The new year is approaching and no website/blog’s end of the year reflections are complete without the requisite slew of “best of” lists. Yesterday we brought you our top ten swooniest books. Today we bring you the best of the best – our favorite reads published in 2011. Sure, it’s not like we read ALL of the YA published in 2011. But we read quite a bit and there were a lot of goodies to choose from. Like any good parents, we claim we don’t like to pick favorites. But everyone knows that’s bull and favorites we have picked, so here they be!

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A girl's face, in black and white, covered by a bright blue feathered mask

Title: Daughter of Smoke & Bone (Daughter of Smoke & Bone #1)
Author: Laini Taylor
Series: Daughter of Smoke & Bone

The Deal:

Karou seems like your average blue haired, tattooed art student living in Prague. Except that her appearance is the least unusual thing about her. Karou often disappears, running mysterious errands all over the world and draws beautiful pictures of monsters she claims are real. These monsters are chimaera, otherworldly creatures whose appearance is half human-half animal and are the only family Karou has ever known. The chimaera Brimstone runs a store that trades in teeth and wishes and Karou works for him, never knowing what the teeth are used for and how she came to grow up in this unusual shop. But Karou’s life gets turned upside-down soon after the appearance of Akiva, a seraph soldier with a dark past who may know more about Karou’s past than she does.

Why This Book Is Worth a Thousand Champ Cans:

Laini Taylor is one of the best darn YA writers out there today. I’d previously admired her prose in her short stories and as the first full length novel of hers I’ve read, this book did not disappoint me. She managed to take an overdone scenario (high school girl falls for a paranormal/otherworldly creature) and turn it into something completely unexpected and awesome. The last 150 pages of the book blew my mind with its vivid and unique the world building. This book really snuck up on me and I found myself thinking about it for days. -Megan no h

Title: Divergent (Divergent #1)
Author: Veronica Roth
Series: Divergent

The Deal:

If you thought the cliques at your high school were bad, just wait until you visit Beatrice Prior’s Chicago. In this totally effed up future version of the city, people are divided into five factions based upon their natural abilities. Although she’s grown up in the selfless faction of Abnegation, Beatrice’s aptitude test reveals a startling discovery– she’s Divergent, which means she’s equally fit for Abnegation and Dauntless, the brave warriors who run the military. On her sixteenth birthday, Beatrice shocks her family (and herself) by choosing Dauntless, and she’s immediately thrown into training that she may not survive. With the help of new friends and her smokin’ hot instructor, Four, Beatrice must find the strength inside of herself to meet the Dauntless challenge while uncovering a conspiracy that could destroy everything she loves.

Why This Book Is Worth a Thousand Champ Cans:

I know, I know. I thought I was sick of dystopia too. But then I picked up this book and met badass mothercussin’ Beatrice (Tris), and I was hooked. And THEN I met Four, one of the hottest characters to ever grace a YA page, and I fell in love. In this epic adventure of romance and revolution, Roth deftly creates complex characters you can root (and cry) for and engages them in a heart-pounding battle for truth and life. If this first book is any indication, this trilogy will kick the shizz out of The Hunger Games. Because there ain’t no way Tris will faint when the going gets tough, and she sure as hell isn’t having babies against her will. -Sarah

Title: Dreamland Social Club
Author: Tara Altebrando

The Deal:

Jane has just moved to Coney Island, the place of her deceased mother’s childhood, with her father and her brother Marcus. Jane and Marcus inherited their grandparents’ rundown house upon the occassion of their grandfather’s death, and their plan is to stay in Coney Island for a year, fix up the house, sell it, and get the hell out. “It’s only for a year,” Marcus and Jane’s father keeps reminding them.

But soon Jane falls in love with Coney Island — shut-down rides, rundown bars, chained-up carousel horses and the people who call it home — goth dwarf Babette, legless HT, the giant Legs, and a mysterious boy named Leo who happens to have a tattoo that Jane is certain she’s seen before.

In a year of exploring Coney’s past and fighting for its future, Jane discovers that not everything is easy and not everything is just. But with the help of a secret set of keys, she might just discover things she never knew about her mother and herself.

Why This Book Is Worth a Thousand Champ Cans:

A good book takes you to a place outside of yourself. A great book is so effortlessly magical and yet realistic that you feel as if you have always existed inside its pages and are merely greeting an old, close friend. Dreamland is such a book. At once both a tilt-a-whirl of lurid Coney Island history and an intimate portrait of a girl hoping to discover her dead mother’s secret life, this book will invite you in, let you put your feet up, and fix you your favorite drink before breaking – and restoring – your heart. -Erin

Cover Everybody Sees the Ants: A B&W close up of part of a boy's face with an ant reflected in his eye

Title: Everybody Sees The Ants
Author: A.S. King

The Deal:

Lucky Lindermann is anything but. In fact, he’s victim to some pretty horrifying bullying, and there’s no one who’ll help him. His dad’s too distant emotionally — plus, he’s always at work — and his mom never stands up for herself, much less Lucky, burying her head and swimming a few more laps.

