Hey, guys! I haven’t posted in a while. I’ve been working on a post about my reading of Beartown by Fredrik Backman (it’s brilliant, I must say. Everyone should read it). However, I’m not quite ready to post about it yet. My review has been giving me a bit of writer’s block, so I’m holding off on it for now.
Some of you may know that 2017 is considered the 50th anniversary of the YA novel (based off of the publication date of The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton). To celebrate the year, Booklist has compiled a list they call “Booklist’s 50 Best YA Books of All Time.” It starts with Hinton and ends with our more contemporary literature. While they openly admit to this not being a full-proof list, they have a number of interesting titles on it.
I love YA, like many readers, and I thought it would be fun to see how many of these books I have read and could read over the summer. I don’t think I’m going to read all of them, but I’m going to make an effort to get through as many as I can. As I go through this YA journey, I figured it would be the perfect sort of review to share with you.
I had read several books on the list before it was published, and I have since found lots at my local library, so I have a small list to share with you today. More are on hold or sitting on my TBR shelf, so this will certainly be a post that will have a “Part 2” and maybe a “Part 3.” It’s also going to be much more informal than other posts I’ve made, but I’m good with that if you are, too!
So, without further ado, here’s what I have So Far:
#3: The Pigman, Paul Zindel
John and Lorraine have created a game out of prank calling people, which is how they first encounter Mr. Pignati, or The Pigman, whose grief over the loss of his wife leaves him desperate for companionship. Their adventures with and without him will have you laughing and then regretting alongside them.
This book reminded me a lot of The Catcher in the Rye, which makes sense, considering they were published around the same time. The story is told as though John and Lorraine are typing up their account of the events, and their voices (particularly Lorraine’s) greatly resemble Holden’s. Moreover, they’re apparent disregard for consequences easily reminds the reader of a certain high school student wandering the streets of New York and contemplating ducks…
I liked this book, but there wasn’t necessarily anything spectacular about it for me. I think because I was part of a generation whose authors were unafraid to touch on the tough subjects surrounding growing up, I find this particular book’s approach to grief and suffering to be commonplace. Booklist says that, when it was released, it was one of the first books of its kind to address “teen life in all its darkness and complexity.” For a first introduction to its themes and ideas, I would say it was probably shocking. Zindel also does a great job of not writing down to his audience; even though the teens are telling this story, they don’t offer some cookie-cutter “moral” to the story in the end, which is always a “plus” in the world of YA.
Overall, I liked it a lot more than The Catcher in the Rye, and I can see why it was included on the list.
#6: I Know What You Did Last Summer, Lois Duncan
[Do you guys remember that first book you read that freaked you the heck out? For a lot of people, it was probably that “Scary Stories” series. For me, it was Duncan’s masterpiece. Goosebumps for days!]
Something happened last summer involving four teens. They thought no one knew about it. That is, until a stranger contacted one of them, saying he knew what had happened. What follows is a dangerous series of events that ends in a “surprising” twist that “no one” can see coming!
I’ll be honest, though–I re-read this after I saw it on the list, and I now realize that 10-year-old me had a very simplistic idea of what “scary” is.
I can certainly understand its inclusion on this list. This was also one of my first introductions to the processing of “guilt” as a teen (or, in my case, tween), and Duncan certainly hopes to achieve an intimate understanding of what someone might go through when faced like a situation like this. All lame-movie-making aside, the inspiration behind the threat in this book is both personified and very real fear.
It was great to return to one of my childhood favorites. Lois Duncan’s books are all sufficiently creepy and spooky, and it’s pretty cool to see one of them featured on this list!
#9: Gentlehands, M. E. Kerr
This book comes with a really interesting concept–a young guy develops a relationship with his grandfather, only to find out that the same man is a wanted Nazi officer. Unfortunately, in this particular telling, I think the actual heart of this story was overshadowed by a rather lame love story.
Buddy comes from the rough side of the tracks, and Skye is the daughter of a wealthy family who visits for summer vacation. Their connection feels rather inauthentic, and the added drama of the hatred and distrust from Buddy’s parents toward those with “money” detracted from the overall purpose of the story (in my opinion). Also, I always find it so difficult, and therefore weird, to tell a summer fling story from the perspective of the guy.
I liked the idea of this book a lot, and it makes me wonder if accounts like it are out there. But I don’t think I would recommend it as anything more than a romance.
#11: Annie on My Mind, Nancy Garden
I think Booklist’s write-up of this one says it best:
“Garden’s novel, centered on Annie and Liza’s romance, revealed gradually through Liza’s memories, has all the iconic markers of teen romance, but it was truly groundbreaking: this teenage lesbian love story was the first of it’s kind to have a happy ending.”
I really enjoyed reading through this romance. The story moves from friendship, to general acceptance of their identities, to discoveries considering how the world perceives them (incorrectly, I might add) and who they can turn to for help. I like the parallel that appears between them and a couple of the other characters in the story. And, for once, the flashback really seems to balance out the storytelling elements. This one is definitely worth the read!
#14: Howl’s Moving Castle, Diane Wynne Jones
That’s right, folks–the very famous Miyazaki film was first and foremost a YA novel. The same lovable Sophie appears to help the Wizard Howl in his escapades, just as the film portrays.
I’ll be honest–I found this book incredibly boring. I don’t think it carried the plot well, and there were several parts of the book that I simply skimmed (without losing any part of the plot). It is, perhaps, a perfect introduction to other fantasy novels (i.e. Terry Brooks, Robert Jordan), which I also struggle to get through. Thus, for those who more greatly enjoy this genre, it may be a brilliant execution. I, for one, will stick with watching the film.
#18: Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, Chris Crutcher
This book was actually a required reading title I read way back in high school, almost a decade ago. Chris Crutcher, the author, actually came to our school to talk about his books (we could pick from a list of them, and I chose this one). The actual plot of this story has faded for me, but I didn’t feel the need to re-read it, like IKWYDLS.
The one thing I know for sure is that Crutcher attempts to address the Tough Stuff in everything he writes. This book alone deals with abuse, body image issues, high school drama, and so much more. The characters are very relatable. You feel for their experiences and recognize similarities in your own life, even if they don’t reach this extreme.
I think it’s great the Crutcher’s books are being used in the classroom (as many of these are, or might be). One of the hardest lessons most people learn in high school is that there are no easy answers to most of Life, and authors who are unafraid to point that out in their work should be included in the curriculum.
At the same time, this was a school read, so I don’t know how fun it would be to read on your own time! Jus’ sayin’.
Whew. I need a break!
More to come in the future. In the meantime, happy reading everyone! If you’re looking for something fun to read over the summer, I suggest YA.