Cybils YA Favorites

The Cybils process is grueling.  As a Round 1 panelist, you read and read and read for two months and along the way you fall in love with books.  You make your list and then you talk to you fellow panelists.  Horror of horrors, they don’t see the same gems that you do!  The end result is an amazing conversation (ok, many conversations) where the final shortlist is decided.  You learn from your fellow panelists and it’s an amazing experience.  I’m thrilled with our shortlist, but of course there are books I wish we could have added to the list.  Thus, my personal Cybils list was born.  Below I have highlighted some of the books I absolutely loved in the YA category this year and I hope you love them too!

Bookshelves 3 stories

Bookshelves 3 stories (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  • Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick-Based on the true story of Arn Chorn-Pond, who survived the Pol Pot Regime in Cambodia as a child, McCormick’s tale weaves fiction and nonfiction into a raw and heartbreaking tale of childhood lost.  Arn loses his family and eventually is moved to the very center of the Killing Fields, where he is forced to make decisions that no child should ever be forced to consider.  This is a tissue book, but it’s an important one for teens to read.
  • Guy Langman, Crime Scene Procrastinator by Josh Berk- This is definitely not a tissue book! Guy is forced to join the Forensics Club at school when his friend Anoop drags him there in the hopes of meeting girls. Guy had me laughing throughout the book, even when he was thinking about his recently-deceased father.  Nothing is sacred to Guy and he will have you laughing on every page.  The snark is perfect and Guy reminds me of some of my friends in high school.  Perfect for high school readers looking for a book not full of love or tears.
  • The Opposite of Hallelujah by Anna Jarzab- Be warned- this one weighs in at over 400 pages.  But unlike many YA books that seem to drag on when they reach page 350, this one kept me intrigued.  It deals with a lot of issues that don’t crop up in a lot of YA and I appreciated that.  Caro’s older sister joined the convent when Caro was only 8 years old, so they never really knew each other.  For a long time, it was easier to lie about her sister’s whereabouts rather than explain her vocation, which only upsets Caro’s parents.  But when Hannah quits the convent and moves back up, Caro’s whole life is turned upside down.  A great addition to any high school classroom library.  (I also appreciated that the parents in this one were actually decent people who were struggling with how to help both of their daughters).
  • The Fault in Our Stars by John Green- Do I really need to say anything else about this one? I have 8 copies in circulation in my classroom library and they are all being held hostage by students. Easily the most popular book in my classroom.
  • Ladies in Waiting by Laura L. Sullivan- This one is just plain fun! Three girls named Elizabeth, from very different classes, are brought together in in England’s scandal-filled court. It’s a very bawdy time period and Sullivan doesn’t shy away from that! But don’t assume this is just Gossip Girl set in the seventeenth-century. It’s intelligent and full of detail about the time period. Probably more on the upper-end of YA, but I would have read it as a teen and loved it!
  • Mister Death’s Blue-Eyed Girls by Mary Downing Hahn- When I taught 6th grade, Hahn’s books were extraordinarily popular. When this book was nominated for the Cybils I picked it up immediately. I wasn’t sure that Hahn’s writing would hold up in YA but boy oh boy, does it! Based on Hahn’s true-life experience growing up in the shadow of a local murder, this story will haunt you. Perfect for true-crime addicts!
  • Four Secrets by Margaret Willey- This one creeped me out, in a good way. A great mystery that also deals with the ramifications of bullying, it will keep you on the edge of your seat. The story is told from four perspectives, and it actually works!
  • Personal Effects by E.M. Kokie- Matt’s brother, TJ, was killed in Iraq and ever since then Matt’s world has changed. Their father is distant and cruel and Matt is pushing away his friends. But when TJ’s belongings finally arrive from Iraq, Matt sets out on an impromptu road trip to deliver his brother’s unsent letter. But did he really know Matt at all? Kokie pulls no punches and the story moves quickly and without reservation. Highly recommended.
  • You Are My Only by Beth Kephart- Two tales woven together to complete a single story, Kephart’s prose is really poetry and it’s compulsively readable. I read this one straight through and I imagine many teens will, too. I won’t spoil it, but know that the stories of two women are told- Emmy, who is abused and neglected by her husband and Sophie, a 14-year-old who is homeschooled and hidden away from the outside world. Both stories are heartbreaking yet the story is full of hope. Gorgeous!

You Are My Only by Beth Kephart

I was intrigued by the cover of You Are My Only when I saw it on the Egmont table at BEA. I flipped it over to read the blurb and was immediately taken in. I am a crime buff- Law and Order addict, news junkie, you name it. I knew You Are My Only was a book for me.

This is a dual narrative.  The chapters alternate between two seemingly independent stories and I was equally taken by both.  It’s obvious that the stories will intersect at some point, but it’s unclear how that merger will come about.  I kept thinking I had it figured out, but Kephart kept me on my toes.

Emmy Rane is married at nineteen and has a baby by twenty.  She is trapped in a loveless marriage, feeling more useless as each day goes by.  Her singular joy in life is Baby.  While she struggles to be  the best mom she can be, she does a great job.  But everything changes the day that she leaves Baby in the yard for a few seconds while she runs into the house.  When she returns to the yard, Baby is gone.  All that remains is a single sock.  She spends the rest of her life blaming herself for Baby’s kidnapping and what she assumes is her eventual death.

Sophie is fourteen years old and homeschooled by a somewhat eccentric mother.  They move constantly, always trying to hide from what her mother refers to as “the No Good”.  But their latest home is different.  Sophie befriends the boy next door, gaining her first real friend.  His elderly aunts treat her as their own and soon Sophie is sneaking out of the house to spend time with them, always worried that her mother will find out and whisk them away to a new home.

This isn’t an action-filled book, despite the blurb.  It’s quiet, meditative.  Both narrative arcs are engrossing.  I found myself loving each story individually.  Whenever the narrative changed I would be upset leaving that character behind. But then, within a few sentences, I was equally as engrossed in the alternate story.  Kephart chooses her words carefully and the prose is gorgeous.  I found myself savoring each descriptive sentence while fighting the urge to fly through the book to reach the conclusion.

Highly recommended.  Available in October.

*copy received at BEA

Books I’m Pining For

Right now, my world is centered around a tiny 6 lb monster who likes to cry and bark.  🙂  I’m reading two puppy training books, Puppies For Dummies and My Smart Puppy: Fun, Effective, and Easy Puppy Training (Book & 60min DVD) without much time for anything else. But here are a few books I am looking forward to reading after he settles down….


Also Known As Harper by Ann Haywood Leal- This one has been getting mentions all over the blogosphere so I am dying to get my hands on it!

Tropical Secrets: Holocaust Refugees in Cuba by Margarite Engle- Last year Engle snuck up on me and snatched a Newbery Honor. So when I saw that Betsy Bird had this book on her Newbery 2010 contenders list, I knew I needed to to read it! Plus, I am always on the lookout for new Holocaust stories that focus on aspects of the tragedy that aren’t a part of the general curriculum at our grade level.

Cold Hands, Warm Heart by Jill Wolfson- I hate doctors and hospitals. I love books about medicine. Weird, huh? The novel focuses on the organ donation process and I am dying to read more.



 Nothing but Ghosts by Beth Kephart- “How do you paint regret?” That sentence has been at the back of my mind ever since reading a review of Beth Kephart’s newest novel. I think I’ll be purchasing this one this week!




L.A. Candy by Lauren Conrad- So sue me, I love The Hills and Lauren Conrad! I am dying to see how this one is, because I’m hearing good things so far. Plus, who doesn’t love a little light, fluffy reading during the summer?



So, what books are you pining for?