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Adult Books 4 Teens
Inside Adult Books 4 Teens

Best Adult Books 4 Teens 2014

Every fall the Adult Books 4 Teens reviewers come together to nominate, discuss, and winnow the best titles of the year into a list that guarantees a combination of excellence and appeal to young adults. All of these books were originally reviewed here on SLJ’s Adult Books 4 Teens blog.

Science fiction tops the trends: one dystopian (Red Rising), one hard-core (Lockstep), one humorous (The Martian). Trust John Scalzi to come up with a combination of all three (Lock In), and Jeff VanderMeer to defy categorization altogether (Annihilation).

In our more realistic fiction offerings, teen girls don’t have it easy—from the victims of the mysterious title illness in The Fever to Rainey Royal set on the streets of 1970s Greenwich Village, and to Lydia, who suffers her parents’ disappointment in Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You. But we lighten it up with young musicians in 2 A.M. at The Cat’s Pajamas (jazz) and The Bellweather Rhapsody (classical), and humorous writing in Ariel Schrag’s Adam.

On the nonfiction side, there is nothing but diversity: a graphic novel of war poems; a treatise on juvenile incarceration; a photo-essay by and about Black youth; two extremely different memoirs; and the bizarre history of Dr. Mütter’s Marvels.

Many thanks to reviewers Amy Cheney, Georgia Christgau, Meghan Cirrito, Diane Colson, Vicki Emery, Sarah Flowers, Paula Gallagher, Sarah Hill, Ryan Paulsen, Laura Pearle, Jake Pettit, Jane Ritter, Carrie Shaurette, Jamie Lee Schombs, John Sexton, Karlan Sick, Jamie Watson, and Connie Williams for their enthusiasm and discernment, and for sharing their expert knowledge of teens and books in the making of this list.


ABBOTT, Megan. The Fever. Little, Brown. Tr $26. ISBN 9780316231053.
High school girls are beset by a mysterious fever, causing the entire community to panic about HPV vaccines, teen sex, and any and everything else, in this powerful, thought-provoking novel.

BERTINO, Marie-Helene. 2 A.M. at The Cat’s Pajamas. Crown. Tr. $25. ISBN 9780804140232.
Three narratives converge, leading up to New Year’s Eve at a Philadelphia jazz club. In one, Madeleine dreams of singing at the club after being expelled from school for retaliating against a bully.

BROWN, Pierce. Red Rising. Del Rey: Ballantine. Tr $25. ISBN 9780345539786.
Darrow is a Red, lowest in the caste-system of laborers tasked with transforming Mars into a habitable planet. When his wife is executed for a simple defiance, Darrow is taken in by rebels who persuade him to infiltrate the Golds, the ruling class, in order to avenge her death.

CANTERO, Edgar. The Supernatural Enhancements. Doubleday. Tr $26.95. ISBN 9780385538152.
When a young man inherits a distant relative’s remote Virginia mansion, he finds that it holds many mysteries, among them a secret society, at least one ghost, and a family curse. This story is told via dream journals, video transcripts, letters, photographs, and other writings.

DOERR, Anthony. All the Light We Cannot See. Scribner. Tr $27. ISBN 9781476746586.
This page-turning, suspenseful novel cuts back and forth between time periods and among the story lines of three main characters–two young people on opposite sides of the war and one Nazi officer searching for precious jewels–who are bound to intersect, but exactly how and when?

FRANCIS, Patry. The Orphans of Race Point. Harper Perennial. pap. $15.99. ISBN 9780062281302.
In this multigenerational story about community, orphans Hallie Costa and Gus Silva are two teenagers who fall more deeply than most, as the theme of love expands into the filial and spiritual realms.

GROSSMAN, Lev. The Magician’s Land. Viking. Tr $27.95. ISBN 9780670015672.
Grossman finishes his celebrated trilogy by bringing a banished Quentin back to save Fillory after his friends are unable to prevent its collapse.

HENRÍQUEZ, Cristina. The Book of Unknown Americans. Knopf. Tr $24.95. ISBN 9780385350846
Alma and Arturo leave Mexico for the U.S. in search of better schooling for their brain-damaged teen daughter, Maribel. They settle in Newark, DE, in an apartment full of other struggling families from Central and South America. A sweet friendship and then a budding but ill-fated romance develop between Maribel and Mayor, the son of a Panamanian family.

LANDIS, Dylan. Rainey Royal. Soho Pr. Tr $25. ISBN 9781616954529.
Rainey, the daughter of a famous jazz musician, grows up in a dysfunctional family in the cool, seedy 1970s Greenwich Village scene.

MCCULLOCH, Derek. Displaced Persons. illus. by Anthony Peruzzo. Image Comics. pap. $17.99. ISBN 9781632151216.
During the Great Depression, a loving father, pressed by economic forces he’s unable to control, makes a shady deal to keep his loved ones together, hurling into turmoil three generations of one family, whose connections are symbolized, and realized, by a house in the hills of San Francisco. A part-mystery, part-sci-fi graphic novel.

