Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Best Books Are Young Adult Books


Ten Favorite Teen Novels from 2010

I’m fifty-three years old, and some of the best books I read in 2010 were young adult (YA) novels. These novels, marketed to young people ages 13-21, are the work of some of the best writers working today.
Unfortunately, because publishers see the market for YA literature growing in a time when other genres are not selling as well, there is also a lot of rubbish out there, and it can be difficult to separate the excellent from the dreck. Because of the age group, the authors are required to keep it simple—not simplistic, but too many fancy tricks or philosophical meanderings and you lose your target readers. At the same time, there seems to be a tradition in the relatively new field of YA fiction of dealing with Serious Issues: death, coming of age, romantic entanglements, sexuality, self-image, and even God and spiritual issues.
Not all, or even most, of the novels on the list below are “Christian,” but each one focuses on an aspect of young adult life that is vital to the Christian walk and witness.
Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins is the final book in the acclaimed Hunger Games trilogy. I have nothing new to say about the quality of the book or of the series. I loved it. I also thought the final book in the series provided a useful portrayal of a mythical confrontation with sin and temptation and despair. Dystopian worlds have been a popular setting in YA fiction for the past few years, maybe because they provide a safe and dissociative avenue for exploration of the problems that young adults face in this world. I would suggest starting with the first book in the series, The Hunger Games, and reading the books along with a partner with whom you can discuss the issues raised in the trilogy. [Ed. note: Be aware that the series is violent. You may want to read this one with your kids. —GRD]
Forge by Laurie Halse Anderson is a sequel to the award-winning Chains. These books are set during the American Revolution, and Chains ends in 1776 with the British in control of New York and our two protagonists, Isabel and Curzon, escaping from slavery and from a British prison into the wilderness of upstate New York. Forge covers the time period of the winter and subsequent spring at Valley Forge 1777-78, where General Washington and his ragtag army spent a miserable time trying to survive and recover from their defeats and victories at the hands of the British army. Forge focuses on Curzon and his survival in the army camp and his continuing quest for freedom.
Somebody Everybody Listens To by Suzanne Supplee. Retta Lee Jones is a singer with a dream; she wants to go to Nashville and somehow sing songs that will be on the radio, where everybody will listen to her music. She wants to escape her unhappy home and her estranged parents and become her own person. And as unlikely as it seems, Nashville and the country music scene become her path to adulthood. It’s a good story that doesn’t pull many punches about the danger and the improbability of even tying to make it as a singer in Nashville. Retta Lee meets drunks and bitter wannabes and lecherous men and star-struck teenagers. But she also makes friends with Ricky Dean, the tow-truck driver who fixes her car and gives her a job, and Emerson Foster, a student at Vanderbilt who becomes Retta’s encourager, and even Chat, the skeptic whose harsh criticism will test Retta’s resolve.
Hush by Eishes Chayil tells the story of two friends, Gittel and Devory, growing up in the Chassidic (Jewish) community in New York City. Gittel is a beloved daughter of a devout and Torah-loving family, and so is Devory. The two girls experience all sorts of adventures together: dressing up for Purim, befriending a goyimneighbor, watching the movie Cinderella at the home of a more modern Jewish friend. But when the two girls are ten years old, tragedy strikes, and Gittel is told repeatedly to forget, to pretend that nothing ever happened, to move on with her life, to hush. I would recommend this book for mature young adults and adults. The descriptions are not sexually graphic at all, but the content is, by its very nature, mature.
Only the Good Spy Young by Ally Carter. Cammie Morgan is in her junior year at the elite Gallagher Academy, a secret school for young spies in training, and she’s about to encounter The Circle, a super-secret society of terrorist enemy spies that stretches back into history and could include literally anyone. This book is the fourth in a series of books about Cammie the Chameleon and her adventures as a young operative, and although having read the first three books would be useful in understanding the stakes in this high tension read, Only the Good Spy Young can stand alone. Read this one just for fun.
Bamboo People by Mitali Perkins. Bamboo People is set in modern-day Burma, where the Burmese government is carrying on a vendetta against the tribal peoples of southern Burma—specifically, in this novel, the Karen people, or Karenni. When two young men meet—Chiko, an unwilling draftee into the Burmese army, and Tu Reh, a young Karen Christian accompanying his father on a mission of mercy—their decisions will mean life or death, possibly for many people. Ms. Perkins has done her research well, and Bamboo People shows the effects of war and persecution in a story that will draw young people into the issues and problems that face others their age around the world.
This Gorgeous Game by Donna Freitas. Nominated for the first annual INSPY awards in the YA fiction category, this book tells the story of an eighteen-year-old aspiring author victimized and stalked by an older mentor who happens to be a priest. The fact that the book contains nothing graphic or overtly sexual or violent makes the story even more creepy and disturbing. The book portrays a faithful Catholic family and a young adult who must work to reconcile her faith with the reality of man’s sinfulness. [Ed. note: Go here for some background on the story. —GRD]
The Cardturner by Louis Sachar. There is a LOT of bridge (the card game) in this book about a boy and his curmudgeonly, rich uncle. Uncle Lester, or as he’s affectionately known, Trapp, is an expert bridge player. He’s also blind. So Alton, the nephew, becomes Trapp’s “cardturner.” Basically, Alton plays the cards, and Trapp tells him what cards to play. A story about bridge? Really? Yes, but it’s a good story about bridge, and you can skip the technical parts if you want. And it’s also about greed and family secrets and building loving relationships.
Once Was Lost by Sara Zarr. A preacher’s kid in a struggling family faces questions about her faith until a community tragedy eclipses personal concerns. Winner of the first annual INSPY award for YA fiction that “grapples with expressions of the Christian faith,” Once Was Lost takes a real look at what it’s like to grow up in a family where everyone is expected to be a model of Christian perfection but where the cracks in the foundation are beginning to show. The book doesn’t bash preachers or churches or the Christian faith, but it does show that not one of us can claim to have it all together.
The Long Way Home by Andrew Klavan. In 2009 Mr. Klavan, who up until then had written mostly thrillers for adult readers, started his Homelanders series with the book The Last Thing I Remember. The story began with good kid and karate student Charlie West waking up in a horrible predicament, being tortured in a basement by people he knew nothing about. He escaped, and then he realized that he couldn’t remember the last year of his life. But from what he can tell by the people who are after him, it was a very bad year. In 2010 the second book in the Homelanders series, The Long Way Home, was published. In this new book, Charlie is still on the run from both the good guys and the bad guys, and he’s determined to discover who he really is, what he really did, and who the people are who want to kill him. Great story, lots of thrills and chills, but no gratuitous sex and violence. [Ed. note: Later this week, look for an excerpt and capsule review of the first book in the series, The Last Thing I Remember. —GRD]
Sherry Early is a Christian homeschooling mother of eight, founder and editor of the book blog Semicolon, and author of Picture Book Preschool.
This article is part of BreakPoint's Teen Fiction Week. For more on this event, go here.

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