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I pair today’s two 2013 faves for one big reason – they both definitely have the power to pull you out of any book hangover…or to plunge you into one.

Both of these books also have the distinction of being the two I recommended the most frequently in the past year, in large part because I think both of them fill major holes in existing literature. At a time when New Adult is still struggling to find its footing and frequently reusing the same tropes and a near-uniformly commercial style of writing, UNTEACHABLE is the book I recommend to people begging for something different, for something more, from the fledgling category.

And DANGEROUS GIRLS? That’s what I rec to people who want a dark, thrilling mindscrew of a book they won’t be able to put down. Pulls people out of The Dreaded Slump every. Damn. Time.

So, last but absolutely not least – my final two faves of 2013:

UNTEACHABLE by Leah Raeder

I met him at a carnival, of all corny places. The summer I turned eighteen, in that chaos of neon lights and cheap thrills, I met a man so sweet, so beautiful, he seemed to come from another world. We had one night: intense, scary, real. Then I ran, like I always do. Because I didn’t want to be abandoned again.

But I couldn’t run far enough.

I knew him as Evan that night. When I walked into his classroom, he became Mr. Wilke.

My teacher.

I don’t know if what we’re doing is wrong. The rules say one thing; my heart says screw the rules. I can’t let him lose his job. And I can’t lose him.

In the movies, this would have a happy ending. I grow up. I love, I lose, I learn. And I move on. But this is life, and there’s no script. You make it up as you go along.

And you don’t pray for a happy ending. You pray for it to never end.

*Available via Barnes & Noble and Amazon*

I’ve kinda gushed over this one to death, and if you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you’ve already bought this on my recommendation. If you haven’t, and you like gorgeously written books with taboo storylines and a whole lot of heat, buy this one yesterday. (Contains graphic sexual content and strong language. Is way, way better for doing so.)

And since no matter how much I bug her, she always has more insightful wisdom to share, here’s Leah Raeder:

What scene from UNTEACHABLE would/do you read at signings, and why?

I don’t think I could actually do a reading in public. I’m way too antisocial and weird. Most of my friends have never even seen my face. (You don’t count, Dahlia. We are obviously soulmates.)

But if you held a gun to my head, first I would try to reason with you that violence is not the answer, and then I would read one of the parts that doesn’t have sex in it. Which, uh, narrows it down to about two: the beginning or the ending. So probably the beginning. Up until peen happens.

I want to enjoy UNTEACHABLE as part of a full sensory experience – where am I reading it, and what am I eating/smelling/listening to?

You’re on the still-warm hood of a 1980s Chevy Monte Carlo, in the tall grass outside a carnival, on a hot summer night. Before you the rides paint streaks of neon light across the sky. You’re eating buttered popcorn and drinking an ice-cold PBR. You can smell deep-fried everything wafting from the fairgrounds. “Girls Like You” by The Naked and Famous streams from the car radio, wistful and bittersweet. A girl of a certain age, wearing way-too-short-where-is-her-mother cutoffs, walks past you, winks, and walks on.

My book dream is to spot a stranger reading it on the subway – what’s yours?

Film adaptation, of course.

What’s the best/coolest thing anyone’s said about your book?

Oh god, so many things. I’ve read nearly every review of Unteachable (I know, I know–I can’t help it, curiosity is my undoing), and received so many kind messages, and made so many new friends. The response is completely overwhelming. You guys who were touched by my book–you know you made me feel the same, right? I am full of gross amounts of love for you all.

But there’s one that stands out sharply because it changed how I saw everything. It’s a brief review on Goodreads by a woman named Ivy. At the end of her review, she alludes to both the beginning/ending of the book and says, “Thank you, Leah, for sitting up front by yourself.”

When I read that, I sat down on my bedroom floor and cried my eyes out.

It came during August when the book was going viral and the success seemed utterly surreal to me. I’d been struggling to get published for years, and finally decided to give it one last shot and self-publish. I thought my writing dream was over. At best I thought I’d sell a couple hundred copies, accept that writing wouldn’t be a career for me (assuming there *is* a way to accept that your lifelong dream is an impossibility), and try to move on. Ivy had no idea what flipping my metaphor around did. I hadn’t realized until then how much of my own struggle I’d put into Maise trying to achieve *her* dream. It’s probably unforgivably lame to be so affected by your own corny metaphor, but yeah, it hit me hard and I bawled like a baby–for both me and Maise, going through all of that bullshit just to carve out a tiny slice of happiness in our lives.

