The best YA novels I’ve ever read (so far)

The best YA novels I’ve ever read (so far)

The YA novels below are ones that gripped me in special ways … gripped me and wouldn’t let me go. They’ve stayed with me. I highly recommend them to Young Adults of all ages. :-)

The Book Thief by Mark Zusak

The one book that opened our eyes to the wonder of YA.

Will we ever forget the haunting voice of Death? It’s time for me to reread this novel.

Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum

Buxbaum writes with wit and heart — and there is no better combination. This book woke me from a no-reading stupor. Some books are morning books, some books are nighttime books, and others become go-everywhere day-and-night books, just because you can’t wait to jump back into the story at any opportunity.

This, for me, was a go-everywhere book.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Tremendously moving, but never without humour.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

This novel has gotten a lot of attention, and for good reason. It opens our eyes to the realities of violent racism, but not without heart. No one is free of guilt.

(Hint: the audible edition is outstanding.)

Between Shades of Grey by Ruta Sepetys

(Not, this is not the Shades of Grey you’re thinking.)

This many-awards winning novel by Ruta Sepetys is a very realistic WWII story about the deportation of Lithuanians and the genocide of Baltic people. She decided to frame it as a YA because in interviewing the survivors, she discovered that as teenagers, they had had a stronger will to survive.

An amazing story.


Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

A very honest, gentle and touching portrayal of a friendship turned to love between two boys.

The Agony of Bun O’Keefe by Heather Smith

This novel is my newest enthusiasm. It kept me up far too late at night. I will never forget young Bun O’Keefe and the wonderful gang that become a her caring family.

Wit in abundance, but also gut-wrenching moments. Unforgettable.

36 Questions that Changed My Mind About You by Vicki Grant is another novel that kept me up far too late at night. Clever, charming, dramatic and satisfying. I absolutely adored it.

So there you have it!

Note that I’m not including the books that meant so much to me when I was a Young Adult: Nancy Drew, of course, in my pre-teen years, and then novels by the inimitable Judy Blume … from which I seemed to have leapt directly into the French existentialists.

I do vividly remember one YA novel, a story of young lovers in Europe during WWII. The girl is raped by the enemy, gets VD, and decides to get her revenge by sleeping with the enemy. Heavy-hitting, indeed. I remember it still (and would love to track it down).

Was there truly not much in-between in the 50s and 60s? I think a number of the books I’ve listed above would have meant a lot to me then.





The Game of Hope: Who is the girl on the cover?

The Game of Hope: Who is the girl on the cover?

The painting on the cover of The Game of Hope is by French artist Marie-Denise Villers. It is popularly known as “Young Woman Drawing,” and can be seen in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The portrait is said to be of Marie Joséphine Charlotte du Val d’Ognes, but at least one art historian believes that it’s the artist’s self-portrait.

The painting was unsigned and for years it was attributed to the famous French artist Jaques Luis David. It wasn’t until 1995 that Villers was credited for the work.

Although the painting is not a portrait of Hortense de Beauharnais, the young woman looks rather like her, I think, especially in spirit. Here is a portrait — possibly a self-portrait — of Hortense as a teen.

portrait of Hortense de Beauharnais

Hortense (possibly a self-portrait).

For portraits of Hortense at all ages, go to my Pinterest board.

For more on this intriguing painting, read “Prof. Anne Higonnet reveals a new twist in storied Metropolitan Museum of Art painting.” Higonnet’s slide presentation on this painting — “White Dress, Broken Glass” — can be seen online, although without the accompanying text it’s difficult to surmise her conclusion.

Draft 8: check. Drafts 9, 10, 11: yet to come. On my painfully slow revision process

Draft 8: check. Drafts 9, 10, 11: yet to come. On my painfully slow revision process

{Lovely San Miguel de Allende, where I am right now. A photo by Leah Feldon, it is similar to the view from my writing room.}

Yesterday was a big day for me: I woke at 4:00am, and shortly before 8:00am I emailed my manuscript to my editor and agent. It was Friday 13. I am not superstitious, but that did give me pause.

Some writers are able to write a perfectly good novel in two or three drafts. I am not one of those writers! It takes me years (and years) to uncover the complexities, the depths and the “fall line” of a story. My revision process is extremely slow, in spite of all the techniques I use (i.e. plotting) to try to speed it up. I do hope I’m getting closer.

J.K. Rowling’s plot guideline. No doubt it helped!

Moonsick (working title) is my novel for Young Adults, a story based on the teen years of Josephine Bonaparte’s daughter Hortense. Is the novel too giddy? Too dark? I’m frankly not sure. This is why beta readers — teen beta readers — will be important to my final revision process.

Teen beta readers wanted

Later that same day I sent out a newsletter that included a call for teen beta readers. I now have three readers, and (I hope) more to come. I’d also like to find a book club that reads YA fiction — not exclusively, but often enough that they are comfortable with the genre. It occurs to me that a high school English class might be interested in reading it (although it really is a novel for girls). Let me know if you have a teen reader or a book club or class to suggest.

Going back to where it all began

Looking for reader guidelines I’ve used in the past, I discovered a blog post I wrote in February of 2012 — five years ago! — announcing that I would be writing a YA novel about Hortense.

Hortense as a teen — the subject of my next-next novel (Surprise!) 

(Note that This Bright Darkness, mentioned in the post, was the working title of The Shadow Queenwhich was published two years later, in the spring of 2014.)

Hortense de Beauharnais

Lovely Hortense as a teen. Energetic, creative, talented — a bright spark.


Hortense as a teen — the subject of my next-next novel (surprise!)

Hortense as a teen — the subject of my next-next novel (surprise!)

(Hortense as a teen, at right, with one of her best friends.)

I have news today. (It’s already being tweeted on the Twitterverse!) I’m going to be writing two Young Adult novels for Penguin Canada. The first — and possibly both — will be about Josephine’s daughter Hortense, taking me back to the Napoleonic era. The books will be published in Canada as  part of Penguin’s Razorbill line and in the U.S. as part of Viking Young Readers.

I got the offer some time ago quite out-of-the-blue. It arrived on my agent’s desk in a ribboned box containing chocolates and the proposal.

I needed time to think about it. I’d been long planning to write another (adult) novel about the women in Molière’s life — this I will still do.

But YA? I was interested. For over a decade I was co-editor of a YA series for reluctant readers. Too, many teens are fans of my adult novels. The idea of writing YA intrigued (and challenged) me.

I spent quite a bit of time reading YA and re-researching Hortense’s life, imagining what her story might be. I wasn’t sure I wanted to return to the 18th century — but then I got hooked. Hortense is a very appealing character, and her teen years are dramatic, but also very sad. It’s a truly sweet love story, as well of the story of a girl having difficulty coming to terms with a step-father (Napoleon).

It’s going to be a very interesting few years! Somehow, I feel that I can do all of this all at once: finish This Bright Darkness, begin another adult novel set in the 17th century, write two YAs and a short novel for GoodReads, as well as launching my own e-book imprint.

A sense of reality, apparently, hasn’t clicked in with my advancing years.

I just got off the phone to a book club in Geneva — wonderful! The Skype connection was excellent. They were deep into the Trilogy and had lots of very interesting questions, a pleasure to chat with. (I told them secrets.) Thank you, Karen Smith, for organizing it.

If any of you reading this would like me to chat with your book club … just send me a note (sgulland AT sandragulland DOT com).

It’s so much fun!