Kayla Olson | The Children’s Book Review | June 14, 2017
What a fun post this is to write, though a challenging one! There are so many books on my shelf (and on my Kindle) I could go on and on about, but for today, I’ve narrowed it down to five based on which books I’ve found myself recommending non-stop for several years running. On this list are two fantasies, two contemporaries, and one that’s best described as magical realism—five very different books in which I found myself completely absorbed. In no particular order, here are my five:
Written by Laini Taylor (YA Fantasy)
This book is the first of a trilogy, and what an incredible trilogy it is! I can’t describe this first book in the series more perfectly than its back cover: this book is “a sweeping and gorgeously written modern fantasy about a forbidden love, an ancient and epic battle, and hope for a world remade.” Full of beautiful writing, vivid settings, and memorable characters, Daughter of Smoke and Bone broke my heart in a hundred unusual ways—I wish I could go back and read it again for the first time!
Ages 14+ | Publisher: Little, Brown and Company | 2011 | ISBN-13: 978-0316134026
Written by Jandy Nelson (YA Contemporary)
Booklist wrote that this is “a story of love, loss, and healing that will resonate with readers long after they’ve finished reading”—in my experience, that is absolutely accurate. The story follows main character Lennie after her sister’s sudden death; it’s a powerful and beautifully written story about grief and first love, skillfully crafted not only with prose, but also with poems and journal entries sprinkled perfectly throughout.
Ages 14+ | Publisher: Dial Books | 2010 | ISBN-13: 978-0803734951
Written by Renée Ahdieh (YA Fantasy)
I’m getting chills just thinking about this one! The Wrath & The Dawn is a retelling of One Thousand and One Nights, and is so lush and absorbing—we follow main character Shahrzad, who volunteers to be the next bride of Khalid, a murderous boy-king known for taking a new bride each night only to have her killed the next morning. Shahrzad is brilliant and charming—she has to be, in order to stay alive—and it soon becomes apparent that there are more layers to Khalid than just the terrible exterior everyone sees.
Ages 12+ | Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers | 2015 | ISBN-13: 978-0399171611
Written by Sara Zarr (YA Contemporary)
Oh, man, this book—when I think back on reading it, the thing that’s stuck with me the most is how Sara Zarr so thoroughly made me empathize with her characters. This is a story told from two perspectives: one, from a girl who’s giving her baby up for adoption, and the other from the girl whose mother plans to do the adopting. It’s a challenging season, emotionally, for everyone involved—so many conflicting feelings, so many shifting relational dynamics. How to Save a Life is a powerful story of love, mother-daughter relationships, and what it means to be family, and it’s one of those reads that will make you see the world—and the people—around you with fresh perspective.
Ages 12+ | Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers | 2012 (Reprint) | ISBN-13: 978-0316036054
Written by Nova Ren Suma (YA Magical Realism)
I love the description on the book jacket for this one: “In prose that sings from line to line, Nova Ren Suma tells a supernatural tale of guilt and innocence, and of what happens when one is mistaken for the other.” The Walls Around Us presents dual mysteries, one centered around a ballet studio and the other around a juvenile detention center; it’s absolutely chilling to watch both mysteries unravel and intertwine.
Ages 14+ | Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers | 2015 | ISBN-13: 978-1616203726
Written by Kayla Olson
Leo DiCaprio to produce film adaption of this YA sci-fi thriller by Kayla Olson
Publisher’s Synopsis: Before the war, Eden’s life was easy. Then the revolution happened, and everything changed.
Now a powerful group called the Wolfpack controls the earth and its resources. And even though Eden has lost everything to them, she refuses to die by their hands. She knows the coordinates to the only neutral ground left in the world, a place called Sanctuary Island, and she is desperate to escape to its shores.
Eden finally reaches the island and meets others resistant to the Wolves. But the solace is short-lived when one of Eden’s new friends goes missing. Braving the jungle in search of their lost ally, they quickly discover Sanctuary is filled with lethal traps and an enemy they never expected.
This island might be deadlier than the world Eden left behind, but surviving it is the only thing that stands between her and freedom.
Ages 12-18 | Publisher: HarperTeen | 2017 | ISBN-13: 978-0062484871
About Kayla Olson
Kayla Olson lives in Texas with her family. She loves the beach but would hate to be stranded on one. If she were, however, her essential survival items would be black coffee from a French press, the darkest chocolate, and an army of Sharpie highlighters.
This article, 5 Young Adult Novels That Will Have You Completely Absorbed, was written by Kayla Olson, the author of The Sandcastle Empire. Discover more articles and books like this by checking out our reviews and articles tagged with Best YA, Brigid Kemmerer, and Young Adult Fiction.