But his dream life is a different story. Because every night, Lucky travels to the jungles of Vietnam, where his grandfather went MIA years and years ago. There, Lucky can actually fight back, and each morning when he wakes there’s something tangible that suggests his dreams are REAL. So Lucky is determined to bring his Granddad back home, somehow. Because maybe if his own father had his dad around, he’d learn how to be a dad himself. Maybe if Lucky could rescue his grandfather, he’d be able to rescue himself.

Why This Book Is Worth a Thousand Champ Cans:

In a year when bullying was brought to the forefront of everyone’s mind, this book arrived with its heartwarming/breaking tales and sage advice. I don’t think there’s a person on the planet who couldn’t identify with Lucky, and as he struggles and searches to find his own way in this world, he leaves behind universal truths like little lights along the path of life.

OR I could just say “Duh, this is A.S. King’s new book. GO OUT AND BUY IT ALREADY!!!” Why? Because in this, her third book, she strikes a tone yet again that is specifically her own. She also wins the honor of being one of only two YA authors my husband will read — no questions asked. Her writing is real and believable and often-times raw — in a way that makes the voice of her characters tangible — while always dipping a toe in the fantastical. She can tackle ISSUES that inspire the reader to be a better person, to not let old wounds or dysfunctional parents or mean people define us. And she does it in a way that is both heartfelt and humorous, woven so deeply into the story itself, that it never once feels sanctimonious and preachy. -Jenny

A black background with a drawn outline of a rocket

Title: Life: An Exploded Diagram
Author: Mal Peet

The Deal:

Clem Ackroyd, startled into life by a Nazi dogfight in the sky over his Norfolk village, grows up working-class and wholly unprepared to fall in love with Frankie Mortimer, the local gentry’s bewitching daughter. As the Cold War simmers around them, Clem and Frankie race to grow up before it’s too late, and his parents — who did the same during World War II — muddle through middle age.

Why This Book Is Worth a Thousand Champ Cans:

Mal Peet might be the best YA — or any level — writer we never hear about. And that’s a damn shame, y’all. He’s that gem of an author, one who just writes a gorgeous story with gorgeous words and doesn’t write for a particular audience. The book’s bitter and cynical, and also sentimental — but with a clear-eyed view of the madness of military might and our human inability to look beyond our little lives and the past five minutes and see trouble bubbling over. The characters are so strongly drawn, they flirt with becoming caricatures while staying wholly real. Coupled with the hopscotching narration, the result is a hot crazy mess of awesome. -Meghan

Title: Okay for Now
Author: Gary D. Schmidt

The Deal:

because his drunk wife-and-son-beater dad mouthed off to his boss at the paper mill and got fired, and the only job he could get was in a paper mill where his no-good drunk best friend Ernie Eco works. Anyway, life kind of sucks for Doug. His oldest brother’s off in Vietnam, his other brother is a hoodlum who stole his autographed Joe Pepitone baseball cap — given to him by Joe himself, and now he’s stuck in a crappy little town where there’s nothing to do but go to the library. AND there’s an obnoxious know-it-all girl who sucks because she’s pretty and funny, so she’s impossible to ignore, and of course the whole town judges Doug by his father and older brother’s antics.

But when Doug discovers John James Audubon’s birds in the library, his life starts to change, beginning with meeting Mr. Powell, the librarian who helps him learn to draw, and ending with just about everyone in the town — including Doug himself.

Why This Book Is Worth a Thousand Champ Cans:

If Doug doesn’t crack you up and make you cry and have you thinking seriously about adopting him, or at least becoming a Big Brother or Big Sister, you have a heart of stone. Every single character in the book is worth falling in love with, and by the end, you’ll be cursing science for not having invented a machine that transports you into books. -Meghan

A pixelated video game character getting a key to a gate with monsters coming towards them

Title: Ready Player One
Author: Ernest Cline
Series: Ready Player One

The Deal:

The future isn’t very bright for Wade Watts. It’s the year 2044 and the world is steadily circling down the toilet. A combination of global warming and our dependence on fossil fuels (which have more or less run out by this time) has led even the most wealthy countries to become overrun by poverty, famine and unemployment. Wade lives with his horrible aunt on the top of a “stack” — rows of mobile homes stacked one on top of each other that surround most major US cities. Wade’s only escape is to spend all of his time in OASIS, an online virtual platform that almost the entire world (those who can afford it, anyway) is connected to. When the reclusive billionaire creator of OASIS died, he pledged his entire fortune to the first person to discover an easter egg he left buried in the game. When Wade discovers the first key to the prize, he has no idea just how much this discovery will change his whole life.

