I’m away from the Somewhat United States at the moment, ceilidh dancing in Edinburgh and haunting my old haunts in St Andrews, but high school students all over America are getting ready to graduate within the next few weeks. Congratulations to you all, especially to the young adults who are regulars at my bookshop. I’m terribly proud.
It will come as no surprise that I recommend books for everyone’s graduation gift-giving needs. Buy them from your local independent bookshop! Fun, fast, creative YA novels are especially good for the end of the school year. Seize the five seconds of not being a student anymore, before whatever further studies await, to treat your brain to something purely enjoyable.
Here are a few YA books that would make nice presents. They’re clever, they’re intriguing, and they have wonderful characters. Buy all three and your local bookseller might even gift wrap them for you.
The Rest Of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness
Not only has Patrick Ness created a group of friends who deserve six seasons of their own television show, he’s put them into a brilliant spoof of popular YA fiction trends. Mikey and his friends just want to graduate high school and get on with their lives, but the “indie kids” in their school keep having to save the world from vampires or zombies or whatever eerie blue lights keep showing up in the darkness. Patrick Ness’s subversion of the “chosen one” trend is witty and charming but also tremendously moving. Mikey, Mel, Henna, and Jared all have to fight their own battles in terms of mental health and identity, while the fantastical events around theme act as mere backdrop. I loved the notion of focusing on kids who aren’t the “chosen ones,” but just have to live there, doing their best to fall in love and find their place while the world keeps falling apart around them. Give this book to someone who has already read a ton of YA – fantasy or realistic or both – and wants something totally unique for the summer.
2. Rebel Of The Sands by Alwyn Hamilton
For someone who has already read all the fantasy books you can think of, or someone who is tired of Euro-centric settings for their magical worlds, try this new gun-slinging adventure inspired by the 1001 Arabian Nights. It’s the best of American Westerns (sharp shooters, fights on speeding trains) mixed with Middle Eastern mythology. Amani needs to get out of her dead-end town, Dustwalk, where her dead mother’s family hates her and the best she can hope for us an unhappy marriage. In secret, Amani is one of the best shots around, when she’s disguised, sneaking around at night, “not up to no good,” but not “exactly up to no bad, neither.” Her chance to escape comes raging into town in the form of Jin, a fugitive and a foreigner. Amani sees Jin as a way out. He looks at her strange eyes and her unusual talents and sees powerful origins that might not yet be known to herself. Rebel Of The Sands picks up speed and keeps racing across the desert to a rebel camp, creatures from stories, and a clashing of forces that will broaden Amani’s world farther than she used to ever imagine. I was happily swept away into Alwyn Hamilton’s exciting new fantasy realm. Amani is a heroine to cheer for, and I think determined graduates who want to get away and see wonders will love her story. Mythology nerds and action lovers will dig this one.
3. The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater
The Raven Cycle is seriously the best YA series I’ve read in over a decade. The final installment just came out, so buy it for the graduates you know who have followed Blue and her Raven Boys to the ends of the earth and beyond. If they haven’t started the series yet, do them a favor and buy them all four. The character development, the intense magic, the sharp dialogue, and the creative use of Welsh mythology are absolutely out of this world. In this final installment in the quartet, all the mystifying, intricate threads from the previous books come together to weave a web that’s beautiful and heart-breaking. Maggie Stiefvater is a master writer. Give her books to the literature devotees in your life, or the kids who made intense groups of friends and can’t imagine a life without them.