Graphic Middle Grade
Joey Fly: Private Eye by Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Neil Numberman (Henry Holt, 2009). Read a Cynsations interview with Aaron and Neil. Peek: "I love bugs and I love mysteries, so this seemed to be a great smash-up of those two ideas."
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin (Little, Brown, 2009). Read a Cynsations interview with Grace. Peek: "It is an Asian-themed folktale-inspired fantasy where a brave young girl named Minli journeys to change her family's fortune, traveling farther than she ever imagined."
YA Realistic Fiction
The Morgue and Me by John C. Ford (Viking, 2009). Read a Cynsations interview with John. Peek: "Nobody would (or should) care about the 'Double Indemnity' allusion, but it got me thinking. In 'Double Indemnity,' the main character is a jaded insurance salesman. Certainly, an 18-year-old's frame of mind would be much different than his, but how?"
Ash by Malinda Lo (Little, Brown, 2009). Read a Cynsations interview with Malinda. Peek: "When I began work on my second draft, I thought long and hard about whether I wanted to turn the story in that direction. Did I truly want to write a 'lesbian Cinderella'?"
Candor by Pam Bachorz (Egmont, 2009). Read a Cynsations interview with Pam. Peek: "Even with all my preparation, I still ask myself at the start of each chapter: 'What really should be happening next? Does my story wire leave anything out? Can I skip ahead to something more interesting?'"
Evil? by Timothy Carter (Flux, 2009). Publishers Weekly said, "A book that doesn't take itself too seriously, but will leave readers with plenty to consider, as it addresses themes of morality, sexuality and faith."
Shadowed Summer by Saundra Mitchell (Delacorte, 2009). Read a Cynsations interview with Saundra. Peek: "So Iris settled down with me to think about that--to roll that idea over with me: we don't know what other people contain. And that means no one else will ever know what we contain, either."
Silver Phoenix: Beyond the Kingdom of Xia by Cindy Pon (Greenwillow, 2009). Read a Cynsations interview with Cindy. Peek: "I remember my first grade teacher writing my name on the board because I didn't know the alphabet, much less how to spell."
Soul Enchilada by David Macinnis Gill (Greenwillow, 2009). Read a Cynsations interview with David. Peek: "The challenge came from the setting, El Paso. I have never been to West Texas, so I needed a ton of information on places, names, locales, smells, sounds, and attitudes."
Watersmeet by Ellen Jensen Abbott (Marshall Cavendish, 2009). Read a Cynsations interview with Ellen. Peek: "In world building, you have to follow your decisions to their natural conclusions. If one of my dwarves lives primarily underground, how can she farm? If centaurs can speak with hoofed animals (as my centaurs can), would they eat them? How much faster would a faun move across given terrain than a human?"
Don't miss companion books/sequels to earlier YA fantasy favorites: Ballad by Maggie Stiefvater (Flux, 2009); Black is for Beginnings by Laurie Faria Stolarz (Flux, 2009)(graphic format); Darklight by Lesley Livingston (HarperCollins, 2009); Dead Girl in Love by Linda Joy Singleton (Flux, 2009); and Fade by Lisa McMann (Simon Pulse, 2009).
Quick caveats: (a) I haven't read every 2009 book published, though I did read 300+ (down from last year; note that picture books are very short); (b) to varying degrees, I know or have met some (but not most) of the creators above--if I cut everyone I knew, potential picks would be significantly reduced in number; (c) I will continue to read and feature 2009 titles in 2010 and beyond; (d) these are highlights, not predictions, not an all-inclusive list of my favorites.
Beyond that, I made an effort to sidestep bestsellers as well as previous ALA and NBA honorees, though one or two may have sneaked in. I decided not to list books by my advisees or that I read in manuscript or contributed to myself. Or put another way, yes, I loved VCFA graduate Julie Berry's The Amaranth Enchantment (Bloomsbury, 2009) and Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci's Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd (Little, Brown, 2009), but they don't need the help and/or I'm a bit too close to them for our purposes here.
Likewise, I'd like to cheer my Candlewick editor, Deborah Noyes (Wayshak) on the release of Sideshow: Ten Original Tales of Freaks, Illusionists, and Other Matters Odd and Magical (Candlewick, 2009). Note: in addition to my short stories in Geektastic and Sideshow, I also published a YA Gothic fantasy novel, Eternal (Candlewick, 2009).
A few quick observations... It's arguably the year of the debut author, I have an ongoing commitment to supporting new voices, and the combination of those forces definitely shows here. In terms of titles by and about diverse folks, the big news is a tentative foothold in YA fantasy, including high fantasy, and people of all backgrounds writing cross-culturally.