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Analyzing the 2011 ABBC: Young Adult Fiction

The end of compilation is in sight as I continue to combine all of 2011’s best-books-of-the-year lists and awards into one spreadsheet that shows every book that was mentioned by every major source and documents how many times each of those works has been mentioned. Here at Book Group Buzz, I’ve been analyzing some of the top vote-getters in each category for book group use. You can download the full spreadsheet from my other blogging home, Williamsburg Regional Library’s Book Group Buzz, and find out about hundreds of other works that were loved, but just not often enough to get mentioned here. I’ll post version 4.0 of this year’s compilation there this Friday, with one more update to follow before the work is done sometime in March.

The books at the top of the young adult fiction list this year are again works of fantasy and science fiction. Here are the top four of 150 young adult books that have received mention to date.

In fourth, with 11 mentions, is Ransom Riggs’ Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. It’s set in a world of remote Welsh islands, creepy vintage photography, and the great crumbling ruin of the title house. The reaction to this book is strangely mixed. Some love the story about young Jacob Portman, who returns to the home where his beloved grandfather spent time in his youth in an attempt to unravel his cryptic final words. Others like the vintage photography sprinkled throughout the book but don’t find the text succeeds in matching its level of eeriness. This might be one that’s more fun to pass around in a thematic group meeting than to focus on in single book discussion.

In third place, with 13 mentions to date, is Laini Taylor’s series launching Daughter of Smoke and Bone. Set in atmospheric Prague, it’s the story of a young painter who is trying to get over an ex-boyfriend. Karou has an unusual and fantastic past: an orphan raised by four demonic creatures, she can work magic but doesn’t know her true parents. As the story begins to move forward, she becomes the focal point of a battle between angels and demons. Reviewers feel that it delivers even further on the promise of dark sensuality, high imagery, and paranormal romance with depth that Taylor first showed in Lips Touch: Three Times and are waiting anxiously for the sequel, Days of Blood and Starlight.

Second place to date is held by another series starter, Veronica Roth’s Divergent. It’s set in a dystopian future Chicago, where the protagonist, 16-year-old Tris, must choose between five factions–Candor, Abnegation, Dauntless, Amity, or Erudite, each of which lives entirely according to the creed of its name. Or she may be the rare Divergent, one who has traits from more than one of the factions. To decide, she must pass through a series of trials with other initiates that will determine her nature. As in Suzanne Collins’ immensely popular Hunger Games series, these initiates become both friends and rivals. The high concept philosophy of this one is hard for some readers to buy, but everyone seems to agree that the plot is rollicking fun, especially as it moves toward the finish and that Tris is an engaging heroine.

Atop this year’s list of YA fiction so far is Patrick Rothfuss and A Monster Calls. It’s garnered 16 mentions. A standalone novel developed from an uncompleted story idea of the deceased YA writer Siobhan Dowd, Monster is intense, quick-reading, and has an emotional depth that would make it a good choice for book groups willing to examine some dark places. It concerns a boy with a dying mother who is visited by a monster each night who tells him stories, parables that help him, reluctantly, to face his emotions and cope with the mix of bullying and pity that he is encountering at school. It’s a powerful book that will resonate with those who have lost a parent or other loved one. Jim Kay’s smudgy, unsettling, black-and-white pencil drawings take the book to another level, that of a potential classic.

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About the Author:

Neil Hollands is an Adult Services Librarian at Williamsburg Regional Library in Virginia, where he specializes in readers’ advisory and collection development. He is the author of Read On . . . Fantasy Fiction (2007) and Fellowship in a Ring: a Guide for Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Groups (2009).

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