My favorite young-adult book reviews

In the tradition of August's book-review roundup, I've pulled together a collection of my favorite young adult reviews from the past decade. Hope you -- and the young adults in your life -- enjoy these as much as I did!


Planesrunner: Ian McDonald's YA debut is full of action-packed multidimensional cool, airships, electropunk and quantum physics: Planesrunner is the story of Everett Singh, a moderately unhappy schoolboy in London whose divorced, quantum physicist dad is kidnapped before his eyes one night. Everett embarks on an epic quest to find out what happened to his dad, a quest that is complicated by his mother's hostility to her ex-husband, a police cover-up, sinister visits from the head of the Imperial College physics department, and mysterious, threatening strangers who tail him through the streets of London.

[Buy it]


Be My Enemy: triumphant sequel to Planesrunner: In Enemy, there's a lot more of what made Planesrunner great -- tremendous action scenes, cunning escapes, genius attacks on the ways that multidimensional travel might be weaponized, horrific glimpses of shadowy powers and sinister technologies.

[Buy it]


The Twelve-Fingered Boy - mesmerizing YA horror novel: A horror novel about Shreve, a kid from a tough background who is stuck in juvie and makes the most of it by running a black-market candy dealership; and his new roommate Jack, a quiet kid with twelve fingers and twelve toes.

[Buy it]


: Steven Gould has penned another Jumper novel. Impulse picks up where the excellent Reflex left off, with Davy and Millie -- a couple who possess the power to teleport -- living in exile, hiding away from the sadistic, power-hungry plutocrats who would enslave them and use them to increase their corrupt power.

[Buy it]

This is number three in a series that starts with Jumper and Reflex.


Akata Witch: young adult hero's journey of a Nigerian witch: A beautifully wrought hero's journey story about Sunny, a young girl with albinism born to Nigerian parents in America, and then returned to Nigeria, where she discovers that she is a Leopard Person -- a born sorcerer.

[Buy it]


Dark Lord: an evil overlord trapped in a kid's body: An unnamed narrator suffers a million agonies, while calling out for his hellion lieutenants to aid him, and we quickly learn that this is the Dark Lord, feared and tyrannical ruler of a distant kingdom, and that he has been transported to a suburban parking lot in our world. And that he's been put in the body of a child. Before you can ponder this conundrum for too long, he's in the custody of child services, in hospital, and is being treated as a delusional car-accident victim whose fantasy of being a mighty and merciless sorcerer/warrior are the desperate gambit of his amnesiac psyche.

[Buy it]


Pinkwater's Bushman Lives: absurdist misfit story is an insightful treatise on art: Harold Knishke is a young man in late 1950s Chicago who finds himself with a lot of spare time thanks to weird political patronage at his high-school, which results in him serving as a corrupt hall monitor who can excuse himself from school grounds on his own recognizance. One day, he quits flute lessons, sells his flute to his relieved instructor, and uses the money to take up life-drawing classes at a beatnik art school across the street from a mysterious whitewashed house whose paint is constantly being replenished by mysterious, hissing humanoids all dressed in white wrapping.

[Buy it]


Immortal Lycanthropes: Required reading for budding happy mutants and their grownups: Myron Horowitz, a horribly disfigured amnesiac orphan whose nice adoptive parents can't protect him from the savage beatings administered by the school bully every day. But then the bully is found bruised and battered and hurled through shatterproof glass, and Myron is found on the floor of the cafeteria, naked, with no sign of his clothes anywhere. And the adventure starts.

[Buy it]


Team Human: a high-school vampire novel doesn't suck (it rocks): Team Human is an incredibly fresh and original -- and absolutely charming -- take on vampire fiction. Larbalestier and Brennan have a wickedly sarcastic turn of phrase (as fans of Larbalestier's earlier books can attest), and their protagonist, Mel -- a high-school senior whose best friend is besotted with the vampire -- is one of those iconic, absolutely likable but flawed YA protagonists that you find in the genre's best books.

[Buy it]


Welcome to Bordertown anthology: The first Bordertown book in decades and I was absolutely delighted to be invited to contribute a story (Shannon's Law, about bringing TCP/IP to Faerie). Bordertown is the origin-node for urban fantasy, and I grew up reading it. The anthology features work by everyone from Charles De Lint to Neil Gaiman to Cassandra Claire.

[Buy it]


The Chronicles of Harris Burdick: writers produce "official" stories to go with the much-loved "Mysteries of Harris Burdick" illustrations: An anthology of short stories inspired by The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, a much-loved book of illustrations and titles for short stories that never existed. For decades, writers young and old have produced their own stories to accompany the illustrations.

[Buy it]


Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan: kick-ass young adult steampunk series starts with a bang, a hiss and a clank: Leviathan is set in an alternate steampunk past, in which the powers of the world are divided into "Clankers" who favour huge, steam-powered walking war-machines; and "Darwinists," whose hybrid "beasties" can stand in for airships, steam-trains, war-ships, and subs (they even have a giant squid/octopus hybrid called the kraken that can seize whole warships and drag them to their watery graves).

