What was your favorite novel when you were a kid? Was there one that you read over and over again? One that sparked your imagination…and made you become the main character? A novel so good that made you say “I want to be a writer when I grow up.”
I remember reading “Harriet the Spy” and then needing to keep a journal of my observations. I remember reading all the books by Ruth Chew – and so desperately wanting something - anything - magical to happen to me. I remember reading Paula Danziger and Judy Blume and feeling a tad closer to whatever normal might be. I tried my hand at writing – but I never had the focus to finish anything that I started.
But that love of reading has always been a part of who I am. I have been an avid reader for as long as I can remember. I used to be able to read a book a day. Until I started blogging. And I will read just about anything. I read the newspaper. I’ll pick up a magazine. I love novels – all kinds – as long as they hold my interest. If I don’t have something to read, I’ll pick up whatever is closest – which just might be a box of cereal – or sometimes, unfortunately, my husband’s “Car and Driver” magazine.
One of my favorite genres is Young Adult literature. And I must thank JK Rowling for making this niche what it is today. She allowed the powers that be to see that novels for children do not have to be dumbed down. To realize that kids could handle difficult concepts and big words. And allowed all of us to see that even though Harry Potter lives in a fantasy world of witches, wizards, and magical creatures…at its heart…it’s about real things – like bullies, friends, teachers, fitting in, and love.
And thanks to JK Rowling…so many authors have found their niche within the world of young adult novels. Including some of my favorite “adult” writers. So…if this is a place you haven’t tried because you didn’t realize that this genre would include you…let me tell you that a good book is a good book…no matter the “intended” audience. To get your feet wet…here are some suggestions:
1. With stories of princesses and princesses in training, it might be easy to dismiss Shannon Hale’s books as “fluff.” BUT…Hale’s take on these somewhat tired themes is exquisite, lyrical, and eloquent. Titles to look for: “The Goose Girl;” “Enna Burning;” “River Secrets;” “Princess Academy” – which also won the Newberry Honor award; and “Book of a Thousand Days.”
2. “The Mysterious Benedict Society” by Trenton Lee Stewart is a great book filled with mysteries, puzzles, and clever twists. And I love the messages of this book – in that it shows the power and control of the media in what we “believe” – and the value of an education in being able to “see” what is real. There is also a sequel that was just released in May: “The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey.”
3. All of Cornelia Funke's work, including: “Inkheart;” “Inkspell” and the finale to be released in October of this year “Inkdeath;” “Dragon Rider;” “Igraine the Brave;” “When Santa Fell to Earth;” and “The Thief Lord.”
4. I am also a huge fan of Nancy Farmer – who tackles some big issues including cloning, drug lords, kidnapping, and Viking Legends. Some favorites: “House of the Scorpion;” “The Ear, The Eye, and the Arm;” and “The Sea of Trolls.”
5. “Holes” by Louis Sachar is a modern classic. What I love about this book is that it does not hand you all the information and mystery on a platter. Sachar allows the story to build. All the information he give is pertinent. But you just don’t know how until the very end of the story.
6. The entire “Series of Unfortunate Events” – all 13 of them – by Lemony Snicket. Many parents think this series is too dark and gothic for their children – but I found it hilarious. I just love the way Daniel Handler (aka Snicket) writes. He has “editorial” side notes about much of the action – and I *love* the way he defines words throughout the series. These are a must read…or even better…a must listen…as the audio books are narrated to great comic effect by Tim Curry.
7. Carl Hiaasen is one of my favorite authors. He writes a great mystery – usually with an ecological bent – and always with a sick twist. You have to know that at his heart, he is a twelve year old boy…and thus his jump into this genre makes so much sense. His two books “Flush” and “Hoot” follow the same patterns of outlandish situations and characters (one of my favorites is a buffoon adult named Chuck Muckle) but where the kids can see and solve what the grown-ups cannot.
8. My two favorite books by Lois Lowry could not be more different. “Number the Stars” is about a Danish girl sheltering her best friend from the Nazis during World War II. And then there is “The Giver” about a 12 year old boy who becomes disillusioned with his utopian society. Both are Newberry Medal winners. Both are impossible to put down – and impossible to forget.
9. “City of Ember” by Jeanne DuPrau is another of the post-apocalyptic novels that I am endlessly drawn to. DuPrau has a fresh voice and a new take on this theme. I wasn’t as impressed with its sequel “People of Sparks.”
10. I have never been able to read Tolkien. I’ve tried. But I was bored. So, when I heard about “The Naming” by Alison Croggan, I was a bit skeptical. All reviews state that it’s following Tolkien tradition. Well, I’m so glad I decided to give this book a chance! In the Tolkien tradition, it is the tale of a humble person being sent on a quest by a wise being for what turns out to be a fight against good and evil. Croggan has created a rich and alluring land described in lush prose…with an amazing female protagonist. In what is intended to be a quartet, also check out “The Riddle;” and the soon to be released “The Crow.”
11. I love author Kate DiCamillo. She writes such enchanting tales of friendship, loneliness and perseverance against all odds. My favorites: “The Tale of Despereaux;” “Because of Winn Dixie;” and “The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.”
12. My absolute favorite young adult novel is “Summerland” by Michael Chabon. Chabon is the Pulitzer Prize winning author of “The Amazing Adventures of Cavalier and Clay.” “Summerland” has it all. There’s baseball. Tall Tales. Norse mythology. Adventure. Mystery. And Faith. Just a little faith. Faith that is realized when you can create a hairline crack between that wall between worlds. That wall between you and God. In that place where miracles can and do occur.
13. And then…what would be a list of young adult novels without mentioning a mommy favorite. A tale of romance. A romance so intriguing and addictive, it is likened to crack. Yep…The Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer. This is such a book for the senses. From the beauty of the characters – to the feel of the cold and stoniness of Edward’s body – the scent of the rain drenched landscape – and of course the scent of blood – to the ability of Edward to hear thoughts except those of the girl he loves – this evocative tale is one you can truly sink your teeth into. (Sorry, I just could not resist. Fangs for your forgiveness. Sorry. Really.)