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Adult Books 4 Teens
Inside Adult Books 4 Teens

Best Adult Books 4 Teens, 2011

The purpose of AB4T is to help librarians and other readers learn about books published for the adult market that have appeal to teens.

Currently, nearly 20 librarians review for the blog. All work with teens in either public or school libraries, in a variety of settings across the country. We began work on the Best list in September. I invited the reviewers to “nominate” titles they found to be among the best of the year. In order to make the final list each title needed at least two enthusiastic readers, so once we had a preliminary list together we signed up as second readers, many of us discovering new favorites among the titles reviewed by others.

2011 was a particularly strong year for adult books with appeal to young adult readers. In the end I narrowed down the long list to the titles displayed here, and that was a challenge. Truth is, I was asked to come up with a list of 15-20. You might notice that there are 24 here. Love that SLJ is flexible, because it would have been too painful to let even one of these go!

It’s hardly surprising that genre fiction is well represented here, as are debut authors. What stands out this year is the number of literary fiction titles with teen appeal. For example, three of our titles are among the five fiction choices on the New York Times “10 Best Books of 2011″. That’s unusual.

And finally, I’m very pleased to add that the list is back in the print magazine this year — the December 2011 issue is in the mail as we speak.


Jamrach's Menagerie BIRCH, Carol. Jamrach’s Menagerie. (Doubleday)
Jaffy leaves behind his life on the streets of 19th-century London for an adventure to the Pacific Islands aboard a whaling ship in search of a mythical–yet far too real–dragon in this enormously satisfying novel of friendship, survival, and redemption.

Once Upon a River CAMPBELL, Bonnie Jo. Once Upon a River. (Norton)
Sixteen-year-old runaway Margo Green creates a new life on the river. Guided by a biography of Annie Oakley and an astounding ease with the natural world, Margo struggles to navigate the perils of human nature while she searches for the mother who abandoned her long ago.

Ready Player One CLINE, Ernest. Ready Player One. (Crown)
Imagine if Willie Wonka had been a video game designer. Now imagine a world where most people spend their time as avatars in a virtual reality. The founder of this virtual reality leaves his fortune to the first to win a contest, comprised of puzzles and tasks based on 1980s popular culture. Three teens compete to win against an evil conglomerate.

The Maid CUTTER, Kimberly. The Maid. (Houghton Harcourt)
This thrilling, visceral retelling of the life of Joan of Arc follows the rise of a poor, abused, illiterate girl who leaves her family and follows fervent belief and conviction to victory in battle and renown. Readers will yearn for a different story this time, to avoid the betrayal, abandonment and death at its end.

The Language of Flowers DIFFENBAUGH, Vanessa. The Language of Flowers. (Ballantine)
Alternate chapters weave Victoria’s past as a foster child and her present as a semi-homeless 18-year-old in Diffenbaugh’s moving debut. Victoria finds her first job in a florist shop, putting to use the language of flowers she first learned from her only real family, the foster mother she lost 10 years earlier.

The Glass Demon GRANT, Helen. The Glass Demon: A Novel. (Bantam)
In this creepy gothic novel, Lin’s family moves to a German village so her father can study the legend of the Allerheiligen Glass – medieval stained glass windows said to have been cursed by a demon, bringing death to those who gaze upon them. A brilliant combination of horror, fairy tales, mystery, and romance.

The Magician King GROSSMAN, Lev. The Magician King. (Viking)
Fillory is a magical utopia. With little for a monarch to do, Quentin goes on a quest. Alternating chapters relate his old friend, Julia’s backstory. While Quentin enjoyed life at Brakebills, Julia learned magic on the streets. Her journey is powerful and horrifying in this follow-up to The Magicians.

Alice Bliss HARRINGTON, Laura. Alice Bliss: A Novel. (Viking)
Alice’s idyllic small-town life is interrupted when her father’s army reserve unit is called up for active duty in Iraq. After he is declared missing in action, she turns to her best friend, the boy next door, for support.

Ten Thousand Saints HENDERSON, Eleanor. Ten Thousand Saints. (HarperCollins)
It begins with the drug-fueled last day in the life of 15-year-old Teddy McNicholas, and spirals from there into the lives of those who were closest to him. Henderson’s depiction of late-1980s New York is impressive–from the Straight Edge scene to the gay community’s grappling with HIV.

Blind Sight HOWREY, Meg. Blind Sight. (Pantheon)
When he is invited to live with his biological father for the summer, 17-year-old Luke is amazed to discover that the man is a famous television star. Chapters begin with the teen’s wonderfully witty college application essays, which reflect a new understanding of family dynamics and the workings of the human brain.

When She Woke JORDAN, Hillary. When She Woke. (Algonquin)
Reproductive freedom, racism, and the separation of church and state are only a few of the issues explored in this character-driven dystopian novel that bears parallels to The Scarlet Letter.

The Night Circus MORGENSTERN, Erin. The Night Circus. (Doubleday)
Le Cirque des Rêves appears without warning on the outskirts of cities around the world. Only open at night, it is filled with magic and theater, each tent a sensory experience, manipulated and sustained by two young people locked in a mysterious competition.

