Admit it. You have succumbed to the crack cocaine that is Suzanne Collins's Hunger Games series. (Here in Cincinnati, The Hunger Games is all the rage because it's the On the Same Page selection for this year with our public library system.) But I've already read it three times and am counting the days until Mockingjay, the final book in the trilogy, will be released. Just under four months to go! Can I get a witness?
So here's a wonderful way to fill the time: dive into Graceling by Kristin Cashore. I almost feel bad comparing the two, because I'm sure that Cashore hears that all the time and has wondered why The Hunger Games has achieved iconic status while Graceling has flown a wee bit under the radar, despite starred reviews in PW, LJ, SLJ, and Booklist. So I'm on a one-woman crusade to help spread the word about this excellent YA novel. It's like THG in that both feature unapologetically strong female heroines (one named Katniss, one named Katsa . . hmm), fascinating explorations of dystopian societies and the misuse of power, intriguing plot twists, and epic love stories. (Black box warning: Graceling does feature some sex, which is sensitively portrayed. The novel is aimed at older teen readers and adults.)
Graceling is set in a society in which a handful of individuals are "graced," or gifted with extraordinary abilities in one key area, whether it be animal husbandry, mind-reading, or setting fire to things. Katsa, our heroine, is graced with killing -- not the gift she would have chosen -- and is given work as a kind of mafia hit man for her uncle, a cruel and petty king. The novel traces Katsa's gradual discovery of her real Grace, which turns out not to be killing at all, and her growing openness to loving others and finding self-understanding. Unforgettable characters, exciting and well-paced plot, and imaginative setting. You will be cheering.