Allison's Book Bag

2013 Reading in Review

Posted on: December 30, 2013

It’s that time of year again! Here’s my year in review, with most of my selection questions originating from The Story Siren. It’s been a good reading year for me and I felt tempted to add runner-ups, due to all the books I enjoyed and fondly remembered as I compiled this list.

1. Best novel you read?

 The Lucy Variations by Sarah Zarr
By one of my favorite authors, I read this young adult novel as a treat to myself with no intention to review, but liked it so much I posted about it as a Current Read. Most of us struggle with what it means to have a gift and how to enjoy it instead of being stifled by it. The Lucy Variations is an elegant exploration of this universal theme.

2. Worst novel you read?

 Nobody Knows by Shelley Tanaka
Set in Japan, the book is based on a movie of a real incident. The movie is better, in that it made me feel empathy for the abandoned children and also admiration for how much they endured. The book just made me feel sick.

3. Best nonfiction book you read?

Outcasts United by Warren St. John
Sports stories aren’t my normal reading fare, but I loved this book. Author Warren St. John superbly draws on his journalistic skills to create unbiased portrayal of one season in the life of a team of refugee children. Moreover, St. John  didn’t just interview the participants in this story but became part of their lives. He then used his intimate knowledge of this close-knit group to write a fast-pace story full of soccer action, town drama, and quiet moments.

4. Best picture book?

Because Amelia Smiled by David Ezra Stein
I liked its circular style, positive message, and tribute to cultures around the world.Through the actions of multiple characters, Stein teaches that if you smile, you might have a ripple effect across your neighborhood, town, or maybe even the world. By taking readers on a whimsical trip around the world, Stein also created a captivating impression of our global community. Fans will grow up wanting to meet people from different cultures and travel to diverse areas such as Mexico, England, and Israel. All because Amelia smiled!

5. Best intermediate book?

Crystal City Lights by Holly Moulder
A fictional story about a German-American family who were placed in an internment camp during World World II, some situations are on the lighter side and might bear you think of Nancy Drew or Hardy Boy adventures. Others are more serious, such as the animosity of the different groups which have been interned together or from some German fraction who hate the United States for its unjust act of imprisoning them. Crystal City Lights impressed me with how historically-based it was, while also being an entertaining tale.

6. Best young adult book?

Freeze Frame by Heidi Ayarbe
It’s disturbing that this young adult novel is about a tragedy caused by the main character. Furthermore, for the bulk of the book we don’t even know if the death was deliberate. Yet we come to care for Kyle, because we’re constantly in his head. That Ayarbe is able to pull off such a story is impressive.

7. Best book that was outside of your comfort zone?

Scorpions by Walter Dean Myers
I recommend any books by Walter Dean Myers. He writes about kids in trouble. His format is often experimental. Author of over fifty books for young people and winner of the Coretta Scott King Award for African-American authors five times, every reader of books for young people should make themselves acquainted with his works. In January 2012, Myers replaced Katherine Paterson as the Library of Congress’s National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, a two-year position created to raise national awareness of the importance of lifelong literacy and education.

8. Best classic that you reread this year?

The Adventures of Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren
Pippi does whatever she desires, whenever she wants, which is a reason her character caused controversy when first introduced and to this day appears on lists of female anti-heroes. Yet there’s no reason to worry she’ll corrupt anyone, for Pippi’s heart is always in the right place.

9. Best cultural or regional book?

 The Glass Collector by Anna Perera
The Glass Collector will pull you into a new world, leave you wanting to know more about the actual Zabbeleen, and give you plenty to think about. For example, under what situations would you steal? And should you escape to a safer and wealthier place, if it means leaving home, family, and community? While The Glass Collector is far from being a flawless book, it IS an absorbing book–which is plenty for me to recommend it.

10. Best special interests book?

The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson
A realistic portrayal of a foster kid, inspired by Paterson’s own experience of being a foster mom, The Great Gilly Hopkins strikes all the right emotional chords. Underneath all the bravado and attitude, there’s a girl who wants to be liked, but no family has kept Gilly long enough for Gilly to consider it worth her time to unpack her suitcase at each new place. Unfortunately, just because Gilly has a heart that doesn’t mean Gilly is easy to like. Quite the opposite! Gilly is a porcupine with her quills always bared. In this anti-hero tale, Gilly is the brat whom we grow to love.

11. Best series you read?

Skinjacker Trilogy by Neal Shusterman
The Chocolate Ogre, Allie the Outcast, Mary Hightower, and The McGill. These are some of the unusual characters that populate Neal Shusterman’s famed Skinjacker Trilogy. I discovered the series just in time to have them signed by Shusterman at the Plum Creek Children’s Literacy Festival 2013The trilogy is an exploration of life, death, and what might lie in between.

12. Most surprising book you read?

 Fangbone by Michael Rex
After two years of trying out graphic novels and other non-traditional formats, one of them has made my Best Of…. List! The Birthday Party of Dread by Michael Rex has a basic premise that is outrageously weird, which is that the barbarians who defeated the wicked wizard Venomous Drool have cut him into pieces. Ever since, the wizard’s followers have been collecting those parts with the hopes that they can restore him to power. At the point of our story, they’re missing only one piece: the wizard’s big toe. The toe is under the protection of our barbarian hero, Fangbone…. The Birthday Party of Dread is as funny, wacky, and creative as that plot idea.

13. Most disappointing book you read?

Fighting for Dontae by Mike Castan
Author Mike Castan’s heart is in the right place with Fighting for Dontae, which he dedicates from “one-at-risk student to another”. Unfortunately, I can’t recommend it because of its stereotypes. There is better Latino literature out there for young people, as well as more complex books about gang life and about special education students. At least, I hope there is.

14. Book I can’t believe I waited to read?

 Little Fish by Ramsey Beyer
The publisher Zest specializes in books for young adults, my favorites of which are their true stories. Even so, I had my copy of Little Fish for months before a virtual tour pushed me into reading it. Told through real-life journals, collages, lists, and drawings, this coming-of-age story illustrates the transformation of an 18-year-old girl from a small-town teenager into an independent city-dwelling college student. It inspired me on so many levels, one way of which I described in A Letter to My College-Bound Sister.

15. Book that didn’t get enough press?

The Windfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson
Picked up on a whim while attending a concert, Windfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson is a fun epic tale with lots of adventures, quirky characters, and a unique setting. On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness was nominated for and North or Be Eaten went on to win the Christy award, thus recognizing Peterson as a Christian writer of literary excellence. My hope, however, is that this rip-roaring fantasy series will also find an audience in the general market.

 16. New favorite author of the year?

Matthew Quick of Silver Linings Playbook fame has also written three books for young people. Two of them I have read already and the third is on my wish list to read:

  • Boy 21
  • Sort of Like a Rock Star
  • Forgive Me Leonard Peacock

All the work Quick has published and all the work that he is contracted to publish is about mental health in one way or another. And that’s intentional. For which I admire him.

Your Turn!

  • Which of the categories should I keep?
  • Which should I delete?
  • Which choices do you agree with?
  • What would you have picked in 2013?

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I am focusing this year on other commitments. Once a month, I’ll post reviews of Advanced Reader Copies. Titles will include: Freddy Frogcaster and the Flash Flood by Janice Dean, One Two by Igor Eliseev, Incredible Magic of Being by Kathyrn Erskine, Dragon Grammar Book by Diane Robinson, and Wide as the Wind by Edward Stanton.



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