The Tiger's Wife OBREHT, Téa. The Tiger’s Wife. (Random)
In a war-torn Balkan country, a young doctor remembers her grandfather and tells a series of interlinked tales both historical and magical featuring the tiger’s wife and the deathless man. In this account of love, loss and war in the modern world, Obreht’s vivid writing creates unforgettable visions of unique settings.

Swamplandia! RUSSELL, Karen. Swamplandia! (Knopf)
Mere months after their mother dies, the Bigtree family’s alligator-wrestling theme park and cafe, Swamplandia!, goes out of business, sending the abandoned siblings on individual perilous journeys away from home in this dazzling, affecting, funny novel.

The Little Bride SOLOMON, Anna. The Little Bride. (Riverhead)
In late 19th-century Russia, Minna, a 16-year-old servant, wishing for a new life in America, signs up with Rosenfeld’s Bridal Service. She is sent to the hardscrabble South Dakota Territory where both her devoutly orthodox husband-to-be and his crude one-room dugout fall far short of her dreams.

The Homeland Directive VENDITTI, Robert & Mike Huddleston. Homeland Directive. (Top Shelf)
This tightly plotted thriller of a graphic novel probes the fine line between government protection and privacy invasion. The United States has determined that its residents can be investigated for suspicious activities by mining everyone’s data DNA, the sum of each person’s online transactions and activities.

Among Others WALTON, Jo. Among Others. (Tor)
As she recovers from the confrontation with her mother that killed her twin sister, Mori keeps a journal permeated by a love of reading in this mesmerizing fantasy novel. Sent to a boarding school where she is desperately lonely and abandoned by the fairies who once kept her safe, Mori finds refuge in books, which are her instruction manuals and her joy.

Robopocalypse WILSON, Daniel H. Robopocalypse. (Doubleday)
In this artificial intelligence blockbuster, the heroic actions of a handful of characters are told in the form of briefing reports recovered after the Robot Wars that nearly exterminated humanity. This format with its emphasis on survival in battle and full-throttle action will appeal particularly to those who enjoy science-gone-wrong thrillers.

Retribution Falls WOODING, Chris. Retribution Falls. (Spectra)
Captain Darian Frey loves the Ketty Jay, his airship, and he’ll do whatever it takes to keep flying. After he and his crew of misfits take on a job that goes horribly awry, they find themselves aligned against a conspiracy and trying to save the day in this action-filled, steampunk adventure.


How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming BROWN, Mike. How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming. (Spiegel & Grau)
Brown gives a charming account of the astounding series of discoveries that result in the down-grading of Pluto from planet status. The combination of engaging humor, accessible science, and personal anecdote makes for a lively glimpse into an extremely successful career in astronomy.

Little Princes GRENNAN, Conor. Little Princes: One Man’s Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal. (HarperCollins/Morrow)
What was intended to be a 90-day experience working in an orphanage became much more on the day Grennan learned that many of his young charges were actually the victims of a child trafficker. In this adventurous, funny and even romantic book, he dedicates himself to reconnecting the children with their families in remote Nepalese villages.  

Girls Like Us LLOYD, Rachel. Girls Like Us: Fighting for a World Where Girls Are Not for Sale, an Activist Finds Her Calling and Heals Herself. (HarperCollins/Harper)
Lloyd began working in the sex industry at age 17 (dancing in a club). In her memoir, she expands the narrative of her personal decisions into an understanding of the larger societal issues involved in women’s choices.

Feynman OTTAVIANI, Jim. Feynman. (First Second)
Nobel-Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman was a researcher, professor, civilian scientist at the birth of the atomic bomb, and famed lecturer. His quirky personality and his passion for physics and for fun are presented in energetic, colorful images, as are his more important scientific theories.

Vietnamerica TRAN, GB. Vietnamerica: A Family’s Journey. (Villard)
In this intriguing graphic memoir, Tran, born and raised in the United States, returns to Vietnam to research his family’s history, especially their experiences of the Vietnam War and then adapting to life as immigrants living in the United States.

Angela Carstensen About Angela Carstensen

Angela Carstensen is Head Librarian and an Upper School Librarian at Convent of the Sacred Heart in New York City. Angela served on the Alex Awards committee for four years, chairing the 2008 committee, and chaired the first YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adult committee in 2009. Recently, she edited Outstanding Books for the College Bound: Titles and Programs for a New Generation (ALA Editions, 2011). Contact her via Twitter @AngeReads.


  1. Karyn Silverman says:

    Thanks, Angela, for all that you do– my collection is much richer for your posts and the reviews.

    And YES YES YES to The Night Circus, hottest title of the year despite not even publishing until September. I even had a student dress all in black with a red scarf as homage one day.

  2. Rita Keskinen says:

    Darn, I don’t see Kings of Colorado on there by David E. Hilton. Thank you, I have purchased many titles based on your posts and reviews.

  3. amy cheney says:

    Hah!! I was plugging for Kings of Colorado, So I’m with you, Rita!