Opening the Gate: YA Books to “Hook” Adult Readers

One of my favorite parts of working at my new school has been exposing some of my colleagues to the great YA literature being published today.  Back in October, my AP biology colleague asked for a book recommendation because she loved my vast classroom library.  She listed a few books she enjoyed reading and I started thinking about great, literary historical fiction in YA.  Within a day or so I was handing her Marcus Zusak’s The Book Thief. She read it and loved it, passing it on to a few others to read, too!  A new YA fan was born.

I have also shared books with our guidance counselor, including Emma Donoghue’s Room: A Novel. My freshman biology colleague has been borrowing books since the school year started.  So far he has read the Hunger Games series and Bumped. He reads my blog and when a review catches his interest, I can count on a book request the next day. :)

Before spring break I received an email from one of our Spanish teachers. She was looking for some books to bring on her spring break road trip. Moments later, I ran into our AP biology teacher and she also asked for some books. I spent a few minutes during my prep gathering books and then acted as the “traveling librarian”, walking around the school and delivering books to that who requested them. The Spanish teacher received Jennifer Donnelly’s A Northern Light and Judy Blundell’s Strings Attached. My AP Biology colleague took home Jennifer Donnelly’s Revolution and Judy Blundell’s What I Saw And How I Lied.  I am so looking forward to hearing their thoughts after break!

My students love knowing that their teachers are reading and enjoying some of the same books they love.  Reading is a social activity, and students don’t just want to talk to their peers about the books they read.  They love having conversations about the ending of Mockingjay (The Final Book of The Hunger Games) with myself and their biology teacher.  They love knowing that they can recommend a book they enjoyed to their Spanish teacher or the teacher in charge of their free period.  That’s why my freshman colleagues and I decided to completely integrate our summer reading this summer.  All of the choices on the list touch on our various subject specialties and we also noted our own favorites.  I want to build this reading community from the beginning, with common texts and student choice.  I also want to continue exposing my colleagues to the fantastic YA literature that is being published today.

What YA books do you find yourself recommending to adults?

Strings Attached by Judy Blundell

National Book Award winner Judy Blundell is one of my favorite authors.  What I Saw and How I Lied is one of my all-time favorite books and I love recommending it to my teens.  When I received an ARC of Blundell’s newest venture, Strings Attached, I was ecstatic. Within 24 hours I sat down with it and read it cover to cover. I immediately handed it to one of my students, who also read it cover to cover in less than a day.

Set in 1950, Strings Attached takes on a lot. It’s historical fiction, a mystery, a romance, and so much more. A summary can’t do the book justice. Yes, it’s about Kit Corrigan setting out on her own and trying to break into show business in New York City. It’s also about the gangsters who control so much of NYC and life up and down the East coast. It’s about class differences. It’s about depression and parental neglect. It’s about love, and what is true love. It’s about Broadway and music. About intrigue and deception, talent and determination.

What an evocative and atmospheric book! This is exactly what I love about Judy Blundell- her writing absolutely immerses you in the time and place of the book. I could smell the salt air in Providence, and smell the smoke in the NYC night clubs. I could hear the street noises outside Kit’s window and smell the coffee she brewed in her kitchen.  While reading, you are Kit, and you see what she sees and you hear what she sees.  The setting manages to overwhelm your senses at times, in an amazing way.

The chapters alternate, jumping from earlier in Kit’s life to her present situation. This nonlinear storytelling could throw some readers off at first, but within a few pages you are invested in Kit’s life and her story, and there is no going back. A slow-building story, it pulls you in, winding and twisting before ripping your heart out at the end. Upon finishing the book, my student rushed into my room and exclaimed, “I just screamed OUT LOUD in the lunch room! When I got to that part! AGH!”. She then stormed out of my room, still aghast. I felt the same way when I finished the book. Just when you think you have everything figured out, Blundell turns the story on its head and you are turning pages faster than you can read. Unbelievable. The suspense builds and builds, keeping you on the edge of your seat for the entirety of the book.

