It's not the best YA book I've read this year, but I would probably include it in my top ten or so. It takes a theme I've seen already this year--modern boy travels back in time to Elizabethan London--and, I think, accomplished something important: it showed that the past is another country, and people in the past think differently about some things than a modern person. (I was thinking about this yesterday, in a chat with filomancer, how not everyone takes cultural relativism for granted like anthropologists usually do.) There was a little of the wonder of this in the other book I mentioned (The Black Canary by Jane Louise Curry), but in that book the wonder got drowned in the plot issues, a lot of spies and running around, and at the end I felt that a lot of nifty stuff had been neglected, like the book had ended much too soon.
Sign of the Raven is more of a piece. The boy's issues in the present are that his mother is recuperating from cancer treatments and trying to reconcile with her mother. In the past, he encounters a group of odd people who are entertainers at Bartholomew Fair, from the "Bendy Man" who can contort himself to a boy who supposedly has "Deus Meus" in the irises of his eyes. Their goal is to rescue the body of a dead friend, the eight foot tall "Giant," and put it somewhere that the anatomists can't get hold of it to dissect. It all circles around issues of life, and death, and what makes people keep going even when they know that everyone is doomed to die eventually, and what we can do about it while still here on earth. I don't think it does this in a preachy way, either. The story carries one along, and the implications come through later.
My original post on THE BLACK CANARY.