I am starting off The Fantastic YA Book Review with a top ten list because 1. I like lists. They’re very handy. And, 2. my best-ever list will let you know where I am coming from when you read my other reviews.
So without further ado, here are my Top Ten:
#1. The Earthsea Cycle, Ursula LeGuin
One of my favorite writers, LeGuin crafts an ingenious tale of a master-wizard who is pursued by the terrible mistake he made as a young man when he unleashed an evil shadow on the world.
#2. The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien
The granddaddy of YA fantasy. Hobbits, wizards, orcs, elves, an evil ring, an impossible quest… Tolkien has it all. I’m not crazy about his convoluted writing style (thus, the #2 ranking), but omitting LOTR would be like leaving Shakespeare off a list of top playwrights.
#3. His Dark Materials trilogy, Philip Pullman
Parallel universes collide when a young girl attempts to rescue her abducted friend and uncovers a secret war over the nature of existence. Pullman’s multiple worlds feature polar bear kings, warring angels, miniature assassins, and a host of other unique beings. All that, and he takes on the existence of God. Yep, in a “children’s” book.
#4. The Dragonriders of Pern series, Anne McCaffrey
If you love dragon stories, this is one of the best series around. It started in the late 60’s, and McCaffrey’s son Todd has kept the series going. I recommend starting at the beginning and following Lessa as she rises from a lowly servant to become the rider of a queen dragon.
#5. The Princess Bride, William Goldman
This made a fabulous movie, but the book is even better. The narrator constantly comments on the tale of Buttercup and her unconventional rescue by Wesley. It laughs at the traditional fairy tale, but gently, while still retaining all the charm of “Once upon a time.”
#6. Enchantment, Orson Scott Card
When Ivan finds a girl asleep in a forest, naturally, he tries to wake her up. But when he does, he opens a door into a fairy tale world, not only allowing him to pursue his princess but also letting evil pass from one world to the other. Card’s tale draws from the Russian version of Sleeping Beauty, but this is no Disney-fied birds and butterflies tale. Card includes a lot of the darkness of the original tale.
#7. Apprentice Adept series, Piers Anthony
Blending sci-fi and fantasy, Anthony develops a great hero named Stile who passes between a world based on magic and another based on science. Anthony is a plot-master. He puts Stile through so many varied magic trials and games, he will keep you reading for months.
#8. Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling
The plot is actual simple and common: neglected boy discovers he’s the “chosen one” to defeat the most evil wizard of all time. Still there’s a good reason this series riveted a generation. Rowling’s world is well-imagined, and she lets Harry grow through the series, approaching some interesting themes near the end.
#9. The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis
Four kids stumble into the magical, frozen world of Narnia, which they struggle to free from the evil rule of the white witch. I put The Chronicles on my list reluctantly because their heavy-handed Christian symbolism bugs me. But the stories can be a lot of fun if you ignore it… or if you don’t, it’s interesting to compare them to Pullman’s books (see #3).
#10. The Classic Fairy Tales, Maria Tartar (ed.)
My list didn’t feel complete without acknowledging the source of it all: Fairy Tales. Many of us first found our love of reading through these stories. This particular collection compares the fairy tales told in different cultures, offering new insights and intrigues.
So this where I’m coming from…
I tend to value books that are not only fun to read but contain a depth that moves beyond just entertainment.
I may come back to this list from time to time. I haven’t included more modern books that I loved because I need some time and perspective to make sure they’re at the “best ever” level.
What’s on your “best ever” list?