This is a book that teens and adults alike will love. I am recommending it to everyone I know. Go out and pick up a copy right now. Do not miss this book. It’s on my Printz and National Book Award list for this year.

Need some more convincing?  Check out this writing:

“We pack away lies in that house like you pack away Christmas. We put them in boxes and tape them over.”

“Faith seems to grab people and not let go, but hope is a double-crosser. It can beat it on you anytime; it’s your job to dig in your heels and hang on. Must be nice to have hope in your pocket, like loose change you could jingle through your fingers.”

Sad News for the YA World

Back in January, author L.K. Madigan posted a heartbreaking entry on her blog.  After surviving breast cancer many years ago, she was recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  I watched a friend’s father fight pancreatic cancer and my heart broke for Lisa, her husband, and her son.  Pancreatic cancer is an awful, awful disease.

Today, I learned that Lisa lost her battle with cancer.  My heart is broken and I can’t imagine how her family is coping.  I did not know Lisa, but I felt like I did because I read her wonderful books and followed her blog.

Tonight, please hug your loved ones.

Cure Pancreatic Cancer

 

 

 

Buy Lisa’s books-

Morris Award Winner Flash Burnout

The Mermaid’s Mirror

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly

Andi is on the edge, toes already over and the rest of her ready to fall forward. Two years ago, her little brother Truman was killed. In the ensuing years, her family split up, her mother has slowly lost her mind, and Andi has blamed herself for her brother’s death. When her father, a Nobel-Prize-winning geneticist, makes a surprise visit on account of Andi’s failing grades, he discovers just how deep her mother has retreated into herself. He immediately gets her into a treatment center and takes Andi with him on his business trip to France. He hopes that in Paris she will be able to concentrate on her thesis, a graduation requirement.

Andi is miserable in Paris, medicating herself with her pills in increasing dosages. The only thing that keeps her tethered to the earth (barely) is music. When her father’s friend shows her an antique guitar case, she is drawn to it. When she discovers a secret compartment in the case, a dusty diary falls out. It is here that we are introduced to Alexandrine Paradis, companion to Louis Charles, the young dauphin who was imprisoned as a child, walled up alive. Andi begins reading the diary and feels a strong connection with Alexandrine and the young prince, who reminds her of her brother. What ensues is a story of pain, of loss, of love, and finally hope.

This book is absolutely unbelievable. First of all, what a fantastic way to introduce teens to the French Revolution. I was hooked from the moment I read the first words in Alexandrine’s diary. And Andi…oh my gosh. It was like I was standing there next to her. That is how real she felt to me. And honestly, all of the characters are compelling. I fell in love with them all, even if I wanted to hate some of them, too.

I am not sure how I can convince you to go out and read Revolution right now. If you love historical fiction, this is for you. If you love teen characters who are actually real teens, then you will love Revolution. If you just want to immerse yourself in some of the best writing of the year, go get Revolution. If you want to shut out the world for a while and forget about everything else, pick up Revolution. Jennifer Donnelly is a genius.  My fingers are crossed that this book is on the list of Printz winners come January.  It sure as hell deserves it.

And hey, I already have a few students gushing over this. Really! Gushing over a book about the French Revolution. As one of them updated on Goodreads recently, “Still reading. I can not put this book down!”.

*ARC from BEA

Matched by Ally Condie

Oh, how I love dystopian books.  When I saw that it was being handed out at BEA I made sure to make my way to Dutton’s booth well before the designated time.  I lucked out and got one of the ARCs a bit early and didn’t even have to wait on the long line that eventually formed.  Then I lost my job, got a new one, got married, and started all over again- no time to read books!  But ARCs are like magic reading pills and my students are gobbling them up (and then reviewing them on Goodreads!).  I am trying to tear through all the ARCs I have in order to bring them in. Ally Condie’s Matched was next on my pile this week and I almost made it a legitimate #bookaday!  Yes, it is that good.

Rather than spew out a summary, I will let the book jacket do that for you:

In the Society, Officials decide. Who you love. Where you work. When you die.

