Tag Archives: YA Literature

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
Classification
:  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
Classification
: 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.
Flags: 4

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A Company of Swans

By Eva Ibbotson
Classification: YA fiction
Genre: Historical fiction, romance
Age Level: 13+
Subjects: Ballet, early 20th century, English society, sexism, South American colonies

Reader’s Annotation:  When Harriett Morton runs away from her oppressive father’s household to join a traveling ballet company bound for the Amazon, she falls in love with enigmatic Rom Verney and refuses to return home even after her father tracks her down.

Summary:  Harriet Morton’s father is Merlin Professor of the Classics at Kings College in Cambridge.  Professor Morton is sexist, frugal and narrow-minded, and he envisions for his daughter a life married to a respectable academic.  He has even selected the perfect candidate:  fussy, unimaginative entomologist Edward Finch-Dutton, whose great ambition is to classify as many species of fleas as he can discover.  Harriet has other ideas for her life.  A gifted ballet dancer, she is offered a position in the corps of a traveling company journeying to the Amazon.  Harriet goes against her father’s wishes and after her debut performance meets British exile Rom Verney.  They quickly fall in love, but their dreams for the future are threatened when Harriet’s father and would-be fiancé track her all the way to South America.

Notes:  This historical romance has all the sophistication and story-telling finesse of adult romance writers Jude Devareaux and Judith McNaught without the steamy (and usually cheesy) love scenes.
Flags: 4

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Anahita’s Woven Riddle

By Meghan Nuttal Sayers
Classification: YA fiction
Genre: Historical fiction, romance
Age Level: 13+
Subjects: Personal identity, cultural identity, family, love and marriage, community, responsibility, women’s rights

Reader’s Annotation:  A nomadic weaver in the deserts of Persia, Anahita agrees to marry the man who correctly solves the riddle she has woven into her wedding carpet.

Summary:  In 19th century Persia, women marry according to their families’ wishes.  Content with her weaving and hoping to apprentice herself to her tribe’s dyemaster, Anahita would rather not marry just yet.  Striking an unusual compromise with her father, Farhad, Anahita agrees to weave a riddle into her wedding carpet and marry the man who solves the riddle.  This arrangement causes tension within Anahita’s tribe, first among the conservative families who feel Anahita has over-stepped her place as a female, and then with the entire tribe when Anahita’s would-be husband (the Khan who represents the tribe to the shah’s government) angrily cuts off the tribe’s water supply, forcing a difficult migration for the nomadic shepherds.  In the face of the tribe’s criticism, Anahita nearly quails, but impending battles for migratory rights force Anahita to look beyond her own future to that of the entire community.  As the number of her suitors increases to include, among others, her childhood friend Dariyoush, her schoolteacher Reza, and the mysterious Arash, Anahita realizes not just her childhood but her entire way of life may be coming to an end.

Notes:  Filled with details of desert landscape and nomadic life, this story transports the reader to a seemingly mythical place.  Though there are no flying carpets in Anahita’s world, her story has a magical quality.
Flags: 4

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Twisted

By Laurie Halse Anderson
Classification: YA Literature
Genre: Issues, realistic fiction
Age Level: 15+
Subjects: High school, family, bullying

Reader’s Annotation:  After years of being bullied, Tyler considers using violence to make himself heard.

Summary:  For years, Tyler has been relentlessly terrorized by Chip Milbury, the son of his father’s boss and the twin brother of his secret crush.  When Tyler gets caught vandalizing his high school, he is sentenced to community service which he fulfills by working for the summer with the school janitorial staff.  Rage has been slowly building within Tyler as a result of Chip’s bullying and his father’s constant pressure.  When Tyler is accused of circulating lewd pictures of his crush, he is tormented at school and threatened with military school by his father.  How will Tyler cope?  The reader goes inside the mind of a young man cornered as he contemplates a pistol and all his options.  Is violence Tyler’s only way out?  Who will be the victims?

