Posts Tagged ‘young adult literature’


by Karen Cushman

Author’s Website: http://www.karencushmanbooks.com/


Newbery Medal-winning books are always a good place to look when in search of fabulous historical fiction, and The Midwife’s Apprentice is certainly no disappointment in this respect. Actually, Karen Cushman has written a number of YA historical novels set in Medieval England, but I think this one is probably her finest. A slim volume that weighs in at around 128 pages, this book might easily be written off due to its size; there is, however, no law that a book must be more than 150 pages in order to be funny, thought-provoking, educational, and enjoyable. Which, as it happens, is precisely what The Midwife’s Apprentice is.


A nameless girl who knows nothing of the world except hunger, cold, and mistreatment finds herself taking advantage of the heat generated by a dung-heap one cold night, and it is there that she is discovered the next morning by the village midwife, Jane. Called “Beetle” and put to work by the sharp-tempered Jane in exchange for food and shelter, she begins to learn about the art of midwifery (although Jane refuses to teach her anything directly for fear of competition). Little by little, the meek (but intelligent) Beetle carves a place for herself in the world, making friends, learning a trade, and even giving herself a real name—Alyce. But life in Medieval England is full of challenges, and when Alyce encounters one she cannot face, she runs away. Can she muster the courage to face her fears and find what she has finally realized she wants: “a full belly, a contented heart, and a place in this world”?

I first read this book in middle school and was absolutely fascinated by the vivid picture that Ms. Cushman paints. Her Medieval village is dirty, smelly, and completely realistic, flying in the face of the romanticized image of castles and princesses. Even more impressive is the fact that her characters (in spite of the book’s shortness) are fully-fleshed and believable: Brat/Beetle/Alyce is a plucky, gawky, and endearing heroine, and her story is utterly compelling.

This book could easily be read by someone as young as 10, but the intended audience is probably more in the 12-14 age range. Of course, as with all books I recommend, this certainly does not mean readership should be limited to kids and young teens. And, once again, don’t be put off by the book’s length—128 pages is plenty of time for a fascinating story. I highly recommend this book!

Whew, my first November review! With any luck, I’ll find time for another one before the month is out, now that NaNoWriMo is winding down. In the meantime, keep reading, and if you have any suggestions for books you’d like me to review, just leave a comment. Thanks!

Best wishes, and as always, happy reading,



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by Rick Riordan

Author’s Website: http://www.rickriordan.com/


Some stories are powerful, and others are beautiful and haunting. Still others delight you with their wordplay or their humor, or their daring subject matter. The best part of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, however, is the snarky voice of the twelve-year old narrator and the whizzing plot that leaves you breathless and dying to read another chapter. I read this book aloud to my little sister, and both of us had the hardest time finding a good stopping place because the story is just So. Darn. Exciting. If you happen to be looking for a book to get a reluctant reader interested in YA literature, a good read-aloud book, or a “can’t-put-it-down” reading experience for yourself—check it out!


Percy Jackson is a “problem child”, and has a history of being kicked out of boarding schools simply because strange, inexplicable things keep happening around him. But even with a history like his, Percy thinks he might finally be going crazy when his math teacher turns into a monster and tries to kill him on a school field-trip. As it turns out, there’s a lot more to the situation than Percy could ever have believed possible; for one thing, the gods of Greek mythology are alive and well and living 600 stories above Manhattan. For another thing, Percy may be the half-mortal son of one of them. Worst of all, Zeus’s most powerful weapon—the Master Bolt—has been stolen, and Percy is the suspected culprit. Now he and his friends have just over a week to prove Percy’s innocence and find the real thief before the gods move from squabbling to all-out war. 

Heros in literature have to have a weakness: Indiana Jones hates snakes, Superman weakens in the presence of kryptonite, etc. Like the best of all heros, Percy Jackson is saddled with a number of disadvantages right from the get-go: he has an awful stepfather who makes his home-life miserable; he struggles with ADHD and dyslexia; he is unmotivated in school and has almost no friends, making the story all that more enjoyable because we get to watch Percy overcome his handicaps and succeed anyways. One quick recommendation, though: a film version of The Lightning Thief is due to be released sometime early next year, and as a firm believer in the aphorism that “The book is always better than the movie,” I strongly suggest that you read this book sooner rather than later. There are a number of things about the trailer that I find disappointing (they changed the age of the characters to about 16, for one thing!), and while it might still end up being an entertaining film, I still think everyone ought to read the book first.

Kids as young as 10 years old could easily read and enjoy this book, but generally, I’d set the age range somewhere between 11 and 15. And as always, I would heartily encourage anyone to read this book to older/adult readers. It’s a rip-roaring story, and who doesn’t enjoy one of those?

