Karen’s Top 15 Reads of 2015
Earlier this month Amanda shared her Favorite 15 reads of 2015. Today it is my turn. Since we try to cover as many books as possible here, we often don’t read the same books, though that is not a hard and fast rule. Sometimes I will read a book and want to talk to Amanda or some of the other TLTers about it. Sometimes Amanda will rave so much about a book that I have to read it too. Sometimes we just love the same authors. For example, Robin and I are currently fighting over an ARC of the 2016 release from Sarah Rees Brennan because we love her (for the record, I think Robin won). So my list is purposely much different than Amanda’s list.
This is how I went about making my list: I didn’t go back and read reviews. In fact, I didn’t even look up book titles. What I did was sit down and write down a list of the books that I could think about off of the top of my head first. These are the books that were so memorable to me that I still think about them, talk about them, etc. A couple of the titles I didn’t actually even write a review for. Only one of the titles appears on both mine and Amanda’s list, though I love Amanda’s list and all the books on it and could just as easily have written that list. And if I wrote this list a month from now, some of the titles would change.
So, now that you know a little bit more about how this list came to be, here are some of my favorite reads of 2015 . . .
My Favorite 15 Reads of 2015
Because Girls Matter, Too, and So Do Their Stories
This book is amazing in every way. I love how the characters are all so well developed; not just the main characters, but all of the characters. I love the various ways it looks at female relationships, including various levels of friendships and the mother/daughter relationship. But what I love most about this book is the profound impact it had on my daughter who also read it and the conversations it helped us to have. Dumplin’ is well written, inspiring, and it also has a lot of sass and fun. Dumplin’ may or may not win the local beauty pageant, but she is sure to win your heart.
Everyone should read this book which takes a hard look at what life is like for girls. It’s like Summers set out to write a book that highlighted everything that’s wrong with rape culture and asked us to look deeply into the dark ways in which we discount and blame victims for their rapes. PS, that is in fact exactly what she has done. In a year in which the topic of sexual violence has taken over a large portion of our national headlines, this is a must read that helps put some of what we hear into perspective. It’s a very difficult read, but it is so well done and so very important.
Because of the Faith and Spirituality in the Lives of Teens series, I read a lot of books this year that dealt with the topic of faith. Minnow Bly was shocking from page one and never really stopped shocking me. But it also spoke to the very core of me about the female experience; even though this story is not my story, I recognized so many of the universal truths presented here. And at the end of the day, after being told time and time again who to be, how to dress, and what to believe, Minnow Bly is finally put in a position where she can begin to answer those questions about herself, for herself. Every part of this journey is challenging and yet moving.
This is another title that spoke to the heart of me about what it means to be a girl in our world. I was so moved by this book that I wrote the author, Corey Ann Haydu, a very personal letter explaining my upbringing and how much I related to this book. This is a very realistic look at the pressure we put on young girls to look a certain way and the impact it has on their sense of self and worth. I would love for all high school students to have to do a study on the female experience which would include reading this book, All the Rage, Dumplin‘, Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future, and the Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly, to name just a few.
In the early days of my YA librarian career, there were far less YA titles and authors to choose from. They consisted primarily of Judy Blume, Chris Crutcher, Robert Cormier, R. L. Stine and Christopher Pike. Horror, in fact, made up the largest part of my collection. And then there was Sarah Dessen. Dessen has consistently written YA books that are insightful, engaging, and yes, heartwarming. Saint Anything is a moving story about friendships of many kinds, falling in and out of love, family, and self.
Because Politics are Interesting
As a nation, the United States is in a polarizing and important election. One of the things that I liked most about the Fixer is the behind the scenes looks it gave readers into the world of politics and power plays. As someone who has been saying for a long time that money buys elections, it was interesting to read about it in the pages of a YA thriller. I also love that this book features a strong and confident yet flawed female in a role that would traditionally be occupied by a male protagonist. It’s also a fun thriller; sometimes it’s nice just to read something fun.
