Again, my post today is motivated by comments from the lovely Ballard Mother-Daughter Book Club. One thing I heard from them was that it’s challenging to find good books for the age group and reading level. The daughters are about 11-13 years old and also, as you might expect, they are very good readers.
I can see how for this group many MG books out there may be too young in writing style and content. There’s also a glut of fantasy, so what’s out there for any non-fantasy types? These girls are leaning away from the cartoonish and more towards believability. They are more serious readers, but a lot of current YA and adult books might be too intense, too graphic, or too sexual for them.
So, what to do for a group of 11-13 year olds who aren’t interested in love triangles with sparkly vampires, want to avoid excessive gore, and like to read good literature?
I have to tell you, I had trouble limiting myself to the four books below. I have a long list, but want to hear from others out there. (I also want to save some books for further MGM posts.)
I chose the four books below because they are quite different from each other, get consistent high praise from others, span many years, and inspire discussion.
Thirteen-year-old Mau has almost completed the initiation rite of his Pacific island culture. Only one part of the ritual remains, but Mau worries that he will never be able to complete it. A devastating tsunami has wiped out his entire island, leaving only Mau and the British governor’s daughters as survivors. Of course, what follows is far more poignant than any quiet South Pacific ceremony. A thoroughly engaging teen novel about identity, community, and resilience.
I just finished this book and really enjoyed it. It’s nothing like his Disc World series. Yes, it’s an alternative version of our world, but it’s not fantasy other than perhaps a bit of magical realism. There are a lot of deaths in the story (Mau’s entire village is destroyed by a Tsunami), but it’s never gruesome nor graphic. It deals very much with how one would face their anger at the universe (their gods) in the aftermath of such a tragedy . . . and yet, Pratchett manages to pepper it with his lovely sense of humour. Boys and girls will like this story and “Ghost Girl” (she renames herself Daphne) is a very strong female lead (as a matter-of-fact, it’s as much her story as it is Mau’s).
Set during World War II in Germany, Markus Zusak’s groundbreaking new novel is the story of Liesel Meminger, a foster girl living outside of Munich. Liesel scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement before he is marched to Dachau.
This is not an uplifting book, it is narrated by Death, but there is so much beauty within it. The characters are marvelous, the tension palpable. A fabulous lead-in to a discussion about the Holocaust as well as literary style.
Doomed to – or blessed with – eternal life after drinking from a magic spring, the Tuck family wanders about trying to live as inconspicuously and comfortably as they can. When ten-year-old Winnie Foster stumbles on their secret, the Tucks take her home and explain why living forever at one age is less a blessing that it might seem. Complications arise when Winnie is followed by a stranger who wants to market the spring water for a fortune.
I haven’t read this one in a very long time, but remember that I loved it when I was young. The protagonist is only 10, so it may be geared toward a slightly younger audience than these girls, but I know the language is beautiful and it is not condescending in the least. And also – what a great discussion! Would immortality be a curse or a blessing?
THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES (Adult book with 14-yr old protag)
Set in South Carolina in 1964, The Secret Life of Bees tells the story of Lily Owens, whose life has been shaped around the blurred memory of the afternoon her mother was killed. When Lily’s fierce-hearted “stand-in mother,” Rosaleen [their maid], insults three of the town’s fiercest racists, Lily decides they should both escape to Tiburon, South Carolina–a town that holds the secret to her mother’s past. There they are taken in by an eccentric trio of black beekeeping sisters who introduce Lily to a mesmerizing world of bees, honey, and the Black Madonna who presides over their household.
I wish I had thought of this one while I was at the mother-daughter book club meeting because I think it’s a perfect choice for them. Great themes to discuss and told through the eyes of a 14-year-old girl. A fabulous heart-felt coming-of-age with great characters and a dash of suspense due to the abusive father.
And because I can’t help it . . . other books that came to mind: To Kill a Mockingbird, Island of the Blue Dolphins, A Separate Peace, The Adoration of Jenna Fox, The Book of Fred, The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate . . . all right, I’ll stop now.
Let’s hear from you!