The Best YA You Haven't Read

When I saw this post via Bookshelves of Doom, I thought of 2009's How to Say Goodbye in Robot and Destroy All Cars, both of which I've previously praised. But I thought most of this book:

Very Far Away from Anywhere Else
, by Ursula K. LeGuin. It's the story of Owen, a smart seventeen-year-old who's slowly being forced toward a grown-up life that he's not sure he wants; and his relationship with Natalie, an equally smart girl who knows exactly what she wants -- to be a composer -- and is working hard to get there. It's a slim little book (fewer than 1o0 pages) about soulmates, the difference between friendship and love, the transition from childhood to adulthood, feeling different, losing and finding hope, those rare and perfect moments that make everything worthwhile. I love this book so much that when it was out of print, I went to the New York Public Library and copied every spread on the copy machine just so I'd have the text for myself. There's very little story to it, and it's not for everyone, certainly, but if you were a "sensitive" teenager who loved reading and thinking and felt a little out of step with everyone else, THIS IS THE BOOK. It's criminally underknown, but Michael Stearns, bless him, brought it back into print while he was at Harcourt, so it's still available in stores. Read it and give it to any thoughtful teens you know.

Then, because I can't resist the opportunity to talk about my books, here are eight I worked on and wish people knew better:
  • Crossing to Paradise by Kevin Crossley-Holland -- The three books of Kevin's Arthur trilogy were on the indie Top Ten list, ALA Best Books et al., and highly praised by Philip Pullman and Karen Cushman. This pendant novel stands alone in its story of another character's pilgrimage to Jerusalem, but it also rounds out Arthur's story; and the writing in it is so, so gorgeous and poetic. . . . It's a wonderful gift for any reader interested in the Middle Ages, Jerusalem, pure faith, or again, lovely writing.
  • The Book of Everything by Guus Kuijer, translated by John Nieuwenhuizen -- the only atheistic children's novel I can name is also one of the most joyous, rich, and strange books I've ever read, a book that literally changed my life with its protagonist's simple answer to the question of what he wants to be when he grows up: "Happy." Because that's what it's all about, isn't it?
  • The Slightly True Story of Cedar B. Hartley (Who Tried to Live an Unusual Life) by Martine Murray -- Seven years after we published this, I still think about its definition of love, its delicate and original imagery, its wonderful main character and her quirky family, and give copies only to people who I deem worthy to know it. . . . This one is truly a Book of my Heart.
  • Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit and Moribito II: Guardian of the Darkness by Nahoko Uehashi, translated by Cathy Hirano -- Every copy bought of one of these increases the chance that I might get to publish and edit Book III and find out for myself what happens next to Balsa. So here's my totally unsubtle request here: Please buy them! If you read these books and saw their incredibly fresh fantasy world and their incredibly wonderful female main character, Balsa, you'd have the same wish. They're just awesome, and now the only book + sequel to win Batchelder honors in consecutive years, I believe. (Someday I'd love to see the kidlitosphere do a Translation Reading Challenge to bring attention to the many, many highly original and underread books from other countries, because they could use the love and exposure far more than many U.S.-originated books, whose authors are here to promote them. But it's not like I'm biased on this subject or anything...)
  • The Singer of All Songs and its two sequels (The Waterless Sea and The Tenth Power) by Kate Constable -- The first of these came out in 2004, I think, right in the middle of the early-00s YA fantasy glut, and I think they just got overlooked. Which is an enormous pity, as they're beautifully written, highly original fantasies that are perfect for any fans of Tamora Pierce (who blurbed them), Robin McKinley, or Elizabeth C. Bunce.
  • Absolutely Maybe by Lisa Yee -- I daresay this was the best food YA novel of 2009 AND the best Los Angeles YA novel of 2009, a testament to Lisa's love of the city and really great tacos. It's also a great coming-of-age story with a terrific supporting cast.
Thanks for reading! And now -- go read the books!