The Painted Boy
Charles de Lint
Published 2010 by Viking Juvenile
The Painted Boy was an unusual YA urban fantasy, with realistic characters and a fascinating world and story. I definitely recommend it if you're interested in trying something different.
Everything about The Painted Boy, except for the characters, feels much older than most urban fantasy. There are shapeshifters, yes, but they're "cousins," not werewolves. I think their connection to the land might come from Native American stories; it does remind me a little of the walkers/avatars from Mercy Thompson. The age of the story also gives it a depth that YA paranormal books often lack.
The Painted Boy follows the journey of Jay, a seventeen-year-old boy who's also a yellow dragon, as he discovers his place in the world, and more specifically, in the town of Santo del Vado Viejo, where he wound up by closing his eyes and pointing at a map. Santo del Vado Viejo is a barria under the thumb of a gang run by a man known as El Tigre, who senses what Jay is before they ever meet. Most of Jay's journey is an inner one, but there's quite a bit going on in this fascinating tale.
The characters in this book are well-rounded and realistic, the kind of people you could believe actually existed, with strengths and weaknesses and real personalities. Jay's uncertainty mixed with his attraction to Anna and his stubbornness made him a great main character, while Rosalie's optimism and faith in Jay provided the perfect balance for Anna's anger. All of the characters had their own stories that quite clearly only brushed up against what's written in the book, which made them feel alive.