After reading an article published by Publishers Weekly titled Children’s Publishers Choose Their 2013 Favorites, I decided I wanted to mimic the article with a few of my literary agent friends. Use this blog post to get to know these agents and their tastes in literature better.
Run out and buy these books immediately! The new year calls for new reading material. What better way to find a great book than picking one already vetted by a publishing pro?
Susan Hawk, The Bent Agency
Eleanor & Park is the kind of book that I hated to put down. And then, once going about the rest of my day, I’d have a ticking feeling of unease – have I forgotten to do something? I’d run through a mental list – oven off, yes; did I miss school pick up, no – and realize that it was just my brain, pestering me to return to the book. So much did I love it that I unconsciously set an internal alarm clock, to remind me to get back to reading! My favorite chapters were with Eleanor and Park on the bus. I loved that gradual coming together and the way that Rainbow Rowell makes a series of small moments feel so full of tension and meaning. Bonus? I went to high school in the 80s, so this felt a bit like a snapshot of my own teenage years.
Find Susan on Twitter: @susanhawk
Rena Rossner, The Deborah Harris Agency
On the adult side of things: Helene Wecker’s The Golem and the Djinni has everything I look for in a novel: literary writing, a touch of magic and myth, fantastical creatures, and both Jewish and Middle Eastern themes. I loved the desert sands of the Syrian Djinni’s homeland and the warmth of the Syrian community he finds in NYC, contrasted with the cold and dark Eastern European origins of the Golem, (and a female Golem at that – I love traditional myths turned on their heads!) also the immigrant/tenement feel yet the warmth of the bakery she works at. Coupled with the Golem and the Djinni’s unlikely friendship, this is the type of novel I would give anything to represent.
In terms of Kids/YA books, I want to recommend a book I fell head-over heels in love with, Red Rising by Pierce Brown, but I read it in galley form and it’s not technically out until 2014, but it’s a stunning debut. (What I loved about it was the incredibly literary writing and the completely unique take it has on settling the planet Mars.) So I will have to say Starglass by Phoebe North, for similar reasons, beautiful literary writing and unusual world-building, coupled with Jewish themes, it’s also science fiction, part-mystery, LGBQT, and a coming-of-age story.
Find Rena on Twitter: @renarossner
Kristin Miller Vincent, D4EO Literary Agency
Give me a book that emotionally punches me in the gut and I’m all yours. Stephanie Kuehn’s Charm & Strange was just that book in 2013. It’s a beautifully written and psychologically gripping tale masterfully told in the present and the past. At a party at his remote Vermont boarding school, Win is coming to terms with who and what he is, and the tragic events in his family that have scarred his emotions. He will struggle with the violent monster inside his mind as his friends fight to help him cling to his humanity. Kuehn’s Morris nomination for Charm & Strange is well-deserved.
Find Kristin on Twitter: @agentkristin
Connor Goldsmith, Lowenstein Associates
The book with the biggest wow factor for me this year was Ann Leckie’s sci-fi debut Ancillary Justice, which I had to put down and pick up again a few times because it really blew my mind. While weaving the story of Breq, a complex artificial intelligence betrayed and struck low, Leckie first underlines and then shatters the way our culture genders literature. One brilliantly simple quirk of linguistics calls into question the reader’s entire thought process; it’s a challenging and liberating experience, and like nothing I’ve ever read before. My other favorite of the year was The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes, which is exactly the kind of SF/F crossover I’d like to see in more thrillers. Beukes’s book is brutal, beautiful, and one of a kind. I was delighted by the way she shook up the traditional serial killer thriller format — not only with her inspired time travel premise, but also by placing the emphasis on the victims and their tragedies, rather than dwelling on and romanticizing the murderer.
Find Connor on Twitter: @dreamoforgonon
Linda Epstein, The Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency
I kind of hate reading things when people tell my “Erma-gawd! You have to read this!” because I feel like 9 times out of 10 it turns out it’s not my thing. That being said, this year I finally read Sherman Alexie’s The Absolute True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which came out in 2007. I wish I’d listened to all those people who told me I had to read it. The voice is incredible and the story amazing. Of course I promptly pushed it on one of my fellow agents (hi Brooks!) who hadn’t read it yet either. So when word on the street was that “You have to read R.J. Palacio’s Wonder! You just have to!” I pretty much decided that I wouldn’t. Until I bought it and devoured it. Just like the Alexie book, the voice in Wonder just gutted me. I cried (I cried!) at the strangest parts in Wonder. Both of these everyman stories are just brilliant.
Find Linda on Twitter: @lindaepstein
Kathleen Rushall, Marsal Lyon Literary Agency
The deliciously creepy cover of In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters put this book on my radar long before I was able to read it. I purchased this book at Powell’s in Portland and read the whole thing on my flight back to San Diego—an uncanny coincidence since the book takes place in those two cities in 1918. There is much to savor here: Winters combines elements of a psychological thriller, romance, and mystery set amidst WW1, the Spanish influenza, and the rise of spiritualism. Winters has crafted a page-turner based on the delicate balance between the occult frauds who used chaos to their advantage and the possibility that there really is something (or someone) lurking in the shadows.
The voice in Sex & Violence by Carrie Mesrobian blew me away. This is no small feat considering it’s an incredibly authentic male POV written be a female author. Mesrobian nailed it. Sex & Violence is powerful. It pushes the boundaries of YA, which I admire. Mesrobian tackles tough subjects and unapologetically narrates them from the perspective of a flawed and unbelievably real character that I grew to love and won’t soon forget.
Find Kathleen on Twitter: @katrushall
Mandy Hubbard, D4EO Literary Agency
I had the chance, in July 2011 to read an early draft of Fault Line by Christa Desir. It actually came to me by way of referral from someone who knew my tastes, and knew it would be up my alley. I ended up reading the first several chapters that same day and sending Christa some notes. I closed my email with, “I see great potential, and I wish you luck!”
I saw the book in publishers marketplace about 8 months later, and begged for an ARC when they were available. I read the final draft this year, and was blown away. Christa dug in and overhauled the book since I’d read it, and in its final incarnation, it’s amazing and dark and deep and it really, really makes you think. I absolutely adore dark issue novels that don’t present things clearly cut or tie a neat bow on it. Fault Line is ugly and real and raw. In the day and age of social media bullying and rape culture, this book should be required reading. I would love to see something like it in my slush pile, although perhaps on a different “issue.”