Welcome to Smugglivus 2011! Throughout this month, we will have daily guests – authors and bloggers alike – looking back at their favorite reads of 2011, and looking forward to events and upcoming books in 2012.
Who: Rae Carson, YA author of Fantasy novels.
Please give it up for Rae!
Books have a special magic in the way they can reach out and speak to us right where we’re at. There have been times when I’ve read a book and thought, “meh.” But later, under a different set of life circumstances, a second read of the very same book was just the soothing balm or the inspirational jolt or the crushing epiphany or…the very exact something that I needed right then.
Being a debut author has been an incredible experience. It’s been about hoping my hardest that things would go well, rolling with the punches, celebrating the victories, feeling by turns crushed with despair and prouder of it than anything I’ve ever done. And through it all, I had to keep writing.
Which was really hard. Fortunately, a handful of books met me right where I was at with their special magic and talked to me about writing.
So my top five books of the year in no particular order:
Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys is about the tragic and unconscionable Lithuanian deportation under Stalin. The characters endure crushing setbacks until they are stripped of everything except their determination to survive. This kind of story is the perfect place to showcase The Literary DetailTM —you know, that one tiny, perfect thing that brings a story to life. When your characters are barely hanging on to their very survival, suddenly a pencil drawing, or a pair of shoes, or, yes, a tiny leaf budding up from a wasteland of snow, takes on huge proportions of emotion and meaning. This book inspired me to look for those tiny details in my own writing and figure out how I could use them to say something powerful.
Divergent by Veronica Roth is about…Oh, who am I kidding? Everyone and their brother’s dog has read this. And with good reason. I was especially caught by the action sequences, which are beautifully structured.
A Page TurnerTM can be a tricky thing. Some Page Turners create such urgency to find out what happens next that the reader ends up skimming the text to get to the payoff. It’s a rare book that causes a reader to move through the text as fast as possible—and yet hang on every word. Roth does this as well as anybody, and I found myself re-reading certain scenes to break them down in my head and figure out how she pulled it off.
Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins is ostensibly a Quirky Contemporary RomanceTM—but I found it to be so much more. It’s subtle and nuanced and lightly sprinkled with beautiful gems of prose. It doesn’t shy away from the realities of the teen experience, and the heroine and her love interest are far removed from the Hollywood perfection stereotypes of many teen romance novels. In short, it’s a brave book, and it made me want to be more courageous and honest in my own writing.
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline is the nerdiest book I’ve ever read. I admit—I had low expectations when I started it. I thought it would be Idea P0rnTM—you know, the book that is so enraptured by its own premise (Virtual utopia! Corporatocracy!) that the story and characters get lost in the thought exercise? But, oh, I was so wrong. As the story unfolds, the plot stakes get higher and the characters unfold into heartfelt and nuanced human beings. This book reminded me that a story doesn’t have to get lost in a big idea, that in fact a big idea can be used to say something really important about human relationships. On a side note: I met my husband and best friends online, and I loved how this book validated online relationships as REAL.
Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta might be the most sophisticated teen fantasy I’ve ever read. It’s about the exile and diaspora of a nation, and their eventual triumphant return. Frankly, this book should not work. Scenes circle around a central point—and sometimes each other—instead of building linearly. The political situation is complex and slow to develop. Some characters make ugly decisions that are hard to empathize with.
But Marchetta pulls it off with aplomb. Her characters are so beautifully layered, her dialog so spot on, that I was pulled through the narrative anyway. And by the time I reached the end, I was sold on the unconventional structure. How better to reflect the real-life messiness of politics and war and the struggle of the disenfranchised to find belonging?
This book encouraged me to not shy away from complexity and to embrace a story’s demand to be told a certain way—even if when it bucks conventional writing wisdom.
And! Books I’m looking forward to in 2012:
1) I got to read an early version of Jodi Meadows’ Incarnate. I’ve seen a lot of reincarnation books on the teen shelves lately, but this one stands out as particularly thoughtful. Can’t wait to hear what you all think of it.
2) Another one I got to read early! Sarah Prineas’ Winterling is warm and wonderful. It’s a lovely tribute to the power of friendship. Can’t wait to get my hands on the hardcover.
3) Sarah J. Maas’ Queen of Glass (no cover yet!). A retelling of Cinderella—with assassins. Yes, please!
4) Kristin Cashore’s Bitterblue. Need I say more?
5) Bethany Griffin’s Masque of the Red Death promises to be an atmospheric, dystopian take on the Edgar Allen Poe story of the same name. And is that cover to die for or what?
So that’s it. Happy Smugglivus to all! May your 2012 be filled with magical reads that meet you wherever you’re at.