February 23, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

SLJ Best Books 2013 Fiction

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Beginning with a list of several hundred books that have earned stars throughout the year, SLJ‘s book review editors commenced the grand task of winnowing down the best of the best. The volume of outstanding novels for young adults continues to grow, yielding characters that are fully realized and stay with readers long after the last page. This year also saw a rise in the number of distinguished books for middle grade readers, and while a fair number of the selected titles deal with serious themes, there are also books on the list that will leave readers chuckling aloud.

See also:
Best Books 2013 Nonfiction

Best Books 2013 Picture Books.


APPELT, Kathi. The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp. illus. by Jennifer Bricking. S & S/Atheneum. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781442421059; ebk. $10.99 ISBN 9781442481213. LC 2012023723.

Gr 3–7 –Two raccoons, a boy in need of a boatload of cash, rampaging feral hogs, and an alligator wrestler are just a few of the oddball characters that populate the Sugar Man Swamp. Employing a thick Southern patois and mouth-watering details, the narrator gathers readers close for this rip-roaring tall tale. (July)

BERRY, Julie. All the Truth That’s in Me. Viking. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780670786152. LC 2012043218.

Gr 9 Up –Having survived two years in captivity and a maiming (her tongue), 15-year-old Judith returns to her small, isolated colonial village only to be shunned and reviled. This powerful novel about loss, resilience, and recovery has a tender and uplifting romance at its core. (Aug.)

BLACK, Holly. The Coldest Girl in Coldtown. Little, Brown. Tr $19. ISBN 9780316213103; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9780316213110.

Gr 9 Up –Tana wakes up at a party to discover that she, her ex-boyfriend, and a mysterious boy with red eyes are the only survivors. She decides that driving into the quarantined city of Springfield is the only hope of saving them from the global vampiric pandemic. This gripping novel, with its appealing, quick-witted heroine, is modern dystopian horror at its chilling best. (Aug.)

BLACK, Holly. Doll Bones. illus. by Eliza Wheeler. S & S/McElderry. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781416963981; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9781442474871. LC 2012018299.

Gr 5-8 –Three friends steal into the night on a perilous quest to satisfy an unquiet spirit inhabiting a creepy doll. Nestled within this atmospheric ghost story is a poignant exploration of friendship, growing up, and growing apart. Horror with a heart. (June)

BLACKWOOD, Sage. Jinx. HarperCollins/Harper. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062129901; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9780062129925.

Gr 4-8 –The archetypical tale of an orphan abandoned in an enchanted forest is elevated in this vividly imagined fantasy. Jinx’s world of unpredictable magic, cantankerous wizards, and menacing trolls evokes classic fairy-tale lore, while his journey from undesired child to budding apprentice is freshly told. (Jan.)

BURG, Ann E. Serafina’s Promise. Scholastic. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780545535649; ebk. $16.99. ISBN 9780545549943.

Gr 4-6 –Serafina dreams of becoming a doctor, but getting an education may be impossible in poverty-stricken Haiti. In the wake of the devastating 2010 earthquake, Serafina learns to hope against hope, overcoming physical and metaphorical obstacles. Burg’s poignant novel in verse offers a distinct perspective and will inspire young dreamers. (Nov.)

DICAMILLO, Kate. Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures. illus. by K. G. Campbell. Candlewick. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780763660406. LC 2012947748.

Gr 4-6 –Holy bagumba! When Flora Belle Buckman witnesses her neighbor’s super-powered vacuum suck up an unsuspecting squirrel, an unlikely friendship is born. DiCamillo expertly balances the comically absurd with the quietly philosophical while Campbell’s graphic-novel-style illustrations add punch to this instant classic. (Aug.)

HENKES, Kevin. The Year of Billy Miller. illus. by author. HarperCollins/Greenwillow. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062268129; lib. ed. $17.89. ISBN 9780062268136; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9780062268150. LC 2012050373.

Gr 1-3 –In this quiet story about an anxious seven-year-old boy, the stress of negotiating second grade is ameliorated with the support of a kind, perceptive teacher (“You are very smart”); a close-knit, loving family; and the youngster’s increasing self-confidence. Three cheers for Billy Miller. (July)

HOPKINSON, Deborah. The Great Trouble: A Mystery of London, the Blue Death, and a Boy Called Eel. Knopf. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780375848186; lib. ed. $19.99. ISBN 9780375948183; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9780449818190. LC 2012032799.

Gr 5-8 –When Mr. Griggs becomes deathly ill in 1854 London, a 13-year-old “mudlark” recognizes the symptoms of cholera and goes in search of Dr. John Snow. With the help of the boy, the epidemiological scientist proves that the source of the disease is contaminated water from the local pump. A fictionalized account that is as informative as it is engaging. (Oct.)

KADOHATA, Cynthia. The Thing About Luck. illus. by Julia Kuo. S & S/Atheneum. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781416918820; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9781442474673. LC 2012021287.

