~ Young Adult ~
“Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist,
but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”
~ Neil Gaiman
Tithe by Holly Black
Disclaimer: A younger incarnation of myself was enchanted by this story of war in the unseen world of the faeries. Kaye, the human (?) protagonist returns with her musician mother to her grandmother’s home in New England. There, she becomes entangled in a battle for domination of the real world. She is called upon as sacrifice (tribute, to use a Hunger Games reference) to maintain the tenuous balance of light and dark. With the help of an angsty faery knight (dedicated to the queen of the light, traded and forced to do the bidding of the queen of the dark) and a selfish selkie, Kaye plunges into this other world – and pieces of her own follow. This is a gritty young adult novel. I would suggest this story to any fan of the goth-glam-teen-romance books. Tithe is sharper (and older!) than Twilight. Black’s other works include the Spiderwick Chronicles, a series aimed at younger readers, featuring faery companions without the sex, smoking, or threat of violent interruption of life by dark faery forces. The illustrations of Tony DiTerlizzi in the Chronicles are quite pretty ‘ check them out in our Children’s Literature section. Final verdict: Holly Black’s stories of the fae breathe new life into a world overrun by vampires and werewolves.
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
There are some books out there that really do choose you. Sometimes, not in the noblest way.
Ms. Hanson, my sixth-grade teacher, required every Friday we sit in silence for forty-five minutes in class and read a book of our choosing. To get twenty-some odd ‘tweens’ to sit in quietly anywhere is idealistic at best; expecting them to /actually read /while surrounded by their peers probably borders on delusion.
So Friday comes along and I haven’t a clue what I’m going to bring to class. I hadn’t had anything the previous weeks and was getting pretty sick and tired of staying after school “serving time” for my blatant disregard for this completely unreasonable exercise. I literally run into the library between passing classes, grab the first book I see, and head on in.
Ender’s Game blew me away.
A group of young gifted children are groomed in simulated war games to fight off an alien species that had attacked earth decades before any of them were born. It wasn’t the action, or even the science fiction appeal that pulled me (and many of the other Card fans I’ve met) in. Orson Scott Card does a remarkable job of telling the /story/ of his characters. Themes of forgiveness, the “grey” areas of morality, and the awkwardness of family ties permeate this book; really forcing the reader to love characters not out of their inherent goodness, but because ultimately we forgive them for their faults and weaknesses.
This is a perfect book though, for young and old alike. I revisit Andrew “Ender” Wiggin’s story at least once a year. Easy to read, fast-paced, and enjoyable. There is little ‘literary flare’ in this tome, be aware; if you are looking for an excellent novel from a master story-teller, this is for you.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
People love reality television shows. We get involved with the characters and feel their passion. We compare ourselves to them, or against them, judge them, get caught up in the drama and escape our less exciting lives. There are hundreds of reality shows right now: imagine one in the future, post-Apocalypse. What would it look like, and what would it mean?
In The Hunger Games, the first book in a young-adult trilogy, Suzanne Collins tells of Katniss and her participation in the new reality TV. Teenagers are chosen by lottery to play The Hunger Games, a fight against almost overwhelming odds to be the last one standing. Literally. To be a contestant means her family will have food. To win means her family will have food for life. To lose…means one less mouth to feed. And everyone watches: it’s the national sport, and obligation.
I blew through this book like a windstorm, and as soon as I finished I wanted to read it again – which I’m doing now. The Hunger Games well deserves a place in the post-Apocalyptic literary pantheon, which serves as both allegory and warning. And like all good young-adult literature, it tests boundaries by showing us a mirror of ourselves and what we could be.
Looking for Alaska by John Green
John Green is one of today’s best Young Adult writers. In this book, we are introduced to Miles, a 16 year-old, whose life so far has been unremarkable. He is drawn to biographies, has a fascination with famous last words and knows that there is more to life than the little he has experienced. Searching for what Rabelais called “The Great Perhaps”, he heads off to boarding school in Alabama. There he bonds with a poor, short, scholarship genius nicknamed “the Colonel” and sassy, literary, alluring Alaska Young.
