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The Best YA Books You Haven’t Read (Yet)

January 21, 2010

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!

27 Comments leave one →
  1. January 21, 2010 5:34 am

    Out of all these I have only read Charlotte Sometimes (the first book I read this year actually :) ). I did find it to be quite good, but I was saddened to find out that my copy had an abridged ending (I’ve been curious about the real one ever since).

    Ghosts I Have Been sounds quite interesting too (ghosts + Titanic, it’s bound to be cool). I added it to my wishlist and am very looking forward to reading it :)

    • January 25, 2010 8:29 am

      Kay – Oh, I went and looked, and my version has the abridged ending too. Hmmm. I’ll have to keep my eyes peeled for an older edition to compare.

  2. January 21, 2010 7:30 am

    I remember The Girl with the Silver Eyes! I loved that one too.

    And I read all of Christopher Pike years ago, but don’t find him as great as I used to.

    • January 25, 2010 8:30 am

      Lenore – I haven’t tried re-reading any Christopher Pike in a while, but I’m sure most of it is pretty ridiculous now that I’m no longer 14.

  3. January 21, 2010 8:20 am

    I do think most of those are probably considered middle grade these days. Great list!

  4. January 21, 2010 8:27 am

    How did I never hear of any of these books growing up?! I think I was too focused on reading my formulaic Nancy Drews. No time like the present to catch up though!

    So glad you decided to ignore a couple of the guidelines cuz the end result is a great list unique to you! :-)

  5. January 21, 2010 8:31 am

    The only one of these that I have read is The Girl with the Silver Eyes. It’s also one of my favorite books; I should really reread it sometime soon. My copy has a less creepy cover:

  6. January 21, 2010 9:19 am

    I *loved* The Girl with the Silver Eyes! I read that over and over as a tween. I was also a big Christopher Pike fan!

  7. January 21, 2010 9:24 am

    I absolutely love Wise Child & Juniper – that same author wrote a very sweet book about Robin Hood, too. And wow, I had completely forgotten about The Girl with the Silver Eyes until just now! I loved it in middle school; I’ve no idea how it fell out of my head this way!

    • January 25, 2010 8:31 am

      Jenny – I’ll have to go looking for that Robin Hood book! I’m sure there are ooodles of books I read and loved when I was younger, but because I didn’t own them, I don’t still have them, and so I have no record or memory of what they were.

  8. January 21, 2010 2:27 pm

    I’d forgotten all about THE HOUSE ON HACKMAN’S HILL! Anubis scared me silly, too. I don’t remember much more than that, but I know I was surprised when I learned that Anubis isn’t actually evil.

    • January 25, 2010 8:33 am

      Memory – I can’t believe that you’ve read that! Of this list, I thought that one was going to be the least likely to get a reaction.

      Conceptually, I know I’ve learned that Anubis isn’t evil, but this book so thoroughly scared (and scarred) me that I still get a little creeped out in the Egyptian wing of the museum.

  9. January 21, 2010 3:33 pm

    I should have listed Charlotte Sometimes too! LOVED that book. And Juniper sounds so much like my kind of book it’s not even funny – and I hadn’t even heard of it before.

    • January 25, 2010 8:33 am

      Nymeth – You’d totally love Juniper – although I think you’d really like A Pack of Lies, too.

  10. January 21, 2010 5:01 pm

    I LOVE Juniper. I only didn’t put on my list because it’s technically the middle of a series, and I’m such a nerd about that. Wise Child & Juniper have stayed with me since I read them like…probably 15-20 years ago!

    A lot of these titles are new to me – I’ll have to look them up!

    • January 25, 2010 8:34 am

      Kristin – I had Juniper as a kid, but didn’t get my hands on Wise Child until about five years ago, so my brain can’t think of Juniper as being the middle of anything. :)

  11. readwhatyouknow permalink
    January 21, 2010 9:47 pm

    Oh, my goodness — I had FORGOTTEN about “The Girl With the Silver Eyes” — I *loved* this book as a teenager. Like checked it out of the library every single visit and pouted when it wasn’t on the shelf. I need to locate a copy of this one again!

  12. January 22, 2010 7:44 pm

    I haven’t read any of these. Thanks for the suggestions!

  13. January 22, 2010 8:20 pm

    Aw, now you’ve made me all nostalgic. I remember Juniper… wow that was a long time ago. And I myself have some old books that gave me such creepies when I was younger. There was this book of short (and spooky) stories, The Lost Ones by Margaret Greaves that I think I got in a junk sale when I was younger. Someone had riddled out the eyes of the person on the front cover, making it more creepy than it already was. I was afraid to look at the front cover. When I finished reading all of the creepy stories, I closed my eyes and shoved it somewhere. I’ve yet to find it again…

    • January 25, 2010 8:35 am

      Sharry – Oh, that would have *terrified* me – especially with the scratched-out eyes. *shudder*

  14. January 23, 2010 2:11 am

    I was describing Ghosts I Have Been to a friend the other day and was getting increasingly frustrated because, while I remember a surprising number of details, I couldn’t remember the title of the book or even the author. Thank you for reminding me!

    Also adore Gordon Korman, but I was more of a Macdonald Hall fan. I used to write him incredibly long, gushing fan letters in elementary school and I still have all of his responses.

    • January 25, 2010 8:38 am

      Claire – I’m pretty sure I read the Macdonald Hall books – I know for a fact I’ve read Go Jump in the Pool! – but they were either library books or else my parents got rid of my copies… sad! But that’s so cool that he wrote you back!

  15. January 23, 2010 7:44 pm

    The Girl With The Silver Eyes was one of my favorite books in elementary school! :D My cover’s the same as PhoenixTerran’s: kinda creepy, but not too bad.

  16. January 24, 2010 11:40 am

    FUN list! I had no idea Gordon Korman had written that kind of book–can’t wait to find it. Charlotte Sometimes sounds fantastic, and I LOVED Remember Me as a teen!

  17. January 25, 2010 12:41 am

    I remember the cover for “The Girl With The Silver Eyes” but don’t remember anything about the story at all. I checked on Amazon and it was released with a new cover in 1991 that’s definitely not as memorable.

  18. M.Penn Guinn permalink
    July 16, 2010 9:28 am

    What caught my attention was the missing corner of the book “I want to go home” since my copy (same cover picture) from a second-hand bookstore is missing exactly the same corner.
    The blurb on that edition in my opinion is rather misleading, but I absolutely dislike the newest edition’s cover art…
    Apart from that book regrettably I haven’t read any other book from your list, but I must say “I want to go home” is my absolute favorite childrens’ book and I am glad to have been raised bilingual, so that I could read it even as a German kid.

  19. Bibliophile permalink
    June 15, 2011 7:15 pm

    The Remember Me and Bloody Jack series are AMAZING books, I’m so glad they are on your list. I also love Standard Hero Behavior. I also want to thank you for giving me back one of my favorite childhood stories. I have been looking for Ghosts I have been for like 3 years now, but I couldnt remember the title! Thanks to you, I am going to check it out now.

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