Gr 5-8 –After a year of bad luck, Summer Miyamoto; her “intense” younger brother, Jaz; their strong-minded grandparents; and the family dog join a crew of itinerant wheat harvesters. Quarrelsome Obaachan does the cooking while gentle Jiichan drives a combine. Readers will root for plucky Summer as she comes into her own in this tenderhearted, multigenerational story. (June)

KING, A.S. Reality Boy. Little, Brown. Tr $18. ISBN 9780316222709.

Gr 9 Up –When he was five years old, millions of viewers saw Gerald Faust defecate in his mother’s shoes on a reality TV show. Twelve years later, he is as angry and confused as he was then. In this honest and unflinching portrayal, King grapples with issues of identity, love, and self-acceptance. (Oct.)

KURTZ, Chris. The Adventures of a South Pole Pig: A Novel of Snow and Courage. illus. by Jennifer Black Reinhardt. Houghton Harcourt. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780547634555.

K-Gr 4 –Does the desire for adventure lie deep in the heart of every pig? It certainly does for Flora, who leaves the pigpen and sets off on a most improbable journey to Antarctica. Energetic black-and-white illustrations highlight Flora’s gutsy spirit in this chapter book that can be enjoyed independently or read aloud. (Aug.)

LAFEVERS, Robin. Dark Triumph. Bk 2. (His Fair Assassin Series). Houghton Harcourt. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780547628387.

Gr 9 Up –On a mission for St. Mortain (aka Death), Lady Sybella is charged with killing Count d’Albret (aka her father), a cruel nobleman. Mid-assignment, she rescues a superhuman knight and learns the power of love and redemption. In this companion to Grave Mercy (Houghton Harcourt, 2012), LaFevers plunges readers into a reimagined 15th-century Europe complete with avenging nuns, a sumptuous setting, and fast-paced action. (July)

LAKE, Nick. Hostage Three. Bloomsbury. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781619631236; ebk. $12.99. ISBN 9781619631496.

Gr 8 Up –Rich and standoffish Amy Fields, 17, is forced to confront her grief over her mother’s suicide when pirates commandeer her family’s yacht off the Somali coast. Lake combines the pace of a thriller with deeply contemplative passages. An unputdownable read. (Sept.)

MCNEAL, Tom. Far Far Away. Knopf. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780375849725; lib. ed. $20.99. ISBN 9780375949722; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9780375896989. LC 2012020603.

Gr 6 Up –Studious Jeremy Johnson Johnson, whose best friend is the ghost of Jacob Grimm, and saucy Ginger Boultinghouse set out to discover why children are disappearing from the small town of Never Better. Full of intrigue, this is an enchanting, original fairy tale. (June)

MEDINA, Meg. Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass. Candlewick. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780763658595; ebk. $16.99. ISBN 9780763663544. LC 2012943645.

Gr 8 Up –Piddy Sanchez just wants to get through high school. Unfortunately, Yaqui Delgado hates her and no place is safe from the bully. Piddy decides to be just as mean and nasty as Yaqui—even if it jeopardizes relationships with friends and family. A realistic portrayal of teen life that is nuanced and complex. (Apr.)

MORIARTY, Jaclyn. A Corner of White. Bk. 1. (The Colors of Madeleine Series). Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780545397360; ebk. $17.99. ISBN 9780545510219. LC 2012016582.

Gr 6-9 –This hybrid novel is told in parallel narratives. Madeleine, 14, lives in a tiny flat in Cambridge, England, with her eccentric mother. Elliot lives in the Kingdom of Cello, where things have gone awry since his father’s recent disappearance. Dangerous Colors are wreaking havoc in his world. The teens exchange letters through a tiny portal, and readers will be caught up in the ways their lives intertwine. A smart and captivating read. (May)

NESS, Patrick. More Than This. Candlewick. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9780763662585; ebk. $19.99. ISBN 9780763667672.

Gr 9 Up –When he wakes up alone in his childhood home in England, the last thing Seth remembers is drowning off the Washington State coast. The teen must make sense of his seemingly abandoned world and come to terms with a past betrayal and his guilt over a family tragedy. A moving, original take on the dystopian genre. (Aug.)

PHELAN, Matt. Bluffton: My Summers with Buster. illus. by author. Candlewick. Tr $22.99. ISBN 9780763650797.

Gr 3-6 –In 1908, Henry Harrison’s life is forever changed when a young Buster Keaton visits the boy’s small Michigan town with his vaudeville act. The fictional story of their lasting friendship is beautifully told through Phelan’s spare text and soft, yet vibrant watercolor illustrations. (July)

ROWELL, Rainbow. Eleanor & Park. St. Martin’s Griffin. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781250012579; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9781250031211.

Gr 9 Up –Two outsiders from very different homes are thrown together on the school bus and a romance is born, fueled by a shared appreciation of music and comics. The heady validation that comes with first love allows Eleanor and Park to come to take charge of their futures. Rowell’s endearing characters are smart and funny, and their heartrending story is unforgettable. (Feb.)

