Book evangelist (updated)

Diana Peterfreund has just written a smart piece about authors reviewing. In it she quotes me claiming to be a “book evangelist”. I’ve decided to own it big time over here.

My name is Justine Larbalestier and I’m a book evangelist.

I call myself that because it’s a more accurate term than “critic” or “reviewer”. I rarely go into detail about books I love. I don’t analyse, or critique, I don’t even give plot summaries, I just say, “I love this book! Read it!” If I hate a book I rant about it with friends, I don’t write about it here.


Lots of reasons. Firstly, writing a serious critical analysis of a book is very hard work. I don’t have the time or the inclination to work that hard on anything but my fiction.

Ranting about books I hate can be a lot of fun, but I don’t want to hurt the feelings of people I’m very likely to run into in social settings. Hell, I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. I know how much work goes into a novel. Even ones I think are terrible. It’s horrible to have your weeks, months, or years of hard work dismissed by some jerk who read it while they had digestive issues from too much vindaloo the night before.

I have disliked many books because I was in a bad mood about something else when I read them (such as digestive issues from vindaloo). On the few occasions I’ve given them another go, I’ve discover that truly it wasn’t them, it was me. I’d rather not have this blog drowning under the weight of all my retractions.

Some hideously bad books are loved by readers and change their lives in positive ways. Some of the Young Adult books I’ve hated most in the last ten years have had a huge effect on many young readers. Not the least of which is turning them into passionate readers, who in some cases have gone on to discover my books. It would be churlish to publicly eviscerate books like that.

When I hate a book I kind of don’t care whether other people read it or not,1 but when I love a book I want everyone in the whole world to go out and read it and discover its amazingness.

On that note here are the YA books I’ve read and loved recently that I don’t think are getting enough attention, or selling as well as they should. You all must must must read them:

  • Coe Booth Tyrell (I know it’s up for the LA Times book prize but I keep meeting people who haven’t read it and that is just wrong.)
  • Audrey Couloumbis’ The Misadventures of Maude March
  • Kenjiro Haitani’s A Rabbit’s Eyes
  • Simmone Howell’s Notes from the Teenage Underground
  • Maureen Johnson’s Devilish
  • Elizabeth Knox’s Dreamhunter (And it’s sequel, Dreamquake is now out so you don’t have to suffer from massive cliffhangeritis.)
  • Margo Lanagan White Time
  • E. Lockhart’s Dramarama (As it hasn’t officially pub’d yet it’s a bit premature to say it’s flying under the radar. Whatever. I love it.)
  • Jaclyn Moriarty’s Becoming Bindy Mackenzie (US title is The Murder of Bindy Mackenzie.)

Updated to add

  • Megan Whalen Turner’s Attolia trilogy of The Thief, Queen of Attolia and King of Attolia. Can’t believe I forgot it!

Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments. Only relatively obscure books, please. No New York Times or any other kinds of bestsellers.

  1. Though it is fun to have a good old bitch session about a mutually hated book. []


  1. jennifer, aka literaticat on #

    i’m an evangelist for books i love. i’m def. not a “reviewer”!

    i do read lots of book reviews. they certainly have their place — and they help me do my job, as a buyer, since i can’t read everything! — but but i think, humbly, that in my capacity as an evangelist, i do a hell of a lot more for the books i love than most reviewers do.

    like, you know, actually sell the book to lots of people. that sort of thing.

  2. Chris McLaren on #

    I’ve read several of those, but I’m surprised you didn’t put Megan Turner Whelan on the list—I think the reason I have those books in my to-read-in-hotel pile is because of you.

  3. holly on #

    I’ll put them in for Justine! Megan Whalen Turner’s Attolia series, Kris Reisz’s Tripping to Somewhere, Ceo Booth’s Tyrell (although being a finalist for the LA Times YA Book Award is pretty good in terms of attention).

    Dramarama is going to get lots of attention too, I’m sure, but I just finished it and love it! So yes, Dramarama.