The Scorpion Rules is a thought provoking dystopian that also gives us an interesting glimpse into the world of politics. Here, major political heads are asked to send their children to a remote colony where they will be sacrificed in the event of war. The theory is that this will prevent world leaders from initiating acts of war; after all, what parent wants to sacrifice their child for power? There are lots of twists and turns and power plays and sacrifices here. And you are reading the story of isolated children and teens who have no one but each other to befriend or even date, knowing that at any moment they could be mortal enemies where one life is pitted against the other. It’s intense, unique, and compelling.
Because a Good Twist is a Good Twist
Bone Gap by Laura Ruby
This book is mesmerizing. I hate to compare and author to another author, but in this case I think the comparison is both warranted and one of the biggest compliments I can give to another author: This book always makes me think of Ray Bradbury. I think it is the haunting way that the small town with the gaps is described and the things that happen in those gaps, which are chilling. The descriptions, the tone, the atmosphere, the melancholy of it all brings to mind Dandelion Wine and the haunting tale itself always makes me thing Something Wicked This Way Comes. But make no mistake, it is by no means derivative, it is unique in the story it tells and the ways that it haunts.
What if the characters of Love and Death played a game? What if that game involved characters falling in and out of love? And what if that game took place in the 1930s where one of the characters was white and the other was black? And what if we added in the background amazing jazz music, gender stereotype breaking women, and just continued to raise the stakes and defy convention? The Game of Love and Death is this amazingly crafted story of true love against all odds. This book isn’t just on my list, it’s on The Teen’s list of her top 5 books of 2015.
I love this profoundly trippy and moving book for some many reasons. First, it kept me guessing every step of the way and kept surprising. Second, it was one of the few books I read this year that realistically portrayed the life of a profoundly poor teen. Third, it is a spot on depiction of the roller coaster ride that grief and guilt are. And fourth, it is a humanizing look at the life of a young man who is wrestling in very real and immediate ways with identity.
Because Relevant and Timely Still Matter
This is probably the book I have wrestled with most as a reader. Not just with what it has to say, but how it has to say it. This is the book I have most asked other people to read and discuss with me. To be completely honest, there are still parts of the story that I am trying to figure out. But there is no denying that A. S. King hands down captures that very real anxiety that today’s teens are living with and the various reasons why. Characters that walk around inside out, characters that are growing up in a culture (a home) obsessed with mass shootings, characters that attend a school that keeps being cancelled because yet another bomb threat has been called in . . . this is the reality of the world our teens are living in and King captures the stress and uncertainty of it with pitch perfect brilliance.
Brendan Kiely and Jason Reynolds are both amazing writers who approach a timely story with sensitivity and compassion yet brutal honesty. Told in two points of view, Reynolds and Kiely ask us to consider what it is like for a black boy to be approached by the police and what it’s like to stand up for justice in a world that is very much divided on what justice may look like.
Because Not Every Teen Lives in a Gated Community or Goes to a Boarding School
The Truth About Us is a very accessible romance that also highlights socio-economic disparity and the conflict it can cause. I love, however, that this book flips the genders – growing up it always seemed like it was a rich boy/poor girls story like Pretty in Pink. There is a lot of good stuff happening here as we get an inside look at the life of a teenaged boy who works and eats at a local homeless shelter. He is not, technically, homeless like the teens in No Parking at the End Times by Bryan Bliss (another good read), but he is very much worried about where his next meal is going to come from.
This book combines a lot of my favorite elements into one awesome story: dystopian, politics, and socioeconomic inequality. The premise of this first book is unique and fascinating. In this future, you may be conscripted by a firm to perform a certain number of assassinations for them in order to get your freedom. That’s right, they make people kill for them in order to pay off your debt. It’s an interesting premise and a thrilling read. In a world where the income gap grows larger every day, it’s interesting to take an absurd look at where we might be headed to force ourselves to ask the very relevant questions we need to be asking about where we might be headed if we continue to let our fellow citizens slide further and further into poverty.
Because Sometimes a Book Just Makes Your Spirit Soar
This book is glorious. But it is also gut-wrenching. Madeline lives her life inside a bubble, quite literally: she is allergic to everything. But when she takes a chance on the new boy across the street, everything changes. This book makes my soul sing. And it made my eyes leak a little bit here and there. And this is another title that is not only on my top of list for 2015, it’s on The Teen’s.
How about you? What’s on your list and why?
Filed under: Teen Fiction
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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