[Buy it]


Scott Westerfeld's Behemoth: return to the steampunk WWI of Leviathan: In Behemoth, the two powers fight for primacy in the strategically vital Istanbul, deploying spies, bioweapons, towering iron golems, chemical bombs (parcels of cayenne pepper, flung with deadly accuracy into the mechas' cockpits), and all manner of materiel.

[Buy it]


Westerfeld's Goliath: suitably thrilling conclusion to cracking steampunk WWI YA trilogy: Picks up where Behemoth let off, after a spot of bother and a revolution in Constantinople, and takes the Leviathan to Tunguska, Siberia, where Nikola Tesla is secretly investigating the progress of his death ray, which may end the war -- or life as we know it. Goliath hurdles on from there in the classic Westerfeld style, a cracking adventure story that revolves around science and engineering in equal measures with love, jealousy and honor. Soon, Aleks and Dylan are embroiled in the machinations of William Randolph Hearst and his feud with Joseph Pulitzer, Pancho Villa and his cinematographic civil war, and an impossible romance.

[Buy it]


Rotters: YA horror novel about grave-robbing chills, thrills, delights: The unlikely story of Joey Crouch, a 16 year old boy from Chicago whose mother is killed by a bus; Joey is sent to live with his mysterious father in small-town Iowa, and that's when things get weird. Joey's father is taciturn, he smells bad, he lives in a shack, and he doesn't seem interested in being any sort of father (or even roommate) with his long-lost son.

[Buy it]


Scored: pulse-pounding/thought-provoking YA novel about surveillance: In Scored, the American middle class is no more, wiped out by economic catastrophe. Social entrepreneurs bent on restoring class mobility have established "scoring," filling whole towns with spy-eyes that watch kids' every move, publicly assigning aggregate scores to their behavior according to secret, self-modifying algorithms.

[Buy it]


Going Under: moving kids' novel: The story of a bright, home-schooled brother-sister pair who struggle with their love and resentment for one another, under the hapless gaze of their clueless parents.

[Buy it]


Zoe's Tale, an Old Man's War novel for young adults by John Scalzi: This is a young-adult story in the popular and thrilling Old Man's War universe, and it's got all the heart and smarts I've come to expect from Scalzi.

[Buy it]


Cycler: smart YA novel about sex and sexuality: Jill McTeague has a secret: every 28 days, at the start of her menstrual cycle, she...changes. Painful, graphically, her body transforms into an adolescent male form, and her mind is remade as Jack McTeague, an angry, horny teenaged boy who stays locked in Jill's room for four days until she comes back to reclaim her body and mind.

[Buy it]


(Re)cycler: YA science fiction that tackles sex, gender with a lot of smarts: (Re)cycler picks up where Cycler left off, with Jill and her two best friends leaving small town Massachusetts for parts elsewhere. Jill lands in Brooklyn with her pal Ramie (who is also dating her male alter-ego, Jack) and commences to come of age in a setting that is frightening, dangerous, exciting and exotic.

[Buy it]


Headlong: laser-fine YA novel about kids' friendships and escaping destiny from Kathe Koja: The story of Lily, a privileged girl at an exclusive prep school where she is a multigenerational legacy whose past and future are both utterly circumscribed by the expectations around her. It is a good life, but it is not good to her. Lily isn't right for the life and the life isn't good for her, and she's trapped by it until Hazel arrives at her school.

[Buy it]


Liar: YA suspense novel that elevates the unreliable narrator to a new level: Micah -- the unreliable narrator of this tale -- is a compulsive liar from a fraught background. Poor and biracial, she attends a posh New York alternative school through a scholarship. Her mother is a runaway, her father is from a reclusive back-woods family of illiterate survivalists, and so it's no surprise that Micah's identity is a little messed up. But Micah isn't just confused: she's deliberately confusing, a compulsive liar who fools everyone around her over and over.

[Buy it]


Struts & Frets: an indie-rock YA novel with heart and authenticity: A dynamite, nuanced story about fannish love, musical obsession, first romance and true friendship. It follows the adventures of Sammy Bojar, a small-town, midwestern high-school senior who's life revolves around his band, a trainwreck of ego and conflict called "Tragedy of Wisdom."

[Buy it]


The Boneshaker: magic, latter-day Bradburian novel for young adults: A fine, darkly magical story set in turn-of-the-20th-century Missouri, in a small and haunted town called Arcane. It's the story of thirteen year old Natalie Minks, the daughter of a gifted mechanic, and what happens when a mysterious carnival comes to town.

[Buy it]


Kathe Koja's KISSING THE BEE: betrayal and emotional whirlwinds told with originality and subtlety: The story of Dana and Avra, two small-town high school seniors about to graduate. They're best friends, but brainy, shy Dana is always in egocentric, beautiful Avra's shadow. Dana is incredibly smart about people and her natural empathy lets her love her best friend, despite all her failings, and despite the fact that Dana is secretly in love with Avra's long-suffering boyfriend, Emil.

