Summer Reading: A Young Adult Roundup

Gillian Engberg is an editor in the books for youth department of Booklist magazine and is Booklist's consultant for the Young Adult Library Services Association's Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers committee

Summer signals freedom and exploration for most teens. Sure, schedules may remain heavily loaded with obligatory jobs, volunteer gigs, lessons, housework, camp, family vacations and more. But freed from academic demands, teens find vital time and interior space to pursue new affinities and develop established interests. Books can play a large part in these crucial journeys, and librarians and booksellers know that teens' summer reading choices aren't limited to fast-flying beach titles.

Reading just for pleasure, teens are fickle and promiscuous: They'll play the field, experimenting with new authors and genres; read several books at a time; and drop the dull ones with no remorse. They still want well-made material on interesting subjects and, often, they want to read about themselves.

This summer, teens will find even greater numbers of books published just for them. The American Library Association's year-old Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature heralds a resurgence in quality books for 12-to 18-year-olds that extend across genres and formats. Included here are some noteworthy titles, most published for young adults within the past year, for teens to dip into, put down, skim, devour, love or hate, without expectations, just for the fun of it.

Kids stuck at home may find escape in fantasy books that take them on wildly imagined journeys. Patrice Kindle's "Goose Chase" is a witty, unpretentious fractured fairy tale that will appeal to younger teens. It describes a goose girl's journey from forest hovel to opulent palace, with plenty of magic, good humor, romance and girl power along the way. Elegant and vivid, Meredith Ann Pierce's "Treasure at the Heart of the Tanglewood" offers another captivating fantasy of a girl's surprising self discovery, also set in a forest thick with magic and animal companions. Sherryl Jordan's powerful "Secret Sacrament" will draw older teens. A New Zealand import with a male protagonist, it handles themes of religion, medicine, war, prejudice, love and the quest for self in a story about a healer set in an ancient civilization.

Teens who prefer gritty realism to amulets and talking animals will find plenty to choose from this season. Sharon Flake's "Money Hungry" describes a girl's obsessive drive to stockpile cash that will move herself and her mother out of the projects. Immediate and direct without stereotyping, it shows how poverty affects everyone, whether it's through the lack of money--or the fear of losing it. In her debut novel, "A Step from Heaven," author An Na writes in the voice of a Korean American girl in spare language that grows with the narrator. Following Young Ju's toddler-age immigration from Korea to California through her high-school years, the story details experiences of abuse, alcoholism, academic triumph and powerful family alliances.

Rita Williams-Garcia's "Every Time a Rainbow Dies" also tells the story of immigrant teens. Set in Brooklyn, it begins with a brutal rape, witnessed by Thulani, a Jamaican American teen grieving his mother's death. He befriends and then obsesses over the victim, Haitian Ysa, in scenes charged with rapid, honest dialogue. Anthologist and author Michael Cart has compiled a collection whose title alone is sure to draw teen interest. His "Love and Sex: 10 Stories of Truth" features 10 selections by some of the best-loved writers for young adults who explore how attraction, crushes, yearning, sex, same-sex desires, and obsession can affect teens' lives.

The hype surrounding recent movies can make related books popular summer reading as well. Just in time for Disney's August release of "The Princess Diaries," a film adaptation of last year's hilarious, popular story about a Greenwich village ninth-grader who discovers her royal roots, a new beach-friendly paperback and audio cassette are available. Eoin Colfer's word-of-mouth hit "Artemis Fowl" has both a sequel and a movie planned for 2002 release that should generate interest in the book this summer. Rowdy, chaotic, and utterly entertaining, this original fantasy mixes Russian Mafia and fairies in a suspenseful family adventure. Written with you-are-there immediacy, Harry Mazer's "A Boy at War: A Novel of Pearl Harbor" tells one boy's experience of the impact of the attack; he was fishing when the blast hit, killing his naval father. Young teens whose interest was peaked by the recent film "Pearl Harbor" may be drawn to this gripping, young person's perspective.

Several new biographies will interest teen nonfiction fans who haven't had time during the school year to pursue their own interests with depth. Walter Dean Myers' Muhammad Ali biography, "The Greatest," tells the champion's story with vivid, fresh insights, photos and razor-sharp details. Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan, authors of last year's outstanding "Frank O. Gehry: Outside In," offer another fine biography of an artist for young readers. Their "Vincent van Gogh: Portrait of an Artist" debunks some of the myths about the painter, showing the family and friends who surrounded the "isolated" artist and describing the illness that contributed to his crazy-artist image. And teens continue to keep last fall's "Hawk: Occupation: Skateboarder" in constant circulation at libraries across the country. Skateboarding kids who have yet to discover it will tear through legend Tony Hawk's tell-all autobiography.

Summer reading also means browsing, and teen poets will find inspiration paging through several new volumes published for them. Betty Franco's "Things I Have to Tell You" collects the writing of teenage girls in a raw, powerful follow-up to last year's excellent collection "You Hear Me? Poems and Writing by Teenage Boys." Here, striking black-and-white photos combine with selections that speak with both pride and insecurity about body image, sexuality, family and more. The exceptional "Words with Wings: A Treasury of African-American Poetry and Art," compiled by Belinda Rochelle, combines well-reproduced images of stunning artwork with poems in dynamic pairings that will inspire teens to look closely, read, think and experience their own responses, while they pick up some history.

