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Sarah’s Top 5

Karyn has talked about this before — the conundrum you face when you really love a book but eventually have to admit that it’s flawed. I mean, maybe you email your committee about [REDACTED] and they respond politely at first, promising to take a look. But then you keep emailing and eventually someone, someone, has to respond and say, “Sarah, it’s a fun read but what about [REDACTED]? And you know, I had trouble believing [REDACTED]. And the [REDACTED] really just didn’t work, either, and I’m not even going to get into the [REDACTED].”

That’s when personal top five lists can come in really handy; you get to acknowledge — even celebrate — your baggage and then you can try to stuff it back in the closet and refocus on committee work. With that in mind, we figured it’d be a good idea to get this out of our collective systems before getting down to the real work of making a predictions list.

So without further blather, here are my personal, highly subjective, top five favorite reads of 2011:

Anya’s Ghost: I couldn’t quite predict this as a final fiver (although I really wanted to, and compromised by giving it a “maybe?” and not tagging it as a prediction). But Anya is so easy to relate to, Emily is so (ugh, sorry, guys) hauntingly sad, and the art is so, so, SO strong I fell in love. Plus, that post still has my all-time favorite title.

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making: we are furiously writing up our thoughts on this title right now, so you can expect content-filled smart stuff in a few days. In the meantime: This is easily a favorite read from the past year. I had read and loved The Orphan’s Tales a few years ago and am really happy that Girl Who… is just as delicious.

Imaginary Girls: This is another title that we wavered on and ended up not quite being able to commit to a final five prediction. However, it’s definitely got staying power; I still think about Ruby and wonder just how much I can trust Chloe. I still wonder what really happened, and whether or not Olive really does watch from beneath the reservoir.

Scorpio Races: Yummy delicious. Wait, did you want me to write some sentences? Sentences about killer horses from the sea?? Dudes, I already did, and I’m not sure I have any left. So we’ll all have to settle for: fantasy love Thisby yay.

OK. You know after you finish serving on a selection committee? And you think, man, I’m just going to spend some time reading just for me! And anyway you’re going on maternity leave soon, so you just don’t worry about reading young adult literature for a little while — a couple of months can’t hurt, right? Because it’s not like you’re going to be blogging about YA Lit any time soon, amirite? Yeah, laugh with me. My final pick is The Wise Man’s Fear, which I’m justifying in part because it was covered by Adult Books 4 Teens. (OK, so was A Dance With Dragons, which was another possibility, but somehow WMF feels more teen-ish to me, so we’ll go with that one. And how funny that Karyn wrote both of those reviews.) Kvothe’s story is huge — epic — but also human and totally personal and Rothfuss’s treatment of fantasy tropes is breathtakingly, unexpectedly fresh (huh, and so is Martin’s! And actually I’d say the same about Jo Walton’s Among Others, which is also high up on my personal list that has clearly expanded far beyond five titles now, even if I’m trying desperately to pretend I’m only listing five). At any rate. I love the university friendships, the not-quite love story with Denna, and the totally absorbing world building. I can’t wait to see how Kvothe is a king killer, to see what happens with the love story, to find out where this is all heading.

Phew! I’m glad I got that out of my system.

In terms of blog housekeeping  — we are finishing up our reviews, Karyn has posted her top five, and next we’ll get down to the nitty gritty — creating a short list, making some predictions, and even more discussion, discussion, discussion. You may want to start polishing your crystal balls.

In the meantime, we’d love to hear what your personal favorites of 2011 are; comments are open!

About Sarah Couri

Sarah Couri is a librarian at Grace Church School's High School Division, and has served on a number of YALSA committees, including Quick Picks, Great Graphic Novels, and (most pertinently!) the 2011 Printz Committee. Her opinions do not reflect the attitudes or opinions of SLJ, GCS, YALSA, or any other institutions with which she is affiliated. Find her on Twitter @scouri or e-mail her at scouri35 at gmail dot com.