NG, Celeste. Everything I Never Told You. Penguin Pr. Tr $26.95. ISBN 9781594205712
By turns a compelling tearjerker, a mystery, and a painful family drama, Ng’s debut novel follows the lives of a dysfunctional family, focusing on the trials of middle child Lydia as she deals with racism and sexism in 1970s Ohio.

RACCULIA, Kate. Bellweather Rhapsody. Houghton Harcourt. Tr $25. ISBN 9780544129917.
The Bellweather is an old Catskills resort hotel that hosts the annual New York State high school music festival. Fifteen years earlier a murder/suicide took place in Room 712, the same room from which Alice’s famous roommate goes missing.

SCALZI, John. Lock In. Tor. Tr $24.99. ISBN 9780765375865.
Scalzi’s latest is a science-fiction thriller in which the world has been changed by Haden’s syndrome, a virus that left one percent of its victims “locked in”—fully aware and conscious, but unable to move their bodies. An FBI homicide investigation delves into the corporate greed controlling research on the epidemic.

SCHROEDER, Karl. Lockstep. Tor.  $26.99. ISBN 9780765337269.
After being lost in space, in deep hibernation for 14,000 years, Toby McGonigal wakes in the orbit of a planet that is part of the Lockstep, a civilization in which members spend 360 months in hibernation for every one month awake. Toby learns that the Lockstep has been ruled by his family since its creation and is shocked to discover that its rulers, his brother and sister, want him dead.

SCHRAG, Ariel. Adam. Mariner. Tr $13.95. ISBN 9780544142930.
Geeky, inexperienced Adam decides on a whim to spend the summer before senior year visiting his older sister, Casey, in New York City. He falls for Gillian, a lesbian, and she falls in love with him, believing him to be transgender, in this brilliant romp of an original romance.

VANDERMEER, Jeff. Annihilation. Bk.1. 208p. (Southern Reach Trilogy). Farrar. pap. $13.00. ISBN 9780374104092.
This rich, multilayered novel follows a scientific expedition into the mysterious Area X, a region that has been utterly abandoned following an unexplained Event and in which the laws of physics seem to break down.

WEIR, Andy. The Martian. Crown. Tr $24.95. ISBN 9780804139021.
After a freak dust storm, Mark Watney is left behind on NASA’s third manned mission to Mars, believed dead. He uses his problem-solving ability (and mechanical engineering and botanist training) to survive the unsurvivable, which he tracks in near-daily, often hilarious, log entries.


APTOWICZ, Cristin O’Keefe. Dr. Mutter’s Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine. Gotham. $27.50. ISBN 9781592408702.
Dr. Mütter’s larger-than-life, showman’s personality and incredible medical advancements pair thrillingly with Aptowicz’s enthusiastic writing to deliver many unbelievable facts that readers will need to share with friends.

BERNSTEIN, Nell. Burning Down the House: The End of Youth Prison. Free Press. Jun. 2014. ISBN 9781595589569.
Bernstein’s provocative book takes readers through the history of juvenile “reform” schools, the rise and fall of the rehabilitative model, and the reality of what happens behind bars to already traumatized teens: further physical, sexual, and mental abuse. Ultimately, she calls for the complete abolition of youth imprisonment.

BROCKMEIER, Kevin. A Few Seconds of Radiant Filmstrip: A Memoir of the Seventh Grade. Pantheon. Tr $24. ISBN 9780307908988.
This gutsy memoir focuses on a single, seemingly unimportant year of Brockmeier’s adolescence to highlight the true significance of every moment of our lives.

DUFFY, Chris, ed. Above the Dreamless Dead: World War I in Poetry and Comics. illus. by Various. First Second. Tr $25.99. ISBN 9781626720657.
A haunting graphic novel in which modern cartoonists have illustrated outstanding poetry of World War I. It’s a reimagining of some of the wonderful verses of the early 20th century for those who have already encountered them, and an ideal introduction to the facts and the literature of the era for teens who have not.

RAKOFF, Joanna. My Salinger Year. Knopf. Tr $25.95. ISBN  9780307958006
Rakoff recounts the year she dropped out of grad school to move to New York City and write poetry. To make ends meet she worked as the assistant to a venerable, traditional publisher whose most famous client was J.D. Salinger.

ZUSMAN, Angela Beth. The Griots of Oakland: Voices from the African American Oral History Project. Story Bridges. Tr $59.99. ISBN 9780988763111; pap. $14.99. ISBN 978-0988763104.
After two years of training, several young African American men in Oakland, CA conducted research, crafted questions, and conducted more than 100 oral-history interviews with African American males ages six to 24. The result is this book, at once gorgeous to look at and challenging to readers’ views of African American men.

See the pretty SLJ version here.

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.


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