Green writes his characters so authentically – the maddening combination of inexperience, passionate intellect and quirky humor that captures the wonder and potential of that tender age. It is a time of experimentation – and the Colonel and Alaska teach Miles to smoke and drink. It is also a time for tentative sexual exploration, a subject that Green handles with kindness, grace and gentle humor. We see Miles broaden his horizons in a way that is relatively safe – and we are drawn to genuinely care about him. When situations arise that cause him to struggle with heady philosophical questions and their place in his very real existence, we feel a mixture of empathy and hope. Miles is changed by the events in this book – and his process of growing older and wiser is terribly, beautifully poignant.
This is the kind of book that is likely to save the life of a smart, introspective teenager looking for kindred spirits.
Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
Like most of you, I first read Flowers for Algernon in middle school. While I enjoyed it at the time, my understanding of it was of course at a middle school level. And like many classics of children’s literature, Flowers for Algernon has emotional and intellectual levels that can only truly be appreciated by an adult. So when I re-read it recently I was struck by how differently I viewed a work that I had thought I so thoroughly knew. The very first thing that I noticed was the craftsmanship and detail of the work. The novel is written entirely as journal entries by Charlie, an adult male in his thirties with an IQ of 68 who undergoes an experimental procedure that ends up giving him an IQ of 185. The reader is able to watch Charlie’s intellect grow as the journal entries change from the understanding and abilities of a child to those of a genius. The second thing that I felt was extreme pain and grief for Charlie as his growing intellect gives him the ability to understand other people’s thoughts and motivations. One of his first realizations is that people whom he had considered friends were in fact cruelly laughing at him. And then comes the cruelest twist of fate, Charlie’s discovery that he will deteriorate just as Algernon has, and with his increased IQ he has the ability to understand just what that loss will mean for him. If you haven’t read this book since your school days I recommended reading it again as soon as you can. You will be surprised at how complex and moving this book for children really is.
Liz ‘s Review
The Fairy Tale Books of Andrew Lang
I cut my teeth on this series at a very early age, particularly The Red Fairy Book. We had a red (natch) cloth-bound copy that I read literally to shreds. Since then I’ve collected the entire series (thoughtfully reprinted by Dover), all twelve “colors.” Andrew Lang was a collector of fairy tales from Grimm and Andersen and beyond, and printed them, along with gorgeous woodcuts, in a series of red, blue, lilac, yellow, etc. Im sure that early on they were read to me, but I sought them out ever after. A glorious collection, including old favorites and the obscure stories one delights in finding.
A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeline L’engle
You might have read this one when you were a kid, or you may have not. If you haven’t, go read it now. If you have, read it again. This among others is the story that really launched a fascination with science fiction and stories of the fantastic. The book is a very smart piece of work when viewed through the eyes of a 10 year old, and even as an adult you’ll be surprised at just how smart it really is. A story of adventure following the slightly off-kilter Murry family, A Wrinkle in Time is also a great introduction to far-fetched, mathematical concepts and questions of theology that people of every age will ask themselves. Yes, there is some Christian undertone here, but it’s not nearly as preachy or heavy-handed as that found in CS Lewis’ Narnia or Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. Despite that, it is still a novel.
Messenger by Lois Lowry
Messenger ends Lowry’s dystopia series that began with her Newberry Award winning novel The Giver. In Messenger, characters from The Giver and Gathering Blue have escaped or left their unwelcoming communities to travel to Village, a place that supports and nourishes undesirables. Lowry gracefully weaves social criticism with a touching story about fitting in and individual strength. Like her other novels in the series, Messenger leaves the reader with only some closure, but with an overwhelming sense of hope. Messenger not only satisfies young adult literary requirements by providing a mix of genre, a fast paced story, and a main character, Matty, who begins to move to adulthood, but also tells an enjoyable and magical story. I enjoyed this novel because Lowry reminded me that family and community are important. She does so without being didactic, but rather by telling a wonderful story about the good of humanity.