From where would you most ideally want people to purchase your book?

Amazon Kindle. Like it or not, for an indie author, Kindle makes or breaks you. It is the single most important distribution channel indies have right now. Yeah, the whole One Publisher To Rule Them All thing bothers me, but my perspective is tempered by the fact that I slipped through the cracks of traditional publishing, and I wouldn’t have a career right now without Amazon. But indies are also at Amazon’s mercy, and evil overlords don’t tend to have much of that.

So we’re kinda stuck between a rock and a hard place here. Ultimately, though, it’s reader demand that will shape the marketplace. If Amazon starts getting squirrely and selectively removing books, readers will purchase those books elsewhere. In that way, it’s kind of awesome that authors and readers have the power to say “screw you guys” and take our work and business wherever we want. Self-publishing is far from perfect, but it’s giving a lot of the power back to the people who *should* have it: those who create and consume books.

*******

DANGEROUS GIRLS by Abigail Haas

It’s Spring Break of senior year. Anna, her boyfriend Tate, her best friend Elise, and a few other close friends are off to a debaucherous trip to Aruba that promises to be the time of their lives.

But when Elise is found brutally murdered, Anna finds herself trapped in a country not her own, fighting against vile and contemptuous accusations. As Anna sets out to find her friend’s killer, she discovers harsh revelations about her friendships, the slippery nature of truth, and the ache of young love.

Awaiting the judge’s decree, it becomes clear to Anna that everyone around her thinks she is not only guilty, but also dangerous. And when the whole story comes out, reality is more shocking than anyone ever imagined…

*Available via IndieBound, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon*

This is one of those books you don’t want to say too much about for fear of spoiling the reader; the best I can do is reiterate the fact that it’s fast, fun, twisty, and shocking in the best way. If you’re in a book slump, this is the perfect book to pull you out of it. And if you’ve been looking for “The GONE GIRL of YA,” I think this fits the bill quite beautifully. (I liked it better. Shh, don’t tell.)

And now, Abigail Haas, aka, Abby McDonald:

What scene from DANGEROUS GIRLS would/do you read at signings, and why?

I love the courtroom scene with the Halloween photos. A) It’s early enough in the book that there aren’t too many spoilers, but also B) I think it cuts to the central dynamic of the book, about perception vs reality, and how any moment can be reframed to suit a different narrative. I love the complexities of storytelling, and Anna talks about how the trial is a show — each side presenting their narrative to the judge to decide, and writing the book was a lot like that too: I’m constructing a narrative in a certain way, even as Anna and the prosecutors and the other characters are all spinning their stories about the same events.

I want to enjoy DANGEROUS GIRLS as part of a full sensory experience – where am I reading it, and what am I eating/smelling/listening to?

Oh, my, OK… the absolute ideal is in a really seedy trashy beach resort: the kind that’s all hot sun and lurid cocktails and loud, thumping Eurotrash dance music, sensory overload. Otherwise, just read it somewhere people won’t mind you yelling in frustration at the characters :)

My book dream is to spot a stranger reading it on the subway – what’s yours?

That would be awesome! I’d love to see one of my books as a movie. We’re figuring some stuff out about Dangerous Girls, but it’s definitely a possibility!

What’s the best/coolest thing anyone’s said about your book?

I know I shouldn’t, but I do stop by goodreads and read a lot of the blog reviews too. I’ve been so thrilled to see all the reactions to DG, I have to say, I love it when people are like, ‘OMG WTF THIS ENDING?!?!?!?’ That makes me very happy :)  Also, ‘I hated all the characters and I couldn’t stop reading, I loved it!” is another common review! Which is also awesome.

From where would you most ideally want people to purchase your book?

Anywhere, as long as it’s a legal purchase!

Are either of these books on your top 10 of 2013? If you haven’t read them yet, have they made it to your TBR? Tell us in the comments!

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