31. Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene (200 pages)
32. The Violent Bear It Away by Flannery O'Connor (150 pages)
33. Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli (200 pages)
34. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (185 pages)
35. Uglies by Scott Westerfeld (425 pages)
Bold: read it now! It’s great
Italics: run away! It’s awful
Plain Text = various degrees of OK
31. Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene (200 pages) reread for teaching
32. The Violent Bear It Away by Flannery O'Connor (150 pages) Tarwater, a fourteen year-old boy, has been groomed by his religious-zealot uncle to be a prophet and to baptize his mentally handicapped cousin. When his uncle dies at the breakfast table, Tarwater attempts to reject his destiny and goes to live with his other uncle (a realist philosopher) and cousin. He equally rejects this realist version of the world as much as he desires to reject his destiny as a prophet. The bizarre story is typical O'Connor irony, mixed with the grotesque and the sacred, revealing the warped souls and minds of man, while revealing the beauty of our world. It is unearthly and completely bound to the earth. The book has some stunning baptismal imagery and symbolism, a confusing and wondrous theme. But the book meanders and disappoints. Though I adore her amazing short stories, novels are not her strength. Grade: B
33. Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli (200 pages) I reread this with one of my students, a kid that is a Stargirl, which is quite the experience. I wish that this book had been around when I was a teenager, and I am so deeply glad to be able to share it with kids. It is one of those unique books that I believe that everyone should read. With The Outsiders, a must read for all teenagers. It perfectly and enchantingly describes what it feels like to be different and also how we should all embrace life. It is a perfect message for young people (to thine own self be true, but live your life in the service of others, enjoy the world around you, even when it doesn't enjoy you), perfectly given with an almost otherworldly tone, but in a completely real and adolescent voice. A transcendent and powerful novel.
"For all men marveled what it might mean/ That a horseman and his horse should have such a color/ As to grow green as grass, and greener yet it seemed."
"The weather more vernal wars with the wintry world./ The cold ebbs and declines, the clouds lift, / In shining showers the rain sheds warmth/ and falls upon the fair plain, where flowers appear;/ The grassy lawns and groves alike are garbed in green;/ Birds perpare to build, and brightly sing/ The solace of the ensuing summer that soothes hill and dell."
34. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (185 pages) As it is that time of year when the world begins to blossom into beautiful, enchanting green, and it's also the time of year when I hit the Ren Faires (and my gown this year happens to be green), I decided that I needed to revisit this classic that I last read in college. The medieval heroic, alliterative poem details the tale of Gawain's challenge to behead the Green Knight and to have that blow return to him in a year. As Gawain ventures out to find the Green Knight, he visits a castle where he strikes a bargain. Whatever the lord gains in his hunting will be Gawain's, and whatever Gawain gets during the day (spent with the lord's wife) will belong to the lord. The poem's characters are far from stock good and evil, but morality and purpose is complicated and tricky, true chivalry and heroism difficult to define. The poem is full of beautiful imagery of the old, green and mysterious world. A beautiful, classic example of heroic poetry. Grade: A
"There was something magic in their large and perfect eyes, something that made you want to pay attention to whatever they said, to protect them from any danger to make them happy. They were so...pretty."
"Twelve was definitely the turning point, when you changed from a cute littlie into an oversize, undereducated ugly."
35. Uglies by Scott Westerfeld (425 pages) This is what young adult fantasy fiction should be: imaginative, clever, philosophical, character-driven, exciting, deep, and poignant. In Tally's post-apocalyptic world, those ages 12-16 are referred to as Uglies as they wait to turn Pretty through surgery at the age of 16. Then they live lives of mindless partying and pleasure. When Tally's best friend, Shay, decides to run away from their totalitarian city and into the wilderness rather than become pretty, Tally is forced by the Specials to follow. But will Tally be able to betray her friend when she learns the truth behind her beauty-obsessed world? Being pretty might be more than just trying to make everyone equal and create peace. This book is a brilliant, clever, and imaginative fantasy allegory of our own beauty obsessed world, one that is particularly significant to early adolescence. There are no easy answers, but certainly the awful danger of conformity, especially in the case of physical appearances, is powerfully and refreshingly highlighted. The allegory goes further, as well, as it tackles the very issue of moving from the world of childhood and into adulthood (from late high school to college). The book wonderfully and powerfully captures the psychological world of the early adolescent, trying desperately to understand the changes not only in their body and world, but also the daunting future that lies ahead of them as they move out of adolescence and into early adulthood. A great book, absolutely perfect for ages 10 to 16, an easy read, but one that is deeply engaging and meaningful. This book definitely deserves a place on the shelf beside The Giver, and is one of the best fantasy books written for young adults, particularly to capture the psychological world of the twelve year-old. Grade: A