The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer
If you’re a fan of dystopian literature such as Divergent, The Hunger Games, I Am Number Four and so on, The Lunar Chronicles is for you. The series takes a futuristic twist on the classic tales of Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood and Rapunzel. Although the series is an excellent mix of intrigue and action, it is also very violent in many parts. I would recommend this series for young teenagers around the age of 13.
This series takes a third-person view of multiple characters. In the first book, we view Cinder’s world. Cinder is a highly skilled mechanic in the futuristic city of New Beijing. Although Cinder is just as hard-working, witty and strong as any girl, she has a major difference from her fellow city dwellers that she is ashamed of; and she does her best to keep it hidden. A plague has broken out recently in the area. She is contacted by someone of high status, and Cinder’s life skyrockets. Discover and dive deep into these books as Cinder’s, and two other equally amazing characters’ alluring stories unfold in The Lunar Chronicles.
The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman
Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy is with no doubt in my mind the best work of children’s fantasy to be written since CS Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. Much like Narnia, The Golden Compass and sequels, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass, are at their core fantastic novels of magic and adventure being cast upon ordinary children. Again, like Lewis’ work, layers can be peeled away by more learned adults and individuals will be surprised at how much depth, allegory, symbolism and metatext can be found here. Theologians, historians, linguists and scientists of all kinds can find something in these books to spark their imagination and curiosity.
Where the Red Fern Grows, by Wilson Rawls
My fifth-grade teacher, Miss Pepper, read this to us as a class, and it was a profound experience. Yes, she was an excellent reader, but the experience wasn’t diminished by the fact that she couldn’t read some of the last parts of the book: she had a student read it aloud instead while she hid in the closet. She couldn’t bear it and would start crying. Tragedy and grief affect kids every day, and I think it is an important subject for them to explore in literature as a way to deal with and learn from their actual experiences. Don’t get me wrong: this book isn’t such a downer. A boy, his two coon dogs, the Ozarks, their escapades – and lots of sheer joy, which is the flipside of sadness.
The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan has the magic and monsters of Harry Potter mixed with an element of X-Men that creates a captivating and wonderful adventure story. Percy Jackson has ADHD and has been kicked out of several schools. He doesn’t seem to fit in, that is, until he accidentally vaporizes his math teacher. What we discover is that Percy is no average 12 year-old, but rather the son of a Greek god. In fact, his ADHD is merely caused by his incredible ability to read ancient Greek. I wish I had that problem! What is wonderful about Riordan’s story is that not only does Percy’s quest introduce the reader to Medusa, Cerberus, Procrustes, Titans, and Minotaures but it successfully blends a modern coming of age story with classical storytelling. It kept me captivated. The hero in this book really is a hero, whether he succeeds or not. The Lightning Thief is a clever and fun read. I enjoyed it and look forward to reading about Percy’s other adventures.
Harry Potter Series by J. K. Rowling
I’m sure I am preaching to the choir on this one. It seems like I was one of the last living members of society to read these books; however, if you haven’t, and you want more convincing, read on. Perhaps I was scared off by people talking about Dumble-something-or-other and Griffin-whose-it-whats-it, or maybe it was the (to put it mildly) enthusiasm shown over a Children’s book that kept me away from this series, heck, maybe I was just stubborn, however I am glad I got over it. This is a really fun and (dare I say) intelligent read. I struggled through the first two books – sometimes being highly annoyed by the writing, but if you get through those, I can promise the books after will be a real treat. And don’t just say, “oh, I’ve seen the movies.” Seriously, these make the movies better. If you’re looking for a good spring and summer series to sink into (perhaps while lying in a hammock?) put these on your list.
