If you didn’t know, my day job is a librarian at a middle school. So, a significant chunk of my time at work includes looking at book lists, reading reviews, attending conferences on literature and talking to kids about what they like to read. At the end of the year I run a report entitled Top Circulated Items. It’s my very favorite report, which I realize is a geeky librarian thing to write. For the 2015/2016 school year, the top authors were Jeff Kinney, Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, Lee NaRae the Korean illustrator/adaptor of James Patterson’s Maximum Ride series, and Darren Shan author of the Cirque du Freak series. Middle school kids like the comfort of familiar characters. I remember being the same way at that age. My favorite series was Sweet Valley High. (I think, perhaps, that is enough embarrassing personal information to share in this post.)
I read Young Adult (YA) fiction so I can talk to the kids about books and sell them on unfamiliar titles. Unfortunately, new seventh graders have very little experience with authors or series or self selecting reading material. The most common questions the first month of school are: Do you have any Diary of a Wimpy Kid? Do you have any “scary books”? During the month of August, two of my goals are to teach the kids where the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series is shelved and to use the term horror.
But my job isn’t the only reason I read YA fiction. I read it because I like it. The genre revolves around conflict with parents, first loves and finding yourself. It’s a magical time period when it seems that each choice will have tremendous impact on the future. How could you not like such a genre?
Below are my reviews on two YA titles, and one adult novel, that would make for fabulous summer reads. They are realistic, character driven novels, with females in leading roles.
by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando
Premise? Two young women live on opposite ends of the country. They’re assigned to be roommates at University of California Berkeley in the fall, and they spend the summer communicating via email.
Elizabeth lives in New Jersey, and can’t wait to get away from her mother. She hopes that this move will bring her closer to her father, a man she has not had contact with in years. She spends the summer working on issues with her mom, her friends and her love life.
Lauren lives in San Francisco with her parents and five siblings, and wanted a single room. Lauren adores her family, but needed a break from the constant noise and busyness of her household. She wasn’t thrilled about receiving her first email from Elizabeth.
The novel was well written and fast paced. Elizabeth was a bit of a downer, adrift in life and uncertain in her relationships. I related more to Lauren, who fiercely loved her family. Overall, I enjoyed the back and forth of the book and all of the teenage angst.
Fangirl: A Novel
by Rainbow Rowell
Fangirl is the story of an introverted first year college student. (Cath reminded me quite a bit of myself at that age, which was one of the reasons I enjoyed the novel.) She spends her free time studying, writing fan fiction and lamenting the fact that her twin sister will not be her roommate. Enter the sarcastic older roommate, Reagan. She feels sorry for Cath, and tries, in her own way to help her out of her shell–although she is not particularly sensitive. Reagan had some of my favorite lines in the novel when speaking to Cath, including:
“You’re just so helpless sometimes. It’s like watching a kitten with its head trapped in a Kleenex box.”
Then there’s Levi, a tall outgoing guy that keeps showing up at their dorm room to hang out with Reagan. Or is that why he’s there…
This is an interesting story with believable, likable characters. If I had to pick a favorite, it would be this one. (I enjoyed it so much I already downloaded another of Rowell’s books, Eleanor and Park.)
The Husband’s Secret
by Liane Moriarty
This novel is set in Australia, which I love. (I have a thing for Australia and England, though I’ve never been to either country.) It did take a bit longer for me to get into this novel because it follows multiple characters. But once I got to know all of the people, I liked them.
The book has an intriguing start. Cecilia found a letter that was only to be opened in the event of her husband’s death. As she strives to be the perfect wife, she did not open the letter. When she spoke to her husband about it, he brushed it off, but she could tell something was amiss.
Wait until you find out what’s in the letter…
Although Cecilia had a fascinating story line, the character I enjoyed most was Tess. Her husband confessed to falling in love with her cousin and business partner, Felicity. So Tess packed up her son and went to stay with her mother. Feeling angry and betrayed, she told them to get on with the affair, so they can get it out of their system and she can have her husband back. I loved her pragmatic approach, although, of course, feelings leaked in as they always do.
Finally, there was Rachel, a sad older woman who could not get over the murder of her daughter, twenty-eight years earlier. She struggled to make it through the day, and found joy only in her grandson.
The story lines fit together beautifully, and I particularly enjoyed the epilogue.
There you have it. Three summer reads you can enjoy on a sandy beach, swinging in a hammock or with the air conditioning blaring in the comfort of a reclining chair.