[Buy it]


THE UNIDENTIFIED: dystopian YA about education tranformed into a giant, heavily sponsored game: In the future, the US education system has gone bankrupt, and has been rescued by the private sector, who convert giant malls into heavily surveilled school buildings in which all education takes place as a series of sponsored games that, on the one hand, deliver tailored, creative curriculum, but, on the other, commodify all learning, social intercourse and creativity, turning it all into trends and products that are sold back to the students and the wider world.

[Buy it]


Kathe Koja's BUDDHA BOY: bravery, bullying, complicity and opting-out: Buddha Boy is the story of Justin, a kid at a pricey, clique-riddled high-school who just goes along to get along -- until he meets Jinsen. Jinsen, a transfer student, is an otherworldly, shaven-headed, maddeningly calm and artistically gifted student whose bizarre behavior (trolling the lunch-room with a begging bowl) and strange appearance make him into a magnet for the school bullies.

[Buy it]


Steven "Jumper" Gould's new novel 7TH SIGMA: genre-busting science fiction/western kicks ass: The American southwest has experienced a unique apocalypse: out of nowhere, artificial lifeforms called "bugs" have appeared. These tiny robotic flying insects home in on any source of metal or EMF and devour them, budding off more bugs using the digested metals.

[Buy it]


The Freedom Maze: a different sort of slavery-time alternate history: It's 1960: Sophie Fairchild is 13, and her parents have just divorced. Her father has moved to New York, and her mother has moved to New Orleans to learn to be a CPA. Sophie has been sent to her mother's family estate, the last remaining corner of a huge plantation that once boasted hundreds of slaves and hundreds of acres.

[Buy it]


Pinkwater's Neddiad: awesome YA novel with ghosts, fat alien cops, shamans, circus animals, triplanes, swordfighting, etc: Contains (in no particular order): circus animals, Pullman trains, sleight of hand, Navaho shaman, triplanes, the Grand Canyon, shoelaces, ghosts, cowboys, fat alien cops in grey station wagons, swordfighting, torture, rescue, a Roman coliseum, elder gods, and tar-soaked fossils.

[Buy it]


The Yggyssey: Pinkwater takes on The Odyssey: The Yggyssey picks up a few years after the world-shaking final battle that concludes Neddiad, and switches POVs to Yggdrasil Birnbaum ("Iggy" for short), the tomboyish female lead of the Neddiad, daughter of the famed cowboy Captain Buffalo Birnbaum, a retired silent film-star.

[Buy it]


Pinkwater's ADVENTURES OF A CAT-WHISKERED GIRL, sequel to Neddiad and Yggyssey: The eponymous Cat-Whiskered Girl is Big Audrey, whom Yggy met in the parallel dimension/underworld where the climax of The Ygyssey takes place. Big Audrey returns to LA with Yggy and the gang, works in a donut store, but finds herself lured away on a vision quest with Marlon Brando, who drives her to Poughkeepsie in a convertible stuffed with health food and chocolate cakes. Once in Poughkeepsie, Audrey ends up working in a UFO-nut bookstore, and befriends many local characters, including the crazy people from the sanatorium who visit on day-passes.

[Buy it]


Finally, I have to mention my own YA novels!


Little Brother: Marcus, a.k.a “w1n5t0n,” is only seventeen years old, but he figures he already knows how the system works–and how to work the system. Smart, fast, and wise to the ways of the networked world, he has no trouble outwitting his high school’s intrusive but clumsy surveillance systems.

But his whole world changes when he and his friends find themselves caught in the aftermath of a major terrorist attack on San Francisco. In the wrong place at the wrong time, Marcus and his crew are apprehended by the Department of Homeland Security and whisked away to a secret prison where they’re mercilessly interrogated for days.

[Buy it]


Homeland: A few years later, California's economy collapses, but Marcus’s hacktivist past lands him a job as webmaster for a crusading politician who promises reform. Soon his former nemesis Masha emerges from the political underground to gift him with a thumbdrive containing a Wikileaks-style cable-dump of hard evidence of corporate and governmental perfidy. It’s incendiary stuff—and if Masha goes missing, Marcus is supposed to release it to the world. Then Marcus sees Masha being kidnapped by the same government agents who detained and tortured Marcus years earlier.

[Buy it]


For the Win: Mala is a brilliant 15-year-old from rural India whose leadership skills in virtual combat have earned her the title of “General Robotwalla.” In Shenzen, heart of China’s industrial boom, Matthew is defying his former bosses to build his own successful gold-farming team. Leonard, who calls himself Wei-Dong, lives in Southern California, but spends his nights fighting virtual battles alongside his buddies in Asia, a world away. All of these young people, and more, will become entangled with the mysterious young woman called Big Sister Nor, who will use her experience, her knowledge of history, and her connections with real-world organizers to build them into a movement that can challenge the status quo.

[Buy it]


Pirate Cinema: Trent McCauley is sixteen, brilliant, and obsessed with one thing: making movies on his computer by reassembling footage from popular films he downloads from the net. In the dystopian near-future Britain where Trent is growing up, this is more illegal than ever; the punishment for being caught three times is that your entire household’s access to the internet is cut off for a year, with no appeal.

[Buy it]

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