Saturday, August 25, 2007

Book From the Past: My Favorite Young Adult Reads

I have been nostalgic today. I know, it's a terrible. But I was thinking about all the summers I spent as a young adult reading fiction that contributed to the kind of reader I would be as an adult. Below I have listed a few of my favorite young adult books -- fiction that I found a comfortable chair out in the sun and zipped through.

Island of Blue Dolphins by Scott O'dell

Scott O'Dell won the Newbery Medal for Island of the Blue Dolphins in 1961, and in 1976 the Children's Literature Association named this story one of the Ten Best American Children's Books of the past 200 years. I, of course, didn't know or care about any of that stuff when this book found it's way into my hands at the age of thirteen. O'dell's book was based on a story that inspired the author about a young Native American girl who was left behind by her tribe. In the book Karana, the main character, finds herself alone on the island her tribe once inhabited. She is forced to find her own food and shelter, to cloth herself, and make peace with the solitude of living alone on an island. I loved this story as a young adult because it provided a glimpse of native life that I had never seen. The book provides a strong female character with a knowledge of the land that I found magical. While preparing to write this list I found that O'dell wrote a sequel to Island of the Blue Dolphins, called Zia, in which two relatives of Karana set out to return her to her people. Needless to say, I ordered it.

The Pigman and The Pigman's Legacy by Paul Zindel

The book was initially written in 1968 by Pulitzer Prize winner Paul Zindel. The story folllows teenagers John and Lorraine who are generally unhappy. School is a bore, their parents are never pleased -- life seems meaningless. So John and Lorraine start pulling pranks on people in order to get laughs. The center of one of these pranks in Mr. Pignati, whom they later begin to call "Pigman". Soon after the older, overweight, and zany Pigman enters their lives, John and Lorraine begin to change and have new realizations about life and friendship. The thing I really love about this book was the alternate narratives in which John and Lorraine tell their story in every other chapter. The book also does a great job of detailing friendship, John and Lorraine kiss once and things become weird but for the remainder of the book their friends -- good friends.

The Pigman's Legacy is the sequel to the first book and is written in the same changes of narrative that made the first book so interesting to me. The story takes place four months after the Pigman's death, John and Lorraine are passing by their old friend's empty house when they discover that an elderly man has taken up residence in the abandoned home. John and Lorraine believe that the appearance of a strange old man in the Pigman's house is a sign that they must reach out to the stranger in an attempt at righting all the wrongs that occurred to the Pigman.

Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Green

So this one's kind of sappy. I remember laying the back yard during the summer and reading the book with awe. I suppose it was my first foray into anything with a romantic nature. Right before the train pulled into the station in Jenkinsville, Arkansas, Patty Bergen, our heroine, has a feeling that something exciting is going to happen. German prisoners of war have arrived to make their new home in the prison camp in Jenkinsville. Patty, twelve years old, meets one of the German soldiers when he comes to her father's store to purchase a hat. The soldiers are being use to pick cotton in the fields. Anton, Patty's German soldier, escapes from the camp where he is being held and makes his way to Patty's house. So you see what happens next, right? Patty falls in love, Anton seems to understand her better than anyone else. I hadn't yet read Romeo and Juliet and so the idea that two people who could never been together might fall madly in love was terrifying to me. I can say, however, that by the end of the summer I wished I had my own illegally escaped prisoner of war.

A Wrinkle in Time
by Madeleine L'Engle

This book, originally published over forty years ago, has a bit of everything -- family troubles, science fiction, magic, and a good dose of symbolic meaning. The book focuses on Meg Murry and her brothers, Charles Wallace who live with their mother. Their Father has been missing for years, supposedly working on a top secret government project. A strange visitor comes to the Murry house and spirits Meg, her genius younger brother Charles Wallace and friend Calvin on a dangerous multi-dimensional journey to fight an evil that has involved the entire universe. Its not just Earth that is at stake, but Meg's relationship with her father and younger brother - and her own ability to accept herself and the talents she possesses as well. Those who are great fans of the book believe that L'Engle's series, of which A Wrinkle in Time is the first book, is a precurser to later books like the Harry Potter series. At thirteen I enjoyed the book for its complexities, the way in which a science-fiction book also contained a story of family.


Marg said...

I remember reading Summer of My German Solder at school! I reread it last year and it pretty much lived up to my memory of it!

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