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YA Book Reviews By Amy

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YA Book Reviews by Amy: My Top 8 Reads of 2020 

This reading year has been productive- while writing this, I have completed 111 books and still hope to fit in 3 more by the end of the year. I have read some new favorites, some not-so-great books, books I will remember forever, and ones that I already forgot! I wanted to share my top 8 books that I have read this year. I usually rank my favorite 5 titles, but I feel like I have more to talk about than that.  

I would recommend any of these titles to any YA readers. Maybe I have intrigued you to read one of my favorites.   

8th Place:

Five Total Strangers by Natalie D. Richards 

Its Christmas Eve and Mira is desperately wanting to be home for Christmas to take care of her mother, who is still reeling from the lost of her twin sister from the year prior. When Mira’s connecting flight is delayed, she joins a group of four teenagers, complete strangers, to drive 6 hours in terrible weather. One of these strangers has a secret, one that could be deadly. 

I recently read this book and it was one that I would recommend to almost every reader: it has building suspense and a feeling of constant dread, an atmospheric setting, and characters that readers cannot or should not trust. Five Total Strangers was hard to put down and was overall a fantastic thriller for YA readers. The only reason this is not higher on my list is that since all the characters are suspicious, I was unable to sympathize or connect with them.  

Available on Hoopla and at the library* for checkout.  

 

7th Place: 

Scavenge the Stars by Tara Sim 

Silverfish only has a couple more days left in her indentured service when she rescues a stranger out of the ocean. He claims to be the richest man in the world, but Silverfish doesn’t believe him. When he offers her a different identity with a quest to work toward, Silverfish finds herself down a path she never knew was an option. She seeks revenge of the person that had ruined her family and the one ultimately who imprisoned her. 

This book took me by total surprise; as a retelling of Alexandre Dumas The Count of Monte Cristo which I know a little about the plot and I was impressed how it was interwoven as a YA fantasy read. Both of our main characters are likable, and readers will root for their goals. I am looking forward to the next book in the series. I will warn that there is a plague plotline that could be distressing while reading during the pandemic.   

Available on Overdrive. 

 

6th Place:  

Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All by Laura Ruby 

Two seemingly different life-stories come together in the 1940’s Chicago when Frankie and her siblings are left in an orphanage after their father cannot provide for them anymore. The narrator watches over Frankie with her supernatural abilities and is trying to understand herself. Frankie will deal with the hard truths of life without support and comfort living in the strict and unforgiving institution during WWII. The narrator must come to the terms with her death and learn how to move on. In the stunning conclusion our narrator’s mysterious past is revealed and Frankie learns from the past several years to become the person she was meant to be. 

I always say that I enjoy a book that makes me do some research about it during or after reading. This novel is a semi-biographical story of Laura Ruby’s mother-in-law; it adds another layer to the story and made me research history of the real-life family of Frankie. Recommended for readers that like historical fiction with a twist.     

Available as an eBook on Overdrive, eAudiobook on Hoopla, and at the library* for checkout. 

 

5th Place: 

A Good Girls Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson 

Pippa is working on her capstone project; while she could have picked any topic in the world, she decided to stick close to home with the disappearance and murder of local teen, Andie Bell, and the wreck that was left behind. The case has been closed for five years, but Pippa doesn’t believe that Andie’s boyfriend, Sal, was capable of committing the crime even though he admitted it before his own untimely death. Pippa begins working with Ravi the brother of the accused murderer, investigating deep into Andie’s less than perfect past. Can she prove that Sal did not commit the crime? And if she does, does this mean a murderer is still on the loose? 

This has been my favorite YA mystery of all time. It was a great mystery with a collage of different mediums of how the story is told. If you like mystery and YA, this is a must read.  

Be aware that this story does contain some trigger warnings. Please look further into this book before reading if you have any concerns. 

Available as an eBook on Overdrive and at the library* for checkout.  