ROWELL, Rainbow. Fangirl. St. Martin’s Griffin. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781250030955; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9781250030962.

Gr 9 Up –Twins Cath and Wren write fan fiction for their favorite fantasy series, “Simon Snow.” Now in their first year of college, extrovert Wren is ready to leave the fantasy world–and possibly her sister–behind. Rowell offers charming characters, crisp dialogue, and all-too-real situations that will resonate with teens. (Aug.)

RUNDELL, Katherine. Rooftoppers. illus. by Terry Fan. S & S. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781442490581; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9781442490604. LC 2012049469.

Gr 4-6 –Found floating in a cello case on the English Channel, Sophie is taken in by a bachelor who encourages her to wear trousers and speak her mind–much to the dismay of her stuffy welfare agent. Rundell transports readers from the streets of London to the moonlit rooftops of Paris as the indomitable Sophie searches for her long-lost mother. (Dec.)

SLOAN, Holly Goldberg. Counting by 7s. Dial. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780803738553. LC 2012004994.

Gr 5-8 –Willow Chance, socially awkward child genius, has been different all her life. When a freak accident takes the lives of her parents, a most unlikely ad hoc community embraces Willow’s odd ways. Without an ounce of mawkishness, Willow’s narration unfolds with poignancy and integrity. (Sept.)

STIEFVATER, Maggie. The Dream Thieves. Bk. 2. (The Raven Cycle Series). Scholastic. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780545424943; ebk. $18.99. ISBN 9780545577175.

Gr 9 Up –In this riveting sequel to The Raven Boys, Gansey continues his search for the mystical grave of a Welsh king, Ronan hones his ability to take things from his dreams, and Adam falls apart while Blue tries not to fall in love. A Gray Man with a dark mission adds to the suspense. (Oct.)

VANDERPOOL, Clare. Navigating Early. Delacorte. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780385742092; lib. ed. $19.99. ISBN 9780375990403; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9780307974129. LC 2012014973.

Gr 5-8 –An intricately woven plot, complex characters, and a carefully crafted post-World War II New England setting distinguish this odyssey story. Jack, a boy struggling with grief and isolation, travels the Appalachian Trail with his strange new friend Early. Their journey provides readers with engrossing adventure as well as a hopeful and satisfying conclusion. (Mar.)

WEIN, Elizabeth. Rose Under Fire. Hyperion/Disney. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781423183099; ebk. $17.99. ISBN 9781423198697. LC 2013010337.

Gr 9 Up –Rose Justice, 18, is an American civilian pilot working for the Air Transport Auxiliary in 1944. Captured by the Nazis, she is sent to Ravensbrück concentration camp. Despite unspeakable conditions, she bonds with her fellow prisoners and draws on her inner resources, especially her love of poetry, to survive. This splendid historical thriller is a companion to Code Name Verity (Hyperion, 2012). (Oct.)

WILLIAMS-GARCIA, Rita. P.S. Be Eleven. HarperCollins/Amistad. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780061938627; lib. ed. $17.89. ISBN 9780061938634; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9780062208507.

Gr 4-7 –The Gaither sisters return to Brooklyn after their revolutionary experiences in One Crazy Summer (HarperCollins, 2010). Armed with poetry and Black Panther pride, the girls contend with Big Ma’s rules, Uncle Darnell’s homecoming from Vietnam, and Pa’s lady friend. Authentic details bring late-1960s Brooklyn to vivid life, while laugh-out-loud drama delights. (June)

WINTERS, Cat. In the Shadow of Blackbirds. Abrams/Amulet. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781419705304. LC 2012039262.

Gr 8 Up –It’s 1918: the Spanish influenza pandemic and World War I have killed countless young men and women. Mary Shelley Black, 16, is visited by the ghost of her first love and must uncover how he really died to help him find peace. This debut is supernatural historical fiction at its spookiest. (June)

YANG, Gene Luen. Boxers . ISBN 9781596433595. pap. $18.99.

––––. Saints. ISBN 9781596436893. pap. $15.99.

ea vol: illus. by author. (Boxers & Saints Series). First Second.

Gr 9 Up –This two-volume graphic novel tells the story of the Boxer Rebellion through the eyes of Little Bao, a Chinese peasant boy, and Vibiana, an outcast welcomed by Christian missionaries. An insightful look at a pivotal moment in Chinese history.

By SLJ Book Review Editors: Kiera Parrott, Trevelyn Jones, Luann Toth, Marlene Charnizon, Daryl Grabarek, Chelsey Philpot, Shelley Diaz, and Joy Fleishhacker.

Headline lettering by Melissa Sweet.

This article was published in School Library Journal's December 2013 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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  1. Wow! How did you miss Paperboy by Vince Vawter, and Sure Signs of Crazy by Karen Harrington??

    Hands down those two are my favorites!