Category Archives: YA Literature

A Northern Light

By Jennifer Donnelly
Classification: YA fiction
Genre: Historical, mystery
Age Level: 13+
Subjects: Women’s rights, education, children in poverty

Reader’s Annotation:  With the real-life mystery of Grace Brown’s death as a backdrop, this novel tells the fictional story of Mattie Gokey in Uttica, NY in 1906.

Summary:  In upstate New York in 1906, Mattie Gokey is working hard to hold her family together after her mother’s death and her brother’s desertion.  In a constant struggle against poverty, illness and hopelessness, Mattie cares for her three younger sisters, helps her father run their small farm, and studies to earn her high school diploma.  Her greatest dream is to attend Barnard College where she has gained acceptance and a full scholarship, but only Mattie’s good friend Weaver and her teacher Miss Wilcox are excited for her.  Mattie’s father says no, her sisters do not want her to leave, and her intended, Royal, simply does not understand Mattie’s desire for further education.  Then a traveler, a young woman by the name of Grace Brown, dies mysteriously.  As Mattie tries to piece together an understanding of Grace’s life and death, she realizes the importance of her own story.

Notes:  Though Mattie narrates the novel, many women’s stories are presented, offering an unflinching account of the hardships faced by women at this point in history.  These struggles resonate with women today as well, making this novel a thought-provoking read.
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By P.C. Cast & Kristin Cast
: YA Fiction
Genre: Fantasy, vampires
Age Level: 14+
Subjects: High school, friendships, self-discovery, vampires

Reader’s Annotation:  Newly Marked vampire Zoey Redbird copes with friends and rivals in her new school, the House of Night.

Summary:  Zoey,16, is Marked by a vampire Tracker and leaves her home and high school to attend the House of Night, a boarding school for fledgling vampires undergoing the Change from human to adult vampire.  Once at the House of Night, Zoey finds both unfortunate similarities and startling differences between her new school and her old:  a Queen Bee named Aphrodite and her sycophants, hot guys like drama buff Erik, classes in fencing and vampire sociology.  With the help of new friends, Zoey discovers her powers—gifts from the vampire goddess Nyx—and struggles to follow her grandmother’s advice to balance her unique abilities with responsible behavior.

Notes:  Book one of a series.  This series is engaging even for those readers who are not deeply interested in vampires.  Content to be aware of—language, sexuality
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The Luxe

By Anna Godbersen
: Fiction
Genre: Historical fiction, mystery, romance
Age Level: 13+
Subjects: Turn of the century, New York high society, relationships

Reader’s Annotation:  The events leading up to the funeral of 17-year-old Elizabeth Holland reveal that all that glitters is not gold, especially amid the upper class of Victorian New York.

Summary:  The novel opens in 1899 with the funeral of Elizabeth Holland, a dearly loved daughter of New York’s high society.  From Elizabeth’s funeral, which is attended by the extensive cast of characters including Diana Holland, the deceased’s sister, the story flashes back to the short weeks leading up to the tragedy.  What really happened to seventeen-year-old Elizabeth that fateful morning by the river?  At least two people wish her dead:  her best friend/chief rival who covets her fiancé, and her ladies maid who covets her true love.  Possibly Elizabeth’s life is in danger from the debtors who extracted payment from her father by killing him.  But in a world where mothers lie to their daughters and best friends lie to each other, how will anyone uncover the truth?

Notes:  Book one of series.  An entertaining read with a predictable conclusion, this novel never gives the reader a good reason to love any of the numerous characters introduced.  The plot rather than the characters engages the reader.
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By Lauren Myracle
Classification: YA Literature
Genre: Realistic fiction, chick lit
Age Level: 13+
Subjects: Friendship, high school

Reader’s Annotation:  Tenth-graders Zoe, Madigan and Angela have been friends since childhood and hope to remain close as they grow up but the challenges of high school threaten their friendships as the girls cope with crushes, parents, rivals and teachers and begin to keep secrets from one another.

Summary:  Zoe has a crush on her teacher, who in turn seems to be paying an unseemly amount of attention to Zoe.  Madigan befriends a long-time rival and finds herself in over her head when her “friend’s” loyalty is tested.  Angela struggles to see the best in herself after being treated badly by her boyfriend.  And these three childhood friends have developed the bad habit of keeping secrets from one another, precisely at a time when true friends are the one thing they each need.   The story unfolds entirely via instant messages, the girls’ primary means of communication outside of school.

Notes:  This book reads like a hybrid of a diary and a play, and has the delicious, absorbing feeling of eavesdropping on a good conversation.
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By Laurie Halse Anderson
Classification: YA Literature
Genre: Issues Fiction
Age Level: 14+
Subjects: High school, relationships, trauma, sexual assault

Reader’s Annotation: While her inner voice is clever, strong, and insightful, Melinda Sordino has no intention of speaking her thoughts aloud, even though her story needs to be told.

Summary:  Melinda Sordino realizes what happened to her at a party over the summer, but she has told no one.  Now, she is ostracized at school, she has grown apart from her best friend, and she knows she probably will not want to talk even if she had someone to listen to her.  The tremendous weight on 14-year-old Melinda’s shoulders seems to have claimed her voice.  As she drifts through her freshman year of high school saying as little as possible, it is clear that Melinda needs to find her voice before she drowns in her own silence.