  1. Mark Flowers says

    My top 5 teen books:

    Beauty Queens
    Everybody Sees the Ants
    Isle of Blood
    A Monster Calls

    If I got to include adult books for teens:
    Among Others (probably my favorite book of the year)
    Ten Thousand Saints

  2. My top 5 teen books are

    The Returning
    Girl of Fire and Thorns
    Imaginary Girls
    The Piper’s Son

  3. Funny…I’ve had a hard time coming up with my favorites of the year. I’m usually eager to make a list, but I’ve been putting it off this year. Here’s a stab at my favorite YA:

    A Monster Calls
    The Scorpio Races
    How to Save a Life
    The Piper’s Son
    Daughter of Smoke and Bone

    Although there are a bunch I want to read and haven’t yet from this year – since I’m primarily a children’s librarian, my reading time gets torn between children’s, YA and the occasional adult book.

  4. My top 5 are:

    Beauty Queens
    The Returning
    Slice of Cherry
    Where Things Come Back

    Not necessarily in that order. I really have no idea why Rotters got no Printz attention. It was so good! Ah well. And, because 2011 was such a great reading year for me, I’ll just go ahead and list some runners-up: Shine, Okay for Now, The Isle of Blood, There Is No Dog, How to Save a Life, A Monster Calls, Everybody Sees the Ants, Imaginary Girls, Plague, Paper Covers Rock, Anya’s Ghost, First Day On Earth, and Why We Broke Up all made me so happy that books exist. Phew! Amazing I ever narrowed that down. And I still haven’t read all the noteable books of the year. Thanks for this great blog, and let’s hope 2012 is just as good.

  5. Angela Carstensen says

    I agree with Mark — Among Others is also one of my favorites of 2011. I couldn’t be happier to see it mentioned here, Sarah. Thank you so much for linking to the Adult Books 4 Teens review! It also made our best of the year list, here:

    I wish I had read more YA over the last year, but of those I did manage Chime is a favorite, as is Daughter of Smoke and Bone.

  6. Here are my top five:

    Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson
    The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
    Entwined by Heather Dixon
    Divergent by Veronica Roth
    Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt

    Okay for Now may skew a little more toward juvenile, but it definitely fits the bottom end of YASLA’s age criteria. The rest are all speculative fiction, which I dearly love. I’ll throw in an adult book as a bonus pick: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.

  7. First – are there any sort of eligibility criteria for the Printz? I know The Returning isn’t eligible for Newbery so I skipped it! Will see if I can hunt down a copy.

    Okay my top five?

    Beauty Queens
    Icefall – might be too young
    Girl of Fire and Thorns
    Daughter of Smoke and Bone
    This Dark Endeavor

    Before I Go To Sleep
    The Magician King
    Silver Sparrow

    Books I really need to carve out time to read before 1/23
    Berlin Boxing Club
    Everybody Sees The Ants – especially since we saw an honor last year
    Imaginary Girls
    Why We Broke Up
    How to Save a Life
    Life: An Exploded Diagram
    Paper Covers Rock

  8. My top five are:

    -A Monster Calls
    -Jasper Jones
    -Bluefish (my library has this as YA, but I fully expect this to be a serious Newbery contender if the Printz committee thinks it’s too young)
    -Daughter of Smoke and Bone

    …While wishing that I had made time for Life: An Exploded Diagram, The Piper’s Son, Beauty Queens, and Girl of Fire and Thorns.

  9. My YA favorites of 2011:

    – Rotters
    – A Web of Air
    – Blood Red Road
    – Ashfall
    – Okay for Now
    – Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

    Worth mentioning also – Like Mandarin, XVI

    Adult favorites:

    – Mycophilia
    – The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man
    – Boneheads : my search for T. rex
    – The Adults

    I’m with Tess – I can’t believe nobody is talking about Rotters. I think it could be a very strong Printz contender, if the committee notices it. I’m rereading it right now to prep for our Mock Printz this week (yay!), and it is holding up very well the second time around. The only other contender of the eight titles we chose (IMO) is Okay for Now.

