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Find more Top 10 First Novels for Youth
First novels tend to be hard hitting, and there’s no exception here. Relocation camps, rape, gender issues, and illegal immigration are just some of the issues these first novels take on. These titles were chosen from books that were reviewed in Booklist over the last 12 months. —Ilene Cooper
Anya’s Ghost. By Vera Brosgol. Illus. by the author. 2011. First Second, paper, $15.99 (9781596435520). Gr. 7–12.
A spooky and polished debut, this offers something seen all too rarely in comics: a realistic, contemporary teenage girl’s story.
Between Shades of Gray. By Ruta Septeyes. 2011. Philomel, $17.99 (9780399254123). Gr. 7–12.
This harrowing and horrifying account of the forcible relocation of thousands of Lithuanians after the Russian invasion of 1939 is beautifully written and deeply felt.
I Am J. By Cris Beam. 2011. Little, Brown, $16.99 (9780316053617). Gr. 9–12.
Who is J? A multilayered character who was born a girl, knows she’s a boy, and can’t explain this to her friends and family. Written with clarity and charity.
Illegal. By Bettina Restrepo. 2011. HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen, $16.99 (9780061953422). Gr. 7–10.
With depth and gritty detail, Restrepo writes about the life of today’s illegals, here a mother and daughter searching for things they can’t find: “No work. No Papa. No nothing.”
Leverage. By Joshua C. Cohen. 2011. Dutton, $16.99 (9780525423065). Gr. 10–12.
Told from the well-drawn alternating perspectives of two high-school athletes, this is a novel about being trapped inside a web of expectations. Sports fans will love Cohen’s style—direct, goal-oriented, and filled with sensory detail—in this serious book about sport.
My Favorite Band Does Not Exist. By Robert T. Jeschonek. 2011. Clarion, $16.99 (9780547370279). Gr. 9–12.
The narrator is convinced he’s a character in a novel due to be killed off in chapter 64. He’s also created an imaginary band. This has all the feel of a cult fave: baffling to many, an anthem for a few, and unlike anything else out there.
Paper Covers Rock. By Jenny Hubbard. 2011. Delacorte, $16.99 (9780385740555). Gr. 9–12.
Both plotting and characters are thoroughly crafted in this stellar first novel about a boy in boarding school debating his moral responsibility in the death of a friend.
Something like Hope. By Shawn Goodman. 2010. Delacorte, $16.99 (9780385739399). Gr. 9–12.
Smart, angry, and desperate, 17-year-old Shavonne describes the heartbreaking brutality she suffered in a life that began with a crack-addicted mother and a dead father. Shavonne tells her story in a witty, tender, explicit, and tough voice.
Tall Story. By Candy Gourlay. 2011. Random/David Fickling, $16.99 (9780385752176). Gr. 6–9.
Working through the many meanings of “tall story,” first-time author Gourlay slam-dunks this tale of a towering boy from the Philippines and the pint-size, basketball-crazy half sister with whom he has recently been reunited.
Wildwood. By Colin Meloy. 2011. HarperCollins/Balzer and Bray, $16.99 (9780062024688). Gr. 4–8.
If you like stories in which spunky kids emerge from secret tunnels to be greeted by smartly outfitted badgers operating rickshaws, this is your book. Meloy’s debut is a delicate, elaborate fantasy well versed in classic Narnian tropes.
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