 

4th Place: 

The Grace Year by Kim Liggett 

For girls, at the age of 16, they are in their Grace Year; the year in which all girls are made to leave their home. The group of girls must survive outside in a dangerous camp to rid them of the magic they possess before they may return home and become dutiful wives and productive members of this dystopian society. Tierney wants a better life than being someone’s wife, but if she is not chosen at the ceremony then it is hard labor for life. The next year becomes a survival story; the danger that lies outside of the encampment might be deadly, but Tierney may face more peril with the other girls inside. 

This book was stunning because I was so involved with the characters, plot, and setting long after I finished reading. I compared it to an earlier review as: “With the mood of The Lottery by Shirley Jackson and the disastrous society of The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, this is a female reimagining of Lord of the Flies by William Golding, with a bit of the movie The Village mixed in.” Stressful read, but a fantastic standalone.  

Available on Overdrive, as an eAudiobook on Hoopla, and at the library* for checkout.  

 

3rd Place:  

Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas 

Yadriel wants to prove to his father and community that he is a true brujo with the abilities to see ghosts and help those spirits move onto the afterlife. After performing the ritual to the Lady of Death, Yadriel receives his powers and decides to resurrect the spirit of his recently missing cousin to figure out what happened; instead Yadriel brings back to life Julian, a boy his age, that cannot remember how he just died. Yadriel believes Julian’s death and his cousin’s disappearance might be connected; can they solve the mystery before Día de los Muertos? 

This is one of my favorites books that I have read this year. Yadriel and his companions are so likable, and you want their different journeys to be successful. The plot is full of mystery, culture, and romance that just hit all the right notes for me. This is a fantastic novel with LGBTQ+ representation. 

Available on Overdriveas an eBook and eAudiobook and at the library* for checkout. 

 

2nd Place: 

Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham  

Two stories that are divided by time but are connected when Rowan, in current day Tulsa, finds a skeleton on her family’s property. A century earlier in 1921 Tulsa, William witnesses the violence against minorities while in a town that is segregated by Jim Crow. His own prejudices are confronted when he is directly involved in the death of a stranger. Guilt and questioning plagues William when he meets siblings James and Ruby and he realizes that he must do right by anyone no matter the color of their skin. Whose body was found? And what were the circumstances in which the death occurred? The night Tulsa burns holds the answers. 

This is a fantastic historical fiction, contemporary, with a mysterious twist. I never felt so nervous about the survival/fates of our main characters because I wanted them all to have a happily-ever-after.  This was one of the best audiobooks I have ever heard! There are added sound effects and music at times, but by far I enjoyed both voice actors: Pyeng Threadgill and Luke Slattery. They sounded exactly like what I would imagine them to sound like.  

Available on Overdrive and at the library* for checkout.  

 

My Favorite Book of 2020: 

The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee 

In the 1890’s American South, Jo Kuan works as a lady’s maid during the day while secretly writing an advice column during her nights. When “Dear Miss Sweetie” becomes the talk of Atlanta, Jo must keep her identity a secret from her upstairs neighbors, the owners of the paper, from finding that she has been secretly hiding in their basement as shelter. She learns secrets about the city’s elite and begins to learn about her own past.  

This book is my favorite read of the year. Jo is a lovable strong character that I connected with right away. Her relationship with all the side characters was probably my favorite part of this story: Old Gin, the Bells (particularly Nathan), the Paynes— everyone she interacted with enhanced the plot and her character development. This is a must read if you like historical fiction. 

Available on Overdrive and as an eAudiobook on Hooplaand at the library* for checkout.  

*check the link for available copies or to place on hold 

Amy

Hello everyone! I’m Amy and I am a Youth Services Librarian at the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County. When I’m not trying to reach my reading goal for the year, I like to talk about what I’m reading to my family, friends, and coworkers. You could say I am a little obsessed with reading Young Adult books. I enjoy most genres, but my favorites include: Westerns, Historical Fiction, Contemporary, Fantasy, and Mystery. I am always looking for the next great book that makes me connect to its characters and hits me in the feels.