Thursday, December 31, 2015

YA Guy Lists... His 2015 Top 10! (Plus a Giveaway!)

YA Guy read far fewer YA (and MG) books this year than the past several years, for two main reasons. First, I decided to read in other genres, including classic science fiction (THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES, A PRINCESS OF MARS, CHILDHOOD'S END), classic novels I've always wanted to read (INVISIBLE MAN, A TALE OF TWO CITIES), contemporary bestsellers (THE MARTIAN, ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE), historical fiction (THE GOOD LORD BIRD, THE INVENTION OF WINGS, SARAH'S KEY), and more. I even read, at my mother's suggestion, Wendy Wax's THE ACCIDENTAL BESTSELLER, a contemporary "women's novel." (I liked it.) These books take a lot longer to read than YA and MG, so that slowed me down too. In the end, I read about 25 YA/MG novels, most but not all of them 2015 publications (and many of them debuts).

I enjoyed reading almost all of these books, in all of these genres, but I'm going to limit my year-end Top 10 list to YA and MG. (I am YA Guy, after all.) The following list is in the order I read these books; it's not a ranking. Fuller reviews of most of these books are available on Amazon (I don't do Goodreads anymore). After reading about these great books, you can enter a giveaway to win two of them (plus a third that didn't quite make the cut).

1. PRISONER 88 by Leah Pileggi. A brilliant middle grade historical novel about a young boy incarcerated in the Idaho state penitentiary. Based on archival materials, this novel does an excellent job of portraying the time period, as well as the main character's perspective as he deals with life among hardened adult criminals. And the book is brief, only about 150 pages long, so you can read it almost like a short story in a single sitting.

2. THE PREY by Tom Isbell. A rousing YA adventure story set in a dystopian world where the rich hunt the poor for sport. The details are gruesome, but the characters are appealing and the narrative barrels forward at a great pace. The first in a trilogy, the second installment of which comes out in 2016.

3. UTOPIA, IOWA by Brian Yansky. An oddball YA story about a mythical town in Iowa where people commune with the dead and other bizarre happenings are everyday occurrences, this book deserves a far wider readership than it's gotten so far. There are some problems--in particular, a rushed and confusing ending--but the story as a whole weaves a magical spell unlike anything else I've read.

4. BLUE GOLD by Elizabeth Stewart. The story of three girls in different nations whose lives are connected by the mineral coltan, a key element in electronics such as cell phones, this issue-driven YA is straightforward and unsparing but never heavy-handed or preachy.

5. IT'S A WONDERFUL DEATH by Sarah J. Schmitt. A hilarious and poignant romp through the afterlife, as stuck-up cheerleader RJ tries to atone for past sins and gain a second chance at life. Very few books actually make you both laugh and cry (often at the same time); this one will.

6. ZEROBOXER by Fonda Lee. An exciting and introspective YA action/science fiction novel about a young champion in the futuristic sport of "zeroboxing," which involves boxing (actually more like mixed martial arts) in zero gravity. Great world-building and storytelling, plus some amazing fight sequences.

7. CONVICTION by Kelly Loy Gilbert. A story of losing and finding faith, this YA novel is the debut of one of the most gifted writers I've encountered. YA tends to shy away from serious examinations of religious belief, but Gilbert tackles the subject with sensitivity, insight, and compassion.

8. THE INQUISITOR'S MARK by Dianne Salerni. A wonderful middle grade novel, second in a trilogy (or possible quintology) about a secret eighth day of the week accessible only to certain people. Combining Arthurian legend with quantum science, this super-cool book is one of my favorite MG novels of all time. And yes, that's counting the Harry Potter series.

9. ILLUMINAE by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff. I first heard about this book at a regional SCBWI conference, where agents and editors were raving about it as the Next Big Thing. I approached it with some skepticism as a result, but when I read it, I found that they were right: it's the Next Big Thing. A brilliantly conceived and written YA science fiction novel (first in a series) that will be copied endlessly but never equaled.

10. VALLEY OF FIRES by J. Barton Mitchell. I've been telling people about Mitchell's "Conquered Earth" series for years, ever since I happened upon the first book in my local library. I guess I haven't told enough people, because this totally original YA science fiction series about a future Earth that's been invaded by mysterious beings hasn't yet captured the mass audience it so richly deserves. VALLEY OF FIRES is the concluding book in this wildly imaginative trilogy; pick up the first two installments, MIDNIGHT CITY and THE SEVERED TOWER, if you know what's good for you!

When I finish reading books, I typically donate them to my local library. But I still have the final two books on the list, so I thought I'd give them away here (along with a third, mystery book that didn't quite make my top 10 list but is pretty darn cool nonetheless). The giveaway is U.S. only. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Well, that's it for now! I'll see you in 2016, a year that will witness lots of other great books, including the publication of my sequel, SCAVENGER OF SOULS!


  1. I too was reading lots of adult books this year (including Martian and All the Light... on your list.) Some great recs you've got here--I'm not familiar with almost any of them (except for Illuminea) so I will definitely check these out! Happy 2016!

    1. Glad to hear I wasn't the only YA writer reading adult books! I felt the need to diversify, and probably will continue to do so in 2016.

  2. Thanks for including The Inquisitor's Mark, Josh! That is a pretty awesome compliment! :D

  3. Thanks for the giveaway and list! I haven't read these yet!