December is time for year’s end lists. Since nobody sends me ARCs or review copies, I rely on my fantastic public library for most of my reading. I still haven't gotten my hands on some of the newest books, but so what? These are my five-star MG (and one YA) reads of 2010, in alphabetical order. Some of them are older, but all of them have had a deep imprint on me as a reader, person, and writer.
Laurie Halse Anderson, Forge. I was moved by Isabel’s story in Chains, and Curzon is an equally compelling narrator. I’m a Philadelphian who grew up in the Bicentennial area, so the history of Valley Forge and the Revolutionary War is part of my cultural DNA. Anderson brought it to life. Should I say now that I have another story of my own planned for this general historic period and setting? Well, I do. I haven’t read Anderson’s contemporary YA works, but her historical fiction is an inspiration.
Diana Wynne Jones, Howl’s Moving Castle. This was my first Jones book, probably because it was in the paperback section of my library and the hardcover selection included only middle volumes from various series. But boy, did I love this – creative, surprising, romantic. I also read Enchanted Glass this year, another marvelous book, grounded between the real world and faerie with a satirical edge.
M.M. Kaye, The Ordinary Princess. I’m a sucker for fairy tales, but I don’t like Shrek-like fractured fairy tales – I prefer my stories sincere and straight-up, no snarkiness please and – ugh – no anachronistic pop-culture references. Out of at least 10 books with the word “princess” in the title last year, this sweet, original story was the only one that captured my heart. The Ordinary Princess is illustrator M.M. Kaye’s only novel, published in 1981, a little late for me to have discovered it as child. But I would have loved it then, and I loved it now so much I read it twice in a row (not hard, because it’s so short) and then read it aloud to my daughter. I have a fairytale/fantasy story idea on my to-write list, and I have the very lofty goal of combining what I love about The Ordinary Princess and Howl’s Moving Castle. Aim high, right?
Robin McKinley, Chalice. I didn’t read McKinley when I was young (possibly Beauty – I read it this year and it was vaguely familiar) but I discovered her this year. I started with The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown, both widely loved and hugely influential books. I saw them all over Graceling and Fire, which I read this year as well. I greatly enjoyed and admired all four of those stories, but Chalice, which is not one of McKinley’s canonical works, moved me more. I enjoy a warrior-woman tale now and then, but I prefer heroines who are just as strong but also gentle, like Mirasol.
Grace Lin, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. This utterly delightful, sincere, good-hearted book, inspired by Chinese fairy tales, made me smile throughout -- the clever, brave children, the sad dragon, the exquisite writing, and the wonderful structure of stories-within-the-story that all tie into a very happy ending. This is a masterful work – a true classic.
Rita Williams-Garcia, One Crazy Summer. I loved the intersection of the ordinary family plight of the three girls with important but difficult to understand historic events, bringing it to life so clearly. As a young child, I lived in the progressive enclave of Mt. Airy in Philadelphia, so the setting was both familiar and fresh to me, while the voice of the young MC was endearing and original.
What are your favorite reads of 2010? Which books inspired you most as a reader, person, and writer?