As crazy as it sounds, we’re half way through the year. Do you need a second to process that? A good time to assess progress in various areas. Since I’m smack dab in the middle of what I’ve deemed “the best summer ever” I’m staying light this week.
I glanced at my list of books read so far in 2011, and I decided to share my top three. By walking through why I enjoyed these novels, it gave me a chance to reflect on some things in my current works in progress that may need tweaking. Heck, it might also add to your summer reading list. It probably won’t surprise you that they are all YA. I’ve listed the books in the order I read them. Now, of course, I'm behind in reading and writing, and I'm anxious to put these lessons to work for me.
1. Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins http://www.stephanieperkins.com/
This was released in 2010, but it was the first book I read this year while on vacation in Cozumel. I didn’t honestly have high expectations. The concept was so simple. A girl is sent to boarding school in France and she has to try to fit in as well as deal with her growing feelings for a boy who already has a girlfriend. At heart, Anna and the French Kiss is a romance book, and Perkins sums it up on her website, “It has funny bits and romantic bits, so you should totally buy it. If you're into that sort of thing.”
This delightful book with its easy style and likeable characters drew me in right away. It was sweet and sad, and I just adored it. That leads to the lesson I took away. Sometimes, less is more. This is not a story that’s overwritten. There are no crazy plot twists or magical creatures. Just a simple look at an aspect of the human existence. In the end, isn’t that what all good stories are based on?
2. Where she Went by Gayle Forman http://www.gayleforman.com/
This novel is the sequel to If I Stay, which I also read at the beginning of the year. In If I Stay, a girl is in a comma like state after a car crash, but she’s aware of everything happening around her. She has to decide whether she wants to live, knowing her family is gone, or move on. Where She Went answers the question.
I liked If I Stay a lot, but Where She Went blew me away. I’d managed to avoid reading anything about the book before I read it, so I had no idea what to expect. I believe it was the best sequel I ever read, so good that I immediately re-read it upon completion. I did not want it to end, but at the same time, she gave us exactly as much as we needed.
I will say this was one of those books that made me feel like I was an idiot for even pretending I can write fiction. The voice and the execution were just perfect. I couldn’t pull off anything like she did, but I marveled at her ability to tell a whole story in a very limited time frame—a day. I also found something very poetic in her controlled prose.
3. Divergent by Veronica Roth http://veronicarothbooks.blogspot.com/
This one makes the list by the skin of its teeth because it was the last book I’ve read. It had stiff competition, beating out strong contenders including Saving Francesca and Looking for Alaska (and by the way you definitely should read those as well). Other books may have moved me more, but I chose this because it represents the best of the dystopian novels I’ve read this year.
What earned Divergent a spot on my top three list was that it drew me in instantly and my attention never wavered. The main character is likeable and strong. It’s set in my favorite city, Chicago, and is such a fabulous example of “show”. With dystopian novels, so many details about the world need to be established, and Roth effortlessly weaves in the descriptions, the characters, and plot points without making the story heavy.
I’m also in love with the strength of her female characters, and it’s portrayed in such a matter of fact way. Women are equals, and love is an important foundation, it’s not the only goal for the main character (not that Four and Tris aren’t a great love story).