July 20, 2012
No one can dispute that there has been a huge boom in Young Adult fiction in recent years. In fact, these days you'll find many adults who read more Young Adult books than anything else. (I include myself in that category, of course.) But, even with the expansion in available reading material, there are still some Young Adult mainstays, or classics, that I think kids should still be reading. Why? Because these books all, in some way, teach teens how to be a person. A good person, with a moral compass and the ability to make informed decisions. Some of these are still taught in schools, some aren't. But, if you see one on the list that you think would appeal to your child, check and see if they've read it. If not, get it for them!
1. To Kill a Mockingbird- This is my pick for not just best Young Adult book, but the ultimate American novel. It's easy to read, but Harper Lee packed so much into this short book that even she stated she had said all she needed to when she wrote it, and that's why she never wrote another book. So what if the setting is dated? So what if the exact issues addressed in the book may not be the ones we face in everyday life? The social problems explored in the book are still a part of our society. To me, this is not just a book, but a narrative on American society. Make sure your kid reads this book. And, if you haven't read it yourself, do so. Now.
2. The Giver - I didn't read this book until a college class on adolescent literature. Why? I don't know, but I wish I had read it sooner. It is an amazing commentary on a person's place in society, what is acceptable to a society, and an exploration of individualism within a society. While not as complex or action-packed as many of the current dystopian books you'll find on the Young Adult shelves, the book grips you until the last page, when you will literally turn the page looking for the rest of the story, only to find that's it! (Rest easy- there are two sequels to answer your questions.) This is a great read for younger kids who might not be ready for the violence and action of The Hunger Games, but who are ready to contemplate questions on individualism and society.
3. Anne of Green Gables- Seriously, every girl should read Anne of Green Gables. It was my mainstay book until I was 15 and discovered Wuthering Heights (if there was ever a book for over-dramatic high school girls, it's Wuthering heights, btw). Anne is pure awesome. She makes everything around her a part of whatever fantasy she's created in her mind, while also learning how to be a friend and part of a family. But, even with all her fantasies, she also remains the coolest head in the room in many situations, showing that even a girl who dwells in dreams can be grounded. I. Love. Anne.
4. The Hiding Place- This is an autobiographical story from a Dutch woman whose family helped a number of Jews escape the Holocaust during World War II. Although the author was not a young woman during the events of the book, the story is written at a level that makes it easily accessible to young adults. Life under the Nazis, and Corrie's own experiences in a concentration camp is recounted in a straightforward fashion, but without concentrating on the horrific details. Learning to recognize your ability to impact the world is important for teens, and this book effectively demonstrates how one person can take action, a message important for teens who often feel powerless.
5. Hatchet- This book is taught in many schools, usually in 7th or 8th grade. But, if your child's school isn't teaching it, or you're looking for a really good 'boy book' for a 6th or 7th grader, this is fantastic. The main character, Brian, is alone for virtually the entire book, pretty much any adolescent's nightmare. But, he has to take care of himself if he wants to survive, and the only tool he has available is a survival hatchet. In addition to chronicling how Brian survives, but also illustrates the effect that self-reflection and thought have upon his priorities and emotions.
I'm stopping at those five for now. They're all books I've read and loved, and books I know will be beneficial for any adolescent to read. While almost any reading is a good thing, it can be argued that some reading is better than others. For instance- would you rather your daughter want to be Bella or Anne? Me- I'd choose Anne any day, and I hope one day my daughter would make the same decision.
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