Books are one of our favorite gifts to give or receive….. looking for that perfect “next read” for the book lover in your life? Check out these suggestions, and then hit your local bookstore with confidence.
“The Book Thief” is in theaters now – and remember, the book is always better than the movie, and Markus Zusak’s story about a foster girl growing up outside 1939 Munich is powerful and heart-wrenching. For another tale of amazing young women during wartime, head immediately to “Code Name Verity” by Elizabeth Wein. A spy being flown into Occupied France during World War II is captured after being shot down and interrogated by Nazis; she’s writing her confession, remembering and mourning her friend who was piloting the plane. Wein has also written a stunning companion novel, “Rose Under Fire,” telling of a female American pilot and poet captured and sent to the Ravensbruck concentration camp. A streetboy in Nazi-occupied Warsaw is fascinated by the soldiers with their shiny boots and tanks until, as someone small enough to sneak into the Jewish Ghetto, he realizes the implications of their presence in Jerry Spinelli’s “Milkweed.” For slightly younger readers, consider Jane Yolen’s “The Devil’s Arithmetic,” wherein a girl travels back in time to when her grandmother was in a concentration camp.
Two other authors making less-known parts of 20th century history come to vivid life are Patricia McCormick and Ruta Sepetys. Based on the true story of Cambodian advocate Arn Chorn-Pond, McCormick takes readers on a harrowing journey into the Cambodian genocide in the 1970s in “Never Fall Down.” Sepetys’ “Between Shades of Gray” immerses readers in a 15-year-old Lithuanian girl’s heart-breaking struggle to survive Soviet labor camps and Siberia following World War II. Sepetys’ second novel, “Out of the Easy,” captures a slice of American history – sweltering 1950s New Orleans, class, race, and Josie’s dream of escaping the box she feels locked into.
If you know a reader who likes unusual narrators or storytelling styles – check out Zusak’s earlier book, “I Am the Messenger,” which also received a Printz Honor. A slacker unintentionally foils a bank robbery and then starts getting mysterious instructions in the mail. Daniel Handler teamed up with Maira Kalman for “Why We Broke Up,” wherein a young woman relates the tale of how a relationship grew and ended through the various mementos she tucked away and now is returning to her former boyfriend.
I can almost guarantee that you know at least one person who’s in love with True Blood, even if you’re not yet aware of it. Beyond the reigning queens of teen vampire lit (you probably know who I’m talking about), there are some excellent reads out there to (ahem) slake their thirst. My personal favorite is “The Coldest Girl in Coldtown” by Holly Black, for a story that treats vampires with that sort of simultaneous awe and disgust, with a strong-willed female protagonist who can hold her own against the truly nasty tricks of the undead (plus a little romance). “Shadows” by Robin McKinley is another book with that beautiful chemistry of rogue magic, dire peril, and unexpected romance. Gail Garriger’s latest, “Curtsies and Conspiracies”, is the second of a series set in a supernatural Victorian London starring young spy Sophronia; humor and hijinks interweave the mission to save humans and undead alike. Though a few years old now, “Bloodshot” and “Hellbent” by Cherie Priest star a vampire thief in Seattle with a motley crew of misfits, again a funny and action-packed choice.
And if you follow the ins and outs of Young Adult literature at all, you probably know that John Green is one of the hottest contemporary YA authors on the planet. The film adaptation of his amazing 2012 novel “The Fault in Our Stars” is on track to be one of the must-see films of 2014. If you’re shopping for a John Green fan, you can pretty well assume that they’ve read all of his books already, but you have the unique opportunity to introduce them to their next favorite author. May I suggest the inestimable Rainbow Rowell as a starting point? I’ve been calling her “the girl John Green” since I devoured her YA debut, “Eleanor and Park”, and the follow-up, “Fangirl” was equally appealing. She follows the John Green template of writing about teens who are intelligent, funny, troubled and complex, switching easily between gut-busting humor and absolutely devastating poignancy. Incidentally, Green himself is a fan of her writing, so there’s an even better recommendation than my own. Another delightful choice for the John Green reader on your list is “The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks”, by E. Lockhart. I adored this story of an ugly-duckling-turned-swan who is determined to shift the power at her posh private school by pranking her way into an all-male secret society. Sharp, witty, and just a little bit zany, this is a sleeper that hasn’t gotten the attention that it deserves. My last recommendation, slightly out of left field, is “Going Bovine”, by Libba Bray. This Printz Medal-winning novel is a bizarre retelling of Don Quixote, recounting the adventures of Cameron, a 16-year-old suffering a nasty case of mad cow disease. With the help of an angel, a dwarf and a yard gnome, he sets off on a wild road trip with the hope of finding a cure for what ails him. Again, the mixture of humor and poignancy, not to mention the madcap journey with its colorful cast of supporting characters, will charm your John Green fan.
And remember, books are always in season!