When I was a kid, my dad spent countless hours teaching me how to play two games: Backgammon and Pente. Eventually I reached a certain awareness and skill level and no longer expected him to simply let me win, and he started playing for real. Whenever he’d make a winning move, which was basically every time we played because I was, like, 8 years old and not yet privy to the wily ways of the world, he’d set down his piece emphatically and say, “Put that in your pipe and smoke it.” I had no idea what he meant, but from then on, I dedicated my young life to perfecting my board game strategy so that one day, I could co-opt the winning phrase.
By now you’re like, “Okay, Sarah, that’s a really cute story about the roots of your extreme board game competitiveness which by the way is the sole reason Pet Monster refused to play Monopoly with you for ten whole years (a streak broken just last month, mind you), but WTF does that have to do with books?” And the truth is, I have no idea.
But I did want to tell you about three upcoming contemporary YA books I had the pleasure of reading early this summer. Books that need to go on your To Be Read stack immediately. Books that win so hard that if I had them in my lap and you were sitting at the table across from me, I’d pick them up and slam them on the table and go, “Put these in your pipe and smoke ‘em!”
So without further stretching an already thin metaphor, bring on the smoke-worthy books!
Catching Jordan, by Miranda Kenneally (December 2011)
Meet Jordan, high school football captain, quarterback, and… girl. This book is about football the way Friday Night Lights is about football. Yes, it’s there, and it’s a big part of the characters’ lives. But at its core, this book is about one girl standing up for her dreams and tackling any obstacle thrown in her path — sometimes successfully, sometimes not. It’s about expectations, family, friendships, love, and a healthy dose of straight-up girl power.
Anyone who’s ever questioned her path in life will connect with Jordan’s struggles and ultimate triumphs.
Added bonus: Competitive drive that rivals my dad vs. kid Backgammon days, cute football boys, and awesome sexual tension FTW! Also, this book totally reminds me of aforementioned Friday Night Lights, on which I recently got hooked. But I’m only up to season 4, so don’t post any spoilers in the comments! (P.S. Heyyyy Tim Riggins! *blushes*). Anyway, yeah. Loved CATCHING JORDAN!
Virtuosity, by Jessica Martinez (October 2011)
Carmen is a world class, grammy-winning violinist. Despite (and partly because of) her many achievements, Carmen is under constant pressure to be perfect — from the music industry that’s come to expect so much from her, from the violin instructor who won’t ease up until Carmen gets it just right, and most of all, from her mother, an overbearing force desperate to relive her own stunted music career through her daughter’s successes. Carmen’s used to doing whatever it takes to win, but as she prepares for the biggest competition of her life, she’s starting to unravel, physically and emotionally. Reading this book was like diving down the rabbit hole. I truly felt Carmen’s highs and lows, her anguish and fear, her hopes, and I couldn’t stop reading until I saw her through to the end.
Added bonus: I could totally relate to Carmen because I, too, played violin as a teen. Of course, I quit at the start of 9th grade when I decided that carrying around a big black case and practicing every day was just, you know, too much work. But still. Okay, seriously, the musical element of this book was super authentic and cool.
Wintertown, by Stephen Emond (December 2011)
Evan and Lucy are childhood best friends. Ever since Lucy’s parents split and she moved to Georgia with her mom, Evan only sees her over winter break. When Lucy shows up this winter, she’s completely changed — she’s sullen and moody and rockin’ a totally new goth style, and Evan just can’t get her to open up. As the story unravels, their friendship is severely tested, simultaneously growing closer and breaking apart each time they hang out. I had no idea how things would end — I just knew that I was rooting for them either way. Part graphic novel, part romance, part adventure, WINTERTOWN is the perfect story for a chilly winter’s night. It comes out in December, just in time to grab a mug of hot chocolate and curl up under your fave fuzzy blanket (dare I say Snuggie)!
Added bonus: Boy and girl POV, cool book, music, and zombie references throughout, and interesting, authentic adult characters. And also, perhaps most importantly, Mr. Emond is an awesome artist, and he totally cartooned me last year. See right, Sarah as Super Tweeter. I mean, he gave me a cape, you guys!
Put that in your pipe and… okay, okay. No smoking. Just go over to Goodreads or whatever and add them to your list of cool YA to read this fall and winter. You can also visit Miranda, Jessica, and Stephen online to learn more about them and their work.