These Are a Few of My Favorite Reads: Karen Jensen’s Best Books of 2019
Earlier this month Amanda Mac Gregor shared her favorites of 2019, and today I’m going to share mine with you – mostly. As I am a first round Cybils panelist for this year in the speculative fiction category, I am not going to share my opinion on any speculative fiction YA titles with you at right this moment. So here’s a look at my favorite reads of 2019 sans YA Speculative Fiction.
Heroine by Mindy McGinnis
Heroine is the tale of a teen female athlete who has a terrible car accident. Over the course of her healing she becomes addicted to pain killers which eventually leads to a Heroine addiction. This book mirrors the very real opioid crisis we are experiencing here in the United States. McGinnis lives in Ohio, a state that is profoundly impacted by the opioid crisis, and she writes a realistic and compelling tale about this very real crisis with such vivid detail in part because she is living in a community so greatly impacted by it. Heroine is raw, real, poignant and cuts to the bone.
The Vanishing Stair by Maureen Johnson
Mysteries are really popular right now with teen readers and this is one of my favorite series. The characters are fun, fully fleshed out and represent a lot of different personality traits. The main character is a teen girl struggling with anxiety and trying to solve an age old historical crime at a boarding school when a new crime occurs. Now, she’s got two crimes to solve, one in the past and one in the present. The friendships are meaningful, the setting is interesting, and the mysteries are complex. There is a bit of modern day politics woven into the story. This book brought The Westing Game to mind in many ways, which is high praise indeed. Start with book 1, Truly Devious, and stay until the thrilling conclusion The Hand on the Wall that comes out in early 2020. This series is so popular with so many of the teens I know, including the one I’m raising.
Spin by Lamar Giles
This is another mystery that weaves together the world of hip hop music, computer hacking and app development, and fandom. When an up and coming teen hip hop artist is murdered, her former best friend is the main suspect. She must join forces with someone she resents to clear her name and find out who really committed the crime. In addition to being a compelling mystery, I loved the way this book looked at what it means to be a female and highlighted the complexities of female friendships. Also, it gets bonus points for featuring a female hacker and app developer. I have a soft spot for YA books that highlight girls in STEM fields.
Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson
Written entirely in verse, Shout is a memoir by YA author Laurie Halse Anderson that looks at her early life and then at her adult life as she travels the country talking with teens about the book Speak. Anderson is a survivor of sexual violence who has dedicated her life and work to not only writing amazing YA fiction, but to helping to raise awareness about sexual violence and the importance of consent education. This book makes you angry, moves you to tears, and then asks you to change the world. Every member of my family has read this book and cried. We’ve talked about it time and time again. It is hands down one of the most important books written in 2019.
Keep This to Yourself by Tom Ryan
What happens the summer after you graduate high school while you are waiting for the next stage of your life to begin? For many teens living in a small town, the only thing you want is to escape and college is often your only ticket out of town. In this mystery, a group of teens regroup to dig up a time capsule they swore to revisit after graduating. However, one of their group is missing, having been murdered the year before. When they dig up the capsule they also dig up a ton of secrets, about themselves and the small town that they live in. Friendships are tested, truths are faced, and nothing and no one is what they thought they were. This book gets bonus points because it’s one of the few mysteries I’ve read in a while that kept me guessing until the end.
Sick Kids in Love by Hannah Moskowitz
This is the story of two teens with chronic health issues falling and staying in love. It’s a moving story that demonstrates that a story can contain disability representation without killing off the main characters and it shows what happens after you fall in love. Maintaining a relationship is challenging and could make for a boring story, but it really doesn’t. It’s a moving book with a lot of satisfying emotional moments.
Guts by Raina Telgemeier
I am not normally a fan of graphic novels, though they are starting to grow on me. This doesn’t mean I don’t think graphic are real books, because they are and I do. I have just struggled with them personally as a reader. However, when discussing graphic novels with my child who has dyslexia I have come to understand better how to read them and what the appeal factors are. Guts tackles childhood anxiety, which is a growing issue in today’s world. I am a person with anxiety raising children with anxiety, so this book was meaningful to us on a personal level. I also gave this book to a friend raising a tween who has anxiety and she’s read it 100s of times. It’s not just a good book, it’s an important book that has helped a lot of tweens and teens recognize and share their struggles with anxiety with the people who love them most. I so appreciate what this book is doing for our youth.
After the Cybils shortlist is released, I’ll share some of my favorite speculative fiction reads of 2019.
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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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