Notes:  A spot-on assessment of high school cliques, this is a gripping story how a young girl copes with assault.  The novel is an ALA Printz Honor Book (2000), a 1999 National Book Award Finalist, and a Edgar Allan Poe Award Finalist.
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By Julie Anne Peters
Classification: Fiction
Genre: Issues fiction
Age Level: 15+
Subjects: Transgender identity, family, high school

Reader’s Annotation:  Luna has been living as Liam for her entire life, and she realizes that she must cast off that role now or risk losing herself entirely.

Summary:  Luna is a girl trapped in the body of a boy named Liam, but only Regan, Luna’s sister is in on the secret.  Regan offers her bedroom so that, under the cover of the night, Luna can take off the mask of Liam and allow her true identity to emerge.  This has gone on for years, but Luna senses the time is coming when she can no longer retreat into “total boy role.”  With Regan’s help, Luna begins to transition from living as a boy to living as a girl, starting with short shopping trips in malls across town.  But will the rest of the world, starting with their parents, be as supportive of Luna as Regan has been?

Notes:  Narrated from Regan’s point of view, this story is deeply moving with vivid characters and fresh insight.  This novel is a National Book Award Finalist
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Life of Pi

By Yann Martel
:  Fiction
Genre: Adventure, survival
Age Level: 14+
Subjects: Shipwreck, animal and human nature, religion, spirituality

Reader’s Annotation:  Pi Patel is stranded on the Pacific Ocean in a rowboat with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.

Summary:  Pi Patel has grown up in a zoo—literally.  His father is the founding director and owner of the Pondicherry Zoo and his family lives on the premises.  A solitary boy by nature, Pi’s inner life is as rich and colorful as his upbringing in 1960s India.  As a young teenager, Pi encounters Christianity and Islam, and becomes dedicated to both in addition to loving his Hindu background.  Baffled and frustrated by Pi’s devotions, his family attempts to dissuade him from his bizarre religious practices until the political and economic climate of their country prompts them to move to Canada…with the inhabitants of their zoo.  When the family is shipwrecked, young Pi is stranded in a row boat with Richard Parker, the Bengal tiger, and Pi suddenly needs an act of God—whether He be Christian, Muslim or Hindu—if he hopes to survive.

Notes:  There is only one word for this novel:  profound.
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Just Listen

By Sarah Dessen
Classification: YA Fiction
Genre: Realistic fiction, Chick lit
Age Level: 13+
Subjects: Friendship, family, eating disorders, sexual assault, bullying

Reader’s Annotation:  Annabel has a secret and her unwillingness to share it is costing her the trust of her most-needed friends.

Summary:  Keeping her assault by her best friend’s boyfriend a secret, Annabel Green finds herself ostracized at school.  Annabel is also losing interest in the modeling jobs her mother keeps pressuring her to book.  Unfortunately, Annabel does not feel comfortable speaking up at home because her older sister’s eating disorder has already caused tension in the family.  Annabel slowly becomes friends with Owen Armstrong, whose passion is music, but their relationship is threatened by Annabel’s inability to open up and confide in others.  Annabel continues to hold her tongue and alienate those who would help her until a friend inspires her to share her story.

Notes: Just Listen is not quite as harrowing as Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak, but compelling and just as honest.
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Eva Underground

By Dandi Daley Mackall
:  YA fiction
Genre: Historical fiction
Age Level: 13+
Subjects: living abroad, Poland, communism, freedom of press

Reader’s Annotation:  In Communist Poland in the months leading up to Cardinal Carol Wojtyla’s ascent to the papacy, American teen Eva Lott learns just how privileged her life in the West has been. 

Summary:  Struggling to heal after losing her mother to cancer, Eva Lott finally feels she has something to look forward to—senior year on the varsity swim team and many memories to be made with her best friend Mel and her boyfriend Matt.  Eva’s father has also been struggling to cope with his wife’s passing and he has an idea too:  he and Eva will move to Poland where Professor Lott will participate in an underground movement promoting free press in the communist state.  Livid, Eva spends her initial weeks in Poland contemplating her escape back to her suburban Chicago life.  Then she meets Tomek, a university student working with the movement.  As Eva learns the reasons for the sadness behind Tomek’s smile, she also comes to find incredible beauty in the people of Poland and their struggle to reclaim their own heritage in the wake of war.

Notes:  The unusual setting of this book provides fresh insight into life in a communist state.  
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A Countess Below Stairs

By Eva Ibbotson
: YA fiction
Genre: Historical fiction, romance
Age Level: 13+
Subjects: Early 20th century, British household servitude, Russian revolution, eugenics

Reader’s Annotation:  Anna Grazinsky is meant to be a Russian countess but her country’s revolution leaves her family penniless and Anna takes a job as a maid in the household of a British lord in an attempt to rebuild her life.

Summary:  The Grazinskys are renowned among Russian aristocracy for their hospitality as well as their wealth, and their young daughter Anna is expected to take her place in society as a shining star.  Then the tsar is assassinated and the now penniless family flees to England where Anna takes a job as a maid in the household of Rupert Frayne, the Earl of Westerholme.  Rupert’s fiancé, Muriel Hardwicke, brings all manner of distress to the household with her philosophies regarding eugenics.  Though Rupert finds himself drawn to Anna, he is bound by his word and financial destitution to the wealthy Muriel.  In a strange post-revolutionary world where a maid may be a countess, the rich have no class, and the aristocracy has no money, the love of two virtual strangers strains to prevail against the odds. 

Notes:  In this story, all of the characters, principal and minor, are richly drawn, engaging the reader from beginning to end.  This book is a worthy read for fans of historical romance.
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