The Best YA Books You Haven’t Read (Yet)
As part of a project organized by Kelly over at YAnnabe, I’m posting today about some Young Adult books that I love, but that are not as widely-read as they should be. Often times it can seem like a few new books get all of the blog buzz, and while there’s no question that many of them deserve that attention, there are plenty of older and less-popular books that are just as wonderful!
The selection criteria for a book to be “under-appreciated” was having fewer than 500 members over at LibraryThing. There are some recent YA books that fit the bill; Heroes of the Valley by Jonathan Stroud, Exodus by Julie Bertagna, Standard Hero Behavior by John David Anderson, the Alcatraz Smedry books by Brandon Sanderson, and the Bloody Jack books by L. A. Meyer are some recent less-well-known YA books that I’ve really enjoyed. But for this list, I really want to focus on some older favorites from when I was young.
(As a note, Kelly asked us to stay away from middle-of-a-series books. I’m ignoring that rule in a few cases below, but seeing as I only found out that these books *were* part of a series within the past few years, they can obviously stand alone just fine.)
(As another note, some – if not most – of these are probably more properly classified as mid-grade rather than young adult. Because they are awesome, I am conveniently choosing to ignore the distinction.)
I Want to Go Home! by Gordon Korman (current LT count: 210)
Rudy Miller is at summer camp, and he is not pleased about it. He refuses to participate in any of the activities (he doesn’t DO sports/crafts/etc. – despite being brilliantly talented at all of them), and spends all of his time antagonizing the counselors and plotting elaborate escape attempts. Much hilarity ensues.
I spent a few weeks per summer at camp as a kid, and – at least in the early years – would get terribly homesick. I never, ever would have had the balls to pull off even a fraction of the shenanigans that Rudy gets into, but I had a blast reading about them. Gordon Korman continues to be a prolific author, and while I haven’t read any of his newer books, even thinking about this one is making me giggle.
The House on Hackman’s Hill by Joan Lowery Nixon (current LT count: 81)
A rumor about a mummy missing from a museum and the accompanying reward lead two kids to break in to explore an abandoned mansion. But then a blizzard traps them inside… and it turns out they might not be alone in there.
This book scared the bejeesus out of me when I was a kid. It scared me so bad that I had to store it cover-side down so that Anubis wouldn’t crawl out through the cover art and come to get me. (In the spirit of full disclosure, I often had to store it cover-side down, under a stack of blankets, in my parents’ room.) And yet, I re-read it all the time anyways – effective scares, a good mystery, a little Egyptian mythology, and a creepy old house full of hidden passages. What’s not to love?
The Girl With The Silver Eyes by Willo Davis Roberts (current LT count: 364)
Katie has never really fit in – teachers, other students, her babysitters, even her mom is somewhat afraid of her. She’s not quite normal: she’s got shining silver eyes… and the power to move things with her mind. Katie feels totally alone, until she discovers that there may be other kids just like her – and that they may all be in danger from a creepy guy who seems to know about their powers.
This was the absolute perfect book for a nerdy outsider who never fit in in grade school. Katie’s totally relatable, and between this and Roald Dahl’s Matilda, I spent a *lot* of time “practicing” my telekinetic powers during otherwise boring classes.
Although, on the “over-reaction to not-that-scary-covers” tip, the expression on Katie’s face freaked me out so badly – it’s like she’s staring at my soul! – that my copy has a Santa-head sticker over the offending part of the artwork.
A Pack of Lies by Geraldine McCaughrean (current LT count: 59)
The young man who has recently started helping in Alisa’s mother’s antiques store is quite a character – eccentric and charming, he tells dazzling stories about items in the shop that win over the customers. Tales of history, of romance and adventure, of horror and love and laughter and heartbreak. Alisa loves listening to them, but she knows they’re all just lies, made-up to increase sales… or are they?
This is a great book. It’s part short story collection and part mystery. The stories themselves are widely varied and almost all enthralling (and surprisingly moving), and the surrounding framework story is fascinating as well. McCaughrean is probably best known for Peter Pan in Scarlet, the first officially sanctioned sequel to Peter Pan. Personally, though, I think A Pack of Lies is much better – more complex, with a substantial amount of meat to it for such a slim book.
Juniper by Monica Furlong (current LT count: 456)
Juniper is a princess of Cornwall, and her opulent childhood has left her rather spoiled. So she is horrified when she is sent to live with her godmother in a tiny hut in order to learn magic and healing. Although Juniper is miserable at first, she grows in acceptance as she grows in skill, and she will need all of the magic she can muster when she returns home to find the kingdom under the control of her evil aunt.