The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
I picked this up at my 6 year-old daughter’s book fair with the intention of reading it myself. She was intrigued and asked slyly, “So…if you’re going to read that book to yourself…what if I just sit next to you and you SAY the words OUT LOUD?” And that is how we came to read this book together. It’s a huge book, practically a door stop, but don’t let that deter you. We were entranced. Hugo is an orphan who winds the clocks at a train station in Paris. Isabelle is the bookish, eccentric granddaughter of a cranky old toy shop owner. Hugo gradually begins to trust her enough to allow her into the mystery surrounding his prized possession: a mechanical man he has been slowly repairing over time. What does the mechanical man do? Why was he created? Who created him? These questions drive Hugo & Isabelle to visit bookstores, theaters and a film school. It’s a great story. What’s remarkable about it, though, is the illustrations. There are pages of them at a time…and they not only illustrate the text but serve to move the plot on their own, which makes for especially fun reading with a 6 year-old! Winner of the 2007 Caldecott Award, this is an innovative book geared toward younger readers…but it is thoroughly enjoyable at any age.
Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick
Amazing! This book is easily the favorite of all the books my daughter Isabel (9) and I have read together this year. We were drawn to Selznick’s first full-length novel, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, a few years ago – and I was thrilled to encounter his latest. Like Hugo, Wonderstruck showcases Selznick’s art and his unique way of using illustration to move the plot. This story alternates between the tales of two characters, Ben (whose story is told all in language) and Rose (whose story is told entirely in pictures). Ben lives in Gunflint Lake, Minnesota in 1977. The death of his mother leads him on a journey to find the father he has never known. He carries a “museum box” with him – a collection of objects with special meaning to him – and follows leads to New York City. Rose lives in Hoboken, New Jersey in 1927. She is fascinated with the New York City buildings she sees in the distance. She is preoccupied with her absent mother. Her older brother, who works at the Museum of Natural History, turns out to be a strong ally.
This book is inspiring on multiple levels. It’s full of epiphanies about itself – a plot point is revealed that suddenly draws earlier elements into focus, leaving the reader with a great sense of “Oh! That’s why…” It also lends the reader a new sense of excitement about the natural world and the mysterious way life unfolds and points intersect. It’s a fantastic read-aloud with your kiddo; a great selection for yourself; a spot-on gift for that 9-14 year-old niece/nephew. Anyone who reads this book will be wonderstruck.
When Thunders Spoke, by Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve
This is a contemporary Dakota Sioux story about a reservation family experiencing strange occurrences when the fifteen-year-old son recovers a old coup stick from the land. A coming-of-age story told with mysticism and history, with values familial and cultural. Check out her other books written for pre-teens and teens, especially High Elk’s Treasure.
Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
“She was elusive. She was today. She was tomorrow. She was the faintest scent of a cactus flower, the flitting shadow of an elf owl. We did not know what to make of her. In our minds we tried to pin her to a corkboard like a butterfly, but the pin merely went through and away she flew.” Transfer student Stargirl Caraway surprises her new classmates at Mica Area High School when she approaches each one of them warmly. She lives without the self-consciousness exhibited by the majority of the students. Narrator Leo chronicles Stargirl’s transition from the subject of curious gossip, through her earned popularity as the cheerleading squad’s newest member (who cheers whenever either team scores), during Stargirl’s ensuing social isolation and beyond. I adored this book as a pre-teen, due mostly to Stargirl’s indomitable spirit. The wisdom contained in this short (at 186 pages) novel is relevant at any age, though the experience of high school is vividly expressed. Keep a kleenex handy, and prepare to feel the urge to be yourself. Stargirl’s passion for life can be contagious.
The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
The way I feel about this book can be summed up quite easily with a quote by its author, Markus Zusak. “Sometimes you read a book so special that you want to carry it around with you for months after you’ve finished just to stay near it.” I first read The Book Thief when I was a junior in high school, and I remember sitting in the back row at a student assembly and crying as I finished the last chapter.
Narrated by Death, this book follows the story of Liesel Meminger, a young girl growing up in Nazi Germany. It tells of the complexities of growing up, learning to decide what is right and what is wrong, and it shows that no relationship is as simple as it seems from the outside. An interesting part of this book is that Death, as the narrator, tells you the ending before it happens, and yet, when you get to the end, it’s still just as heartbreaking as if you had no idea what was coming.
Zusak’s writing style is bewitchingly poetic and compelling. Though this book is often listed as Young Adult fiction, I think that people of all ages will enjoy it.