Cassia has always trusted their choices. It’s barely any price to pay for a long life, the perfect job, the ideal mate. So when her best friend appears on the Matching screen, Cassia knows with complete certainty that he is the one . . . until she sees another face flash for an instant before the screen fades to black. Now Cassia is faced with impossible choices: between Xander and Ky, between the only life she’s known and a path no one else has ever dared follow—between perfection and passion.

I loved, loved, loved Matched!  I’ve already passed it on to my students, who are also tearing through it.  It hasn’t been back in my classroom for more than a period since I finished reading it.  I’m already desperately awaiting the sequel, which HAS to be coming.  (It’s coming, right?  Right?!)  What I really loved is that the characters in Matched are well-developed and believable. I loved Cassia and felt like she was a friend by the end of the book.  She seems like a regular teen tossed into a strange situation, and her reactions are believable, despite the dystopian premise. Cassia is a reluctant heroine for most of the book, one who doesn’t want her world turned upside down and doesn’t necessarily want to know what’s really going on.  But by the end, she has stepped into her new role as hero.  (Again, that sequel is going to happen, right?)

The similarities to The Giver will pull a lot of reader’s in, but the romance aspect will hook those who might find Lowry’s book too tedious for them. (Not me- The Giver is in my Top 10 of favorite books!).  Condie has created a frightening world where Big Brother controls everything while letting the people believe they still have some control over their own lives.  It’s frightening.

This is a coming-of-age story, an awakening, and a fight-for-it-all-never-give-up story.  I couldn’t put it down and can’t wait to read more from Ally Condie.  Her world-building is superior and I love how she fleshed out the minor characters- it allowed me to feel like I was a member of The Society, too.   While the story sometimes seems to move slow, it is all worth it in the end.  Condie masterfully weaves the Society, its rules, and its rulers into a scarily realistic possibility for humanity’s future.  Do not miss out on this one!

Deadline by Chris Crutcher

I’ve been working on catching up on all the YA titles I missed over the last five years or so.  While I read a lot of YA as a sixth grade teacher, there were certain books that I knew did not have a place in my classroom, with my particular students.  Thus, I rarely purchased those books.  (See, I justify buying books because I put them in my classroom library after I read them.  Really, I buy them for my classroom and I just get to read them first!)  Now that I teach freshmen and sophomores, there is a lot of YA I can finally add to my library.  I have been stalking book sales and finally picked up a copy of Chris Crutcher’s Deadline.

At a routine summer sports physical, Ben learns that he has a terminal blood illness.  Without treatment, he will most likely be dead within the year.  With aggressive treatment, he will most likely be dead within a year, and incapacitated for most of that time.  After considering those he loves (a mother with a mental illness, a father with too much on his plate, and a brother who is also his best friend), Ben decides not to seek treatment and not to tell anyone about his diagnosis.  As an 18-year old, he has that right, despite his doctor’s misgivings.  Ben is determined to live, really live, as normal a life as possible while trying to experience as much as he can in the following twelve months.  What follows is an amazing look at life, death, religion, love, immortality, and so much more.

Crutcher tackles a lot of tough topics in Deadline- mental illness, child molestation, death, suicide, trust, censorship, and the meaning of life/living.  But what could be a depressing book is inspiring and full of humor.  Ben’s voice is spot-on for a teenage boy, with just the right amount of self-assurance and lack of that same self-assurance.  Ben’s an 18-year old boy who knows when his life will end.  He wants to accomplish great things: confronting the bigotry in his town, helping his brother secure a college football scholarship, and trying to help his mother heal.  But Ben also wants to accomplish typical teenage boy goals: hooking up with Dallas Suzuki (the girl of his dreams), playing a great game of football, and annoying his least-favorite teacher as much as possible.

Deadline is a fantastic book and one I highly recommend for high school libraries.  It has some mature themes, so I wouldn’t have shared it with my sixth graders, but it definitely has a place in any upper school library.

