Post-Potter Depression

"Percy Jackson would kick Harry Potter's ass."

I make this comment to my wife every few months or so.  She generally ignores me.  The other night, though, she actually defended her beloved Potter.  This only made sense given that a) my wife loves all things Harry Potter, b) we were at dinner before going to see the final movie, and c) she was drinking a cocktail that the restaurant called the "Elder Wand."

This is not to say that I dislike Harry Potter, because I don't.  I did introduce the books to my wife, after all.  Basically, I just like to pester her.  Besides, she knows that there are other books out there that are just as good (actually, she'd probably say "nearly" as good).

I should also point out that I know I'm being something of a sellout with this blog entry, as there are millions of "what you should do now that Harry Potter is over" columns on the Internet these days.  I'm also a bit of a hypocrite because I kind of hate these columns.  It's not that I don't think it's great that people are giving exposure to books that perhaps readers have glossed over while in their glazed eyed Harry Potter trance, it's just that writing such things after the final movie came out is kind of silly.  I mean, Harry Potter actually ended years ago, so recommending other books to check out now is kind of late.  Recommending other movies would make more sense.

But far it be from me to stick to my principles or only do things I approve of.  So here are a few awesome suggestions for you YA fans out there.

This is the aforementioned series starring Percy Jackson, "Percy Jackson and the Olympians."  It may be simplistic, I refer to Percy Jackson as the American Harry Potter.  While Harry tends to lean on the angsty side, Percy tends to lean on the "blow things up and figure it out later" side.  While Potter author JK Rowling tends to give a lot of background to her stories (sometimes more than necessary), Percy author Rick Riordan zips through these books at a fast and furious pace.

There's also something of a Huckleberry Finn feeling to Riordan's books.  While Rowling generally keeps her cast at a fictional location or some vague, real world spot, Riordan loads his books up with specific places, and a lot of them.  Percy Jackson travels most of the United States over the course of his adventures, following in a grand tradition of American teenagers hitting the open road (or river).

Riordan is also a prolific writer.  He got his start writing mystery novels and came up with the Percy Jackson books because he wanted to write something for his kids.  For those of you who have spent years waiting for each new Harry Potter book, Riordan currently has not one, but two series being published, with a book for one series released in the spring and the book for the other series released in the fall -- and this comes after his original, five book Percy Jackson series.
Fablehaven is, perhaps, one of the greatest basic ideas I've come across in the YA genre.  The gist, without giving too much away, is that, across the world, there are havens for fables -- animal preserves, if you will, for fantastical creatures.  It's a wonderful idea, rife with potential, and Brandon Mull makes the most of it.  It's actually such a great concept that I wish we got more than just the five books that make up this series.

Mull is an intricate plotter and has a knack for taking seemingly random, fantastical moments and connecting them to something later on.  Like Riordan, and later Rowling, he's also a fan of the quest story, so his characters are often trying to find or solve something.  He's also written "The Candy Shop Wars," which is pretty great in its own right.  The first book in his new series is called "A World Without Heroes," although I'll be honest and say that it doesn't hold up the high standard that Fablehaven established, which isn't Mull's fault -- Fablehaven is a singular concept.

And now for something completely different...

Forget the horrible movie they made of the first book in this series, "The Golden Compass."  This trilogy by Philip Pullman is, as they would say in his native England, completely mental.  The fantastical elements of this series will surely keep most readers engaged, but most of the younger readers will probably miss the theological issues that are raised.  Pullman's biggest achievement (aside from putting in some insanely controversial ideas) is that "His Dark Materials" takes place in a completely different world -- it's not the world we live in, not even a slightly modified world we live in.  Yet he's able to make it feel real, to make us care about these characters, even though they are completely foreign to the audience.

Did I also mention that it's completely insane?

It's hard to saying anything new about a book that is so well known.  The first book in this series is absolutely incredibly, just gut wrenching at every turn, complete with a well earned and fantastic pay off at the end.  The rest of the series...well, the bar was set really high, so it's not unexpected that the later books would fail to reach the mark.  Like Pullman, Collins does an amazing job of getting us to care about characters in a world that is vastly different than our own, but similar enough that we can connect to it.  There's also a lot to be said for the fact that Katniss is a real heroine.  She doesn't wait for others to make decisions for her.  In fact, she's probably the most proactive character on this list.  Her life is too frantic, her choices too important, for her to sit idly by.

There you go, four YA series perfect for anyone who enjoyed the Harry Potter books, and probably for those who didn't.  Lord knows I have more YA books on my shelf, but these are the big, multi-book runs, and should keep you busy for at least a few months.