Apologies for the delay on this one—I got a bit swamped with other work, but I’ll do my best to catch up and add some more reviews! Until next time…

Best wishes,


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Banned Books Week review of:


by Katherine Patterson

Author’s Website: http://www.terabithia.com/

Once again, today’s review comes from the ranks of the Newbery Award-winners. Katherine Paterson’s wonderfully-crafted Bridge to Terabithia was (like so many YA books of late) recently made into a film version, which, rather surprisingly, was quite a faithful adaptation of the book. Nevertheless, I stand by my firm belief that, 99.9% of the time, the book is better than the movie, and this is no exception. Paterson’s story is thoughtfully and poignantly told, and the digital fantasy animation of the film just doesn’t do justice to the nuance of Leslie and Jess’s imaginations….


Growing up in rural Virginia, Jess Aarons’ greatest ambition is to be the fastest kid in the 5th grade. Jess’s life is not a happy one—he is mostly ignored at home, is bullied regularly at school, has few friends, and carefully conceals the fact that he loves art because of his reputation as “that crazy little kid that draws all the time”. All of this changes, however, when Leslie Burke comes to town. Leslie is unlike anybody else who has ever attended Lark Creek Elementary; she is tomboyish, talented, creative, and wise beyond her years. She is also faster than Jess, and beats him and every other boy in a playground foot-race on the first day of school. In spite of this inauspicious beginning to their relationship, the Leslie and Jess gradually become close friends, creating (with the aid of Leslie’s powerful imagination) the magical kingdom of Terabithia in the woods, where they reign as king and queen. One day, however, a terrible tragedy strikes out of the blue, and Jess must use everything he has learned from Leslie and Terabithia to come to terms with it.

I’m going to say it: this is the kind of book that can easily make you cry. This is not simply due to the aforementioned tragedy, but also because the entire story rings so true, and the ending of the book leaves you with a beautiful ringing that lingers long after you’ve closed it. I love this kind of resonance—it’s the feeling you get when you finish a book and know for sure that the author has done her job extremely well. The characters are wonderful, finely-wrought, and oh-so believable; trust me when I say that it is worth your time to read this book.

The main reasons this book has been banned so frequently are the use of “coarse language” by some characters and the devastating event that shapes the book’s ending so perfectly. Author Katherine Paterson explains the former thus:

“Jess and his father talk like the people I knew who lived in that area. I believe it is my responsibility to create characters who are real, not models of good behavior. If Jess and his dad are to be real, they must speak and act like real people. I have a lot of respect for my readers. I do not expect them to imitate my characters, [but] simply to care about them and understand them.”

Parents argued that the topic of death was inappropriate for middle-grade readers because it was not a topic kids should have to deal with. I could not disagree more—Jess’s experience, while hopefully one we would never wish on ourselves or our families, is as real as it is heart-achingly painful, and Jess’s reaction is utterly convincing (the story is actually based on the childhood of the author’s son, who, not coincidentally, wrote the screenplay). For kids who have experienced the tragedy of loss, this book is a confirmation that they are not alone in their feelings; for kids who have not, it is a window into that world. Finally, I have to emphasize that the book does have a positive ending, as the characters struggle and eventually come to terms with the event that has shaken their lives so deeply. Although Bridge to Terabithia is without doubt a sad book, it also offers the reader the gifts of courage, friendship, love, and hope.

I would recommend this book for ages 10 and up (but older readers and adults shouldn’t be put-off by the recommended age range or the age of the protagonists).

That’s it for Banned Books Week! I’ll be back soon to review some more great novels…in the meantime, happy reading!

Best wishes,


“If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.”

-Noam Chomsky

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Banned Books Week has always been something of an important event for me, on an unofficial level. Walking into my local library at this time of year, my eyes are always drawn to the posters announcing the beginning of BBW, often featuring the covers of banned books or quotes that condemn censorship. I will freely admit that I have some strong feelings about banning/challenging books. Generally, I am a levelheaded and calm person, but there are a few things that make me pretty angry, and censorship is one of them. It is something that gets under my skin and irritates me until I feel the urge to go for a long walk or punch a pillow for an hour or so. I suppose someone could argue that I need to straighten out my priorities—what with people starving in third world countries and the rainforests being decimated, how can I possibly think about books? Books are not a matter of life and death…well, at least, not to a young American woman who grew up in a comfortable, middle-class lifestyle, now are they?

Fine, you can argue that. But that doesn’t mean I can’t be angry about censorship. I have an intimate relationship with books—I’ve been reading them since the age of five. They have taught me and bored me and helped me and angered me and consoled me and amused me and, above all, fascinated me for nearly two decades, and that is something to which I can relate. There are plenty of crusades and causes to choose from in this world; I have simply chosen the one I feel most strongly about. Passionate people make a difference, and I am choosing the place where I can be most passionate so that I can make a difference.

