Warning: This post may contain a majority number of books I found less than amazing on this list. So sorry for so much negativity!
#1: The Outsiders, S. E. Hinton
According to Ponyboy, there are two kinds of people in the world: greasers and socs. A soc (short for “social”) has money, can get away with just about anything, and has an attitude longer than a limousine. A greaser, on the other hand, always lives on the outside and needs to watch his back. Ponyboy is a greaser, and he’s always been proud of it, even willing to rumble against a gang of socs for the sake of his fellow greasers–until one terrible night when his friend Johnny kills a soc. The murder gets under Ponyboy’s skin, causing his bifurcated world to crumble and teaching him that pain feels the same whether a soc or a greaser.
This is a book that has slipped on and off my radar since I was in high school, but I never took the time to sit down and read it. I know there’s a definite shortage of books in the children’s/YA genres with male protagonists, but when I was younger I didn’t want to read any of them. So, while I might have enjoyed reading this one, it always fell under a pile of other books with more female leads.
Needless to say, I’m excited that I finally got to experience Ponyboy and Johnny. There’s a lot to be said about the fact that Hinton was only 16 when she wrote this; it feels like a book written by a kid for kids (and not in a bad way). As I was reading it, I tried to imagine what it must have been like for people to sit down and read this book when it first came out, and to finally have a voice that seemed to resonate with their own. Now, I’m a little too old to relate to all of the teenager-ness, but I still love the book’s authenticity.
There’s not necessarily anything extraordinary about this book, in my mind, but I love what it stands for and what it sought to accomplish.
#2: The Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula K. Le Guin
Ged, the greatest sorcerer in all Earthsea, was called Sparrowhawk in his reckless youth.
Hungry for power and knowledge, Sparrowhawk tampered with long-held secrets and loosed a terrible shadow upon the world. This is the tale of his testing, how he mastered the mighty words of power, tamed an ancient dragon, and crossed death’s threshold to restore the balance.
So, the whole Earthsea trilogy is actually on the list, but I don’t think my non-fantasy-reading mind can take two more books like this one. Don’t get me wrong–the book is excellent, and there’s a reason it’s withstood the test of time. I just don’t read fantasy if I can avoid it, and I’m going to in this situation.
I definitely understand why this book is on the list (of course it is! It’s an incredible time capsule, teen read, and all-around excellent book!). The character alone are powerful and inviting. There’s depth here that I don’t notice in a couple of the other early teen titles on this list. Also, the wrestling with self which is personified in this book’s quest (hopefully I’m not giving too much away) is something all young people can definitely relate to. And, while I found the story long and tedious, it really is a nice short fantasy novel that I’m sure serves as a great introduction to the genre, if you like that sort of thing.
In the end, I prefer this fantasy to others I’ve read. I’m glad it was included for its historical significance and its ongoing impact.
#12: Sweet Valley High, Francine Pascal
Will Jessica steal Todd from Elizabeth? Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield are identical twins at Sweet Valley High. They’re both popular, smart, and gorgeous, but that’s where the similarity ends. Elizabeth is friendly, outgoing, and sincere — nothing like her snobbish and conniving twin. Jessica gets what she wants — at school, with friends, and especially with boys. This time, Jessica has set her sights on Todd Wilkins, the handsome star of the basketball team — the one boy that Elizabeth really likes. Elizabeth doesn’t want to lose him, but what Jessica wants, Jessica usually gets … even if it ends up hurting her sister. Meet the Wakefield twins, their guys, and the rest of the gang at Sweet Valley High….
This is another book where the entire series is on the list, but I could barely make it through the first one… Unlike The Wizard of Earthsea, I feel like this one has far less redeeming qualities. These books play on the good/evil twin motif, which is fine. Unfortunately, I feel like it pushes it to an uncomfortable extreme and fails to fully resolve anything.
Okay, I just hate Jessica.
More than that, though, I think these books (at least the first one) attempt to portray teenage girlhood in an accurate light, but it over-portrays only certain aspects of that life, and it’s a narrative specific to the rich and white. I understand that it’s a product of its age, but some of the language surrounding the Wakefields and their disinterest in other families and associating with them made me very uncomfortable. If this list is honoring books held exclusively within their contexts, I can almost allow it. However, whereas most of the other books I’ve seen as beneficial in contemporary classrooms, I’m glad to know that this series has lost most, if not all, of its following.
#42: They Called Themselves the KKK: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group, Susan Campbell Bartoletti
“Boys, let us get up a club.” With those words, six restless young men raided the linens at a friend’s mansion in 1866. They pulled white sheets over their heads, hopped on horses, and cavorted through the streets of Pulaski, Tennessee. Soon, the six friends named their club the Ku Klux Klan and began patterning their initiations after fraternity rites, with passwords and mysterious handshakes. All too quickly, this club would grow into the self-proclaimed “Invisible Empire,” with secret dens spread across the South. On their brutal raids, the nightriders would claim to be ghosts of Confederate soldiers and would use psychological and physical terror against former slaves who dared to vote, own land, attend school, or worship as they pleased.
This is the story of how a secret terrorist group took root in America’s democracy. Filled with chilling and vivid personal accounts unearthed from oral histories, congressional documents, and other primary sources, this is a book to read and remember.
As you can probably tell, this is one of a different sort of book on this list! It was very educational and eye-opening. There’s a lot of history to the South and the KKK that I didn’t know, until I read this book. Bartoletti does a great job of tracing the group’s growth through history, and tying into what would have been contemporary context when the book was published. It actually sheds a horrifying light on some things today, for those who follow (willingly or unwillingly) American news and politics. This one’s for the history fans!
#47: Midwinterblood, Marcus Sedgwick
Have you ever had the feeling that you’ve lived another life? Been somewhere that has felt totally familiar, even though you’ve never been there before, or felt that you know someone well, even though you are meeting them for the first time? It happens.
In a novel comprising seven parts, each influenced by a moon – the flower moon, the harvest moon, the hunter’s moon, the blood moon – this is the story of Eric and Merle whose souls have been searching for each other since their untimely parting.
I’ll be honest: I was lost.
This book was so confusing, and in the end, somewhat disappointing. I was intrigued through the first two parts, and then I just lost track of the timeline and couldn’t find my footing.
I appreciate the unusual and the unconventional, but I’m starting to think this list has a few too many titles added purely because they’re “different.” I’m sure this book is great to some people, but I just didn’t get it.
Again, sorry for the depressing reviews! I’m hoping my next set of 5 will be happier. (If it helps, there are more series on this list than Earthsea and Sweet Valley that I’m actually enjoying, so I’m waiting until I’ve read their sequels to review them!)