Books filled with lists, records and "best-of's" are favorites for browsing and sharing among the family on road trips. Russell Ash's "The Top Ten of Everything 2001" offers lists on everything from "Most Expensive Items of American Furniture" to "Top 10 Leonardo DiCaprio Movies." Elizabeth Van Steenwyk's overview of American beach culture, "Let's Go to the Beach," has plenty of shoreline anecdotes and photos through the decades and concludes with a series of top 10 beach lists, including the best beach movies.

And, of course, there are the rapid-fire reads with high appeal that teens can consume in a quick gulp of lazy summer delight. Louise Rennison's hit of last year, "Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging," the hilarious, diary-format novel reminiscent of a teenage Bridget Jones, is now out in paperback, while a hardcover sequel, "On the Bright Side, I'm Now the Girlfriend of a Sex God: The Further Confessions of Georgia Nicholson," picks up with all the fabulous adventures. Lurlene McDaniels enthusiasts will be pleased that all the Dawn Rochelle novels, speed-reading weep fests about a 13-year-old with cancer, have been collected into one portable paperback: "Dawn Rochelle: Four Novels."

Summer is also a popular time for teens to fly through entire series. Cate Tiernan's new "Sweep" series, with its first title "Book of Shadows," will attract teen fans of television's "Buffy" and "Charmed" series with its focus on Wiccan culture and "magick." And Francine Pascal's "Fearless" series, about a girl "born without the fear gene" remains wildly popular, with new titles, such as "Tears" and "Naked," appearing this summer. Japanese animation in book formats continue to pull reluctant and voracious readers alike. Series with scheduled summer releases include "Sailor Moon," "Inu-Yasha," "Parasyte," "Oh My Goddess!" and "Ranma 1/2," as well as a new "The Art of Ranma 1/2," which collects a visual history of the Japanese TV phenomenon.

More important than what teens are choosing to read is whether they're reading at all. Web sites and magazines are also a huge part of their diet and, like the titles above, can engage their curiosities, move them into new, undiscovered territory and help them develop their own passions. Encouraging a summer of free-range reading in teens means letting them choose, without judgment, whatever grabs their interest--the delicious, rocky freedom and discovery that might help them grow into themselves.

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GOOSE CHASE

By Patrice Kindle

Houghton: 214 pp., $15

*

TREASURE AT THE HEART OF THE TANGLEWOOD

By Meredith Ann Pierce

Viking: 184 pp., $16.99

*

SECRET SACRAMENT

By Sherryl Jordan

HarperCollins: 352 pp., $15.95

*

MONEY HUNGRY

By Sharon Flake

Hyperion/Jump at the Sun: 208 pp., $15.99

*

A STEP FROM HEAVEN

By An Na

Front Street: 156 pp., $15.95

*

EVERY TIME A RAINBOW DIES

By Rita Williams-Garcia

HarperCollins: 176 pp., $15.95

*

LOVE AND SEX

10 Stories of Truth

By Michael Cart

Simon & Schuster: 256 pp., $18

*

THE PRINCESS DIARIES

By Meg Cabot

HarperCollins: 240 pp., $5.99 paper

*

ARTEMIS FOWL

By Eoin Colfer

Talk Miramax: 277 pp., $16.95

*

A BOY AT WAR

A Novel of Pearl Harbor

By Harry Mazer

Simon & Schuster: 106 pp., $15

*

THE GREATEST

Muhammad Ali

By Walter Dean Myers

Scholastic: 172 pp., $16.95

*

FRANK O. GEHRY

Outside In

By Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan

DK: 48 pp., $19.95

*

VINCENT VAN GOGH

Portrait of an Artist

By Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan

Delacorte: 144 pp., $14.95

*

HAWK

Occupation: Skateboarder

By Tony Hawk with Sean Mortimer

ReganBooks: 290 pp., $23

*

THINGS I HAVE TO TELL YOU

Poems and Writing by Teenage Girls

Edited by Betty Franco

Photographs by Nina Nickles

Candlewick: 80 pp., $8.99 paper

*

YOU HEAR ME?

Poems and Writing by Teenage Boys

Edited by Betty Franco

Candlewick: 128 pp., $14.99

*

WORDS WITH WINGS

A Treasury of African-American Poetry and Art

Compiled by Belinda Rochelle

HarperCollins: 48 pp., $16.95

*

THE TOP TEN OF EVERYTHING 2001

By Russell Ash

DK: 288 pp., $17.95

*

LET'S GO TO THE BEACH

A History of Sun and Fun by the Sea

By Elizabeth Van Steenwyk

Holt: 144 pp., $18.95

*

ANGUS, THONGS AND FULL-FRONTAL SNOGGING

By Louise Rennison

HarperCollins: 248 pp., $6.95 paper

*

ON THE BRIGHT SIDE, I'M NOW THE GIRLFRIEND OF A SEX GOD

The Further Confessions of Georgia Nicholson

By Louise Rennison

HarperCollins: 256 pp., $15.95

*

DAWN ROCHELLE

Four Novels

By Lurlene McDaniels

Skylark: 576 pp., $6.99 paper

*

BOOK OF SHADOWS

Sweep, 1

By Cate Tiernan

Puffin: 188 pp., $4.99 paper

*

TEARS (Fearless, 15) and NAKED (Fearless, 16)

By Francine Pascal

Pocket: 240 pp., $5.99 each

*

ART OF RANMA 1/2

Viz Communications: 80 pp., $19.95

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