Best New Books of 2013: Keith H’s Picks

Hi! My name is Keith and I’m a children’s librarian who enjoys scifi and fantasy books that straddle the line between adult and teen fiction. Some of my favorites of 2013 were:

Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson
I was initially standoffish because Sanderson is most famous for his Mistborn fantasy novels and finishing Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series.  My high fantasy days are mostly over. But, the synopsis drew me in since it reads like a comic book plot. Steelheart is set in a world where an event has given some humans super-powers. Unfortunately, everyone who gains these powers becomes criminal sociopaths, known as Epics. The story focuses on a young man named David whose father was killed by an Epic named Steelheart. Steelheart is impervious to physical attacks and has declared himself Emperor of Chicago. David joins a resistance organization working to free the city from Steelheart’s tyranny. This book reads like a blockbuster  movie, deftly moving from one action packed scene to another. I couldn’t put it down and ended up finishing it in a day.

Zombie Baseball Beatdown by Paolo Bacigalupi
I love the teen novels of Bacigalupi – gritty dystopias with strong characters and no romance! When he released his new book, Zombie Baseball Beatdown, it was marketed towards middle-grade readers from 5th to 8th grade. This threw me for a loop.  Judging it by its cover, it appears to be a book about members of a sports team who must destroy some zombies with their baseball bats. And it is…but it is so much more. You get an inkling of this when the main character declares his hero as Spider Jerusalem from Warren Ellis’ Transmetropolitan, a very adult graphic novel.  The protagonist is an Indian-American  middle-schooler named Rabindranath Chatterjee-Jones, called Rabi by his friends. Rabi and his friends fight against the havoc wreaked by industrialized corporate meat, immigration law, and racists. Oh yeah, and in the process they seriously beat down some zombies.

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey
“After the 1st wave, only darkness remains. After the 2nd, only the lucky escape. And after the 3rd, only the unlucky survive. After the 4th wave, only one rule applies: trust no one.” The story begins with a teen named Cassie trying to survive an earth that has already been devastated by alien invasion. Most of the planet’s population has been eliminated, and the few humans that are left are hunted by strange beings which appear in human form. So Cassie has trust issues… The only person she trusts is her little brother, who she will protect at any cost. Be warned, there is a goofy love triangle. Fortunately, there are enough firefights, explosions and plot twists to forgive that.

Saga: Volume Two by Brian K. Vaughan
(I’m kind of cheating here because you wouldn’t want to read Volume Two before reading Volume One, which was actually published in 2012.) Saga is the award winning science fiction graphic novel series written by Brian K. Vaughn (Y the Last man, Pride of Baghdad). It has been described as “Romeo and Juliet meets Star Wars meets Game of Thrones”. This is one of those comics that is a good entry point for readers who are curious about comics, but don’t feel compelled to read super-hero stories. Saga is the story of mixed-species couple who meet as a guard and prisoner in a P.O.W. camp. Alana and Marco fall in love, have a baby, and go on the run…but not necessarily in that order.  They are chased by a multi-limbed female humanoid/arachnid assassin and a bounty hunter with a cat partner that says, “Lying” when someone is not telling the truth. It all sounds insane, but has a very cool storyline and some pretty innovative storytelling. The artwork by Fiona Staples is beautiful. If you enjoy science fiction and/or quirky romance, give it a try – just be prepared for some adult content.

Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang
Set at the turn of the century during the Boxer Rebellion, these two graphic novels offer different perspectives on a tumultuous time in China’s history.  Boxers follows Little Bao, whose village has been invaded by a brutal priest and his enforcers. Bao tries to stand up against the oppression of the Christian missionaries by gathering an army of peasants. They learn to use kung-fu to channel the power of Chinese deities to defend their culture and religious traditions. The companion volume, Saints, tells the story of Four-Girl, an unnamed fourth daughter in a family that doesn’t want her. She is baptized by the same priest from Little Bao’s story. Four-Girl embraces Christianity and finds acceptance from fellow worshippers, who give her the name Vibiana. Visions of Joan of Arc and Jesus give Vibiana the strength to stand up for her right to practice the faith of her choice. One of the interesting things about these two books is that both main characters, Little Bao and Vbiana, are compelling and sympathetic. Each one has a very direct connection with their respective faiths. Put together, the stories of this National Book Award finalist offer a well-rounded take on a historical period I knew little about.

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