I blog so often about middle grade fiction, it sometimes seems like I don't read anything else. But I do love YA and adult fiction as well. I thought for a change, I'd highlight a few of the memorable YAs I read this year.
I’m not normally a thriller reader, but I am a huge Russophile. I thought this concept sounded intriguing: what would happen if KGB agents had supernatural skills? But what really won me over were the details. Smith’s Russian is correct, she captures Russian diction (even when writing in English), and the atmosphere of Soviet Russia was dense and rich. A couple of other things I loved: an interesting love interest and a satisfactory ending without a cliffhanger (even though it’s a series).
When I heard FIREHOUSE GIRL dubbed a Chinese Pride and Prejudice, I knew I had to read it. But once I got into it, I realized the love story, while somewhat like P & P, really takes a back seat to the main story, which is about Jade Moon finding her identity as a strong, independent Chinese woman. Reading this book also meant learning the harsh truths about Angel Island (the Ellis Island of the West Coast). The author is not Chinese, but was inspired by her adopted daughter from China, which shows that it's more important to write what you love than what you know.
This is a translation from the French. This is yet another book set in Russia, but it’s one of the only books I’ve come across that deals with Chechnya during the aftermath of the Soviet collapse. The writing, so incredibly lyrical, conveys the child-like voice of Blaise perfectly. I was incredibly moved by his adventures as he and his guardian, Gloria, travel through the former Soviet republics and Europe by foot. If you loved “Life is Beautiful,” you will love this.
This is one of the only books I’ve ever picked up because of a book trailer. It's that good! You can watch it here.
Despite its cover, which is somewhat misleading, you must give this one a try. It's set in France during the building of the Eiffel Tower, but the premise, based on an Emile Zola story, is unique. In late 1800s Paris, Maude takes a job as a foil, an "ugly" girl who works as a companion to a rich girl to make her look pretty. But what occurs—and what this book says about our current beauty-obsessed culture--is well worth the read. I loved this book for its depth, its theme, and its rich layers of details.