Smugglivus

My Top Five (Accidental) Favorite Contemporary YA Novels of 2017 by Jessi Cole Jackson

Welcome to Smugglivus 2017! Throughout this month, we will have guests – authors and bloggers alike – looking back at their favorite reads of 2017, looking forward to events and upcoming books in 2018, and more.

Next on Smugglivus: one of our Gods and Monsters authors, Jessi Cole Jackson, writer of “The Waters and Wild of Winter Street

Please give it up for Jessi!

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My Top Five (Accidental) Favorite Contemporary YA Novels of 2017

I’ll admit that I don’t read a lot of straight-up contemporary YA these days. I mostly abandoned the genre, along with classics, in my teens. Sci fi and fantasy of various stripes have kept me busy in the meantime and if I need the occasional palette cleanser, I’ll delve into adult novels like Tessa Dare’s historical romance or Deanna Raybourne’s mysteries.

In 2017 though the stars aligned and I happened to read significantly more contemporary YA than ever before. (In this case the stars are a strange combination of a Modern YA Lit course that turned out to be more like a Contemporary YA Lit course, friend recommendations, and books on my TBR list that miraculously became free at my library.) These are five I especially loved and would highly recommend–either for a palette cleanser or a lovely, everyday meal.

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

As a fan of the charming, character-focused YA romances of Stephanie Perkins and Rainbow Rowell, I thought this might be right up my alley when I first heard about it. But I put off reading it for a while because all of the novel’s summaries really played up the arranged marriage plot point, and I thought that might not work for me in a YA novel. Thankfully, I pushed aside those misgivings and gave it a try because this novel was adorable and has an utterly delightful cast. I especially liked Rishi’s eternally romantic optimism and Dimple’s unflinching ambitions.

The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

I love this story for its sense of place and its desperation. I found Jeff Zentner’s treatment of the complicated emotions of wanting to leave your small hometown without leaving behind friends and family especially well handled. Also, Zentner’s writing is lovely, despite (or maybe because of?) his ability to rip my heart of my chest and leave me sobbing for the entire last quarter of his novel.

This Side of Home by Renee Watson

Like many lower-middle-class 30-something white artists who’ve lived in urban communities, I’ve played my part in gentrification, renting cheapish apartments in “up-and-coming” neighborhoods. Even while I’ve enjoyed the conveniences (and avoiding the ‘burbs), I’ve always worried I was part of a major, problematic shift. Which is probably why Renee Watson’s nuanced exploration of the phenomenon, and how gentrification affects the every day lives of a handful of teens in the pacific northwest, resonated. This book is thoughtful, complex, and multi-faceted and leaves the reader exploring their own answers to some seriously complicated questions.

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

I was so glad when conversations on Twitter about the all-female adaptation of Lord of the Flies came up and folks were like, uh…that exists. Cuz it does and it’s awesome. It’s called Beauty Queens, and it’s an inclusive, girl-focused, brilliant satire. It’s also my ultimate example of why I often try books multiple times. Because sometimes, you’re just not in a mood for a brilliant satire. Sometimes, you’re not in a mood for brilliant satire like FOUR TIMES, which is approximately the number of times I’d picked this one up and put it back down over the years. But when I picked it up again this past summer, I devoured it. I enjoyed the bold, clever exploration of gender, societal expectations, the beauty industry, and girl friendship.

Geekerella by Ashley Poston

Sometimes you need a bit of fluff. Geeky, cosplaying, identity-mix-up, text-based-romance, vegan-foodtruck candy. Maybe it’s just because I first fell in love (at 18) with my now-husband over texts (or, well, AIM, because we’re old) so it felt especially real, but I was inordinately fond of this Cinderella retelling and its earnest, nerdy protagonist.

And okay, I can’t write a list of books I’ve loved in 2017 without recommending ONE fantasy novel. I recently got my hands on an arc of Dhonielle Clayton’s The Belles and loved it. It’s exactly the kind of lush, secondary world with a diverse cast that I’ve been searching for in fantasy. Add in high-stakes, luxuriant descriptions, exotic teacup pets and an exploration of how far we’ll go to be beautiful–I couldn’t put it down. I can’t wait to get my hands on the final version in February 2018 to see what’s changed.

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After a 10-year sojourn in costume shops along the east coast, Jessi Cole Jackson is back home in Michigan where she works at a teen center and writes SFF, mostly for teens. Her short fiction has been published in Hidden Youth: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History, here at Book Smugglers Publishing, and most recently at Podcastle, among others. Find her on twitter @Ms_ColeJackson.

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