Fortunately for me, I live in a place where the ideals of the community mean that it is very unlikely that a book will ever be seriously challenged here. Nevertheless, it upsets me when I read a story about a novel that was banned from a school library by administrators, or a public library that is forced to shelve “inappropriate” books in a back room, away from the “sensitive” eyes of patrons. I don’t live in these places, so how can I do my part to maintain the intellectual freedom of the American public? I am not a fighter by nature. I’m not the type to drive to a faraway town to protest with signs and chants, and I’m not the type to write letters to school administrators and board members. So what will I do?

I will ask people to read banned and challenged books.

This week’s blog entries and book reviews will be focused around YA Books that have been banned in towns across the US for a myriad of reasons—strong language, sexually explicit content, violence, anti-religious views, so-called “occult/satanist content”…the list goes on and on. For those of you who who find these topics to be uncomfortable ones and who feel that perhaps these books have been banned for a good reason, just hear me out:

I think that all parents would like to believe that their teenagers know less than they actually do. I have a younger sister who is quickly approaching teenage-dom and all that comes with it, and I often find myself wanting to cover her ears or her eyes sometimes because (in my mind) it was only a couple of years ago that she was crawling around on the floor wearing diapers. This is what makes the issue of banned books an interesting one for me, since I truly do empathize with the parents who are uncomfortable with their children being exposed to “unsuitable” content. And yet, having recently been a teenager myself, I believe that parents need to push themselves to accept that their babies are growing up and will soon be exposed to a world in which there are people who DO swear on a regular basis and DO use drugs and DO have sex. What parents also have to realize is that teenagers are often exposed to these very topics on a daily basis, whether or not they choose to “participate” in them or to talk about them with Mom and Dad (remember, teens are not renowned for communicating well with their “parental units”). For teens who have to deal with issues that may seem shocking to those around them (drug abuse, homosexuality, rape, etc.), YA books on these topics can provide support by showing them characters who have to confront the same problems. For other teens, such books can be a window into the matters that their friends and parents may be unwilling to discuss with them. Believe it or not, reading about behavior that parents may find disturbing does not encourage teens to engage in said behavior (acclaimed YA author John Green explains this well in his videoblog entry, appropriately entitled, “I Am Not a Pornographer”). Because the reasons for book challenges are so varied, I want to make as few generalizations as possible, but I will say this: banned and challenged books are an excellent way to begin a discussion. Parents, if you are disturbed by something your teen is reading, sit down with your kid and talk about it and why it makes you uncomfortable. Better yet, read the book yourself, and do your best to read it the way you would read any other book (rather than searching for reasons to dislike it). Creating a dialogue about the book is infinitely preferable to simply declaring the book to be “unsuitable”.

Recently, I came across a website called SafeLibraries.org. The Safe Libraries organization states that, among other things, “So-called “young adult” [YA] literature has, in recent years, taken a turn toward material inappropriate for children.” Their main point, especially in the boldly-titled article “Porn Pushers”, seems to be the fact that the American Library Association (ALA) defines YA literature as covering an age range from 12-18 years of age. “In Orwellian fashion,” the article states, “pre-teens have skipped over their teenage years and become adults.  At least that’s what the ALA would have us believe.” In addition to the confusing choice of adjective (how exactly did George Orwell promote the redefinition of “pre-teen”?), I find the alarmist tone of this statement to be irrational, irritating, and nonsensical. The phrase “young adult” does not mean the same thing as “adult”, hence the fact that it used to describe a genre of books that are (wow, you guessed it) not written with an adult audience in mind. One could argue the semantics of this endlessly, but the point is that it’s a completely irrelevant argument. This quote also mentions “pre-teens” (which, I might specify, only applies to the 12-year olds mentioned in the genre age-range), and says that they have “skipped over their teenage years and become adults”. This is, of course, for the aforementioned reasons, simply not true. What is more, twelve is the age by which most girls have entered puberty, and the issues of teenagers can often be quite relevant to a girl who looks old enough to be one. Please do not get me wrong—I am not suggesting that twelve-year olds should necessarily be encouraged to read books with “Rated R” content. I can think of a number of YA books that I would not encourage my twelve-year old sister to read, and I don’t think that she would want to read them (parents, trust your kids—they know their boundaries, and if they can’t handle something, they won’t push themselves). However, my point is that twelve-year olds should not be forbidden to read those books if they truly want to. And that, my friends, is why banning books upsets me.

That’s enough of a rant on my part. I’ll be posting the first of my book reviews soon. Until then, go forth and read! Oh, and be sure to check out this blog entry (regarding the book Uncle Bobby’s Wedding), where a librarian responds—with wonderful respect, understanding, and courtesy—to a patron’s challenge of a children’s book. Plus, keep your eyes peeled for a list of my favorite banned/challenged books (I may not get around to reviewing them all this week, but you should still check them out)!

Best wishes, as always,



“Think for yourselves and let others enjoy the privilege to do so, too.” 

– Voltaire

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