Why This Book Is Worth a Thousand Champ Cans:

This book is a hot mess of crazy fun. What do I mean? Well, this book is an explosion of 80s nerd nostalgia and video game action. It will feed your inner geek like a complimentary Las Vegas buffet. But seriously, this book was one of the most fun I’ve read in a long time. I actually ignored people so I could keep reading this book, always excited to get to the next pop culture reference or have Wade find the next clue in the crazy contest he is trying to solve. It reads like a video game combined with a nerd reference text and while that won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, for others it will be a delight. -Megan no h

A black outline of a horse and its rider on a dark red background.

Title: The Scorpio Races
Author: Maggie Stiefvater

The Deal:

Every November, the people on the island of Thisby await the arrival of the Capall Uisce — the mysterious water horses that are as much a part of the island as the people themselves — as they prepare for the Scorpio Races.

Kate “Puck” Connolly has just found out that she and her brothers are about to lose everything: their house, her beloved horse Dove, and each other. The only solution she can see is to enter the races.

Sean Kendrick has won the Scorpio Races 4 times, on the water horse Corr, who he sometimes thinks he understands better than most people. All he really wants is to buy Corr from his boss and go back to his father’s farm, but up until this year, Mr. Malvern has refused to sell Corr to Sean.

As Kate, Sean and the other jockeys make preparations for race day, they face down danger every day — not just from the island horses, but from some of the people of Thisby, as well.

Why This Book Is Worth a Thousand Champ Cans:

This might be the most original fantasy I read all year. It’s definitely my favorite of Stiefvater’s works, and will appeal to both horse lovers and action/suspense junkies. The language of Thisby of so stark, the characters so vivid, you can almost smell the sea and feel the sand in your shorts. Stiefvater kept me on the edge of my seat — constantly waiting for the worst to happen — as the book pounded toward its conclusion, only letting me rest when I had closed its final pages. -Jenny

A white girl with long, dark brown hair looks longingly past the camera

Title: Where She Went (If I Stay #2)
Author: Gayle Forman
Series: If I Stay

The Deal:

Over three years have passed since the car accident that killed Mia’s family and left her in a coma, forced to choose between life and death. Her boyfriend, Adam, basically devoted his life to her recovery, but when Mia left for Julliard and never contacted him again, his heart shattered beyond repair. Of course, we all know that depression makes for great music, and Adam’s band (name omitted due to its highly embarrassing nature) is now insanely famous. In spite of his rock star riches, Adam’s life is empty without Mia, and when he runs into her one night in New York City, they set out to find the hidden gems of the city… and maybe, just maybe, their love for each other.

Why This Book Is Worth a Thousand Champ Cans:

You might be thinking, “But Sarah, this book already made your 2011 Top Swoonworthy List!” To which I would respond, “EXACTLY. Also, it’s nice to see that you’ve memorized our swoon list so quickly. EXCELLENT WORK, YANGELIST.” Seriously, though, this book could have made it into my top two faves by hotness alone, but Gayle Forman had to go and be an overachiever with her gorgeous, insanely compelling writing and her expertise on New York City eccentricities. I read this book in one sitting, because there was nothing, NOTHING more important to me than finding out what happened between Adam and Mia. Like, I didn’t even get up to make a cocktail. THAT is how much I loved this book, you guys. LIKE WHOAH. -Sarah

Title: Winter Town
Author: Stephen Emond

The Deal:

Evan, an Ivy League-bound senior with secret RISD aspirations, looks forward to his childhood best friend Lucy’s annual visit every winter. Once the very best of friends, Lucy and Evan’s relationship shifted after Lucy moved south with her mother. But now, once a year, Lucy makes her way back home to spend Christmas with her sad, schlubby father and to recapture her friendship with Evan.

But this year . . . this year Lucy is different. No longer bright and witty, Lucy is withdrawn, sarcastic, bitter. Half of the time she shows no interest in her and Evan’s many winter rituals; the other half of the time she is demanding that they recreate times from the past.

Can Evan break past Lucy’s new hard exterior and find the warm, gooey childlike Lucy center that he knows is still there? Can Lucy learn to reconcile her past self with her present self and reach for what she wants? Can Lucy and Evan’s dads invite me over to their houses for Christmas?

Why This Book Is Worth a Thousand Champ Cans:

What can I say? Winter Town had everything I require in a great book: relatable characters in an everyday setting with just enough of an ethereal quality to make me feel as if I, too, am young with all the world before me. -Erin

So, what were your favorite YA books of 2011? Any books we reviewed that you think should have been included on our list? Any you think should be banished from our list? And what books did we miss reviewing in 2011 that we should play catch up for on 2012?


Megan is an unabashed fangirl who is often in a state of panic about her inability to watch, read and play all the things.