Category Archives: Great Books for Teens

A Long, Round-About Story About My Experience With a Teenage Love Story Involving a Vampire

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A few months ago I received an email from my friend, Mindy, asking for suggestions of books that her 14-year-old daughter, Kate, would like.  I easily came up with a few titles, but being more of a children’s literature connoisseur than a young adult literature connoisseur, I went to the good ol’ internet to do a bit more research.  I found a great top-10-for-teens-list.  One of the titles on the list was Twilight.  After reading a synopsis of the book–something or other about a vampire–I decided not to recommend it to Mindy.  I mean, let’s get serious, who wants to read a book about a vampire? 

About a month later, I was visiting my friend, Julie.  Her 16-year-old daughter, Caitlyn, was there.  There was a knock on the door.  It was Caitlyn’s friend, Lindsay, returing a book she had borrowed.  It was Twilight.  Not yet remembering my internet research about this book, I began questioning the girls about it.  The conversation went something like this: Me: “What’s that book?”  Girls: “Twilight.”  Me: “I haven’t seen that book before.  What’s it about?”  Girls (in a state of utter shock and disbelief): “You haven’t heard of Twilight?!!!”  They then proceded to tell me all about it–how it’s soooo good, and how the sequel is soooo great too, and how I HAD to read it, and how it’s sooo romantic.  Julie had read it as well, and told me it was really quite good.  I was now officially curious, but not yet compelled to rush out and buy it.  After all, it was a book about a vampire. 

A couple more months passed, but suddenly, Twilight was all around me.  It was brought up in the children’s lit class I attended 2 weeks ago.  The teacher talked about how hot it is right now (he ought to know, as the library director), and how the author, Stephenie Meyer, a fellow alumna of my alma mater, has already been approached about a movie.  A few days later, my friend, Lori, somewhat abashedly revealed to her blog-audience that she–having received a tip from her librarian mother-in-law–was now reading Twilight.  A few days later I was in Borders, and I overheard a girl talking to the store manager, as they stood next to a large display with dozens of copies of Twilight.  “Oh yeah,” he said.  “It’s very popular.  We’re selling about 70 copies a week.”  Whoa.  I was starting to feel more compelled.  

That week was my birthday.  Do you know what is great about birthdays and other special occasions when you’re a self-declared book enthusiast?  People give you books!!  That same lovely friend, Lori, gifted me with my very own copy of Twilight.  And if you’ll pardon the cheesy pun, I sunk my teeth right into it!  Twilight is definitely a page-turner.  It’s mysterious and intriguing, and the kind of book you absolutely don’t want to put down.  Here’s the basic premise:  Bella, 17, transfers to a new school, and falls in love with Edward, a vampire.  I know what you’re thinking–come on, a teenage love story about a vampire?  But even I, who swears off all fantasy except Harry Potter, LOVED IT.  Here’s why–it’s something we can all relate to.  Well, not the blood-thirsty vampire part, but the part about being an awkward teenager, just trying to fit in.  And the part about having challenges in your family.  And the part about being completely smitten with that dreamy boy (or girl) in Biology class.  Here’s what Meyer says about it: “I’ve always admired the ability of some authors to create situations of impossible fantasy, and then add characters that are so deeply human that their perspective makes the situation believable.  I hope Twilight offers readers the same experience.”  And, Mrs. Cropper says, IT DOES.  I wouldn’t say it’s amazing writing, but it’s really good writing.  Meyer uses foreshadowing well, introduces a fair amount of new vocabulary (remember, this is intended for a teen audience), and serves up a great big helping of character development.  That is what I love most about it.       

Here’s why I am recommending this book:  It’s a great, entertaining, fast read.  A great escape–for adults and teens alike.  It is especially perfect for teens–partly because it’s fairly good literature, partly because they love the romance (OK, I guess we’re looking at a mainly female audience here–and by the way, the romance is clean and appropriate), and mostly because it gets them reading!  So, yeah, let’s get serious–I am whole-heartedly recommending that you read Twilight, a teenage love story about a vampire.

P.S.  The sequel, New Moon, is also out.  The third book, Eclipse, will be available August 6th.     

Novel of the Month–The Devil’s Arithmetic

devilsarithmetic.jpg  The Novel for April is The Devil’s Arithmetic by Jane Yolen.  First of all, if the author’s name seems familiar, it’s because she’s a prolific writer–and a fabulous one.  She has written loads of picture books and novels, as well as lots of beautiful poetry.  I’ve never read anything of Jane Yolen’s that I haven’t thoroughly enjoyed.