Wonderful children’s fantasy about learning to do magic long before there was a Harry Potter. Juniper’s initially kind of a brat, but her training sounded so interesting that I wanted to run off to Cornwall (which I don’t think I realized *wasn’t* just a made-up fairytale-land) and become a wise woman myself. It’s a great blend of magic and nature and some genuinely scary parts and a touch or two of historical fiction, and I think anyone who likes YA fantasy will get a kick out of it. (There are also two sequels, Wise Child and Colman. Technically, I think Wise Child was written first, and Juniper was written as a prequel, but they can be read in any order.)
Ghosts I Have Been by Richard Peck (current LT count: 184)
Blossom Culp can see ghosts, which is not always a blessing, especially considering her and her mother’s position as poor outsiders in their small midwestern town in 1912. Blossom’s occasionally able to put her abilities to good use, but more often she has to rely on her smarts and her spunk to get herself out of (or more often into) trouble. But she keeps seeing the same ghost over and over – a young boy, who’s always accompanied by the smell of ice and the sound of grinding metal. When a fit of the Second Sight takes her, she’s forced to relive this boy’s dying moments – on the recently-sunk Titanic. But ghosts usually only appear when they have unfinished business with the living… and what can a girl like Blossom do to help this boy?
This book had everything my little sixth-grade heart could have desired: historical fiction, a sassy narrator, hijinks and pranks (reminiscent of The Great Brain series, actually), ghosts, psychic abilities, a smidge of romance, a hint of pathos, and the Titanic! I mean really, how can you not love a book with all of that? It can be a little bit patchy – Blossom’s adventures in one chapter lead into her adventures in the next, but they don’t always flow together entirely smoothly, but you’re having so much fun that it doesn’t really matter.
Technically this is the second book in a series, but the first (The Ghost Belonged to Me) is told from the point of view of a different character, and apart from a few pronouncements along the lines of “Alexander and me having some unfinished business after that hullabaloo with the ghost last year”, Ghosts I Have Been is an entirely separate story.
Charlotte Sometimes by Penelope Farmer (current LT count: 320)
The first few days of boarding school are terrifying enough, and Charlotte is pretty overwhelmed by the time she goes to bed after her first day at school – only to wake up, still in her same bed, but having traveled back in time over 50 years. She figures out that she’s switched places with a girl named Claire, and that they continue to switch back and forth every night. But when a change comes that disrupts the sleeping arrangements, Charlotte accidentally gets stuck in the past. Will she able to get back to her own time?
I *love* this book. Although it was written in the late 1960s, so even the “modern-day” sections aren’t exactly current, the story still feels fresh, and unlike any other time-travel book I’ve come across. The characters are wonderful: Charlotte’s intensely sympathetic, Claire’s younger sister Emily feels totally real, and even Claire, who we never actually meet in person, is lovely. Farmer is excellent at evoking atmosphere, and this book may have been what kicked off my life-long love of boarding-school stories.
This is technically third in a series of books staring Charlotte and her sister – the first two being The Summer Birds and Emma in Winter – but the plots have nothing to do with each other, and Charlotte Sometimes is easily the best and the most mature of the three… and I think it’s the only one still in print.
Remember Me by Christopher Pike (current LT count: 407)
Shari Cooper shouldn’t be dead. She was young, pretty, and popular, with a loving family and good friends. Everyone thinks that she killed herself by throwing herself off the fourth-floor balcony at a friend’s party, but Shari knows that she was murdered. Now all she has to do is figure out who killed her, and why… and see that they’re brought to justice – none of which is the easiest task when you’re a ghost who is still adjusting to being dead, and when there’s a nightmarish presence stalking you throughout the afterlife.
Oh, Christopher Pike. I spent pretty much the entirety of junior high reading every Christopher Pike novel (and R. L. Stine, and similar authors) I could get my hands on, but Remember Me was in a class all by itself. I’ve read this book more times than I can count, and I can still bring up entire scenes and tiny random details from memory, years afterward. (For example, knowing that Shari was wearing green pants when she was killed is easy – that’s on the cover – but why do I still remember that she borrowed them from her best friend Jo, who was her same size? Couldn’t that brain cell be used in remembering something more productive?) The solution to the mystery is crazily over-the-top in the way of all Christopher Pike books, but it’s still an interesting and surprisingly touching read. Plus, it has an eminently crush-worthy leading man (Peter, a recently-deceased classmate of Shari’s), who I still half expect to eventually be waiting for me on the other side. :)
Man, now I’m tempted to spend the whole weekend doing nothing but re-reading all of these books! What about you, readers? Read any of my favorites? Got any unsung favorites of your own you can’t believe I haven’t read (yet)?
Also, be sure to head over to the main post at YAnnabe to check out everyone else’s lists!