I will mention three books in particular that seemed to break the too-familiar YA mold. The first is an import from France, and it is, indeed, very, very FRENCH. Gary Ghislain’s How I Stole Johnny Depp’s Alien Girlfriend is a caper romance begging to be placed on the big screen, but it works beautifully on the page, or--even better--read aloud with a French accent (you know you want to try this!) especially for the character of Zelda, the so-called Alien Girlfriend. It’s a funny, fast read, with Fashion, Action and a little bit of, hmm, shall we say, Spicy Traction? And, hey, maybe even some aliens! Bon Appetit!
The second book is Chime, by Franny Billingsley, and I long for a repeat of our Summer Reading Program contest, “Judge A Book By Its Cover,” because the cover for this book stinks! Oh, it’s not that bad, it just has a vapid, lounging blonde on the cover, whereas our corn-silk-haired heroine, Briony, is electrifyingly sharp, opinionated, and deserves to be hanged--or so she tells us on page one. This is a story that appears to take place in a vaguely familiar English countryside village, pre-World War I, replete with clergymen, farmers, city folk and country folk, but also inhabited by witches, spirits, the Boggy Mun who brings disease to the weak from his swamp, and Old Ones, as well as another odd person called the Chime Child. Is this the familiar paranormal ground? Ye-es, but what a difference a good author makes! This is an unusual book, with an inner mystery that gnaws disquietingly away within an entertaining, well-written yarn, touching oh-so-gently on the mistaken “known truths”of adolescence; ah, Know Thyself! And it’s a standalone book! There could be a sequel, but it doesn’t need one. What a relief.
My third choice for favorite of the year is The Marbury Lens by Andrew Smith, and it was deuced difficult for me to read because it was so very dark in its depiction of an alternate reality. After surviving a hideous kidnapping and its equally hideous consequences (known only to himself and his best friend), young Jack travels to England in order to check out a boarding school he and his friend will attend for their last year of high school. Still shaken up by his recent brush with mortality and torture, he is accosted by a young stranger in a pub who claims to know him from “Marbury,” a place Jack knows nothing about. After the stranger leaves, Jack finds a pair of spectacles, or lenses, the stranger has left behind; once he has returned to his hotel room, he looks through them and finds himself transported to a primitive world where he is being hunted like an animal by others who seem vaguely familiar. When he realizes that the young man who was just skewered in front of him looks like the young man who approached him in the pub, Jack’s sense of reality slips another notch, and so does ours. What nightmare world, whose nightmare world has he entered? In what seems like days he finds himself back in his hotel room, terrified--and curious to put the Marbury lens back on. And when his best friend joins him in the strange world of Marbury, the nightmare only gets darker. Can Jack’s kidnapper be far behind him, with vengeance on his mind? This fast-paced horror novel will have you on edge--and there does appear to be a sequel in the works--eek! So much more to read, so little year to read it in!