1. DAUGHTER OF SMOKE & BONE by Laini Taylor. This book. Laini Taylor is an incredible wordsmith; the prose is breathtakingly gorgeous. I want to live in Prague and be best friends with mysterious blue-haired art student Karou. Both Prague and the Elsewhere of Karou's strange family are evoked with charm and depth. The worldbuilding is just--it's amazing, and enveloping, and I loved it.
2. WHERE SHE WENT by Gayle Forman. The kind of book that finds its way inside your bones, that’s so beautiful it bruises. There are books I read, more and more lately, deconstructing as I go, picking apart their strengths and weaknesses. This, I’m just in awe of. This is the kind of book you read and then immediately reread and then still have to hug for five minutes before you can put it on your shelf.
3. HOW TO SAVE A LIFE by Sara Zarr. This book is just plain gorgeous. Zarr describes things in this exact, perfect way—not the easy clichés we writers can rely on too often. She lets both of her protagonists make mistakes, do and say ugly hurtful stupid things, and she trusts the reader to understand, and we do. Both girls—Mandy, who’s pregnant, and Jill, whose father has just died and whose mother is adopting Mandy’s baby—are broken and growing into new, adult selves. Both of them want families and, more than that, the sort of safe childhood haven that a parent’s love can provide. I wanted to hug both of them. It all feels piercingly truthful, with lovely characterization, but it was also a total page-turner as I wondered what Mandy would ultimately decide to do with her baby.
4. LOLA AND THE BOY NEXT DOOR by Stephanie Perkins: ANNA & THE FRENCH KISS was one of my favorite books last year, and I begged my editor to snag me this companion novel at BEA. I was going to wait until I finished edits to read it, but I couldn’t. Then I flailed around in a fit of writerly envy. It’s so swoony and charming, full of longing so tangible my heart was in my throat half the book, just waiting for the timing to be right for them to finally kiss. The relationships are note-perfect. I loved Lola’s family: caring and wonderful, if not always easy; I loved her San Francisco neighborhood; I loved the cameos from Anna and St. Clair. Honestly, I might love LOLA even better than ANNA, because I feel like I can relate more to mixed-up, yearning costume designer Lola, who talks to the moon when she’s confused. And awkward, quirky Cricket–the boy next door–is more my type than glam, uber-charming St. Clair. But it’s like comparing brownies and sugar cookies, really. I LOVE BOTH SO MUCH.
5. CHIME by Franny Billingsley: Briony Larkin has a powerful secret: she is a witch, responsible for injuring both her sister Rose and her stepmother in witchy rages. The Old Ones, angered by the draining of the swamp, have been killing off the town's children, and Briony's determined to stop them and save Rose even it means being hanged as a witch...I loved this book so hard. I may have taken a nap with it, clutched to my heart like a teddy bear. I loved Briony--how, even though her stepmother's done her best to convince her she's a wicked girl, Briony can't quite manage to hate herself all the time; how she's clever and pretty and strong and knows it. I loved the romance between her and Eldric, how they laugh and banter and learn to trust one another, how note-perfect her jealousy is, how the end made me cry. I loved the Swampsea, too, how the setting was another character. I really cannot recommend this book enough. It's my very favorite of 2011.
Note: it was hard to pick just 5! Some of my other favorite, 5-star 2011 releases are: LEGEND, by Marie Lu; A LONG, LONG SLEEP by Anna Sheehan; GOLIATH, by Scott Westerfeld; CLARITY, by Kim Harrington; THE UNBECOMING OF MARA DYER, by MIchelle Hodkin; CATCHING JORDAN by Miranda Kenneally; BETWEEN THE SEA & SKY by Jaclyn Dolamore; KAT, INCORRIGIBLE by Stephanie Burgis; and DEARLY, DEPARTED by Lia Habel.
What are your top 5 reads of 2011? Tell me in the comments! I love book lists!