YA Reading List Pt 2: Contemporary Fantasy
Hi everyone and welcome to part two of Kendra’s favorite YA books. Today, I’m going to be talking fantasy (both epic and urban). For clarity, I don’t include dystopian in this grouping (that’ll be the next article, along with SciFi), but rather these are stories with magic, magical creatures or epic worlds.
In short, we’ll be covering my favorite type of books period. <3
My love of YA fantasy started in eighth grade with a book called Jackaroo by Cynthia Voigt. I’ve gone back and reread it in the last few years and was pleased to see it stood the test of time. It was just as entertaining and wonderful as it was when I read it standing up in the kitchen when I was supposed to be helping my mom cook dinner. There’s a strong heroine named Gwyn, who discovers the truth behind the legend of Jackaroo, a masked “Robin Hood” type who fought against the feudal lords of her day. I loved Gwyn–she was spirited, unruly and strong. For a thirteen-year-old girl, it was the stuff dreams are made of.
Fast forward ::mumble mumble:: years, and my love of YA fantasy hasn’t diminished. The last four books of the Harry Potter series proved out that a middle grade series could transition to darker themes and YA situations…something I’ve tried in my own Matt Archer series. Also, love it or hate it (I won’t share my rather lengthy opinion here) Twilight blew open that space for YA urban fantasy and paranormal romance, too.
So what are my top YA fantasy books of the last few years? Let’s take a look.
First, and ohmyGodhowmuchdoIlovethesebooks — the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series. Laini Taylor writes some of the most evocative and beautiful prose I’ve ever read. I stayed up half the night in a tent on a cub scout campout–in the middle of a major thunderstorm, no less–to finish the first book. It stunned me, it shook me to the core. It’s funny, tragic, epic and intimate all at the same time. Karou is an amazing heroine with flaws and vulnerability that clashes with her strength and certainty of purpose. What makes it even more amazing is the story within the story. You get to peel back so many layers with this one. The second book, Days of Blood and Starlight (okay, that title totally broke me), is more visceral, dangerous and unnerving, but every bit as beautifully written. And I can hardly wait for Dreams of Gods and Monsters to come out next year. ::paces, muttering:: If you haven’t tried out the first book, it’s likely in your library. You might want to take a peek.
Next up, a series that wrapped up just a few months ago: The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson. This fantasy is so unique, with an almost old Spain/Castilian feel to it, and an unlikely heroine. In the beginning, Elisa is the overweight, shunned, ultra-bright, God-chosen second daughter of a king. Because she carries the God-stone in her navel (it sounds weird, and it is, but it totally works…trust me) she’s sought after, because the stone is only bestowed on one person every hundred years. Over the course of the book, Elisa has to build her strength, both physically and mentally, to outwit numerous double crosses, attempts on her life and people who want to use her, and her status, for their own gain. Richly imagined and well written, this is an excellent trilogy for anyone who loves a classic-style epic fantasy (magic/sorcery, love story, sword fights and all). What’s amazing about this series is that every book gets better. I loved the second book (which is usually where authors back off a bit) and the third book was my favorite book of this year.
Finally, let’s talk Raven Cycle. The Scorpio Races (which also makes my list of favorite YA fantasies) was the first book I read by Maggie Stiefvater (of Shiver fame). While I didn’t get into the Shiver books, Scorpio was deeply engrossing and so unique. So when The Raven Boys came out last year, I picked it up. Oh, I’m so, so glad I did. In an almost Southern gothic style, this tale is about the only non-psychic girl in a house full of women with the sight. They live in a town that also has a very prestigious school for extremely rich boys. When Blue is told the first boy she loves–the one she’ll kiss–will die, and she sees the shadowed ghost of one of the boys she meets one night a few days later, she realizes everything’s going to change. I almost can’t describe what happens next. It’s out there, and it’s wonderful. The prose is crazy and amazing and the banter between the characters just makes the whole book. Throw in a mythical Celtic King, a boy who can dream things into existence and a bunch of shadowy bad guys closing in, and you have a pretty exciting–if a bit strange–tale on your hands.
There are so many more, but these are my favorites for the last few years. How about you? What would you add to the list? I’m always on the lookout for new reads, so let’s get some suggestions going!