Top Ten (Lesser-Known) Young Adult Fiction Books: Part 2

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Note: check out Part 1 for a “formal” introduction to the list.

(random order)

Butter, Anne Panning

I had the pleasure of meeting Anne when she did a reading at UMM.  Here’s what I posted about that night:

What I didn’t mention was that Butter sounds just like Minnesota, and that even though I didn’t get home until 2 a.m. on Friday night/Saturday morning, I stayed awake for another hour blazing through 86 pages of that wonderful book.  It’s written from the perspective of pre-teen Iris, so the true intrigue stems from the fact that she can’t figure out what’s going on with the grown-ups, and by extension, neither can we.

Butter is a coming of age tale set against the backdrop of small-town Minnesota during the 1970s and told from the perspective of an eleven-year-old girl, Iris, who learns from her parents that she is adopted. The story of Iris’s childhood is at first beguiling and innocent: hers is a world filled with bell-bottoms and Barbie dolls, Shrinky Dinks and Shaun Cassidy records, TV dinners and trips to grandma’s. But as her parents’ marriage starts to unravel, Iris grows more and more observant of disintegration all around her, and the simple cadences of her story quickly attain an unnerving tension as she wavers precariously between girlhood and adolescence. In the end, Iris’s story represents a profound meditation on growing up estranged in small town America—on being an outsider in a world increasingly averse to them.  (Synopsis source)

The Boston Jane Series, Jennifer L. Holm

Jane’s transformation from street urchin to accomplished lady to tough, pie-making frontierswoman is sometimes painful, sometimes endearing, but always delightfully evident.

1855. The unknown wilds of the Pacific Northwest—a land not yet tamed, and certainly not fitting for a proper young lady! Yet that’s just where Miss Jane Peck finds herself. After a tumultuous childhood on the wrong side of Philadelphia high society, Jane is trying to put aside her reckless ways and be accepted as a proper young lady. And so when handsome William Baldt proposes, she joyfully accepts and prepares to join him in a world away from her home in Washington Territory. But Miss Hepplewhite’ s straight-laced finishing school was hardly preparation for the treacherous months at sea it takes to get there, the haunting loss she’ll face on the way, or the colorful characters and crude life that await her on the frontier. (Synopsis source)

My Louisiana Sky, Kimberly Willis Holt

Another library staple.  If you haven’t yet noticed a trend, I like my historical fiction.

After Granny dies, Tiger Ann Parker wants nothing more than to get out of the rural town of Saitter, Louisiana – far away from her mentally disabled mother, her “slow” father who can’t read an electric bill, and the classmates who taunt her. So when Aunt Dorie Kay asks Tiger to live with her in Baton Rouge, Tiger can’t wait to go. But before she is able to leave, the sudden revelation of a dark family secret prompts Tiger to make a decision that will ultimately changer her life.  Set in the South in the late 1950s, this tender coming-of-age novel explores a twelve-year-old girl’s struggle to accept her grandmother’s death, her mentally deficient parents, and the changing world around her. (Synopsis source)

The Watsons Go to Birmingham: 1963, Christopher Paul Curtis

All right.  This is a Newbery Honor winner.  Not exactly “lesser-known.”  But it’s on the list because it’s hands-down the funniest YA novel I’ve ever read, and I couldn’t omit it.  Example:

“Now, your mother and I made a deal when we first got married that if either one of us ever watched the ‘wunnerful, wunnerful’ Lawrence Welk Show or listened to country music the other one got to get a free divorce.”

The funniest, but simultaneously one of the most poignant:

“Some of the time it was hard to figure Byron out.  He was very right about some things and he was very wrong about some things.  He was very wrong when he said the Wool Pooh was something he’d made up.  If he’d ever had his ankle grabbed by it he’d know it was real, if he’d seen the way it was crouched down, crawling around in the dust and the smoke of the church in Birmingham he’d know it wasn’t some made-up garbage, if he’d ever seen those horrible toes he’d know the Wool Pooh was as serious as a heart attack.”

The year is 1963, and self-important Byron Watson is the bane of his younger brother Kenny’s existence. Constantly in trouble for one thing or another, from straightening his hair into a “conk” to lighting fires to freezing his lips to the mirror of the new family car, Byron finally pushes his family too far. Before this “official juvenile delinquent” can cut school or steal change one more time, Momma and Dad finally make good on their threat to send him to the deep south to spend the summer with his tiny, strict grandmother. Soon the whole family is packed up, ready to make the drive from Flint, Michigan, straight into one of the most chilling moments in America’s history: the burning of the Sixteenth Avenue Baptist Church with four little girls inside. (Synopsis source)

I am the Messenger, Markus Zusak

I talk about the Book Thief a lot, as you know.  I am the Messenger is nothing like the Book Thief, except that they’re both highly original novels.

I am the Messenger contains a dog, who is my favorite character.  His name is the Doorman.

Ed Kennedy is an underage cab driver without much of a future. He’s pathetic at playing cards, hopelessly in love with his best friend, Audrey, and utterly devoted to his coffee-drinking dog, the Doorman. His life is one of peaceful routine and incompetence until he inadvertently stops a bank robbery.  That’s when the first ace arrives in the mail.  That’s when Ed becomes the messenger.  Chosen to care, he makes his way through town helping and hurting (when necessary) until only one question remains: Who’s behind Ed’s mission? (Synopsis source)

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