Students’ Picks: The Best YA Books of 2013

December 30, 2013 | 7 books mentioned 3 4 min read

Tis the season for yearly book round-ups! Oh, how I love them. These columns grow my Amazon Wish List, along with my classroom library. As a high school teacher, it’s wonderful just to have the lists, even if I can’t get my hands on all the books. I can point my students towards these stand-out titles and know that they come highly recommended. I like to note the repeats and the unknowns — each compilation informed by different tastes and purposes.

I do wonder, as I read these “Best of 2013s,” how some of the titles would actually play with the young people in my classroom. Some books I can tell are immediately accessible, but others perhaps not so much. I would like to lend my voice to these discussions of newly published YA titles, but I didn’t read widely enough in YA lit in 2013 to form a comprehensive list. I did, however, watch my students run through a whole lot of books. Here are three published in 2013 that won the hearts of some young adults I know, recommended in their own words. Pick one up for a young adult in your life: satisfaction guaranteed.

coverPeriod 8 by Chris Crutcher
Chris Crutcher didn’t disappoint in 2013 with his Period 8. The latest in a long list of captivating and high-interest titles for young adults, Period 8 inserts fantastic scandal into the everyday world teens recognize so well. My student Joe noted that any one of his classmates would be able to relate to the story. He was amazed too by the scope of the content. “One chapter can be about swimming, the next about relationships, and then the next about a manhunt and the possibility of death.” Perhaps this is what makes the title such a page-turner. Joe finished the book in less than a week, and told me he was on the edge of his seat. “With the plot of this book, Chapter 5 and beyond feels like the climax all the time.”

coverAllegiant by Veronica Roth
Allegiant is the third and last book in Veronica Roth’s acclaimed Divergent series. Divergent fans have been knocking on my door and harassing our librarian for copies since October. Divergent revolves around one compelling idea: that one choice can change everything. This final installment swirls with romance, secrets, and sacrifice. Student and reader Alexis stresses: “If you have a passion or appetite for daydreaming about living in dystopian society that still seems better than your reality, Allegiant is for you.” He also notes that fans of The Hunger Games trilogy “will fall in love with the way the Divergent trilogy projects a strong heroine.” Alexis writes, “I relish the fact that Tris never wanted to just be different; she wanted to be her own self. In that, I can relate to her. In our society, you’re labeled so many things that aren’t who you are.” Indeed, Tris is as relatable and rich a character as Katniss, and drives the action of the plot through twists and turns to its ultimate shocking conclusion. Fans relate Divergent to the Maze Runner series as well, another action-packed dystopian tale with a strong and sympathetic protagonist. These series truly captivate: engrossing the reader in worlds that manage to be at once strange and familiar. They are worlds that swallow the reader and erase reality. Alexis warns, “For a few paragraphs, I had to stop and actually hug my book tightly.” But the plot marches on, and readers note that with that plot come lessons transferable to their real lives. “A quote from another bestselling book, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, fits the lesson of Allegiant,” Alexis writes. “Things change and friends leave and life doesn’t stop for anybody.”

coverEleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
“I never thought a book could teach me how pure a heartbreak could feel; how indescribable falling so hard for someone could be. Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell was love at first sight for me. I have never fallen so deeply in love with anything, let alone a book before. I’ve never felt like I could connect so purely to anyone or anything before I read this book.” Eleanor and Park is a title high on lots of 2013 lists, and my student Melissa is not alone in holding the book so dear. If there is any Young Adult book that reaches beyond the YA label in 2013 it is Eleanor and Park: a book about being a teenager and falling in love. The love between these two misfit teens is the most innocent part of their lives. Melissa explains that their love is built upon “music, comic books, and the simple spark of him touching her hand.” But life is not that simple, and the two must navigate the heartbreaking dysfunction of Eleanor’s family life. Eleanor bears the scars of this environment, but loving Park lets her dare to hope for a happy future. Eleanor is a lovely character who could walk right off the page. Melissa saw herself reflected in Eleanor, as so many do. “Like Eleanor, I never felt like anyone could ever love me the way I needed them to…until we both met a silly, half Asian misfit. I felt I could resonate so much with Eleanor, right off the bat. We’ve both always been that girl who isn’t stick thin; the girl with the big curly mop hair; girls that felt they weren’t deserving of love or care or hope. This book not only teaches you how blissful love can be, but how painful a heartbreak is.”  

is a graduate of Rutgers University where she completed her undergraduate degree in English and a MA in Education. She currently teaches English at Hightstown High School in East Windsor, NJ.