Ashes by Laurie Halse Anderson
I’ve been waiting for the conclusion of Anderson’s Seeds of America series for so long, and it doesn’t disappoint. The story is so suspenseful I actually relaxed when the characters reached the Battle of Yorktown, because they were safer there than they had been while wandering the countryside and hiding from slave-catchers. Bonus: reading this book will trigger Hamilton songs to play nonstop in your head. You have been warned.
The Best Man by Richard Peck
Only Richard Peck could write a book about social media hysteria, male role models and anti-gay discrimination without it feeling like an “issues” book. And you will laugh helplessly as you read it, especially when you meet the character who’s a snooty parody of every “upstairs” stereotype in Downton Abbey.
Cloud and Wallfish by Anne Nesbet
The way to describe this book is to imagine the TV show The Americans taking place in East Berlin, from the perspective of an American kid, with a lot less violence and spying, but with all the paranoia of living under constant surveillance.
The Creeping Shadow by Jonathan Stroud
The fourth book in Lockwood & Co. has all the usual creepy haunted houses, oddly-polite teenage drama, and dry sarcasm. Unlike the previous books, it finally stops stalling and makes great progress on the series arc of the nature of ghosts and the sinister forces that caused The Problem.
Enchanted Air by Margarita Engle
A memoir in verse, about childhood summers in Cuba? The unusual, timely topic is backed by gorgeous writing, and it’s a great companion read to Cloud and Wallfish.
The Inquisitor’s Tale by Adam Gidwitz
I didn’t expect one of my favorite books of the year to have so much religious content, but it’s done so well it never felt preachy. As someone who has a lot of issues with the Narnia books (don’t get me started on Susan’s fate), rest assured that Gidwitz’s book is basically the opposite of those. Religious and racial diversity? Check. Characters saving themselves instead of relying on last-minute divine intervention? Check. Plenty of humor to lighten the dark moments? Yup. And finally, there’s nothing like an anti-book-burning theme to get readers on your side.
The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge
This is hands down the creepiest book I’ve read all year, and Hardinge managed to do that with nothing more than an unsettling plant (the eponymous tree) and setting the story on a gloomy British island. Extra credit for the fossils and science factoids.
Makoons by Louise Erdrich
Like I said, it’s so much better than the Little House series.
Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
Sepetys has a habit of going to extraordinary lengths for her research (like the time she talked her way into a re-enactment of a former Soviet prison to research Between Shades of Gray), and this one’s no exception. As she mentioned in a book talk, she walked the exact path that her characters traveled as they fled to the Wilhelm Gustloff, except she did it in spring, and it was cold even then, so you can imagine how much worse it was for the refugees who did it in winter. Her next book will be set during the Spainish Civil War, and I can’t wait to read it and hear about what she’s done to deepen her research.
Hamilton: the Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter
Technically not a kids’ book, but how could I resist? Read it for the theater trivia, the behind-the-scenes interviews and LMM’s exceedingly geeky footnotes in the libretto.