In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

YA, Part 2

Dear Annie,

We read The Ruby in the Smoke with Lizzie and she liked it, but didn't want to rush on into the others. A couple of years later I read and loved Tiger in the Well, the one about 19th-century identity theft. I'm such a huge fan of The Golden Compass and sequels that I've always thought of the Sally Lockhart series as good, but one notch below. I love the many-layered aspect of The Golden Compass, and Pullman's hostility to organized religion. So much is going on in his books at once. I should go revisit Ruby.

My favorite YA book – and by that I mean, say, 8th grade and up – is probably
, by M.T. Anderson. It’s set in a dystopian future where everyone has computer chips in their brains (“wetware”) so that they can access the internet (the Feed) just by thinking about it. IM-ing is constant. And the Feed can access your thoughts, so it’s always beaming thought-specific advertising directly to your brain. It’s kind of fascinating at the beginning of the book, and evolves darker as the story progresses. The main character meets a young woman who’s trying to resist the Feed, and although he’s intrigued he ultimately retreats into his programmed world. The beauty of the book is in the language: Anderson has created teenspeak which is completely understandable and just a bit off from the present day. There’s a great audiobook of Feed also. Our girls listened to it a lot.

Marcelo in the Real World
, by Francisco X Stork is another I’ve become quite fond of. Marcelo is an Asperger’s kid, in the summer before his senior year in high school. His over-controlling lawyer father wants him to leave his special school and mainstream into the local high school. Father and son make a deal that if Marcelo can work all summer in the mailroom at his father’s law firm, then he can choose what school he goes to. Marcelo’s voice is pitch-perfect: he explains in his slightly-detached way how he analyzes and interacts with the world. The law firm gives him an array of fast-talking, sarcastic, and occasionally just plain nasty people to try to figure out. The ending wraps up a bit too neatly, but the journey is quite wonderful.

And as long as I’m on a roll with contemporary YA with male main characters, I’ll toss in
, by Pete Hautman.A high school boy creates a new religion that worships the local water tower. Chapters are preceded by quotes from the bible that he writes: they all make a lot of sense – after all water is very primal. It’s all about questioning of faith and, because the object of worship is a huge water tower, risk-taking. Another piece of good writing.



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