Grade books of 2014. If you have any favorites of your own (or your kids’), please feel free to add them in the comments. The more the better!
Favorite Young Adult / Teen Books of 2014
Half Bad – Sally Green
Sixteen year old Nathan is being kept in a cage to keep him from achieving his full powers as a witch. Sound like another medieval-style fantasy? It’s not. It’s modern day England. But alongside normal human beings, there are White (aka good) witches and Black (aka bad) witches. Nathan is exactly half of each. Unfortunately, the Black witch side of him comes from his father, one of the cruelest and most powerful Black witches who ever lived. An imaginative new fantasy series that does away with the pointy hats and robes and makes witches far more modern–and threatening.
Zac & Mia – A.J. Betts
Two teens with completely different styles meet in the hospital while undergoing cancer treatment. Zac is calm, rational, funny. Mia is angry, self-absorbed, abusive. Their connection in the hospital is short and tenuous. It’s what happens afterward that really makes the story. (Some readers have likened it to The Fault In Our Stars, but it’s a very different story, despite some surface similarities.)
Say What You Will – Cammie McGovern
Amy was born with cerebral palsy. She can’t walk without a walker, can’t talk without a voice box, can’t even control her facial expressions or keep food from spilling out of her mouth. Matthew suffers from OCD and crippling anxiety. When Amy picks him to be one of her helpers for senior year, he’s mystified—and terrified. He can barely get himself through the day. How is he going to help her? A deeply moving story about love, friendship and courage with two smart, sympathetic characters.
Why We Took the Car – Wolfgang Herrndorf
Mike Klingenberg’s summer is off to a bad start. His father is on a “business trip” with his assistant. His mother is in rehab. The girl he likes has invited everyone but him to her party. So when Tschick—the class reject and possible son of a Russian mobster—pulls up in a stolen car and asks if he wants to go on a road trip, what else can he do? He hops in. A terrifically fun and moving story of love, friendship and growing up.
Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass – Meg Medina
Piddy Sanchez doesn’t even know who Yaqui Delgado is. But for some reason, Yaqui wants to kick her ass. Piddy, more concerned with her job at the nail salon and trying to find out more about her lost father, manages to avoid Yaqui for a while. But the harassment gets worse and worse, until it starts to ruin Piddy’s life. A realistic, heart-rending but also uplifting portrayal of how teens, schools and parents deal with bullying.
Grasshopper Jungle – Andrew Smith
One of the funniest and most imaginative books of the year. Sixteen-year old Austin Szerba can’t decide who he’s attracted to more: his girlfriend, Shann, or his best friend, Robby. While he’s trying to navigate through this hormonal maze, he and Robby accidentally create an army of giant praying mantises. A wildly inventive, funny and engrossing ride through the crazy world of the sex-crazed adolescent mind–complete with giant man-eating insects.
Falling Into Place – Amy Zhang
“On the day Liz Emerson tries to die, they had reviewed Newton’s laws of motion in physics class. Then, after school, she put them into practice by running her Mercedes off the road.” Liz clings to life in the ICU, while family, friends and even enemies gather at the hospital. Each has his or her own idea of what happened, and why, and each played a part–knowingly or unknowingly–in what happened to her. Love, family, friendship and physics all get explored in this moving and expertly told story.
Additional YA Favorites
The Impossible Knife of Memory – Laurie Halse Anderson
Not a Drop to Drink – Mindy McGinnis
The Other Way Around – Sashi Kaufman
Grandmaster – David Klass
All Our Yesterdays – Cristin Terrill
Cress ( 3rd book in Lunar Chronicles series) – Marissa Meyer
Juvie – Steve Watkins
Favorite Middle-Grade Books of 2014
Under the Egg – Laura Marx Fitzgerald
As Theodora Tenpenny’s grandfather is dying, he tells her his fortune is “under the egg.” But Theodora can’t find any fortune under any egg. Then one day she spills rubbing alcohol on her grandfather’s amateurish painting of an egg and finds a much more impressive painting underneath. Could this other painting be valuable? If so, did her grandfather—who worked as a guard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art—steal it? Things only get more complicated—and dangerous—as she and her crazy new friend Bhodi try to solve the puzzle. A fun mystery/adventure story with great quirky characters.
The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place – Julie Berry
The seven students at St. Etheldreda’s School for Girls are not all that upset when they find their headmistress and her brother poisoned. In fact, the idea of not having any headmistress and being allowed to live the way they want is very appealing. To do that, though, they have to make sure no one finds out their headmistress is dead—a complicated act of deception that becomes almost impossible as one person after another comes to visit the school. Why is everyone suddenly so interested in the school and their headmistress? And who is the poisoner? Could it be one of them? A wonderfully twisted tale of murder, intrigue and unladylike behavior.
Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms – Katherine Rundell
The first chapters of the novel, when Wilhelmina (Will for short) is running around like a wild child on the plains of Africa, contain some of the most joyous and beautiful writing I’ve read in a long time. The second half of the book, when Will is sent to a dreary English boarding school, delivers some of the most heartbreaking scenes I’ve read in a long time. The book is also remarkable for its realism—showing how even a girl with the heart of a lion can be overwhelmed when too many things are stacked against her. A beautiful story of love, friendship and survival.
The Shadow Throne ( Book 3 of Ascendance trilogy)
If your child likes fantasy and hasn’t read this trilogy, go quick and buy the set. The first book (The False Prince) sets up the story of the cruel and mysterious Conner, who wants a boy he can use to impersonate the long-lost prince. He finds four orphans who have a passing resemblance to the prince, takes them to his private estate, and trains them to look, walk and talk like the prince. One boy, Sage, shows the most promise. But he’s also the most defiant. And as the day of choosing grows closer, Sage finds more and more evidence that Conner’s plans are far more devious and deadly than he lets on. I don’t want to give anything else away, but The Shadow Throne brings the series to an exciting and somewhat unexpected conclusion.
The Fourteenth Goldfish — Jennifer L. Holm
What do you do when your grandfather shows up at your door and looks like he’s 13-years old? That’s the question for 11-year old Ellie. Her grandfather claims he’s found the secret to eternal youth. But until he can find a way to reverse the process, he has to live as a 13-year old. Which means he has to go to school—with Ellie. What could be more embarrassing?! A funny, heartwarming story about age, death and family.
Additional Middle Grade Favorites
Brown Girl Dreaming – Jacqueline Woodson
(I only just started this one. But since I’ve read other Jacqueline Woodson novels and loved them, and since this one won the National Book award, and since most of the readers I respect thought it was wonderful, I’m comfortable recommending it before I’ve finished it.)
Mister Max: The Book of Lost Things – Cynthia Voigt
Flora & Ulysses – Kate DiCamillo
The Mark of the Dragonfly – Jaleigh Johnson