What a wonderful year of reading is reflected in the 2012 Best AB4T list. Fictional stories range from the end of the world to waking up in a new body, homesteading in Oregon to super-mean high school cheerleaders, from the Trojan war to the war in Iraq.
On the nonfiction front, we are continually curious about life in other countries under other circumstances, and when those lives are illuminated as expertly as in books like Behind the Beautiful Forevers or Escape from Camp 14 we cannot resist no matter what our age. In our own backyard, we are amazed by Cheryl Strayed’s hike on the Pacific Crest Trail, or Jerry McGill’s generosity of spirit, as he writes of becoming disabled as a teen.
More than anything, I want to thank all of the AB4T reviewers: Amy Cheney, Diane Colson, Priscille Dando, Vicki Emery, Mark Flowers, Sarah Flowers, Paula Gallagher, Francisca Goldsmith, Charli Osborne, Laura Pearle, Carla Riemer, Jane Ritter, John Sexton, Karlan Sick, Jamie Watson and Connie Williams.
We created this list as a group — we shared nominations, organized second (sometimes third and fourth) readers for each and, over time, managed to narrow down the list to these 26 titles.
I hope you and your teen readers find much to enjoy here.
ABBOTT, Megan. Dare Me. Little, Brown. Tr $24.99. ISBN 978-0-316-09777- 2.
This brilliant thriller tackles the mythology of high school cheerleading. Squad captain, Beth, loses her power when a new coach arrives, until a suspicious death renews her opportunity for dominance.
BRUNT, Carol Rifka. Tell the Wolves I’m Home. Dial. Tr $26. ISBN 978-0-679-64419-4.
June, 14, is devastated when her uncle Finn, a famous artist, dies of AIDS; he was the one person in the world who understood her. Then Finn’s longtime secret partner, Toby, approaches her, with an offer of friendship.
DAU, Stephen. The Book of Jonas. Blue Rider. Tr $24.95. ISBN 978-0399158452.
Jonas, a 15-year-old boy rescued by an American soldier in an unidentified Muslim country and brought to the Pittsburgh area as a war refugee, is overwhelmed by the guilt of what it took to survive the war that claimed his family and his home.
DOIG, Ivan. The Bartender’s Tale. Riverhead. Tr $27.95. ISBN 978-1-59448-735-4.
Rusty and his single father, Tom, “the best bartender who ever lived,” live in companionable contentment in their rural Montana town until “that year of everything, 1960,” when Zoe, the daughter of the new café owners, and Proxy, an unsavory “friend” of Tom’s from the old days, arrive in town.
FOUNTAIN, Ben. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. Ecco. Tr $25.99. ISBN 978-0-06-088559-5.
It is surreal to go from a fire-fight in Iraq to the fifty yard line at Cowboy Stadium in Dallas, making it difficult for Billy Lynn to feel like the hero that he is acclaimed to be in this satire of war.
GAULD, Tom. Goliath. Drawn & Quarterly. Tr $19.95. ISBN 978-1-77046-065-2.
In this graphic novel, the Biblical David and Goliath story is told from the giant’s point of view with humor and good will.
KEESEY, Anna. Little Century. Farrar. Tr $26. ISBN 978-0-374-19204-4.
Orphaned at 18, Esther’s only choice is to move from Chicago to Oregon and take up homesteading. She finds herself in the middle of a feud between an idealistic young sheepherder and her cousin, an established cattleman./
MCCLEEN, Grace. The Land of Decoration. Holt. Tr $25. ISBN 978-0-8050-9494-7.
10-year-old Judith McPherson and her widower father John are mercilessly bullied as they fervently try to adhere to their apocalyptic religious beliefs in this first novel about faith and imagination.
MCCULLOCH, Derek. Gone to Amerikay. illus. by Colleen Doran and José Villarrubia. Vertigo. Tr $24.99. ISBN 978-1-4012-2351-9.
Three intertwined stories reveal both individual and generational experiences by disparate immigrants to New York City from Ireland, in 1870, 1960, and 2010. Doran’s images provide views of tenement housing, thieves’ dens, an unsettled ghost, and modern jet-set trappings.
MILLER, Madeline. The Song of Achilles. Ecco. Tr $25.99. ISBN 9787-0-06-206061-7.
Patroclus retells the events of The Iliad, focusing on the all-too-short life of his companion, Achilles. By concentrating on these two young men and their tragic lives and love, the author rejuvenates the epic legend for a contemporary audience.
O’MALLEY, Daniel. The Rook. Little, Brown. Tr $25.99. ISBN 978-0-316-09879-3.
In this funny, cool, inventive speculative fiction, Myfanwy Thomas wakes up in a body and a life she doesn’t recognize and assumes the job of protecting England from bizarre supernatural manifestations while trying to find the traitor who stole her (host body’s) identity.
POWERS, Kevin. The Yellow Birds. Little, Brown. Tr $24.99. ISBN 978-0-316-21936.