The Devil’s Arithmetic is marvelous.  Historical Fiction, it tells the story of a Jewish girl named Hannah growing up in present-day New York.  In the car on the way to a Passover Seder with family, Hannah laments having to participate in so many Jewish holiday celebrations.  As her mother reminds her that Passover is for remembering, Hannah replies, “All Jewish holidays are about remembering, Mama.  I’m tired of remembering.”  But then, at dinner, when Hannah opens the front door of the house to sybolically welcome the prophet Elijah, she is transported to a Polish village in 1942.  Soon Hannah finds herself amidst Nazi soldiers and struggling Jewish families, and only she knows the terrible things that await them.  Only after experiencing these things for herself does Hannah appreciate the importance of remembering.  

I first read this book in college.  It reminded me of reading Number the Stars, by Lois Lowry in elementary school.  (Have you read that one?  It won the Newberry Medal and is also a must-read!)  Like Number the Stars, The Devil’s Arithmetic does a beautiful job of helping us, as readers, understand and feel the significance of the attrocities done to the Jewish people by the Nazis.  What I find especially impressive is that both novels are deep and serious and thought-provoking, but still appropriate for children (both novels are about 3rd grade and up).  They aren’t dark or violent or grim.  Instead, they educate, lift, and inspire. 

I often comment to my husband that the worst thing in this world is man’s inhumanity to man.  More than anything else I want to be kind.  And I want my children to understand that nothing is more important than being kind.  Though it can be sobering to read about, I feel it is so important and necessary to know what happened to the Jews in Poland (and elsewhere), to the Tutsis in Rwanda, and what is happening now in Sudan.  As we were always taught in history class, we have to make sure we don’t repeat the mistakes of others.  Stories like The Devil’s Arithmetic remind me of the importance of friendship, hope, and courage.  They remind me to be kind and to fight for that which is good and true.  And just like Hannah learns, it is so important to remember. 

Novel of the Month–The Bronze Bow

bronzebow.jpg In elementary school I enjoyed Elizabeth George Speare’s The Witch of Blackbird Pond and The Sign of the Beaver, but did not read her 1962 Newberry Medal winner, The Bronze Bow, until it was introduced to me in college.  Admittedly, when I learned it was historical fiction, set in the time of Jesus Christ, I felt a bit skeptical.  As a Christian who had only read about Jesus in the scriptures, I wasn’t sure I’d be comfortable with a fictional portrayal of Christ.  But I ended up loving it, and whole-heartedly recommend it to you.

 Here is a synopsis, directly from the book cover, to give you a taste:  “After witnessing his father’s crucifixion by Roman soldiers, Daniel bar Jamin is fired by a single passion:  to avenge his father’s death by driving the Roman legions from the land of Israel.  Consumed by hatred, Daniel joins the brutal raids of an outlaw band living in the hills outside his village.  Though his grandmother’s death slows his plans by forcing him to move home to care for his sister, he continues his dangerous life by leading a group of boy guerrillas in spying and plotting, impatiently waiting to take revenge.   In nearby Capernaum, a rabbi is teaching a different lesson.  Time and again Daniel is drawn to the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, only to turn away, disappointed and confused by Jesus’s lack of action in opposing the Romans.  Devoid of tenderness and forgiveness, headstrong Daniel is also heedless of the loyalty of his friend Joel; the love of Joel’s sister, Malthace; and the needs of his own disturbed sister, Leah, dragging them down his destructive path toward disaster.”

I thought this a nice choice for March–the month leading up to Easter.  I think it would be a perfect book to read in preparation for that holiday.  Regardless of your religious or spiritual leanings though, this book is a great read.  It is a beautiful, poignant story of love overcoming anger.  Well-written and thought-provoking, The Bronze Bow is a book that will move you. 

The Giver Gives You a Lot to Think About

thegiver.jpg Ooh!  I am so excited to recommend this novel to you.  This Newberry winner by Lois Lowry is outstanding.  It tells the story of Jonas, a boy who lives in a futuristic, utopian existence.  (Think Brave New World, only less disturbing.)  His world is devoid of poverty, divorce, inequality, even bad manners.  When he turns twelve, he, like his friends, receives his life assignment.  But instead of becoming a Caretaker of the Old or a Director of Recreation like his friends, he becomes The Giver–an assignment that opens his eyes to so  much more than his “perfect” world has ever revealed to him.  

The Giver is inventive and poignant and will make you think about the world in which you exist.  If you are like me, it will remind you of what a blessing it is that we have opposition in all things.  After all, without pain, how can we know joy?