  4. Rebecca on #

    yeah, i fall under the book evangelist thing too. i tried to write a review once, and it didn’t really work. 😛

    actually, i was quite surprised to discover copies of dramarama at a bookstore in san antonio nearly two weeks ago. so if ya’lls who are interested check your bookstores, you might be able to get it already.

    today i read girl at sea by maureen johnson and i read it all in one sitting, which is rare for me. i usually take a few days to go through a book, but not this one. it was amazing!! really really amazing. so much stuff kept happening, and i was making weird screeching noises whenever something exciting went on and yelling at characters or cheering them on. it was bloody awesome.

    more books that i can think of at the moment: runaway, wendelin van draanan; companions of the night, vivian vande velde; story of a girl, sara zarr; golden, jennifer lynn barnes. i don’t think any of them are bestsellers or anything (yet).

  5. marrije on #

    dreamhunter and dreamquake seconded! thanks for recommending those, justine, they are excellent and very much out-of-the-ordinary and i don’t think i would have ever heard of them if it wasn’t for you.

    though I haven’t quite finished dreamquake yet because of pesky work which keeps intervening, and now i’m debating whether to take a hardcover book with me on vacation when I have only about an hour’s reading left…

  6. Malcolm on #

    Not exactly a recent release (first published in 1978!), but certainly an entry in the slightly obscure category: If you every stumble across “Rite of Passage” by Alexi Panshin, it’s worth picking up and reading. I first read it when I was a teenager and still have my original copy that I reread every couple of years. Some interesting thoughts about what a “career” might mean in the future.

    It’s still available for purchase and Google shows up a lot of hits. Libraries in various places I’ve lived have mostly seemed to have copies, too. It might have been marketed as Science Fiction originally, although it’s a YA/SF cross, I guess.

  7. Elmo on #

    If you want a blackly comic read, I suggest “the messenger”, “fighting Ruben wolfe”, “Underdog” and “the book thief” by markus zusack.
    *warning* “the book thief” is a sad book, but don’t let the sadness distract you from the actuall meaning of the story!
    Also, “the white mare” and “the dawn stag” are two books in a soon-to-be trilogy that I’ve read and they are scream-and-squeal-and-cry at/for the characters book. very, very good.

  8. Elmo on #

    The last two books are by Jules Watson…oops…

  9. Harriet on #

    I agree Bindy MacKenzie was great, though I’m actually much more of an evangelist for Jaclyn Moriarty’s first book – Feeling Sorry for Celia. If you haven’t read it, you should. Now. It’s laugh-aloud funny (except for one really, really sad bit in the middle that I always skip).

    And what about Melina Marchetta’s On the Jellicoe Road? I don’t know how well it’s selling, but I thought it was wonderful (hoping it isn’t the unnamed book you really hated!) Possibly better than Saving Francesca, and way, way better than Alibrandi. And unlike the other two, it has a male romantic lead who I actually like. Parts of the beginnig are a bit unconvincing, but before long, I didn’t actually care.

    It’s hardly new, but a YA author I’ve just discovered is Sonya Sones. I read Stop pretending: what happened when my big sister went crazy. Wow. Now I have to read everything else she wrote. Why didn’t someone tell me about her years ago?

  10. calliope on #

    scott westerfield’s uglies trilogy, the truth about forever by sarah dessen (i was literally screaming at the protag), nick and norah’s infinite playlist by david levithan & rachel cohen, the key to the golden firebird by maureen johnson, peaches (i forget who its by), & lots of other stuff.

    i just discovered ya fiction a couple months ago, and everything i’ve read is sooooo amazing. thank you all ya writers ever!

    oh yeah, all of the john green’s books (looking for alaska & an abundance of katherines), and the boy book by e. lockheart. omg, and speak (pretty famous, forget who it’s by).

    oh yes, and hard love (again, loved it but don’t remember who it’s by). god, i’m on a roll.

    thank you, everyone who has suggested any books to me.

  11. calliope on #

    oh crap, i just read it again, only hard love is the only obscure book. im soooooooo sorry!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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