Private John Bartle’s attempt to honor his promise to bring his combat buddy Murph home safely leads him to commit and cover-up a crime in this powerful novel that alternates between the war in Iraq and Bartle’s homecoming.
RASH, Ron. The Cove. Ecco. Tr. $26.99. ISBN 978-0-06-180419-9.
Living deep in the isolated mountains of Appalachia just after World War I, Laurel believes her loneliness may be finally over when a mute young man suddenly appears in their dark, secluded cove.
SIEGEL, Mark. Sailor Twain: Or the Mermaid in the Hudson. First Second. Tr $24.99. ISBN 978-1-59643-636-7.
In 1887 Captain Twain is in charge of a steam vessel plying New York’s Hudson River when he rescues a wounded mermaid. Their story collides with those of a reclusive British author and the ship builder’s lothario brother in a fantasy combining history, geography, mythology, and the timeless human concerns with love.
WALKER, Karen Thompson. The Age of Miracles. Random. Tr $27. ISBN 978-0-8129-9297-7.
Just before Julia’s 12th birthday, scientists announce that the Earth’s rotation is slowing. The unraveling of life on Earth is told from the perspective of one girl living in an ordinary California neighborhood.
WILSON, G. Willow. Alif the Unseen. Grove. Tr $25. ISBN 978-0-8021-2020-5.
Alif is a hacker whose exploits are guided by an ethical dedication to a greater good. His ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend, the all-powerful head of state security, is fiercely determined to destroy him. Alif’s narrow escapes are a romp through the contemporary, historic, and mythical Islamic world.
BOO, Katherine. Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity. Random. Tr $28. ISBN 978-1-4000-6755-8.
16-year-old Abdul has been accused of driving his neighbor to suicide. Abdul and the one-legged woman are just two of the many people readers meet in the Annawadi slum behind the Mumbai airport and hotel district where 3,000 squatters live with poverty and corruption.
GRANDE. Reyna. The Distance Between Us: A Memoir. Atria. Tr $25. ISBN 978-1-4516-6177-4.
After losing their parents to “El Otro Lado”- the United States – Grande and her siblings lived in grinding poverty with their hateful grandmother. Finally their father brought them to Los Angeles with the help of a Coyote, they began new lives, and Grande became the first college graduate in her family.
HARDEN, Blaine. Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West. Viking. Tr $26.95. ISBN 978-0-670-02332-5.
In North Korea, more than 100,000 people are held in prison labor camps. Shin Dong-hyuk was born in one. This is the account of his life in the camp and his escape into China at age 23.
IVERSEN, Kristen. Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats. Crown. Tr $25. ISBN 978-0-307-95563-0.
Iversen’s memoir combines life within a dysfunctional family and the investigation of a nuclear weapons program cover-up that took place in her own backyard.
KLEON, Austin. Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told you about Being Creative. Workman. pap. $10.95. ISBN 978-0-7611-6925-3.
Engaging, inspiring and practical advice on becoming a successful artist beginning with the premise that “nothing is original.” Kleon encourages readers to study what they love and embrace outside influences.
MCGILL, Jerry. Dear Marcus: A Letter to the Man Who Shot Me. Spiegel & Grau. Tr $22. ISBN 978-0-8129-9307-3.
The author was 13, living in the inner-city, when he was shot in the back while walking home late on New Year’s Eve. What happened to him after that unfolds in letters to his assailant, who was never found.
PHELPS, Carissa. Runaway Girl: Escaping Life on the Street, One Helping Hand at a Time. Viking. Tr $26.95. ISBN 978-0-670-02372-1.
Preferring the freedom of the streets to life with her family, 12-year-old Carissa is taken in by a pimp, and eventually lands in a detention center. She turns it around with the help of mentors, education, and work as a youth advocate. This memoir shines a personal light on the issue of sex trafficking.
ROSS, Richard. Juvenile in Justice. Self-published. Tr $29.95. ISBN 978-0-9855106-0-2.
Photographer Ross spent more than 5 years speaking with 1,000 youth confined in juvenile detention facilities in 31 states. The result is a profound visual narrative, accompanied by provocative quotes and statistics.
STRAYED, Cheryl. Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. Knopf. Tr $25.95. ISBN 978-0-307-59273-6.
Her life out of control and burdened with the unresolved grief of losing her mother to cancer, the author journeys solo on the Pacific Crest Trail in this searingly honest and brilliantly humorous memoir.
TALBOT, Mary M. Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes. illus. by Bryan Talbot. Dark Horse. Tr $14.99. ISBN 978-1-59582-850-7.
The Talbots collaborated on this graphic dual biography of James Joyces’ daughter, Lucia, and Mary Talbot herself, whose father was a Joyce scholar. Both daughters suffered their fathers’ disappointment, one destroyed by it, the other ultimately triumphant.
The official SLJ article can be found here (including all of the pretty book covers!)