  10. Karyn Silverman says

    Anne, what were your other 6 finalists? Also, Curious Case is totally on my to-read pile. I took a picture of it at the bookstore and everything.

    And if anyone wants the stats so far and is too lazy to count on his or her own fingers, Chime is the front runner fave– 5 out of 11 have listed it as a favorite so far. Also a lot of love for Daughter of Smoke and Bone at 4, and Beauty Queens, A Monster Calls, Girl of Fire and Thorns and The Scorpio Races all got three shoutouts.

    Can’t wait to see how this compares to the predictions, which we are working on (just trying to squeeze in a few more books first.)

    • Sarah Couri says

      Mark and Angela — Among Others is one that I keep thinking about in off moments. So strange and satisfying.

      And Angela, Adult Books 4 Teens is often how I create my reading list for myself! (In addition to keeping track of potential reads for teens housed in the adult shelves, I mean!)

      TBL — the eligibility rules for Printz are here. As you note, Printz handles eligibility differently than Newbery, so as far as I can tell, The Returning is eligible for Printz while not for Newbery. Oh! And I’m so looking forward to reading The Magician King. I bought it this year, but then felt like I didn’t remember enough of the The Magicians and also felt like I didn’t have time to reread so I keep putting it on hold. Some day!

  11. My top 5

    Life: An Exploded Diagram
    The Scorpio Races
    Everybody Sees the Ants
    Daughter of Smoke and Bone
    The Piper’s Son

    and Among Others was also among my top favorites, until The Night Circus bumped it down ever so slightly.

  12. My faves:

    The Scorpio Races – Maggie Steifvater
    How to Save a Life – Sara Zarr
    Anna and the French Kiss – Stephanie Perkins
    Five Flavors of Dumb – Anthony John
    Divergent – Veronica Roth (OK, I actually read this during the first week of this year, but, hey – close enough.)

  13. Can’t come up with 5, but the two books that I read and loved very early in the year are still my two favorites of the year:
    FitxOsbornes in Exile (thank you, Karyn, for singing its praises!)

    As a third I’d say Okay for Now, which I do love, but I really feel it’s a bit young for Printz. I do hope to see it get some Newbery love this year, though.

  14. YA:

    Okay For Now
    The Piper’s Son
    Paper Covers Rock
    Not That Kind of Girl

    The Language of Flowers
    The Night Circus
    The Dovekeepers
    Faithful Place
    Last Night in Twisted River (yes I know this isn’t a 2011, but I finished it in 2011, does that count?)

  15. Elizabeth H. says

    White Crow by Marcus Sedgwick
    Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
    The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
    Chime by Frannie Billingsley
    Paper Covers Rock by Jennifer Hubbard

    Plus, Adult Bks 4 Teens: The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

  16. Kimberly Brubaker Bradley says

    Love, love, love The Scorpio Races. Also loved FitzOsbornes in Exile.

  17. Karyn Silverman says

    Read Anya’s Ghost today, finally–liked it but definitely not in my top 5–and Bluefish yesterday, which I might write up but think is much more J than YA. Back to Jasper Jones AGAIN tonight and going to try to get my hands on Rotters by the weekend as I had missed that one along with Slice of Cherry and Not that Kind of Girl– I think we’ve cast eyes over everything else listed. So many good books!

  18. My top 5:

    Girl of Fire and Thorns

    Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

    The Iron Thorn

    A Long, Long Sleep

    Tie between Beauty Queens, Blood Red Road and Chime

    And I’d like to offer a shout-out to Among Others, which is a perfect Alex Award winner. I should also add that there has been a ton of awesome-sounding studd that I just haven’t gotten to yet: Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Red Glove, imaginary Girls, Name of the Star, All These Thinga I’ve Done, The FitzOsbournes in Exile…

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