My agent told me that 75 percent of the book deals made at the Frankfurt Book Fair this year were for young adult novels. About time. I have been saying for years that some of the best storytelling nowadays is to be found in young adult novels -- the Harry Potter books, Suzanne Collins' Mockingjay trilogy, Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak, even Sharon Lee & Steve Miller's two latest Liaden novels, Fledgling and Saltation feature a YA heroine. These characters are not your mother's heroines, they aren't Anne Shirley or Laura Ingalls. Don't get me wrong, I love those books, too, but today's YA heroes (using the gender non-specific deliberately here) have a lot more options than teaching school and marriage.
I just finished Tamora Pierce's Protector of the Small Quartet, and how I wish there were a fifth. Set in Pierce's Tortall world, ten-year old Keladry of Mindelan wants to be a knight. Problem: She's a girl, and it's been a hundred years since there were lady knights in Tortall, with the sole exception of Alanna the Lioness, who has her own books. After a throw-down with a spidren (a big scary immortal spider that eats people), Kel says, "I want to protect people. And I will. I will. I'll be a hero one day, just like Mama. Just like the Lioness. Nobody will kill two kittens in front of me then."
So, in the face of parental dismay, sibling ridicule, the training master's adamant disapproval, hostility from her fellow pages, and opposition from conservative nobles, Kel enrolls in knight school. First Test takes her through a probationary year, Page through the rest of her years as a page, Squire through her four years as a squire, and Lady Knight on her first assignment after she wins her shield. It turns out every man's hand is not against her, after all, that she has friends among her year mates and even in the nobility, that hard work and ability are noticed and rewarded. No allowances are made for her gender, and none have to be. The action scenes are vividly drawn (the "flying lessons" from Lord Raoul in particular make you feel every bruise), and the characters (Lord Wyldon, Lord Raoul, Piers and Ilane, the Yamani, Neal, I could go on) make you glad you get four whole novels for your visit with them.
But it is proud, stubborn, loving, eminently capable and infinitely talented Keladry of Mindelan who will keep you coming back for more. A wonderful read, and, FYI, a great Christmas gift for the young adult readers in your family. There really ought to be a boxed set.