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

For months I have been hearing buzz about Lauren Oliver’s debut novel, Before I Fall.  It never made it to the top of my TBR pile because I had so many middle grade books to read for my sixth graders, but the buzz convinced me to pick up an ARC of her second novel back at BEA.  So last week I grabbed my copy of Before I Fall and sat down to read it.  Boy am I glad I did! I can’t wait to booktalk Before I Fall to my new high school students.  Not only is it well-written but it is also thought-provoking, meaningful, and realistic.

Sam Kingston is popular.  She is pretty.  Her friends are pretty and popular.  Once upon a time, Sam was a loser, way back in middle school.  But now she isn’t.  Now she is one of the chosen few.  She is also pretty oblivious to how her actions and those of her friends affect her classmates.  Sam isn’t particularly likeable.  I didn’t even love her at the end of the book.  But she is realistic.  So are her friends.  Oliver has captured high school perfectly.  A lot of seniors are selfish, they do think the world revolves around them.  Being popular is important, and sometimes that means stepping on those around you, as Sam explains.

But everything changes for Sam when she hears, “a horrible, screeching sound—metal on metal, glass shattering, a car folding in two,”  and then everything turns to nothing.  The victim of a car crash, Sam is convinced she has died.  Until she wakes up again then next morning.  Only it is not the next morning.  It is the same day.  A cross between Mean Girls and Groundhog Day, Sam is forced to relive her last day over and over, changing her actions a little more each time.

Lauren Oliver takes a fascinating concept and turns it into a thought-provoking novel.  How does bullying affect our lives?  Directly? Indirectly?  How do our actions influence those around us?  Can we influence them consciously?  At first, Sam lives with reckless abandon, doing all the things she never had the nerve to do when she was alive.  But slowly she begins to realize that she is meant to do something else.

What I really liked about this book was how realistic is, despite the premise.  When Sam begins to relive her last day she doesn’t immediately transform into a perfect teen.  Instead, she rebels more than she ever did as a living teen- seducing her teacher, smoking pot, cheating on her boyfriend.  She slowly begins to realize that something has to change in order for her to move on completely.  But even at the very end of the book, she is not a perfect angel.  She does change and she matures, but she remains a teen at heart.  While some people might not appreciate this unwillingness to become perfect, I love it.  It is realistic.  And teens will identify with it.

Some people mentioned being apprehensive about reading 480 pages about the same day over and over, but the story is not redundant at all.  I found myself completely enthralled by the book, despite the fact that Sam was reliving the same day.  Each choice she makes impacts the outcome at the end of the night.

Highly, highly recommended.  Perfect for high school.

*my own copy

Hate List by Jennifer Brown

Jennifer Brown’s Hate List has been on my radar for a while. I finally got a chance to read it a few weeks ago and WOW. Why did I not pick this book up months ago? Brown has woven a powerful and intricate story of the ramifications of a school shooting that left me in tears for the last third of the book. We are talking real tears, not just a little weepy, people. I finished reading the book the night before my wedding and stayed up way too late because I couldn’t stand to put it down until I finished the story.

At the end of their junior year, Valerie’s boyfriend Nick did the unthinkable. He brought a gun to school, where he killed six students and a teacher. Valerie was hit in the leg by a bullet while trying to stop him. Nick took his own life before the shooting was over, leaving a fractured and fragile student body behind. He also left Valerie behind to answer for what he had done, and what everyone assumes she was involved in planning.

Now, it’s time for school to begin again and Valerie’s therapist thinks it’s best for her to try and go back to school. Though she could transfer, she doesn’t want to force her younger brother and her parents to start over again because of her involvement with Nick so she heads back to school. But as the killer’s girlfriend, she isn’t exactly welcomed with open arms. Her friends believe she knew Nick was planning to kill, her classmates blame her because she helped make the “Hate List” that Nick used to pick his victims, and even teachers and administrators have a hard time looking at her.

