Sherman's Books in Portland, I picked up a book that I hadn't planned to read. I'm not usually a fan of holiday stories, but I can't resist Rainbow Rowell, whose New Year's Eve story opens this all star young adult anthology. After Rowell, came more favorite YA authors: Stephanie Perkins, Holly Black, Gayle Forman and David Levithan. The others were ones I'd wanted to sample. My True Love Gave to Me would make a good Christmas gift for your teenaged daughter/niece/granddaughter as long as you are comfortable with the mature content. The gorgeous cover showcases the diverse characters.
In any compilation there will be gems and stones, but My True Love Gave to Me sparkled. My blended family celebrates both Christmas and Hanukkah so I was pleased to find both holidays represented, although most had a Christmas theme. The stories were more festive than religious in tone, and all were united under the theme of holiday romance. Some were realistic fiction and others were surreal fantasies. I was thrilled to find a diverse set of characters who defied stereotypes.
Rainbow Rowell follows two teens over four New Year's Eves. I loved how it captured that uncomfortable transition from high school to college and the challenge of reconnecting with old friends. It was funny, sweet and romantic, reminding me of When Harry Met Sally.
"The Lady and the Fox" by Kelly Link was a Christmas ghost story set in England. The writing was lovely, but the story didn't make sense to me. There were too many unanswered questions.
At first I was put off by the swearing in "Angels in the Snow" by Matt de la Peña, but it ended up being my favorite story in the collection. An Hispanic freshman at NYU takes a cat sitting job because he can't afford the plane ticket home to California for Christmas. Upstairs is a wealthy Columbia freshman who waited too late to buy a ticket home. Outside snow falls.
"Polaris Is Where You'll Find Me" by Jenny Han features a Korean teenager who was adopted by Santa. The girl has a crush on one of Santa's elves. It was the most innocent story in the collection, which leaned toward edgy upper YA. This tale would be best for tweens.
Stephanie Perkins edited the collection and her story "It's A Yuletide Miracle, Charlie Brown" was one of my favorites, despite the cheesy title. A Chinese-American film animator falls for the deep voice of the farm boy selling Christmas trees. Both have graduated from high school but are working instead of attending college. I wish this story were the first chapter in a novel: hint, hint!
David Levithan captures the absurdity of the holidays in "Your Temporary Santa." A Jewish boy dresses up as Santa as a favor for his boyfriend. If you love David Sedaris as much as I do, you will enjoy David Levithan's writing too. It's funny and irreverent, but it has heart.
In "Krampuslauf" by Holly Black a low-income girl throws a New Year's Eve party in her grandmother's trailer. She invites the private school boy who is cheating on her best friend. Mythical guests and drunken debauchery make for a lively party.
"What the Hell have You Done, Sophie Roth" by Gayle Forman is a Hanukkah story which reverses stereotypes: the Jewish girl is on scholarship and the African American boy is wealthy. It's a good story for Jews who feel left out at Christmas or anyone struggling to fit in at college.
"Beer Buckets and Baby Jesus" by Myra McEntire was the only story I quit reading after a few pages. You might guess why from the title. I cannot judge what I haven't finished so I will leave it at that.
"Welcome to Christmas, CA" by Kiersten White was a sweet love story between a low income Mexican American girl and a short order chef with a tough history. This one captured the generous, loving spirit of Christmas best of all. I loved how food worked on the emotions.
"Star of Bethlehem" by Ally Carter read like a page out of People Magazine. The larger than life romance would appeal to teens but felt more unrealistic than the fantasies in the collection. Still, it was fun.
"The Girl Who Woke the Dreamer" is a gorgeous, lyrical fairy tale. I loved the original voice, the lush imagery and the feminist message. Now I understand why everyone is talking about Laini Taylor. I don't usually read fantasy, but I might make an exception for her.
Love Actually. Some stories were innocent enough for younger teens and tweens, but others contained teen drinking, swearing and mild sexual innuendos. Several stories felt more new adult than young adult and would cross over well to an adult audience. My 17-year-old daughter will be reading this collection over vacation, while we celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas.
If you're looking for more gift suggestion, my best books of 2014 will be posted later this week. I hope. I'm still reading...