Notes: Tyler is an outstanding male protagonist from the author of Speak, offering a fresh, relevant perspective in a post-Columbine world.
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The Midwife’s Apprentice

By Karen Cushman
Classification
:  YA Literature
Genre:  Historical fiction
Age Level:  10+
Subjects:  Medieval village life, self-discovery, midwifery

“Just because you don’t know everything don’t mean you know nothing.” ~ from The Midwife’s Apprentice

Summary:  An unnamed girl who can only remember begging and scrounging and being tormented by villagers is taken in by a midwife.  With only a cat for a companion, the girl works hard and slowly learns to observe the midwife in her tasks.  Finally, the girl knows what she wants:  a full belly, a contented heart, and a place in the world.  All are within her reach if only she can overcome her own feelings of worthlessness. 

Notes:  This Newberry Medal Book is a good read for the plucky protagonist as well as for the historical elements and the subject of midwifery.
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Primavera

By Mary Jane Beaufrand
Classification
:  YA Literature
Genre:  Historical Fiction
Age Level:  12+
Subjects:  Family, self-discovery, Italian Renaissance, Medici

Summary:  Scorned and neglected by her mother from infancy, young Flora Pazzi has grown up in the shadows of her family’s elegant palazzo.  Nurtured by her remarkable Nonna, Flora observes the endless political intrigues of her family whose chief rivals for power in Florence are the formidable Medicis.  When Flora and her friend Emilio become embroiled in the Pazzis’ latest sinister plot, Flora finds herself at a crossroads:  warn the Medici and betray her family, or remain idle while her father orchestrates a massacre?  Whatever she chooses, Flora knows the life she has led, however miserable, is about to end.

Notes:  Set in 1478, with Botticelli and the Pope figuring in the background, this exciting novel is a great introduction to the drama of Renaissance Italy.  The historical elements are the strongest aspects of the book; the writing itself is fair.  Would be enjoyed by middle school students reading Shakespeare for the first time. 
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Does My Head Look Big in This?

By Randa Abdel-Fattah
Classification: YA fiction
Genre: Realistic fiction
Age Level: 12+
Subjects: High school, cultural identity, personal beliefs, family, religion, self-discovery

Reader’s Annotation:  Australian-Palestinian teenager Amal decides to wear the hijab, or Muslim head scarf, full-time, a formidable challenge at her private school in a Melbourne suburb.

Summary:  Sixteen-year-old Amal is intelligent, sarcastic, focused and loyal, and she needs to be all that and more when she decides to wear the hijab as a symbol of her commitment to her faith.  With the support of her truest friends, Amal copes with the narrow-mindedness of classmates, the stress of preparing for exams, and the complexity of her relationship with crush-worthy Adam.  Then Amal’s own convictions are tested when her best friend runs away from home and Amal must confront her own prejudices and ignorance.

Notes:  Amal’s wit, insight and self-awareness make her a role model for all time.  This novel offers an engaging glimpse into a world seemingly different from—yet surprisingly similar to—that of most middle-class families.
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Storyteller

By Edward Myers
Classification:  YA Literature
Genre:  Fantasy
Age Level:  12+
Subjects:  Storytelling, personal identity, loyalty, self-discovery

Summary:  Jack grows up in the town of Yarrow with a gift for telling tales.  As he gets older, Jack decides to leave home to seek a living as a storyteller.  After a few tough scrapes, fate hands Jack a boon and he finds himself in the employ of King Alphonse.  For a while, all seems to be going Jack’s way, but when King Alphonse dies suddenly and his immature, self-centered son Yoss ascends to the throne, Jack finds himself working as a propaganda machine for the new king’s reign.  Though troubled, Jack lacks the conviction to act decisively against Yoss.  With his family toiling unfairly under Yoss’s rule, and his love Stelinda held captive by his enemies, can Jack master his art in time to enlist the help he needs?

Notes:  Stories within stories build upon one another to create a wonderful tale about the power of words.  A terrific read that celebrates a fading art.
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