I’ve read other books about school shootings but Hate List is at the top of the list.  Brown presents realistic characters and draws the social archetypes of high school perfectly.  She captures the reality of the social hierarchy in American high schools to a tee.  Each and every character is well-drawn, from the main characters to the smallest secondary character.  And the sign of true realism?  I didn’t know if I believed Valerie for a good portion of the book.  No one was innocent, but no one was to blame, either.  Hate List is the most accurate look at school violence that I have ever read.  And because this looks at the aftermath of the shooting, I saw a lot of the social interaction that happens in schools.  Kids do fall back into the same routine, and adults have a hard time admitting that.  Cliques exist and you won’t ever eradicate them because cliques are friends and we want our kids to have friends.  Hate List brought up a lot of issues and I think it would make a great book to read as a school, class, or book club.  This books BEGS to be talked about.  This is an extremely powerful story and I spent the last third of the book in absolute tears.

Highly, highly recommended for teens and adults.

*my own copy

Pretty Little Liars Series (Books #1 and #2) by Sara Shepard

I’ve had students begging me to read this series for the past few years.  For some reason, I never got around to it.  (Not sure how I feel about 6th graders reading it, but their parents bought them!)  When I saw that ABC Family was making the series into a TV show, I decided to read them this summer.  So far I have read the first two in the series, Pretty Little Liars and Pretty Little Liars #2: Flawless.  I have to admit- they are addicting!  No one would ever accuse them of being high-brow literature, but they are certainly fun.  Like a cross between Desperate Housewives, Mean Girls, Law & Order, The Real Housewives, and I Know What You Did Last Summer, they are pure fluff and brain candy.  Even a little trashy.  But I found myself furiously turning the pages!

In the quiet suburb of Rosewood, Pennsylvania there are 5 best friends.  Ali, the ringleader, brought them all together in middle school.  Inseparable, they rule the school until suddenly Ali disappears.  One minute she is there, the next the police are mking pleas for her return on TV.  Hanna, Spencer, Aria, and Emily are in the midst of it all. Right before 7th grade begins, the girls are thrust into a manhunt.  But now the years have passed, Ali has never been found, and the girls have all drifted apart.

Then, each girl starts receiving IMs, notes, and text messages from someone named “A”. This person knows secrets, things about each girl that no one else knows.  No one except Ali.  Ali, who they have each realized was manipulative and powerful, knew the deepest and darkest secret of every girl. So who could be sending these messages? And why are they threatening to spill the secrets?

Drawn together again, the girls slowly begin to rebuild a very fragile friendship. While the story is fluff and a little over-the-top, I think a lot of teens (and adult women!) will recognize themselves and their own friends in story.  We all grow up and grow apart, while wishing it wasn’t happening.  Shepard’s characters are realistic and the more you read the more you begin to understand why they are the way they are. Each girl looks like she lives the perfect life, when the reality is very different.

Like I said, these are very quick reads.  I flew through the first two books and look forward to finishing the series.  I can see why ABC Family picked this up a series- it makes for great TV.  (Appropriate for teens)

*my own copy used for review

Cum Laude by Cecily von Ziegesar

I read von Ziegesar’s Gossip Girl books as a teen and loved them.  I am a huge fan of the TV show.  Are they silly and fluffy?  Of course!  And I would never say they are the best written books.  But they were fun.  While the characters were sometimes (ok, a lot of the time) loathe-able, I found something to like about them over the course of the series.  So when I saw that von Ziegesar had a new book, Cum Laude, I didn’t even read the reviews. Well, I should have.

Ugh, I hated this book. I’m not sure if the publishers are aiming it at the YA audience or adult audience, but I think that’s a non-factor. It’s just UGH. I finished it, but just barely. I couldn’t stand a single character. Maybe that that was the point- they are spoiled kids who attend a small, liberal-arts school in Maine. But come on- shouldn’t they at least have some redeeming qualities? They all whine nonstop. They hate their lives. No one is happy. And even worse? We never really get to know any of the characters that well.

Don’t waste your time with this one. It isn’t even a fun, fluffy read. I felt like I just wasted my time reading it.

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